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Interview: Austin Basis Talks Beauty and the Beast

Posted by Karen Benardello On September - 8 - 2012 0 Comment

Love can be found in the most unusual and unsuspecting places between two people who seemingly have little or nothing in common with each other. Such is the case between the title characters on the anticipated CW romance drama series ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ which premieres on Thursday, October 11 at 9pm after ‘The Vampire Diaries.’ The new, modernized take on the classic fairytale incorporates contemporary societal issues and crimes into the familiar love story of two people destined to be together, but are continuously pulled apart by their differing personalities.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ follows Catherine “Cat” Chandler (played by Kristin Kreuk), a smart homicide detective who is haunted by her tragic past. When she witnessed the murder of her mother as a teenager, she came to believe that someone, or something, rescued her from the two gunmen, although no one believes her. But as an adult, Tess has developed a strong relationship with her partner, Tess Vargas (portrayed by Nina Lisandrello), as they work to solve similar crimes.

While working a case, Cat and Tess are lead to investigate a doctor, Vincent Keller (played by Jay Ryan), who was reportedly killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2002. After Cat finds Vincent, he admits that he went into hiding, with the help of his childhood friend JT Forbes (portrayed by Austin Basis), because when he becomes enraged, he turns into an enraged beast. He also reveals to Cat that he was the one who saved her on the night of her mother’s murder.

Basis generously took the time to speak to us over the phone from Toronto, where he’s currently filming episodes for the first season of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Among other things, the versatile actor discussed what attracted him to the role of JT; what it’s like working with his co-stars, Ryan and Kreuk; and how the role of JT is similar to, and different from, one of his most well-known characters, Math Rogers, on another CW drama, ‘Life Unexpected.’

ShockYa (SY): You play JT Forbes on the CW’s anticipated romance series ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ What was it about the character that convinced you to take on the role?

Austin Basis (AB): Well, I always relate to the every man and the humor about a character. So what I mean in this situation, with ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ is that I think he’ll be the most relatable character. He seems to be going in this situation where he’s way in over his head. So the supernatural aspect of it, the romantic aspect of it, the government agency chasing you aspect of it, is written really smartly and funny.

JT’s probably the smartest character I’ve ever played, both on the page and in his character background. He was a biochemistry major, which is his profession now, and he’s a medical researcher. He’s really smart, and really has his stuff together.

SY: Speaking of the humor, JT is being referred to as the show’s comic relief and the likable confidant of The Beast. Is that how you would describe JT, and how does he fit into the series’ overall storyline?

AB: Yes, he does provide comic relief. But I feel like the comedy comes out of the desperate circumstances and the high stakes of the situations that he and Vincent are put into. Yes, he is going to provide the bouncing board for Vincent’s experiences with Catherine. Before Catherine finds out that Vincent’s alive, JT is the only one who knows he’s alive. So we share the past nine years exclusively together, and Vincent and JT really don’t have anybody else.

There’s also, I wouldn’t really say hero aspect, but Vincent is used to coming to other people’s aid and saving other people. He’s a vigilante, but I feel that JT really has that in him when it comes to things he cares about and the people he loves.

So if Vincent’s in trouble, which he is in the first couple of episodes in the series, JT sees Catherine as a threat. She not only risks his life, but also Vincent’s life. He will protect his friend with his life. He will lay himself out there to take the hit for his friend. So there’s that aspect of him.

What I like to try to bring to every character I play is to have a heart. I always try to sympathize with not only the character, but all the other characters in the situation and the show. So heart, humor, hero and confidant are what JT are.

SY: Kristin Kreuk plays homicide detective Catherine Chandler, and Jay Ryan portrays Dr. Vincent Koslow, the two title characters on ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ What has working with the two of them been like?

AB: It’s funny, because most of my scenes are just with them. They’re in the pilot and the scenes we’ve shot so far have been great. There’s an ease and relaxation that you don’t always get in work situations. It makes it easier to do your job and act and make believe that this person has been your best friend since childhood. Or make believe that this five-foot, 100-pound woman is a threat to your livelihood.

Both of them, just personality-wise, are just great. We usually shoot all of our scenes in the same day, because they’re usually in the same location. So I get to see them work, and that’s just a fun thing. To watch them work together through a scene, find the ups and downs, ins and outs, things that draw them closer, and the chemistry they have on screen when they work together, will be evident when people watch the show. I think that’s going to be one of the things that people talk about most when the show airs. It’s a tangible thing, their chemistry.

