Photography by Sebastian Smith
Q: What would you consider your first big break?
A: I don’t really think in those terms. It’s been a cumulative experience and continues to be so, both in experience and growth, as well as opportunity. Rejections are just as valuable as breaks because they test you—your desire, your resolve, and often, a deeper exploration of the work.
That being said, I’ve always worked towards, and dreamed of, being on a quality series, so I do consider The Blacklist a dream come true.
Q: You started in theater, and lately have shifted into television. Is theater something you are consciously moving away from?
A: Well, I did a play this summer and just work-shopped another. I had recently made a pact with myself to at least do one theatre project a year. It’s an important muscle to exercise, whether it be a full production, or a workshop, or even directing a one act. Getting inside the theatre arena is invaluable for me. It’s where I developed all my instincts as an actor. These last few years I have found myself thriving within the television environment, and have found its schedule more conducive for work/life balance, but I’m certainly not ruling anything out, theatre or otherwise. Broadway is still on the bucket list!
Q: You’ve been in American Horror Story, which is particularly driven by sex and violence. Do you think that there is too much gratuitous sex and violence on television that takes away from the actual story?
A: There are so many programs now, so many I haven’t seen, I’m not sure I’m fully qualified to answer this. Speaking directly to American Horror Story: that was a tremendous experience and Ryan Murphy is a trail blazer in American television. Besides the ratings, if you look at the quality of talent AHS continues to attract, from Jessica Lange and Dennis O’Hare, to Kathy Bates, some of film and theatre’s best artists, that really speaks volumes about the quality of storytelling on AHS.
The show taps into something primal, combining a lot of genres. Beyond the sex and gore, they’ve tapped into fantasies and fears and then turned them on their head. It’s very compelling TV, and in terms of technical execution, AHS has absolutely raised the bar.
Regarding sex and violence on TV, and in our internet age, it really is a new, unique challenge to police who sees what, but I do believe in old fashioned teaching and parenting, and for those purely averse to sex and violence on TV, they should block or change the channel.
Q: In terms of nudity and sexuality, how far would you go in future roles?
A: I’ve had some sexualized roles in AHS as well as Homeland, but those are such well-written shows that have done so well that it felt like the right decision to accept. If the story is good, and the role is good, and some nudity or sex scenes are required for the story, I have no problem partaking. I certainly would not support gratuitous sex, sensationalized violence, or rewarded misogyny without a narrative contextualizing or condemning the behavior.
Q: You currently have a prominent role on the Blacklist. This is one of your longest-running roles. How do you mentally prepare yourself for a role or getting into character?
A: The prep varies from project to project and role to role. You must establish your character’s point of view and voice. Once that begins to percolate, it’s easier to learn your lines. You can’t just know your lines; you must have a command over them, so that your character is free, and then when you get on set, you can truthfully go a lot of different directions. That’s when the fun can happen, with new choices and spontaneous moments.
What’s also become particularly fun about The Blacklist is I now know this character in a much more involved way than any I’ve done in the past, and the writers know him so well, too. There’s a synergy happening, a rhythm, and I find myself absorbing the lines faster, naturally, but there are also constant new challenges as well. Technically, I need to be consistent as a character, but personally, never want to be redundant as a performer. So Aram has to evolve; the role is never stasis!
Q: You’ve done some comedy (I Hate Valentine’s Day, Girls) and a lot of drama. What is your favorite genre to work within and why?
A: I love a good story, but my favorite actors are those who float between both mediums. I’ve done a lot of comedy in theatre, and not unlike Blacklist, I have often been a lighter character in what are often considered dramatic projects. I believe there is always room for humor, no matter the circumstance, and that’s probably something I can’t help but bring to a lot of my work.
I do look forward to doing more comedies. They somehow keep me in a buoyant mood. But I love good storytelling first and foremost, whether it be Homeland, or Girls. I never want to be pigeonholed.
Q: You also had a recurring role in Law and Order. Many people look at a show like that and tend to comment how they could commit the perfect crime. From your own behind-the-scenes perspective from a show like that, how would you commit the perfect crime?
