WMMer Brian Richard Gaskill has enjoyed a fair amount of success as an actor, playing some very memorable characters, from his television debut Models Inc. (1994) to his circuit through daytime television. He played Bobby Warner on All My Children (1995-97) Rafe Kovitch on Port Charles (2001-03), Oscar Marone on The Bold and the Beautiful (2003-04) and Dylan Lewis on Guiding Light (2007). But that is just the tip, as they say. I caught up with the poetic philosophizing gypsy artist who is a proud member of our community…
WMM: Where are you from, what is your background, and how do you think that informs what you do as a filmmaker, actor, and writer?
BG: Well, I was born in Hawaii, but I’m pretty sure that had little influence on me since I was only there for about four months, I think. Except now I almost see it as the beginning of a life that always had an undercurrent of longing to “go home.” I still have never been back. I grew up mostly on the Jersey Shore, moving several times in the same area… so moving around a lot as a gypsy artist adult seems natural. Though nowadays I have a strong longing to “go home” and settle down. When I was a kid I found my “home” on the stage.
Now I think “home” can only be found once I accept who I am and commit to that from the heart. That’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to do for the last year or so (writing, acting, etc, all from a truer place). It’s a bumpy road, but so is any alternative. My hope is that the cliche is true, and “home is where the heart is.” P.S.- Growing up on the Jersey Shore is who I am. Merry-go-rounds on dirty city streets. Magical realism. Looking for that balance. Riding that wave.
WMM: When did you know you wanted to pursue your craft as a career? Were you supported in your dreams?
BG: I fell in love with art and movies very early. I wanted to animate for Disney. Then I was going to audition for a play in the 7th grade (Tea House of the August Moon) and I chickened out and did set crew instead (but still I was happy to be involved). Then the next year I started getting on stage and never stopped. For better or worse, it was never a career trajectory. It was just who I was and what I did, and as I got older I just kind of assumed I would keep doing it. My parents supported me in it too. I always remember a silver bracelet my mother got me that had engraved on it “be the dream”. So that’s what I did.
In retrospect, I wasn’t really smart about it though. I had great success early on, but I just let the tides take me where they wanted to, instead of taking control early on. That’s the danger in everything seeming ok early on. You don’t train yourself to fight and survive. And later on when those skills may be needed, they are not there. Still, I guess the truth is, we are all on our own journey. So even if one is a late bloomer or has a “coming of age” later in life, that’s ok too.
So, I guess, yeah, I was always supported in my dreams and they came about so easy in some ways, that I left behind the one person who I really needed to support me. Myself. So I’m getting to know him now.
WMM: Did you study anywhere in your field? Where? Any notable stories/experience/peers/teachers?
BG: Arts education was my life. I went to a performing arts high school in Red Bank, New Jersey … And I am still friends with my drama teacher there. That stage was my home, and where it all started.
Then I went to Lee Strasberg Theater Institute for a semester, fulfilling my 1950’s Actor’s Studio dreams. Though Lee was dead, all I ever heard about was the fight between Strasberg and Stella Adler about who was teaching Stanislavsky correctly. Anna Strasberg said she had a letter in a safe from Stanislavsky to Lee that confirmed he was right… I was pretty sure none of it mattered.
I saw a documentary once about the whole “method” of acting and Joanne Woodward debunked the whole thing wonderfully,saying something like “I’m just good at what I do. Most of the time I’m just imagining and having fun. Sometimes though, I reach a problem moment and then I’m thankful there is a “method” to solve that problem… ” Something like that.
I went on to the acting conservatory at SUNY Purchase and was surrounded by master teachers who taught me every possible angle. The most important one being Israel Hicks (he was the Dean), who interrupted acting class one day. He saw actors “preparing” for 20 minutes outside and coming in to do a scene that was none the better for it. He said “just once I’d like to see one of you do no preparation and just ride through the scene by the seat of your pants” so some did just that. And frankly the scenes were more alive. Lesson: Our whole lives are preparation. When it’s time to go to work, we can often just take a step and keep on just living. Just do YOU, instead of burdening yourself with worry over preparation that you have already done. But have some “method” in your pocket to solve a problem when it arises.
WMM: What else do you do besides your craft? Day job?
BG: Lately I have been offering coaching to actors for auditions, etc. But also what I have really discovered after 30 years of study and “work in the field,” is that much of what I have learned over the years in ACTING can be applied to self exploration and growth to anyone. Other artists for sure will be in tune with that concept, and it can be a great tool to explore for any ARTIST, but frankly it can also be fun for any “average” person. Because really what we discover is no one is AVERAGE. We are all individually special, and deserve the same self exploration that most artists afford themselves. So I have been doing some of that with people in private sessions in person and over Skype long distance.