SY: The ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale has been told quite often recently, with this year’s re-release of the animated Disney film ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and last year’s film ‘Beastly.’ How does the show differentiate itself from previous incarnations of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story?

AB: Well, I think this ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ while also being a classic retelling of the fairytale, adds an element of danger, action and romance. There’s romance, particularly in the initial one, but (the show) modernizes the story, putting it in present-day New York, post 9-11.

It also adds the procedural aspect, where Catherine and Tess and her police department follow a case. Vincent is either helping them or aiding them in some way, or aiding Catherine in some way. But at the same time, they’re developing their relationship through this collaboration.

So I feel like there’s the police drama, the action, the romance, the actual physical action-chasing and fight scenes. Then there’s the supernatural aspect. I say the supernatural aspect, because if you see a cartoon, it’s all supernatural, because it’s a cartoon.

So the supernatural aspect is that not that he was born a beast or a lion or an outcast. He was made into one by his virtue of his heroism. He went off to fight in the war after 9-11, and he got tapped for an elite force. This force made their soldiers genetic killing machines. They genetically engineered these soldiers to be killing machines, and it got out of control.

Vincent escaped with his life, and no one else did. He is now a beast by circumstance. So he has that Hulk-like ability that when his emotions climax, he’ll turn into the beast.

But he feels like a beast all the time, because he has that potential and rage, and that power and anger. His sense of smell, his sense of hearing, his muscle energy is greater than that of normal humans. So all these things close in on him. It’s an internal beast, but if you tape the internal beast, the external beast will come out, and everyone will see it. He’s living with it all the time.

So there are a lot of different things that will bring in more people than the fans of the original ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and even the ’80s CBS TV show. But I think it’s a take on the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ genre, and it should be a fun ride. I encourage everyone to check it out.

SY: You’re best known for your role as Math, the childhood friend and roommate of Baze, played by Kristoffer Polaha, in another CW drama, ‘Life Unexpected.’ Are there any similarities between Math and JT?

AB: There are definitely similarities between Math and JT. As an actor and an artist moving ahead in his career, I’m trying to get more specific with the characters, so that it’s not just another version of Math. I’m bringing myself to it, and it could look familiar to people. They’re both teachers; Math was a high school English teacher, and JT’s a college biochemistry professor.

But I think the biochemistry professor comes because it’s a job and he does lab hours and research at the university. It’s all in the same line of trying to find an anecdote for Vincent. But he works as a teacher just as an agreement with the university.

Math loved being a teacher, and I would say a little more immature or naive. So it’s fun to play a similar character, but also someone who understands the world a little bit more. He has a little bit more education, and has had to been to a survivalist the past nine or 10 years with Vincent.

I look at the two characters’ biggest difference as being Math being in a situation where he basically created drama. People in his social situations tend to enhance the drama that their lives are. That becomes what the show is.

Whereas with JT, I think a situation has been thrust upon him and Vincent. The stakes are now higher, because it becomes life and death. They’re literally fighting or running for their lives. He just has to react in the best way possible, that’s going to yield the best results, i.e. him and Vincent surviving and living a normal life.

SY: Did you take the same approach when preparing for both roles, or are the characters different enough that you tailored your rehearsal for both shows differently?

AB: In TV, you don’t really get to rehearse that much. But in both pilots, the director was Gary Fleder. That’s kind of how I came to ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Gary was an executive producer on ‘Life Unexpected,’ and he wanted to bring me in for the producers (of ‘Beauty and the Beast’).

Gary’s usually a film producer, but he usually does pilots every year. He always rehearses, and we’ll do table reads. Just so when we get to set, the actors, director and writer know where we’re at. So when the lights or the camera or certain other things get changed, or affect the situation, the heart of the scene or the characters aren’t lost because of other circumstances.

Unfortunately, on most TV shows, once you get into the episodic, you read the lines, and hopefully you’ll read it through once before you start the episode. So before we start episodes, we read it through the day before, and then we start the episode the next day. Then we have a read-through for the next episode.

You only really rehearse when you get on your feet and get to the space. You play it out a couple of times for the director, the cameras, the lighting; you take a break so that they can set up the lighting. Rehearsal wise, I can’t really do much differently.

