Quite possibly one of the most overused, cliche and totally true mantras to ever grace a motivational poster tells us something about the journey being more important than the destination, and our latest guest to the onFiction interview chair has had a very interesting journey.
Using the bodybuilding stage as his ticket to the theater stage, Luke Guldan has both transcended and embraced the comedic handsome-guy roles while strongly delivering on the dramatic. Blending a mix of stage, television and silver screen, he’s quietly amassed a resume most in L. A. many would be jealous over.
So without anymore from me – other than the questions – here’s my chat with a very insightful Luke Guldan.
onFiction: You’ve got a really interesting path to becoming an actor, going from successful fitness athlete to successful on-screen and on-stage, how did those dots connect?
Luke Guldan: They each compliment each other, but starting out in Wisconsin – I only lived out there for a little while – then hopped around a bit. Even when I was up state, I lived up state in New York, I got into wrestling and really kind of excelled at that and had a great coach. I ended up winning for my age bracket like a state title, but I then ended up moving into the city and they really didn’t have that. So I got into a couple other things the schools offered and a school I went to had a drama program. So I got into that and it was a lot of fun, then the next year they canceled the program. I was getting into a couple of things but nothing ever stuck.
Then with doing athletics my whole life, when I got to high school is when things started happening for me. I played basketball, track and volleyball at my high school, but my school also had a bodybuilding show. I got into that and did really well with that, I won my junior year, my senior year and then decided if I was going to keep going that route. I entered a real organization, the NABBA (National Amateur Bodybuilders’ Association), to compete and ended up winning Mr. Teen New York competition. Then I really had the bug and was going with it when I went to college. I was really getting into the bodybuilding because I love it, but also that’s how actors I was exposed to…Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Van Damme…used their physiques to break in. That’s what I was hoping for and putting my efforts towards.
I went to college using that time to build up my physique and to do competitions during the summer when I came back – I went to school down in Florida – while taking some acting classes and getting ready with that. Then my junior year, I won a Mr. Hercules competition and met some agents and got into some magazines. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do so I went back to school, I finished and then I came to New York to really study more acting and get going while doing the fitness stuff. That was for about ten years and now I’m here in L.A.
oF: What’s really impressive about your resume is the mixture of work. You may have broken in with your physique but you’re not just the eye-candy guy, you’re doing a lot of theater and some really intense dramatic roles, what do you look for when you get to pick what you work on?
LG: For me sometimes it’s an initial – and it’s changing, it’s been evolving. A few years ago something that when I read it, that I knew would just be great to play, or this is a great role and you’ve seen some other people do it and you’d like to bring yourself to it, whether it’s Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams or something like that. Something really pulls on your heartstrings and you’re like, “I’m at this age and you can only play this for a certain time and I really want to explore that.” That’s something that’s been really passionate to me. Now a little – I’m still very much drawn to that – but now I’m more getting into, not so much personal experiences you can relate to, but things I have no experience with or things that are potentially very different from me, or scary, or that you might not do in normal life. That’s been very interesting to me lately as I’ve been growing as a person and as an actor and performer.
oF: So has the way you prepare for a role also changed over that time?
LG: Totally. You don’t know and then you know and then you don’t know again. It’s that kind of journey. It’s two steps forward and one step back. I guess it depends on the time, if you’re given a project or if something’s just so fast. You kind of have an idea of what you need to do, but I like to do different things because not always will the same thing work.
I was talking about some of the bodybuilding preparation and it’s kind of the same thing. When you’re working out, especially with the diet, you would think you’d do the same thing – I eat this many carbs, count calories – it worked last year but your body’s very smart to that. If you talk to an elite bodybuilder and people doing competitions, your body knows what you’re doing so you need to switch it up, which is a science, but with the acting preparation you get used to it and need to stir it up, keep it fresh, I think.
oF: Coming up pretty quick is season two of The Good Place. You came on towards the end of season one, what can you tell us about your character Chris and his part in the second season?
LG: What can I say? I think Chris is an interesting guy, you know? He’s just a fun dude who’s living in the moment – the afterlife moment – looking to have a good time, be a good guy, a new soul mate to Eleanor, Kristen Bell’s character, and try to get in his workouts too. He’s balancing a lot of stuff in the afterlife.
oF: Is it a challenge when you’re added late in a season versus opening with the show?
LG: I think there’s challenges with everything, but there’s also benefits. The glass can be half empty or full depending on the person, but everyone was so gelled and someone might be scared about that, but everyone was in such a great place especially last season. I kind of just came in, we did the thing and everyone knew. I was a finely tuned machine. Everyone knew what was happening, like catching a wave and riding a wave to the finish, it was actually really awesome.