WMM: What is the lowest budget you have worked with? Highest?
BG: That’s hard to say. As far as film making budgets, my first foray into that world was living in Nashville and Alabama, and I started to make indie music videos for music artists I knew. (How I got in the deep south, I will leave for my auto-biography…haha) I had a camera and the sound was any given song, so I just went out and shot stuff and then edited myself. All on an old version of iMovie. It was all guerrilla indie and probably a budget of zero mostly. It’s fun being in other states where people are just willing to go shoot and have fun and not worry about all the “pro” stuff. Makes you feel like a kid again.
As far as the highest budgets I’ve worked with, I would say that has mostly been in my professional acting career. Big prime-time, and daytime shows, etc.
As a filmmaker, I just wrote two short films that were developed through WE MAKE MOVIES. One of them I co-directed (The Speech), the other (The Audition) was directed and produced, by the producer and editor of the one I directed (Ambika Leigh). We worked with budgets from 3-6k and all I can say is, if you are a creative person and see yourself that way, the smartest thing you can do is have someone around who is an organizational mastermind. Producer/Director/Editor, Ambika Leigh, who is also a part of WE MAKE MOVIES, is blessed to be both organizational and creative. She has been 100% instrumental in getting these two films completed, and helping me get my voice out into the world for maybe the first time in my life. So the thing is, no matter what your budget is, remember this… no one does it alone… we all need each other.
WMM: Describe your first foray into professional film making? First screening? First show?
BG: Again, it always just felt like something I was doing from a very young age, even though I wasn’t being paid for it. But still, I will never forget a few months after graduating college, leaving my agents office one day, and running down the street as fast as I could. I felt like I was flying, like some sort of Greek god or something. I had been paged by my agents and since I was in the Manhattan neighborhood they were in, I decided to stop by. They told me I booked my first job on a sort of after school special for HBO. I was gonna make about 500 dollars. In just a few days. I was rich!! Haha
That innocence and joy and passion gets lost over the years. But now that I have lost everything after a past of a pretty successful career, the good news is, I’m back to that point again. I have two short films being finished that are going to screen this month, and I was just cast in a feature film. It’s a just a few days work, but it’s a really cool role… And I, once again, feel like I’m a kid, and just graduated, and it’s THE FIRST TIME… and now anything is possible.
WMM: What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in as an artist? Most rewarding? Most memorable?
BG: Most stressful situation, is really just the down times. Unemployment. I encourage all young artist to not have a “backup” plan really, but at least have something else you do well that you love. A craft or skill that can get you through the lean times. It’s also stressful because you realize you NEED it. You thought you would always be exploring characters and studying the human condition through those characters. And then it stops. A part of you is gone.
Nothing is forever. You have to find your own way. Out into the woods, so to speak. Just like the fairy tale characters, it’s time for your challenge. Will you rise above? Will you get back to it? What is your destiny? What is your truth? I guess I have been in my “woods” for a while now, but I’m starting to see the light and in a way, I guess, surviving it all will also end up being the most rewarding experience, ya know? And also the most memorable. That’s the truth of life right? Everything happens together, everything contains everything else. Problems contain answers, and answers contain problems…etc.
WMM: Tell us more about your current project(s)?
BG: Two short films. One called THE SPEECH, which I act in, and also co-directed with WMM member Garrett Robinson (funds were raised through a kickstarter campaign). The other is THE AUDITION which was directed by Ambika Leigh and I also act in that with WMM member Leilani Wyattt, who was the executive producer. We are finishing them up now, and about to have a private screening, which sorta feels like a Bar Mitzvah for me. A coming out party, etc.
I have been disappointed a lot in life, and when that happens you start to hide your joy, because you start to fear someone is gonna step on it. And then you find you hide it so much, that YOU are the one stepping on it. But I really feel like running up a mountain. I’m so happy about it all. And so so grateful to the ones who helped, because I could not have done this alone.
I also was just cast in an independent feature called LET IT BLEED, and I play “the lunatic”. We are having the table read this week and I can’t wait. (I actually did my own monologue from my film THE AUDITION for the audition for the film. Very cool to share my work that way and then get the role!)
WMM: How has WMM influenced / shaped / supported you with your process/projects?
BG: WE MAKE MOVIES has really been almost everything in my process of getting in touch again with my desires and wants, and needs, as an artist, filmmaker, etc. It was the first place I had any script of mine read, and the acceptance and encouragement from this community really kept me going, through some very dark times.
Both films being completed, started because of WMM and the connections there. They were read there and I took some of the notes given in the workshop to make them better I think. I am eternally grateful to the WMM community. Rule number one. Surround yourself with like-minded souls who believe in you and believe in themselves. You will all infect each other with with dreams and passion. Just put yourself there. And breathe. And watch it all grow.
