Travis Van Winkle from “Transformers” and “YOU” Talks About His Dedication to Acting

Travis Van Winkle’s story is not one of overnight success, but rather intense passion, hard work and dedication to a craft of perpetual curiosity.

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American actor Travis Van Winkle—best known for his appearance in 2007’s “Transformers” and, more recently, in the third season Netflix’ hit series “You”—is a dedicated performer whose passion for his craft visibly bleeds into the roles he plays, both on the silver screen and TV. Initially dreaming of being an NFL wide receiver in his youth, Van Winkle had always enjoyed being the center of attention, often cracking jokes to get people to laugh. The journey that brought him to where he is today is, unsurprisingly, full of interesting stories and insight into the world of acting.

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DAMAN: What is it about acting that appeals to you?
Travis Van Winkle: Exploring other worlds and thoughts different than my own, and living in a state of perpetual curiosity and play, is quite compelling for me.

DAMAN: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a young actor? Especially before you landed your series regular role in 2014’s “The Last Ship”?
Travis Van Winkle: Getting work in the beginning was a gradual process for me. As soon as I arrived in Los Angeles in 2003, I developed a curriculum of classes and basically created my own drama university. I got an agent after six months and from there it was baby steps. Student films, then co-stars, guest stars, landed some studio films and the producers of two of those films happened to go on to produce “The Last Ship.” I went in to audition and, luckily, it was mine. It took 10 years from arrival to my role on “The Last Ship.” Class and work, class and work, class and work—that was the ow for me. And being able to track my progress along the way was, and still is, a helpful tool to endure the inevitable dry spells.

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DAMAN: And what was it like being part of the critically-acclaimed Netflix series “You”?
Travis Van Winkle: A show like “You” has such an avid fan base that it motivated me to do everything in my power to bring my A-game. Although my preparation will always be full out no matter the project.

DAMAN: What was it about the show that made you want to join the cast? Have you always been a fan of thrillers?
Travis Van Winkle: I hadn’t seen the show prior to landing the role, but when I first was introduced to the character it was a direct hit for me. I felt drawn to play a guy like Cary Conrad, someone full of this insatiable hunger to optimize every cell in his body and yours. Playing a character that is going to try and defy God to live forever is quite fun. I’m a fan of thrillers of all kinds: “The Game,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Fugitive,” “Parasite,” “Seven”…

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DAMAN: Have you always wanted to be an actor? When was it that you realized that this is something that you would like to pursue and do for a living?
Travis Van Winkle: No, I haven’t always wanted to be an actor, but being the center of attention and trying to make people laugh started at a young age. My dream of becoming an NFL wide receiver had to die first in order for acting to come into focus. I was 20 years old when I moved to Los Angeles and, I kid you not, within a couple of days it became clear this was going to be a lifelong pursuit of mine.

DAMAN: Did playing in “You” entail any kind of special preparation?
Travis Van Winkle: I didn’t want to just act like someone that had endless confidence in his mind and body; I wanted to become it. So, I hired elite nutritionist and trainer Grant Roberts and with his guidance I adopted a strict nutrition plan and worked out like an Olympian for many months to put on 10 pounds of muscle. I also worked with two of the best acting coaches in the game, John Markland and Anna Lamadrid, and we dove into the psychology and emotional life of Cary Conrad. Hard work and self-discipline fed directly into the confidence of someone like Cary … and to me that was the bridge to really living in his skin.

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DAMAN: In general, how do you prepare for the roles you’re about to play? Do you have any routines that you like to follow?
Travis Van Winkle: Every role requires something different of me, so it’s never the same experience. I like to use my imagination and build out character memories and relationships as well as tap into my own personal experiences to mine the empathy of the characters I play. Jack Nicholson said something that has always stuck with me: “Acting is autobiographical.”

It may sound a little hippity dippity, but currently, I meditate before I enter a set and I invite the thoughts, feelings and memories of the character I’m playing to come forward. I also offer certain elements of my personal experience that may be applicable to the scene.

DAMAN: Of all the roles that you’ve played, is there a particular character that really stuck out to you? Either because of how it made you feel or because of the impression that it gave you…
Travis Van Winkle: Sorry for the generic answer, but each role I play leaves an indelible mark in some way or another and I hope they continue to. There is something to learn from every character.

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DAMAN: You’re a very talented actor with a great range. Who do you, in turn, look up to in your early years of acting?
Travis Van Winkle: That’ very generous of you to say. Regardless of your chosen field, you must study the greats that come before you. I still like to soak up the simplicity and charisma of Robert Redford, the depth and intensity of Paul Newman, and the physical storytelling of Charlie Chaplin. Even today, many of the actors I’ve gotten to work across from I’ve admired. It’s a privilege to put in the work, grow as an actor, while uncovering more about myself so I can honor the characters that come to me.

DAMAN: What is your dream role?
Travis Van Winkle: Truthfully, I just want to work and I believe the right roles come my way at the exact right time. There has been such an auspicious quality to my career thus far. But I don’t mind speaking a few things into existence here. One, I want to get lost in the physicality of a character. Put on 60 pounds or lose 60 pounds, change the shape of my face structure and teeth. Christian Bale, Jared Leto and Jim Carrey have been on my radar as they give over their entire bodies to the characters they play.

Two, I want to originate a flawed and bad ass character in a fantastical world similar to “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

Three, I want to be involved in a project like Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” and tell a heartwarming story that takes place over the course of a couple decades. This kind of long form storytelling reveals so beautifully the inevitable physical and physiological changes we all go through.

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DA: Do you have any regrets? Career-wise, that is. Missed opportunities, perhaps, or projects cancelled despite its potential and so on.
Travis Van Winkle: I have some missed opportunities for sure. We all do. It’s part of being human and they only become of value if you learn something from them. Missed opportunities have taught me to become more conscious in how I approach the work. Robert De Niro said once his favorite word was “refine” and I believe if we are not constantly changing and adapting, we are dying.

DAMAN: If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Travis Van Winkle: Compound interest.

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DAMAN: Are there any more major goals that you would like to achieve in your career?
Travis Van Winkle: I want to perform regularly on Broadway in New York and eventually in London. I want to write, produce and star in meaningful films and television series and work with people I love and respect.

DAMAN: Is there anything that you do on your time off to relax?
Travis Van Winkle: Outdoor adventuring. Road trips. Play with dogs. Play guitar or piano. Paint. Draw. Podcasts. Enjoy music. Work out. Get lost in YouTube rabbit holes. Watch bloopers from popular shows. Everything UFC.

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DAMAN: Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Travis Van Winkle: I have a fun part towards the end of season two of HBO Max’ “Made for Love.”

DAMAN: And lastly, where do you hope is this industry moving towards?
Travis Van Winkle: More inclusivity and proper representation in all facets of the industry and equal pay for women and men.

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