BRIDGING TV & THEATRE: Jackson Hurst & DROP DEAD DIVA - Plus, TREE OF LIFE, BIRD OF THE AIR & More
Today we are kicking off the male-centric portion of our ongoing series of interviews with the stars of Lifetime's DROP DEAD DIVA with the heartthrob of the show and Jane's former fiancée in her past life, legal eagle Grayson, played by the dashing and suave Jackson Hurst. In addition to talking all about Season 3 of DROP DEAD DIVA and the future for Jane and Grayson - as well as the hiccups and roadblocks in his relationship with Deb, before, and, now, Jane, that have cropped up so precipitously along the way - we also analyze the various guest stars on the show over the seasons - everyone from Kathy Griffin to Samuel L. Jackson to Elliot Gould to Liza Minnelli and more! In addition, Hurst and I also discuss his past and future stage and screen roles and his experiences on sets and backstage - including a thorough discussion of working with director Terrence Malick on THE TREE OF LIFE and his starring role in the forthcoming September release, A BIRD OF THE AIR, by CHINATOWN scribe Robert Towne - as well as Hurst's own favorite films and ultimate career aspirations - plus much, much more!
Over the course of the next several weeks, we are going to be taking an extensive look at the sights and sounds both onscreen and onset of the hit TV dramedy series DROP DEAD DIVA - new episodes airing Sunday nights at 9 PM on Lifetime - featuring exclusive interviews with the leading lady divas and stalwart supporting men on the LA-based supernatural legal series. Featuring a memorable collection of musical performances and Broadway guest stars over the years - Paula Abdul, Rosie O'Donnell, Delta Burke and many more included - DROP DEAD DIVA is the quintessential TV series for Broadway babies looking for some laughs and levity - the latter available in many more ways than one, given the show's heavenly aspirations. DROP DEAD DIVA centers on a legal eagle named Jane whose body acts as the means for the indomitable spirit of a model, Deb, who loses her life, to make a second chance and how the girl inside must learn to adjust to looking like the woman on the outside that she is now. In other words, a model finds out what it means to look like everyone else, in a delightfully quirky twist of fate - and learns to be a lawyer, too. Season Three picks up with the cliffhanger car crash that closed last season in a dark and shocking way. What will Grayson remember of the conversation he had with Jane pre-crash? What will Jane do to save him? What about his engagement (to somebody else)? What will happen back at the office with Teri, Kim and Parker? What about Stacy and Fred? All these questions and many more will most assuredly be answered come Sunday night! Plus, there's always a musical number or two not too far off if you stay tuned - such as last month's BroadwayWorld exclusive world premiere of "Lean On Me"!
Also, don't forget to check out the past interviews in this BRIDGING TV & THEATRE series - Margaret Cho, Kate Levering, April Bowlby, Sharon Lawrence and Faith Prince included! There are only a few episodes of Season Three left - airing Sundays at 9 PM on Lifetime, as always, throughout September - so be sure to check back here in coming weeks for chats with Josh Stamberg and Ben Feldman and maybe a surprise or two, too!
Life, Death & DIVA
PC: I'm curious what show from your formative years you enjoyed doing the most, or, what, perhaps, had the biggest influence on your decision to become an actor?
JH: Well, actually, I remember that I did Chekov's THE SNEEZE.
PC: Wow. Baptism by fire.
JH: Yeah, I know… and, I know that is just a short little one act, but I just had a blast doing it.
PC: What others, earlier on in your career?
JH: I loved doing DIARY OF Anne Frank and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, too.
PC: What about in school?
JH: Actually, one of the ones I did that really was one of those surreal experiences where I just blocked everything else out because I was so into it was something called THE EVILS OF TOBACCO. It was this one-man-show I did in high school and it was like ten or fifteen minutes long.
PC: What was it about?
JH: It was about this guy in the 1920s who is ordered, basically, by his wife, to speak on the evils of tobacco. What he does, is as he is talking about this you see all these things start to come up and you realize how oppressed he has been through life and how oppressed he is in his relationship and, then, he just flips out.
PC: So you were playing a much older man, then?
JH: Oh, yeah. I had make-up and all that stuff, because he was in his forties. That was one of those select few times early on where when I got off-stage, I was like, "I have to do this. This is what I need to be doing. I will never feel this doing something else."
PC: Theatre is your first love.
