To describe Jonathan Tucker as one of the most underappreciated actors in Hollywood is a perfect understatement. His intensity in any movie gives it instant credibility because of the 100% commitment from him and what this brings out of his fellow actors.
By Angie Palmer
photos Syndication/Tony Duran
stylist Avo Yermagyan @avoyermagyan
grooming & haircut Kela Wong using @balmainhaircouture @tomfordbeauty
When I sat down for my Zoom interview with The Virgin Suicides actor Jonathan Tucker, I was honestly expecting him to put up more of a fuss—and not because he gives off the air of an entitled actor but because this man has seriously earned the right to be in low spirits. With a foot injury leaving him bed-ridden, an intense production schedule thousands of miles from home, two infant twins running around and all of the other grievances that accompany living in today’s pandemic, a press interview is the last thing I assumed Tucker wanted to do with his precious Sunday afternoon. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Right off the bat when asked about his current injury he responded with a beaming smile on his face, “You know what, I’m getting through it. I got leg up, head up, spirit up, word up.” And when the conversation shifted to COVID-19, he concluded that “we are very lucky. Very healthy. And frankly, being an actor is one of these great things where it gives you quite a perspective on your life where there’s always somebody doing better and there’s always somebody doing worse and the fact is my kids and my wife are healthy. I’m healthy. And while I have an injury to overcome and rehabilitate, I’ve got two legs. There’s people coming back from Iraq (or) Afghanistan with missing limbs, so there’s no complaining on my side.” And this positive notion seemed to be the theme of our entire interview.
If Jonathan Tucker was in physical pain or overcome with exhaustion, he fooled me and did what any good actor would do and faked his way through. It reminded me of the time when Tucker was shooting DirecTv’s Kingdom, a dramatic television series surrounding the lives of MMA Fighters in America. Perhaps some of the most engaging and impressive elements of this show are the very realistic fight scenes portrayed by these on-screen actors. And it wasn’t always just good old Hollywood production either. In one scene, Tucker actually took an elbow to the eye and instead of seeking immediate medical attention he acted through it and simply treated his gash with superglue, something that real MMA fighters genuinely do to treat emergency cuts. Of course Tucker politely rolled his eyes at the mention of this scene, “actors are always like ah I was injured I acted through it but I’m like you know what? Listen dude, let me tell you what’s hard. What’s hard is getting up six days a week to go work on a construction site outside in the freezing rain in the middle of November at night without really good gear, kids at home, not making a lot of money. Those are problems. That’s pushing through. Banging around on a fake MMA show where you’re not actually a fighter and you get hurt, you’ll be fine, everyone caters (to) you. There’s so many more grueling things out there and I say that just because if you’re not aware of that as an actor I don’t know if you’re doing a great job of having your eyes open to the world.”
Incredibly self-aware, Tucker sure makes some great points, but I know that if I was in his shoes, I’d make that scene the focal point of any number of conversations surrounding my career. I mean how badass is that? Training and rehearsing for an intense fight scene only to actually get hit and then insisting on finishing up the scene, how many people can say they’ve got the grit to do that? I guess I’ll just speak for Tucker in this case since he’s too humble to admit it himself: this guy is the real deal. He’s dedicated to his craft through and through and I believe him when he says he loves every second of it.
As totally badass and hyper masculine as MMA fighting is, Tucker pointed out that no other sport or community is as accepting of his ballet roots as Mixed Martial Arts. Before he was the celebrated Poppy Award Winning actor we know Tucker as, he was a ballet dancer in The Boston Ballet Company for seven years.
It all started one summer in upstate New York when his favorite cookie shop, Freihofer Bakery, offered free lawn tickets to The New York City Ballet for children and senior citizens. “My grandmother would bring me to see the New York City Ballet, we’d sit out on the lawn and I fell in love with it. When I came home to Boston I told my parents I wanted to do ballet…(ballet was) really important in how I experience the world today. It also gave me a base to kind of do it (acting) in the sense of discipline and punctuality. The ability to listen and take direction. The ability to handle rejection. To learn that things aren’t personal”
As a true 21st century man, it’s actually more so his son and not necessarily his daughter that he hopes takes up ballet “it does really sharpen the soul of a male. You’ve got to be pretty comfortable with yourself to do ballet and I like that. I like that challenge and I want my son to go through that experience.”