But what I have been doing with JT, as compared to Math, is I’ve been trying to make bigger choices; more urgent, pressurized choices because the situations require that. With backstory stuff, I did a lot, maybe more, with Math. I worked with the writers and went back and wrote all these background notes, like where he went to school.

I kind of did that to a degree with JT, but more in the sense of what major events in his life and my life could be the same. So he had his friend go off to war, and according to him, was killed in action, until he showed up a couple of years later. So that has been important to me as an actor to know what that experience has been like as an actor and investigate that, even though it might not ever be seen on the show.

That’s your best friend, and he goes off to war, and then you get a letter or someone shows up at your door and says that he’s dead. You go to the funeral, you go to the memorial, and obviously there’s no body, because he wasn’t dead. According to me, he’s dead up until the time he shows up at my door and says “I’m not dead, I’m a beast now. I have this cross DNA that makes me a killing machine. Could you take me in?” (laughs) So there’s that whole experience of he’s back in my life, and I have this situation thrust upon me.

So my process has been slightly different with both. But when I approach a scene, it’s always the same. It’s about what the scene’s about, what I want from the other character, is there anything I’m trying to hide and what the action is in every line.

It’s to get something out of the character or to hide something, or find where the jokes are also. Do I have to hit them or hide over them, or to let them hopefully happen. I think the best humor is when you don’t really try to hit a joke and it’s funny.

You have to talk like a human being, and if it’s funny, it’s funny. Hopefully you talk and say the line in a way that’s the most funny. A big part of saying a line is that people believe it. If they laugh, then you’re getting the best of both worlds.

SY: Besides ‘Beauty and the Best’ and ‘Life Unexpected,’ you’ve also appeared on show shows as ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘Supernatural,’ ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ and ‘NCIS.’ What is it about television that you enjoy so much?

AB: I think with films, you do one and wait however long, possibly anywhere from six months to a couple years, if it’s an independent film, to actually see it. But there’s an incubated time period with TV, where you do a show, not necessarily a pilot, because sometimes you’ll never see the pilot, but say with the episode we’re doing now, we’ll see it a couple of months later. That’s the longest you’ll ever wait.

When I did ‘Law & Order,’ I waited a month and a half for the show to come out. I always find that good and helpful as an actor, because you see your results pretty soon afterward. You can also help yourself out by judging and making decisions that you either did a good job or you didn’t, what worked and what didn’t, and you move on from that.

But I feel like in general, the pace of TV and the way it works is something my acting teachers used to tell me. Every acting teacher pretty much still says to trust your gut and to go with your instincts. With TV, you have no other choice because it moves so fast.

Like we did a shot where we did the scene in the smaller shots, like the close-ups and the medium shots. When we finished the scene, they wanted an establishing wide shot. We did it in one take, but who knows how much of it’s going to be used, or if it’s going to be used at all.

But we did it in one take, because you only get one take in TV. It’s like theater in that way, you really get only one shot at it. With theater, if you have that one shot, you usually have tomorrow to get it better or right. If something goes wrong, you can fix it on the next night’s show.

With TV, you may only have that one take. Usually at most, there’s three takes with every shot setup. You really don’t have a lot of time to maneuver. All you have are the lines, the other actors, the directors’ directions and your instincts. Obviously your instincts will lead the way. If you trust them enough and ride your intuition with each scene, it will yield the best results.

A lot of times with films, you have too much time. You can get yourself pretty crazy if you start over thinking things. Once your brain comes into it too much, it’s dead. So I like the idea of my instincts leading the way, or just trusting my instincts to be the decider in the scenes, or to pave the way for my choices.

SY: Besides ‘Beauty and the Best,’ do you have any other projects lined up that you can discuss?

AB: I did a small part in a Hallmark movie (titled ‘Two In’) with Alison Sweeney from ‘Days of our Lives,’ and she’s also the host of ‘The Biggest Loser.’ I play a divorce lawyer (laughs) in a Hallmark movie about a fireman. She plays a 911 operator who strike up a romance. So that’s the next thing that I have coming out.

I also have some possible films and Internet stuff. But as soon as I know, I’ll post it on my Twitter or my Facebook fan page or my website. I’m not sure when ‘Two In’ airs, but I’ll be playing a lawyer in that, and it will be different from JT Forbes and Math Rogers. (laughs)

Written by: Karen Benardello

Austin Basis Beauty and the Beast Interview Interview: Austin Basis Talks Beauty and the Beast

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