ON THE RISE. Drew Roy was the quintessential ‘struggling actor’ waiting on tables and waiting for his break. Most never get it, but for Drew Roy, his rise to stardom has taken off on a steep trajectory.
From a small town in Alabama, Drew Roy gave up his ambition to be a doctor for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Once there, however, he eventually found himself hawking candy bars at basketball games and thinking of giving up on his dream to be a star. But he persevered and now can call himself a colleague of John Malkovich, Steven Spielberg and many other A-listers. Catching a break with Hannah Montana, he has moved into the spotlight recently with roles in the hit movie Secretariat and a highly anticipated TV series, Falling Skies.
DA MAN: So, when did you get to L.A.?
Drew Roy: Six years ago. I came out right out of high school and didn’t know a thing about acting. I’d never set foot on stage, I met this manager and he was like, you come out, I’ll represent you and I thought, ‘that’d be cool.’
DA MAN: Just like that?
Drew Roy: Yes. I was over in Atlanta, Georgia for a weekend, I had a little bit of modeling going on. I figured I was going to go to college and showbiz would be a fun thing to do on the side. Then, I met the manager and it just all happened … really out of the blue.
DA MAN: So, no yearnings to be an actor in your past?
Drew Roy: It was a far-fetched thing that just seemed silly to ever imagine or pursue. It was something I always enjoyed, and was fascinated by, but it always seemed out of my reach. So when the opportunity arose, I just went for it. Beforehand, the opportunity was just never there. We had a drama program at our school, but I was all about sports, playing basketball or baseball.
DA MAN: When the opportunity did arise, was it intimidating, coming out to Hollywood?
Drew Roy: I knew so little about it that it didn’t intimidate me to try it. I just thought, ‘hey, I grew up in this small town, I’ve always been able to be anything and do anything,’ and so when this presented itself to me, I figured, ‘alright, I’ll take on Hollywood.’
DA MAN: What’s your hometown like?
Drew Roy: In the town I grew up in, we’re definitely familiar with trucks and guns and fishing, but for the most part it was just normal people. My dad’s a dentist, my mother’s a teacher.
DA MAN: Before acting, what were you moving toward?
Drew Roy: I was a real academic. I graduated the top of my class in high school—I wanted to be a doctor, so acting was a long way away from the original plan. So, I found myself moving out to L.A., me and five best friends who were all in a band together, and that’s how it began … It was crazy, we didn’t get anything done. They moved home at about the three-year mark and that’s when I thought, ‘alright, I don’t know if my pride will let me go home yet.’
DA MAN: What were those first three years like?
Drew Roy: Tough. Originally, I decided to go out for only a year. My parents and I figured at the one-year mark it would be clear if I should stay or go, but after two years, it still wasn’t clear. I still felt I couldn’t throw in the towel. Also, for the first few years I had a serious southern accent, and wasn’t even going on that many auditions. I didn’t feel like I’d given it my best shot yet. I couldn’t face everyone at home and say, ‘I tried, but I couldn’t do it.’ So once my friends left, I started focusing more and paying more attention to making things happen. I also had a few friends who were starting to book regularly, and that made it more attainable to me. I wanted to be an actor, but I didn’t know how to do it, but when buddies started making it happen, I started seeing it could happen for me too.
DA MAN: What kind of jobs did you work during that period?
Drew Roy: One of my jobs was selling candy at the Lakers games. So, I’m the dude with the Snickers. But my first job was serving at Hamburger Hamlet, but the food was cheap, and thus, so were the tips. They didn’t have parking for us, so many times; I’d park on the street during work, get a ticket, and then not even have enough money from my shift to pay the fine. It was rough.
DA MAN: What was the first moment where you felt truly validated in this career path?
Drew Roy: I think the true validation came from booking Falling Skies—just the fact that Steven Spielberg was producing it, and it felt like a more substantial role. I would definitely say that being on Falling Skies was the moment where I thought this could turn into something. And that led to Secretariat, which had all sorts of actors on it that I admire and respect.
DA MAN: James Cromwell, John Malkovich and Diane Lane, to be exact. Any crazy John Malkovich anecdotes?
Drew Roy: I would say that in full, he was exactly what you would think it would be like working with John Malkovich. I mean, he’s John Malkovich, and he’s great, no surprises. He was another really nice guy, I remember a couple of times, just sitting there, we’d be getting ready for a scene or something, and he’d just say, ‘Hey, Drew, come here,’ and I would think, ‘Yes! Malkovich wants to talk!’ So we’d just have a little conversation about whatever. I don’t remember what, it was one of those out-of-body experiences where you are thinking, ‘I’m talking to John Malkovich.’ Yikes.
DA MAN: What was the audition process like for Falling Skies? Did you have to audition for Steven Spielberg?