A: Oh wow, I’ve never thought about that. Creepy. I just saw Gone Girl and it absolutely haunted me! What’s scarier than the perfect crime? I certainly don’t have any more inkling how to do one as a result of working on SVU, or Blacklist, but am certainly compelled by those scripts.
Q: Is your plate full with The Blacklist, or are there any other projects in the works for you?
A: I have two movies coming out, but now it’s harder to shoot other projects since Blacklist is such a big show to produce with so many moving parts, and it’s hard to predict free time for other gigs. I did start teaching theatre and TV students at The Broadway Workshop on weekends, and have been doing some theatre workshops, and also have a potential film on the horizon.
Q: If there was any character you could play from the history of film, who would it be?
A: Peter Sellers’ role in The Party, Being There, and Dr. Strangelove, Jean Dujardin’s role in The Artist. F.Murray Abraham’s Salieri from Amadeaus, Eddie Murphy’s roles in The Nutty Professor, Roberto Benigni’s role in Life is Beautiful, Edward Norton’s role in Primal Fear, Bronson Pinchot’s Serge from Beverly Hills Cop, Tim Curry’s role in CLUE, or Daniel Day Lewis in anything.
Q: You started your acting career in several soap opera drama. Is this something you allude to your success as an actor? Is this anything you laugh about self-deprecatingly today?
A: Oh yeah, I have all kinds of early credits that are hilarious. I toured the country in Scooby-Dooby Live. Doing a few lines on soap operas was an incredibly useful learning experience. At the time, getting each one of those jobs felt as exciting as booking The Blacklist. It’s all relative to where you are in your journey. And if you love the work, truly, then the journey always feels like a win.
Q: Do you find any identity in being from St. Louis, MO? Do you feel connected or loyal to St. Louis in a way?
A: There is something special about St. Louis and the stories of my parents moving there, but my real kinship is with Fort Lauderdale, where I grew up from ages 4 to 18. I attended a tremendous school, Pine Crest, from kindergarten thru my senior year, and that is where I found my love for acting, all my lifelong friends, teachers I’m still in touch with, etc., so that’s my real home. I will forever be a Miami Dolphins and Heat fan, Lebron or not!
Q: Is there a certain play or film that was particularly inspiring for your acting career?
A: So many. Stand by Me was the first movie as a kid that really strung an emotional nerve. Almost like how people describe their first read of Catcher in the Rye. The World According to Garp resonated when I was young. Back to the Future, I consider a perfect film: Every frame is necessary and perfectly executed to advance the story forward. Ace Ventura was a mind-blowing comedy when I was 13! In college, seeing P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights felt like revolutionary filmmaking and acting. I immediately started following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s career, and I’ll never forget seeing Jesus Hopped the A Train at Labyrinth that he directed, and shortly after, seeing him play both roles in True West on Broadway. He is a monumental role model.
I’m a bit of a cinephile, so I could go on and on with this question, but my favorite movie of all time is Brazil’s City of God. It’s the most accomplished and surprising and illuminating movie in every way. My second favorite movie of all time is the French Canadian movie Incedenies based on the play, Scorched. Those two movies are such inspired storytelling. More than acting, they made me want to direct.
Q: Any thoughts on the Israeli conflict? What do you feel is the most pressing global current event at the moment?
A: I wouldn’t know how to decide what’s most pressing; war, hunger, violence, disease, racism…so much of the news depresses me.
Politics often depresses me. Entrenched dogmatic points of view depress me. And any media sensationalizing or inflaming fears and conflicts to sell ratings, that beyond depresses me. So I sometimes find myself looking away. But as an artist, I know I can’t. We have an obligation as citizenry to our community, whether that be towards your zip code or the world at large. I have to pay attention. Empathy is key, as an artist, and I imagine a good starting point for a lot of world problems. We all have common ground, and we are all struggling thru something. We must sense, feel, and act as such towards others.