But there are some circumstances where you’re coming in as a guest spot or a day player or a recurring when everyone is doing their own thing. As a person it’s kind of challenging to be the new person, to hop in and get going when the thing is moving, but also as the character. It makes me think of a thing that I read about James Gandolfini – I’ve been watching a lot of his stuff recently – he was saying it’s hard because of the character’s life. Yes you only have a couple of pages in the season three or four of a whole show, but that character has to have a full life even though they’re only in a couple of pages or only for a moment, so there can be a challenge there not to do all of the work.
oF: The Good Place has a pretty veteran cast, what are some of the things you pick up or take away from a group like that?
LG: Oh yeah, everybody. The camera, the grip, sound and the performers, they were fantastic. You kind of hope some of it just rubs off on you. It’s kind of like if you’re a magician and you’re around a master magician and you’re watching them do a trick, even if you watch them several times you might know it’s coming, but you’re always still surprised. Even if you’re just watching it you might not necessarily learn the trick, but you can kind of get a couple of ideas and hope just by being around it long enough some of it will hopefully, by proxy, rub off on you. That was the hope working with Kristin and Ted Danson, kind of sitting back and spying on them a little because it’s seamless. What they do is seamless, like it’s nothing, and that’s always awesome to watch.
oF: You’ve done quite a bit of all of them, do you prefer a format TV versus film versus theater?
LG: I was close to doing a project in New York, a theater project, and that would have been awesome because it’s been a little while. I do like the process of theater because of the rehearsal. I know things move fast in both worlds these days, but just gelling with a bunch of people, I think there’s something interesting that happens when you’re doing a show with people day in and day out, night after night, week after week. There’s really an evolution of story there and you can work on little changes here and there with a performance. Even though it’s written in sand and once it’s done no one will see it or know about it, but you hope that carries on. Even the experience you have, which is unique every night with an audience. I think that plays on a performance as well, which is exciting, that you might not have on a TV show or a film. But all are great in their own way.
oF: Do you think that comes from being able to stay on the same material and refine it versus constantly having to move on to what’s next?
LG: Yeah, I think so. I think that can be a really beneficial part of theater. Having a little more time, just a marinating process, you know? You can leave it and come back, even if it’s only for a few hours or a day, things will come. You might not have that privilege or opportunity with something that’s moving very quickly like a TV show or a film. But it depends on the project and it depends on the director.
oF: You have quite a bit coming out soon and between titles like Fluidity, ADDicted and Rockaway, you’ve got some pretty intense projects. Is there any info you can give on the upcoming work?
LG: Fluidity is a cool film that we just wrapped up in New York City and it’s about this story of a group of different people in New York who are exploring sexuality, I suppose, in today’s generation and the way they’re doing it with social media and how people interact. It was really cool to work with Linda Yellen on that. ADDicted is coming out on On Demand and [streaming services]. I’m really excited about that because that story is based on a true story of something a lot of people are going through and it doesn’t have a lot of coverage or as much press as it should about teen suicide or student suicide in America. It’s a story about that and a family that went through that, based on true events of a kid in college that I play named Drew Dawson. He was wrongfully diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and so grew up with that, being medicated and then going off to college. Which is a tough time in general for a lot of people with questions and not knowing what you want to do and the pressures of living up to parents’ expectations or parents that have passed away’s expectations, that’s where the story starts and where it goes, through the journey of college for this person that I played.
oF: Your journey as a performer and the evolution there is very interesting, so what’s next? Is the goal to stay on stage or in front of a camera, or are there other goals you’re still working toward?
LG: I’ve been writing a bit, a lot of senior actors and people that I’ve come across that I value their opinion have always pushed me to do a little bit of writing. So even if you never want to actually go through with the production, but because it can inform your acting and your process and what goes on with that. At the same time editing…especially if you’re doing film or TV, the technical aspect of the production side can inform your performance. Learning what is necessary, what can work, how that will further the story can make you look better on camera. There’s so much work to be done as far at that goes.
oF: Out of all the interviews and conversations about your projects, is there anything you’ve never been asked that you wanted to talk about?
LG: I don’t know if it’s necessarily a question but if someone were to bring it up and one person heard it would be beneficial or at least give them some kind of idea: Things are 24/7, you’ve gotta do it. Don’t think someone’s gonna do it for you, you gotta keep going. But with that really try, and I know it might be difficult or cliché, but make time for the things that are important. You gotta do it now, like call your mom. Get out there and do the work you have to do, be full in it. But then also know you need to spend some time with family and loved ones while you can.