Drew Roy: Not directly. It was a long process. When it first happened, it was right at the end of pilot season, and after the first read it was a two-week wait. Usually, it’s like five days. I went into the callback, read for casting and producers, and then that led to the two different screen-tests on the Universal lot. It’s an awesome building, you drive in and there’s this huge gate that reminds you of Jurassic Park. You pull in and go into the waiting room, which has a few Oscars … That was the first time I’d seen an actual Oscar. I went in, read and then came back another time, and that whole process took over a month. It was down to me and another guy; all that was holding us back at a certain point was that Steven Spielberg, who was in Europe at the time, had to compare the tapes. I got a call one Sunday from my manager, saying, ‘they would be excited to go with you, it’s yours.’
DA MAN: No more tossing Snickers bars?
Drew Roy: Hah, no not at all.
DA MAN: What’s it like working with a guy like Steven Spielberg?
Drew Roy: It’s amazing. For Falling Skies, it seems like he’s taken the show under his wing and been very involved creatively. He showed up on the pilot, which was incredible: There were several times on set where we’re about to do a scene and the director is telling me this or that and saying, ‘Steven said we want to do it this way.’
DA MAN: What’s the premise of Falling Skies?
Drew Roy: It’s about an alien invasion, but it’s different because it takes place six months after the aliens have invaded. So you don’t see the invasion, you’re seeing how we’re dealing with these aliens. And as most aliens are, they’re more sophisticated than us, and they’ve sort of backed us into a corner. So, the first season is about us figuring out what they’re here for, how we can kill them. On the show, there are these different little pockets of resistance fighters. Ours is called The Second Massachusetts. I think there are seven pockets of people trying to work everything out because we’ve discovered that if we’re in too big of a group, they can track us down easier and kill us. So, if we stay in these small little pockets, not too big or small, we can survive. So my father, played by Noah Wyle, is the leader of our group of fighters. I have three brothers, myself being the oldest, and the middle brother is taken by the aliens sometime before the first episode, so getting him back is one of the major plotlines of the first half of the season.
DA MAN: What’s the social dynamic like, being a working actor in L.A.?
Drew Roy: It’s flighty, you know; I find that when you go off to shoot for a couple months, everyone’s texting, ‘We miss you!’ And then after a month, a little less, another month, less, and after three or four months, you’re pretty much off the social radar. People tend to be involved with their own projects; there’s a degree of fickleness. So by the time you come back, they will say, ‘Oh! You! You’re back! Great!’
DA MAN: Now that you have a few roles under your belt, are you starting to get a feel for what kind of characters you’re going to want to play?
Drew Roy: I think I sort of have an idea, but honestly, in the beginning you kind of have to take what you can get … I’ve been incredibly lucky, starting out with the Disney channel and Nickelodeon stuff. It was great, I wouldn’t change it, but it’s not, at the end of the day, what I want to do forever. Now, with Secretariat and Falling Skies, they’ve just been great characters.
DA MAN: Any other aspirations in the entertainment industry?
Drew Roy: I think I’d probably be one of those guys who would want to direct and act, which almost seems impossible. I don’t know how those guys do that. You need a lot of people you really trust, because you’re in front of the camera while everything else is going on. That’s why I think working in this business with friends is the best thing to do, because you’re all having a great time, and it’s just a collaborative effort among friends.
DA MAN: What would you do if you weren’t acting?
Drew Roy: So far it’s good, but you know how this business is. Anything could happen … There is something about being a surgeon, a doctor, which I really like. At this point, it would take about 10 years of school if I ever wanted to pick it up again, so hopefully acting will pan out. I know for certain if I’d stayed home and gone to college, I might still be living in Alabama.
DA MAN: Have your parents been supportive of your career?
Drew Roy: Even from day one where it was this stupid decision to go out there, they supported it. And now that things are really getting going, my dad’s a dentist and with the success of Hannah Montana, and whatnot, he has all these little kids come in and peer around the corner and they say, ‘Oh, that’s Drew Roy’s dad!’ So he’s got his own little celebrity going, he’s loving it! He’s got my photos and he hands them out.
DA MAN: Any new projects in the works?
Drew Roy: Right now, I’m back like I was before, going to casting offices. I have a little bit to talk about but I don’t feel like it’s really made a difference yet. Hopefully, once Falling Skies comes out, it’ll make things a little easier. But I just like to go with the flow and assume there will be another job. You’ve got to work for it, but I feel like when you get all caught up in ‘you have to get another job,’ you start working from a different place, and that’s not a good place. So we’ll see what happens.
DA MAN: What do you think it takes to be successful in this town?
Drew Roy: It’s a shot in the dark—you have to have a certain amount of talent, and then luck. For instance, I go to acting classes where there are five, six, seven, eight people just as talented as someone who’s working, but they’re not booking. It’s very unfair, but that’s how it works.
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Interview: Oliver Singer
To see the full feature with full-size images, click here to get the DA MAN February/March 2011 issue.
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