JH: Theatre is my love. Actually, Margaret Whitton directed the last project I worked on - BIRDS OF PREY. She's a theatre girl.
PC: Have you been talking to her about your roots?
JH: Oh, yeah. She keeps telling me, "You have to keep at it; you have to keep at it - you'll kill it." And, I said, "For sure," so, on my hiatus I'm looking into it.
PC: What about Shakespeare?
JH: Well, I once did TAMING OF THE SHREW…
PC: What about in the future?
JH: Oh, I'd love to do Shakespeare again. I would be so rusty, though! I don't even know if I'd be able to pull it off! But, with the proper training and getting with the right coach I am sure I could summon that knowledge and technique back.
PC: JULIUS CAESER?
JH: Oh, I would absolutely love to do that!
PC: You'd be perfect. There is such a great new generation of Shakespearean actors right now - Liev Schreiber, Lily Rabe.
JH: Oh, yeah. Liev Schreiber is really great. I love his stuff.
PC: He's one of the best of his generation. Tell me about Craig Zadan and Neil Meron - first on LIVING PROOF and, now, DIVA.
JH: Oh, I just love Craig and Neil.
PC: Do you remember your first audition for them?
JH: Yes. I walked into this little tiny room in New Orleans and met with them for LIVING PROOF. It just kind of blew up from there. I mean, I worked with Regina King and some other amazing actors on that show.
PC: John Benjamin Hickey - this year's Tony-winner.
JH: Yeah, John. And, Harry Connick, Jr., too.
PC: Harry - who has also done this column, incidentally.
JH: Harry's a really great guy. Angie Harmon. Bernadette Peters.
PC: One of the most legendary Broadway stars. What was Bernadette like one-on-one?
JH: Oh, she's so incredible! And, she's so beautiful! Ugh. Just stunning.
PC: I don't doubt it - in person it's really beyond words! 60+, too.
JH: Unreal. I mean, head's were turning when she was walking by!
PC: Undoubtedly. But, back to LIVING PROOF…
JH: Yeah, Craig and Neil did LIVING PROOF and then they asked me if I wanted to be a part of this.
PC: Were you a fan of their work - CHICAGO, in particular?
JH: Believe it or not, I wasn't aware of their stuff because I don't watch a lot of musicals. But, what it came down to for me was that, I remember I didn't like the concept when I first heard it, but, when I read the first script, I was like… (Pause.)
PC: So many things.
JH: Yeah! I mean, it's just amazing when you can laugh and you can get chills and you can kind of feel all these multiple things in a script - and, to be honest, that isn't something that happens a lot with television scripts.
PC: So, the script sealed the deal?
JH: Yeah, and, I looked at the other writers and producers who were working on it, also, and I thought, "This is a good show."
PC: And you get to play a lawyer - although, your first scene is with Deb and you don't seem to be the lawyer type…
JH: Oh, yeah, well, that was part of my conversation with our creator early on: this is not a one-note character. He's not this all-American guy going through some pain. He is a guy who is working as a lawyer for the greater good, not the money. They gave me some really good writing and I worked a lot with legal advisors right from the beginning, on the very first episode.
PC: What has the journey been for you from Season One to Three?
JH: Well, in Season Two you see Grayson struggle a little bit - trying to grow; trying to fight.
PC: What about Season Three?
JH: Well, Grayson has been through some stuff now and I get a chance to take him somewhere. Also, people need to grow - it's just like real life and I am not going to be the same person in every episode, you know? Growth. Loss. There are some things that are sure to upset the fans. He goes through a lot of pain in Season Three.
PC: What a thorough analysis of your character through the seasons. Where do you see the show going from here? Two or three more years? More?
JH: You know what? I don't even know. The producers decide everything and we're taking everything in stride. I don't think they've even thought about Season Four and where they are taking our characters yet, but, I would love to talk to the execs on our hiatus and try to figure out where we are going to take my character - and, the idea is: we are all constantly growing.
PC: Deb is gone, but Grayson lives on. It's a difficult dance, especially when it comes to you and Jane.
JH: It's tough - and, it gets tougher and tougher every season.
PC: You and Kate Levering have the most difficult roles because she is the antagonist and you are the heart of the show. Do you agree?
JH: Yeah. Yeah. It's a little dance.
PC: Yin and Yang.
PC: What do you think is in the cards for you and Jane/Deb? Do you think that ultimately the greater point of the show involves Grayson accepting Deb in this new body once Jane reveals the truth to him?
