Wednesday, 1 April 2015

An Interview 65 Million Years in the Making - We chat to Whit Hertford...

The museum was just as crowded as it always was, everybody loved this place; the artefacts, the animals, the Egyptian mummies... all fabulous! But I really came here for one reason and one reason only... The dinosaurs! Big or small, scales or feathers, they fascinated and excited me and the Natural history museum in London was the place to see them, they had loads! My god, they even had ones that moved! 

I grabbed a place in the queue, the guard nodded at me with a familiar grace, mind you he should recognise me, after all I was here nearly everyday, always waiting patiently to walk round the exhibit, trying desperately to find a nugget of information that I hadn't read before, or already knew... 

So Herbivores first, I thought, then a quick cuppa and onto the carnivores - my favourites... The T-Rex's, the Allosaurus', the Velociraptors... oh yes, Velociraptors were the ultimate dinosaur;  their teeth, their scales, their claws... oh those claws! And you know, I always think of that line in Jurassic park when that kid with the big dark eyes says that it looks like a six foot Turkey... 

"A turkey, huh? OK, try to imagine yourself in the Cretaceous Period. You get your first look at this "six foot turkey" as you enter a clearing. He moves like a bird, lightly, bobbing his head. And you keep still because you think that maybe his visual acuity is based on movement like T-Rex - he'll lose you if you don't move. But no, not Velociraptor. You stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that's when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side."

But then, as I was thinking this I noticed something in my peripheral vision - or rather someone - Those big dark eyes, older now, but unmistakeable... Was it? Yes, it was... It was Whit Hertford...  Whit Hertford, actor, writer and director (born 1978) began acting at a crazily young age and as a kid appeared in films as diverse as The Addams family, Beaches and of course Jurassic parkBut what was he doing in London? 'Actually who cares?' I thought, I just knew I had to meet him... I scanned the room, he seemed to be alone, just standing there, reading from a guide book... I had to talk to him, for goodness sake, I just had to! Jurassic park was my Citizen Kane and I couldn't miss this opportunity,I just couldn't... I smiled at him and - not realising that I was still holding the fake Velociraptor claw that I had purchased in the gift shop - tentatively held my hand out toward him... Lordy, I must have looked like a maniac, standing there brandishing a dinosaur claw, but thankfully he was very polite and although looking terrified - I must have given him flashbacks - he didn't actually run.
After explaining that I was indeed sane and that he was in no danger, he agreed to talk to me, even suggesting a cup of tea in the museum cafe... Nice... 

Sitting at a table by the window and I ordered 2 teas and a chelsea bun for each of us... He was in London now, he needed to dine like a Brit!
So, after a large bite and an uncomfortable moment when I realised I had spat a bit of bun at him, I began my questions.

You were only tiny when you got your first role, what made you... Or your parents... Think you could be an actor? 
"My parents were both trained theatre actors. My dad was also a very accomplished director & teacher and had a PhD in theatre arts. I grew up around it. So, it's 100% in my blood, bone structure and DNA. We moved from Utah where I was to the Los Angeles suburbs when I was three years old. Apparently by that time had already displayed a penchant for being a massive ham. So my parents then went about the steps of finding me an agent and wisely spearheading a productive career trajectory. They routinely checked in and asked if I wanted to audition for something or if I really wanted to do this wild thing, never forced me into it or to continue. But truthfully, I think once I booked my first commercial, the bug hit me hard. Hasn't ever left. It's what makes me me."

Both your sisters are actors too, is there any sibling rivalry? 
"My sisters followed suit and started even younger than me. My parents honestly were brilliant at handling three young fledgling actors. Could have been crazy stage parents or selfishly driving us into it, but they never did. After my father passed away there was a large portion of my life during when I was about 10-14 when my mother worked solely as the manager of myself and my two sisters, always rooting for each other. By day we would go to school and were normal kids, then we'd be off to auditions at night."