So how did he shift so seamlessly from ballet to on-screen acting? It was actually a schoolteacher that noticed his love of the performing arts and set him up with a Boston-based casting director, “I ended up doing a national commercial and I was clocking the process of what it was like to shoot a commercial and I just was immediately like this is home. And it’s funny because now that was 28 years ago and you know I’m more in love with the process now than I’ve ever been”
Right now, Tucker is in Vancouver filming the debut season of NBC’S Debris, a modern day Sci-Fi series about a mysterious alien spacecraft investigation. “it’s a show that is truly dedicated to its fans, which is fun. This is a show that feels like a Lost, Memento, Black Mirror, X Files. It has this really fun Twilight Zone sort of feel to it and those are the sort of stories that aren’t really on air right now. There’s a bit of a void there, particularly on network television. If you’re truly looking to please the fans and looking to resect their understanding of the trope…and the science of the sci-fi, then I think you’ve got a recipe for real success…you’ve got to be excited about everything you’re doing otherwise what are you doing here…the first day of production I got a text that said how’s it going and I wrote back: I am more excited to be shooting today than I’ve ever been in my entire life”
At 38 years old, Tucker already has quite the rolodex when it comes to past roles. We all saw him as a teenager in The Virgin Suicides, and watched his career really take off in his starring role in the 2008 thriller The Ruins, but these days he seems to fit the misunderstood bad-guy trope like his role as an ex-con in American Gods. When asked about this pattern, Tucker explained very eloquently “(Jay) is an incredibly complex person and people are complex for the most part and so much more complex than I think we sometimes understand and appreciate, for good and for bad and for joy and sadness and the capabilities that we have and strength that we have. Even politically now, the whole country could really change so dramatically with the right leadership and these things aren’t so black and white for all of these issues that we’re talking about. So how do you kind of bring one complex character to life? Well everyone’s got complex stories to tell and it’s simply a matter of brick-by-brick putting together a fully realized character.” Putting something together brick-by-brick may sound like an unusual way to describe the job of an actor, but Tucker approaches crafting a character with the same dedication and eye-for-detail as any architect, even growing attached to the final products that are these fictional characters, “if you do it right it feels like a death…there’s truly hundreds of books on how to build a character…and there’s not a single one that talks about letting go of a character that I know of and it’s hard.”
Aside from his busy career in acting, Jonathan Tucker also founded a nonprofit organization called The Pegasus Fund which sends top-performing students from underserved communities to non-academic summer camps as a means to help them acclimate to the environment of private secondary school. “We’ve started to make it something that will be around forever and will be able to run itself so to speak. There’s so many great nonprofits out there and what we want is to not start a new one, what we want to do is unite already successful ones and that’s what we did with Pegasus and I think there’s a lot more room out there for groups like us to kind of help with communication…if you can figure out a way to have these different successful organizations talk to each other and you can be a small part of that communication I think you end up saving a lot of money, a lot of bureaucracy, and really helping people.”
This altruistic attitude even extends into his critiques on social media, “I think that The Social Dilemma on Netflix is a really important documentary for our time. I just genuinely believe in the goodness in people and I really believe in the goodness in America and Americans and I don’t think we’re remotely as close or divided as we’re made to feel and manipulated to feel…there’s national challenges that should be used to bring us together instead of split us apart and so social media has been a big part of the divisiveness.”
I couldn’t help but think that social media must also extend into his real-life-role as a father of two 17-month year old twins. In the final moments of our conversation I asked him if he had any advice for new parents and he lit up even more than he had the entire interview – something I didn’t think was possible—“a lot of healthy amazing kids are raised in terrible situations with tremendous unrest but if you don’t have to have that and if you can find a partner that can create an environment conducive to a stress (free) trauma free environment where there’s two parents, you’re setting yourself up in terms of empirical data to have a more successful run…again, everyone’s situation is different but finding the right partner if it’s possible is great.
Not having children too early is great, you don’t want to feel resentful of that child…simply because you’re not financially secure enough or emotionally secure enough…as hard as they are and as much of a sacrifice that you have to make to have them and to raise them, they should be a blessing and a joy in your life.” I think it’s safe to say that his children will do just fine.