JH: Well, I don't know exactly, but I think they are probably prolonging them getting together as long as possible because if they end up together then that would, basically, be the end of the show, right? (Laughs.)
JH: So, I would like to believe - for the sake of the show - that people can definitely be soul-mates, though.
PC: There actually was that scene in Season Two where she told you everything - but, it was a fake-out dream sequence.
JH: Yeah! Yeah.
PC: Was it nIce To know that you've done the reaction shot to the big secret on the show?
JH: Yeah, I guess it is.
PC: Could you define collaboration in terms of your experience working on DROP DEAD DIVA?
JH: Well, just from a casting point we get along really well and we talk about our scenes and we work through our scenes. With the writers, it is probably more a give-and-take, though. They'll send us the scripts and, in my case, if I have an issue with something - and I won't say that doesn't happen often, because I have a vision of what I like and what I think is going to work and if it doesn't match up with the script then I will talk to them. I'll call them up and we will have an open conversation. When the script comes to us, it has gone through the network and the studio and everyone has gone through it, so, they kind of have it figured out how they want it. So, I think "OK, why did you guys write this?" And, I try to break it down from a technical standpoint to figure out how to give the audience what they want.
PC: It's a constantly evolving process.
JH: Yeah, I mean, we are out here in the middle of nowhere, so we have to stick together. The writers are 3000 miles away - they aren't here.
PC: It's a very warm set, I found.
JH: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
JH: I think that starts from the top - I mean, I think it's up to the cast-members to create a good environment where people want to succeed. You know, when our guest stars show up, we want them to do their best work. If we are as*holes to them, they are not going to do great work.
PC: Indeed. Who have been some of your favorite guest stars? Elliot Gould and you had a palpable rapport, for one.
JH: Oh, Elliot Gould was amazing.
PC: Who else?
JH: Liza Minnelli.
PC: Wow. What an icon. What was that like?
JH: She's incredible. Incredible. She is one of the hardest working guest stars I have ever seen - probably the hardest. Sometimes she was working so hard and she would get frustrated if she couldn't get it just right and nail it. When you have somebody of that caliber show that she can still get frustrated if she doesn't absolutely nail it every time and doesn't ever mail it in or throw her lines away? Wow. That's amazing. She works hard.
PC: The best of the best.
JH: Definitely. The best.
PC: Who else have you particularly enjoyed working with this season?
JH: Oh, I loved Wanda Sykes. Kathy Griffin.
PC: How was Kathy? She is such a cut-up. All three of those ladies have done this column, as well, by the way.
JH: She is so cool. So cool. When I met Kathy, there was some really fun banter. We were just messing with each other. (Laughs.) She's just got a great energy and a great spirit. I love having her on the show.
PC: Rapid-fire, too. She's so quick.
JH: Oh, yeah.
PC: What about the musical sequences? Are you a singer yourself?
JH: Yeah, I play guitar and I am actually a singer.
PC: I hope you do a song or two soon, then!
JH: Maybe. Maybe. We'll see.
PC: I know you are a dog-lover, as well.
JH: Oh, yeah. Rescues. It's important - there are a lot of pit-bulls out there without homes. I had one and he was the sweetest dog ever. You'd think he was a lap dog! They just get a bad rap.
PC: Are you involved in any charities for them.
JH: Yeah, I try to help out with a lot of different organizations.
PC: How do you stay in shape for the show?
JH: Well, recently, I've been doing a lot of triathlons, but I do martial arts, too. I don't like using a lot of weights. I just like walking around and knowing how to function with my body, you know?
PC: It is an actor's instrument.
PC: Tell me about one of the new movies you have coming out, HIDDEN MOON.
JH: Oh, it's gonna be good. I just talked to the director recently.
PC: What was it like working with Linda Gray (who has also done this column)?
JH: Well, we shot it in Mexico City - where I actually used to live.
PC: A set away from home, then!
JH: Yeah. (Laughs.) Linda was amazing, though. She was super-sweet. So maternal.
PC: Do you have some scenes together?
JH: Oh, yeah. Yeah. We have a couple of scenes. She plays my mother-in-law.
PC: What grabbed you about the script?
JH: Well, it's a family project and it's really good. What initially drew me was that I wanted to work in Mexico, because I love supporting that economy - it has really been through the ringer recently.