And how did it all start? 
"The hero of that chapter is unequivocally my mom. My mom is a legend of a woman. 
Everyone that's ever met her, their lives are immediately changed by her presence and friendship. She is the pinnacle of grace, has a devilish sense of humour, and a tireless work ethic She has boundless optimism and is my greatest example. Its a credit to her that she not only wrangled the work load to accomplish being the manager of three, but also was determined to provide us with normal childhoods. We all went to public school, had hobbies, friends and she made sure we lived outside of the city - so that we had a refuge from the industry....

...Remembering all this now I obviously admit that I had a very non-traditional upbringing but it was nothing short of great, kooky and wonderfully memorable. Was I bullied because of the opportunities I had to work in film and TV as a kid? Yes. Was I probably growing up with a different perspective then my friends? Yes. But I wouldn't have changed places with them. Again, it's framed my life at an early age and gave me great experiences and tools that have stayed with me for over thirty years. I loved my childhood. Which is bizarre to say, because losing my father was traumatic and definitely was a massive trial for my mother, sisters and I... but there were far more good memories than bad. And for that I'm hugely grateful. My relationships with my sisters and my mom are very precious and important to me. I was the only male in my family for many many years. I accredit that dynamic as how I early learned to develop more sensitivity and compassion, because as we know women have a greater capacity to be than men. This was an incredibly valuable environment for me to be around." 

"When trying to navigate what sort of career you want, both as a child and as an adult, you just want to work. So sometimes you have to go through lean salad days where you take whatever you can get."

What about as a grown up?
"I'm at a point now (and have been for the last 8 years or so) that I'm far pickier than I ever was in regards as to what I choose to do as an actor. I'm not a leading man, so there are pluses and minuses to that. But by and large I think it's better to be unique and maybe not as traditional when it comes to getting work."

I had waited long enough, it wasn't that I wasn't interested in his earlier, but I had to talk about Jurassic Park...
"The audition for Jurassic Park was nothing more than my reactions being videotaped as the casting director read a dinosaur story. No lines. Bizarre. So, in that case, my look and ability to act as though I was genuinely scared was all I had. And it panned out. The tape went to Steven and that was that." 

"I filmed that bit in two days, in the sweltering Mojave desert in California. Steven is a natural born leader and effortlessly inspires you on set - he's is your greatest ally and friend during filming. In addition to being directed by him I briefly had time with Sam and Laura, who were incredibly gracious and very down to earth. In the shuttle vans, I recall introducing Laura [Dern] to my then new favourite band Pearl Jam and we bonded over this Seattle grunge scene (this was 1992) that was exploding. I've played drums since.
I was eight and music plays a big part of my soul and who I am. Over the years I've played with wonderful musicians and been able to make music I'm very proud of."

But what happened after? 
"After Jurassic I made a conscious decision to audition less and consequently not work as an actor as much. I wanted to take a break and be a high school kid: play basketball, kiss girls, etc."

Ha, I thought, I remember that... Mind you I had no choice...

  So, I wondered what drew him back?
"I then remember seeing the film "Fargo" in the theatre when I was 18 and it changed me forever. I started to realize that not only did my parents have theatre training, but that all the actors I admired did as well. It was the common link. So I knew I should
follow suit. I was accepted into a respected BFA program and studied at this four year conservatory. This era irrevocably changed me as I had the chance to study and perform in numerous classical and contemporary plays. Without that shift and the decision to move out of LA, I might have given up acting altogether. LA can saturate your passion. It can make you concerned with the wrong things. It is a place that is mostly driven by commercialism. Putting myself in the theatre gave me roots. It gave me a desire, hunger and respect for the work - as well as an education that has became the infrastructure for my theories and philosophies of the medium. What it did was it renewed me and made me love acting again. My time in university also gave me my first cracks at writing and directing, which have now become what I spend 99% of my time engrossed in. 