WMM: Who are your biggest influences?
BG: My biggest influences are the artists, actors, directors, editors, etc etc…who are connected to their heart, who speak from their truth, who tell their stories unabashedly. I love so many movies, but probably when it comes down to life and death, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE will always be my favorite. I grew up hearing about Frank Capra’s work being referred to as Capra-corn, but I really see nothing corny about that film. Jimmy Stewart, I think is just as good as any Marlon Brando performance. That said, I don’t know if that movie would come out of me as a writer or director, but it’s heart and reality and belief in itself affect everything I want to do and say as an artist.
I like quirky offbeat things, but don’t subscribe to the disconnection that often seems to take place in the process of independence. I think there is always room for heart and soul. That is what connects us all.
Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, Frank Capra, Jean Luc Godard, Howard Hawks, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, Sam Shepard, William Shakespeare, Henry Miller, Anais Nin … I don’t know… so many more, ya know? Just knowing they were here keeps me goin’ sometimes.
I once walked into Barnes and Noble after not really working in a long time and I picked up a copy of Streetcar Named Desire, started reading, and started to tear up as I remembered the words of a man’s poetry that planted the seeds of everything that I once wanted and forgot about. We have to constantly be inspired, constantly remember, because sometimes we forget. And then it’s 10 years later. But it’s never too late.
WMM: What are your top 5 films? Who are your favorite 5 actors? Top 5 directors? Top 5 pieces of lit?
BG: It’s A Wonderful Life / In A Lonely Place / Contempt / The Wrestler / The Fisher King (top 5 subject to change depending on mood and memory)
Judi Dench / Cate Blanchett / Jimmy Stewart / Montgomery Clift / Billy Crudup / Jack Nicholson / Louise Brooks (wait that is more than 5)
Frank Capra / Howard Hawks / Jean Luc Godard / Darren Aronofsky / Cameron Crowe / Bob Fosse (again, lost count)
Lulu In Hollywood / Steppenwolf / Letters To A Young Poet / City of Nets / Catcher in the Rye
WMM: What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
BG: I would say my two short films that I wrote have been the favorite so far. Just a big milestone to finally “do my own thing”.
I have had the great opportunity to play many cool characters professionally though. Much of that happened on daytime TV. Most of those shows are gone now, and I feel like I got to be part of something. A faded era… and they were good to me. Gave me a lot of freedom in creative choices. And it was mostly really good times.
Now I am starting over and I look forward to answering this question many years from now. Then there will be much more to choose from and I hope my favorite will often be whatever I am currently working on.
I hope we all are blessed that way.
WMM: What would you change if you could, about your career trajectory?
BG: I would have been much more pro-active a lot earlier about writing and making things happen on my own. I maybe counted too much on others, because that’s the way I saw it working when I grew up reading Premiere Magazine and watching Entertainment Tonight. I guess I thought I would become a famous actor and the rest would just happen organically but the truth is, it mostly does not happen that way.
We have to make things happen ourselves. Be fearless with your heart in the face of everyone telling you that your heart, your story is not needed. You have to write. You have to throw your paint on the canvas and see where it lands and risk showing others. And many will still say your heart, your art, is irrelevant. You have to do it anyway because that is why you are here.
And even to those who don’t see themselves as artists, I believe metaphorically, we should all strive to live like that. In love, in family, in dreams, in passion. I would change that. I would maybe have started sooner. But I am trying to start now. And once again, it is never too late.
WMM: What is your favorite thing about WMM? Why do you come?
BG: The people, the passion, the karaoke? Haha. No, really, it’s exciting to be around that many people who really seem to care.
WMM: If you were stranded on an island for 6 months, what 5 items would you wish you had on your person?
a magic box that could materialize groceries (is that allowed?) In fact, Id like one of those now…ha / a stereo to play music / a lover / a knife / sunscreen
WMM: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you want to be doing?
BG: I would be teaching…which is the only other direction I seem to be headed in anyway.
WMM: What’s next for you now?
BG: We will be screening the two short films on February 18th, which we are really excited about. Thanks to ON PURPOSE PICTURES and WE MAKE MOVIES. Then submitting them to festivals. Part of the reason for the screening is to raise a few bucks for festival submissions. So that’s next as well. And then the film I am acting in. And then continuing to write and develop other projects. And hopefully I think more acting jobs are coming. I feel a shift… and it’s time to “go home.”
WMM: Describe yourself with 3 adjectives.
BG: curious / dreamer / passionate
WMM: What, other than your craft, brings you joy?
By Sapna Gandhi