PC: So, it's a pretty much a passion project for you, then?
JH: Yeah, it was a great opportunity to do something in Mexico.
PC: Tell me about working with Samuel L. Jackson on CLEANER.
JH: (Laughs.) Well, I had a bit part, so it was more like hanging out with him than actually working with him.
PC: That's so funny. But, you still got to act together!
JH: Yeah. Yeah. But, they cut out all the end of the movie, so… (Laughs.). He's a cool guy, though. He was really cool to me.
PC: Were you a Stephen King fan before you did THE MIST film? It's his personal favorite of all his creations.
JH: Yeah, I know! And, it was Frank Darabont's favorite story of Stephen King's. But, no, I didn't read a ton of Stephen King, but I do feel a lot of people have attempted Stephen King and haven't succeeded.
PC: You can say that again!
JH: Yeah, it seems like they just throw a lot of things together and put the name Stephen King on it. But, Frank wanted to make a good movie and that's what drew me to it.
PC: He's a master of King's material.
JH: You know, even when I was doing bit parts and working regionally, I was still pretty specific about the stuff I was working on - I didn't want to settle. This was no different.
PC: You have also worked with a true cinematic innovator - Robert Rodriguez. He reinvented movie-making in many ways with SPY KIDS and SIN CITY.
JH: Oh, yeah. He's a total genius.
PC: Tell me about the film you did with him - SHORTS?
JH: Well, it's a high-concept kids' film. It's one I did early on - well, a few years ago.
PC: Your credits only go back to 2005! It wasn't that long ago.
JH: I know! I know (Laughs.) It was one of the first things - but, I guess it's only three or four years. But, it opened up some doors, I'm sure.
PC: And, now, DIVA is going from Season Three into Season Four.
JH: And, it's going international - all over the world!
PC: What's next for you after DIVA Season Three? Your next film will be BIRD OF THE AIR - can you tell me about that?
JH: Yeah, BIRD OF THE AIR is a lead I did that we shot a little over a year ago. It's a great cast - Buck Henry, Linda Emond, Judith Ivey. Margaret Whitton directed it - it's her directorial debut. Philippe [Rousselot] shot it, who won an Academy Award for A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. He is incredible. That comes out in September. 42 West is the distribution company, out of New York. They did VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. (Pause.) You know, I actually did THE TREE OF LIFE, also,but I am only in the Director's Cut on the DVD.
PC: How was the experience on THE TREE OF LIFE? What was working with Terrence Malick like?
JH: You know, he's brilliant - but, he's very eccentric.
PC: Didn't Sean Penn and he have some blow-outs over Malick focusing on the scenery and not on the acting in the scenes?
JH: I wouldn't be surprised. I mean, you never know what's going to end up in the movie, anyway, with Malick - I'm just glad I'm in the Director's Cut. His work is an acquired taste, though, so you just have to be willing to watch a lot of landscape stuff and sit and relax and watch a lot of long, drifting shots.
PC: THE TREE OF LIFE may very well win Best Picture next year and, of course, DAYS OF HEAVEN is a visual masterpiece.
JH: Oh, yeah. Yeah. THE THIN RED LINE, too.
PC: Who do you look up to from an acting standpoint, yourself?
JH: Well, I tend to look to people who are my type…
PC: You and Dermot Mulroney could be twins!
JH: I know! I know. I guess it's too obvious, which is why we haven't played twins yet. (Laughs.) I like guys who never do the same thing twice - Leo DiCaprio. Christian Bale.
JH: Bale in THE MACHINEST, especially, I really love.
PC: What are some of your favorite films?
JH: I recently got on a kick of A FEW GOOD MEN. I've been watching GANGS OF NEW YORK, too. It's an all-time classic. Scorsese is a master.
PC: I totally agree. The critics really didn't get it.
JH: It's one of my Top Ten of all-time. I just saw AGE OF INNOCENCE again, too, with Day-Lewis. I think Michelle Pfeiffer carried that movie, though. Day-Lewis is another actor I love - I think his best work is in GANGS OF NEW YORK. You will see in my next role - in BIRD OF THE AIR - it's important to me not to do the same thing twice. I am constantly trying to challenge myself.
PC: I cannot thank you enough. This has been great.
JH: Thanks, Pat. I really appreciate it. Bye now.
Photo Credits: Lifetime
BONUS: Check out the new A BIRD OF THE AIR trailer below!