During my mid 20s I went through another LA chapter and did a whole slew of different things: from becoming apart of the Upright Citizens Bridgade theatre, to forming my own independent film production company. LA is a town where you need to be a self-generator, and in charge of your own path. The suits don't have the ingenuity, so you have to. So that's why I created Sneak Attack ( alongside my good friend and fellow director, Ryan Darst. It became our laboratory where no matter what was going on in the industry we could push pause and work on producing our own stories. This endeavour became the most creatively fertile time of my life. My marriage of 8 years sadly had run its course and so I poured myself into the work of writing and producing these films. I'm quite proud of Sneak Attack. The work Ryan and I did during its inception, is us displaying our hearts on our sleeves. Our working relationship and friendship in general is a rarity. We can equally inspire each other in huge ways whilst also being the lone person that's able to call the other one on their bullshit. We filmed several shorts that had festival runs in the US and UK. And our first feature length, "Dreamworld", debuted in the Top 20 during its first week on iTunes.

That said, in 2013 I became somewhat disenchanted with LA. I was writing screenplay after screenplay and taking meetings for pilot scripts I had written. Which is he status quo, but incredibly gruelling and unless you strike gold, it's wholly demoralizing to repeatedly encounter that level of rejection. Its somewhat like daily marching to your own fineral. As an actor, I became pickier and pickier with what interested me and so auditions were fewer and fewer (outside of landing recurring roles on the series "Glee" and "Raising Hope" as well as voicing Cadet Korkie on the animated series "Star Wars: Clone Wars"). It was also during that year, that I narrowing escaped a very dangerous relationship that took a sizeable toll on me psychologically and emotionally. I knew I needed to reroute some parts of my life and I needed a new challenge. So I packed up my car and drove to Utah for a massive personal detox and sojourn. I wanted to spend some time in the mountains, in nature and with family.  I also had begun writing the next Sneak Attack script that was set in Utah and wanted to immerse myself by spending time in the location as I wrote it. The script became a project called "Wildlife". It's about the darker side of small town America and where religion meets rebellion. It's a love song to Utah. But it's not the image we get from musicals like "The Book of Mormon" or other stereotypical depictions of Mormons and that state. We used Kickstarter and shot the film that next summer.
My good friend Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dymamte") co-stars in the piece which Ryan and I hope to get the change to develop into a feature in a year or two. It's also my hope to adapt and produce it for the stage as well."

John Heder, cool... 

"While I was in Utah, I stumbled upon two giant gifts: one was in the form of purpose. I decided that I wanted to focus on directing theatre, that I had this deep desire to gravitate towards teaching theatre and paying it forward to younger actors. But I needed to get my masters degree. I ended up getting accepted to a wonderful course at The University of Essex's East 15 Acting School. At the same time as that acceptance letter came I had newly found the woman of my dreams and we shortly thereafter got married and moved to London in September of 2014. She's a marvel is actress and my best friend. Feel incredibly lucky to have found her and that she agreed to be whisked away on such an adventure."

And now...? What are you doing here in London? 
"I'm currently in my first year of studies and am writing / directing plays and working with
brilliant artists. My theatre company, Riot Act, is my new labour of love and I am currently in rehearsals for the debut performance of a play I just finished writing, entitled "Bloke". It's a dark absurdist comedy about a common rubbish collector who finds that one of the bins on his route is a real working wishing well."

And how are you liking it? 
"I love London. I feel a new lease on life and that this is my most exciting chapter. To be able to watch the best theatre in the world on almost a nightly basis is awe-inspiring. My name is Whitby Flint Hertford and as I said in my grad school interview that if I didn't live a certain portion of my life in the UK, that I'd be slapping fate in the face. This is where I'm supposed to be, doing what I've unknowingly been prepping to do for over three decades. But it doesn't feel like a culminating point but as a proper beginning to my life. I'm out of my mind excited for the future and to be able to live a purposeful life and am truly humbled by all the wonderful experiences that have collectively brought me to this point."

Tea and bun polished off, I checked my watch... Oh crap, I thought, my lunch break had been over for 20 minutes already... I gathered my things and thanked Whit profusely and stood up. As I left the cafe Whit called after me that we had forgotten to pay the bill - or cheque, as he called it - and started pulling out his wallet. "No worries" I assured him and flashed my staff card "Being head curator for this place has to have it's benefits sometimes!"

For more information on Whit check out his IMDB page, Wikipedia and his production company site.

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