Amid the time of year when everyone reflects on the last 12 months of life, one man with a lot to be happy about is actor Zach Avery. The up-and-comer has three movie credits for 2018 alone: the ensemble horror Hell is Where the Home Is, in which he starred alongside Fairuza Balk (The Waterboy, The Craft, Ray Donovan) and Pretty Little Liars actress Janel Parrish; The White Crow, which stars and was directed by Ralph Fiennes; and Farming, with Kate Beckinsale, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and director-star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
On top of those, Avery has three more films currently in post-production: You’re Not Alone, Shookum Hills, and Last Moment of Clarity – his first film as the flat-out lead.
In fact, you could say it’s not just been a whirlwind 2018, but a whirlwind two years for Avery. After all, he moved to LA to dive head-first into acting just back in 2011. And up until 2016, Avery’s only credited roles (of seven total) were in shorts. Then he landed his first full-length film Curvature, released in 2017, and everything else has followed.
Prior to moving to LA, Avery–who was born in Berkeley, California, but grew up in Tampa, Florida and then Fort Wayne, Indiana– walked away from pursuing a doctorate in psychology. His original dream was the NFL. He played football for Indiana University with eyes on one day hitting the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, an injury sidelined him for good, prompting him to dabble more in a longtime but underserved passion: acting. Ultimately, he decided acting was his calling, sold Quickbooks software to generate funds, headed to LA New Year’s Eve 2011, and has been acting ever since.
Avery–who added father to his resume, when his son Jax was born last year–spoke to me about his recent flurry of projects, his journey thus far, his bashful (because how could it be anything else?) Kate Beckinsale introduction, and more.
Here’s what he had to say:
Note: This interview has been edited for length and conciseness.
On Pursuing Real Passion
Amanda Ostuni: I don’t know if you watch This is Us, but the football-to-acting switch is a storyline for a main character. How do you explain liking two stereotypically opposite things?
Zach Avery: For sure, I think for me there was always this kind of duality of my life, where I was really into sports and football and all those things, but there was this other creative side where I would put on plays at my house for my mom... I had a friend group in the arts, as well, where we would do these home plays and act, write scripts and talk about all of those things. So, yes, there was that kind of differentiator between “oh, this is the jock and he’s playing football...,” but for me personally, it really was both running simultaneously.
AO: Is there a common theme of both being a sort of performance before an audience, though?
Zach Avery: For me, I think it was more about the team. When you’re on a film or TV, or even in theater, you have your costars with you, your “coach,” director, whatever it may be, and I really enjoy that aspect of both acting and sports. It’s not just about you, it’s about the team, and it’s about working with the other players to get the end goal, whether it be winning the game or a great performance. So, I think that’s really what it is, more than performing for the crowd.
AO: But even after football, it still took you a while to go all-in on acting. Why the hesitation?
Zach Avery: That was fully a family thing – My mom’s an educator, a lifelong teacher, so she was very much in the line of like, “you’re gonna get a job, or at least a higher education and then once you do that, you can go chase your dreams.” So I did, I started the doctorate program in Chicago, but I really very quickly realized that I’m not the person who can just kind of put his head down and do something. I have to be passionate about it and I just wasn’t passionate about psychology and I knew acting was the way to go.
AO: Was there one particular moment that put you over the edge–made you go for it at last?
Zach Avery: Yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in an industrial organizational business psychology class, where essentially, you’re learning the ins and outs of how a company runs… we get this assignment to write a paper, and I just remember thinking, “I’m not gonna do this, I have no interest in writing this paper, I have no interest in being here.” And I went home, told my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, and I just said, “I’m done, I’m not gonna do it.” I took a leave of absence from school the next day and started pursuing acting, so yeah, that was definitely the day, that was it.
AO: Was there a certain point your family came around to you acting?
Zach Avery: Yeah, they definitely did… I think a lot of families… when you say you want to be an actor, especially when you’re not from LA or NY, I think they hear, “I want to be famous, I want to be a celebrity, I want to be in the media,” and that’s just as far away from it as you can possibly get. And I think once my family saw it was really about being an artist, working on the craft, putting in the time and much less about that side of what potentially could happen, they came around to it and respected it and were happy I was happy.
On Breaking into the business
AO: How’d getting started compare to your expectations?
Zach Avery: I mean this is very naïve, but I really thought, “OK, you’re going to go out there, you’re gonna basically get an agent right away, and you’re gonna start getting auditions that are for real movies or TV shows that you know of,” and it just was not that at all… It’s much, much harder and there’s so much talent out here that you really have to work, it’s not something where you’re gonna get picked off the side of the street and they’re gonna say, “Hey, you want a role in my movie?” You really have to grind it out… Living here and hitting the ground running as a struggling actor, it was tough.
AO: Was there ever a point where you wished you’d gone to school for acting?
Zach Avery: I’ve thought about that a lot actually. I think the answer is yes and no. I think it definitely could have helped. The more you work on your craft, obviously the better you’re going to be. The flip side is, I really think that even now, in a lot of the roles I’m getting, it’s real life experience, and things that I’ve gone through or seen someone else go through, that I channel in whatever character I’m playing. So as much as acting school, I definitely think it’s a positive, it’s also a positive just being able to be empathetic with the people around you and live life and have your own acting school, per se.
AO: Ultimately, your first role in a full-length film was in Curvature. How’d that come about?
Zach Avery: I had worked with directing-producing brothers Diego and Julius Hallivis two times I think before that. We shot one of my first things, a short film called Shifter, then we shot a short called The Laughing Man, which is like the backstory of the Joker. That really got a good following on YouTube, I think like 2.5 or 3 million views in a couple weeks, so it was a little crazy. But after The Laughing Man they got a little bit more notoriety and they were able to shoot their first film [Curvature], and they asked me to be in it. That was how it all started.
On Back to Back Action
AO: Fast forward briefly and you’re in half a dozen movies, with notable costars. Does it feel like you took big leaps very quickly in terms of advancing your career?
Zach Avery: Definitely. Basically, the last year and a half, it really went from shooting what I guess you’d say is lower-budget-type indie films to… I met a producer named Andrew Levitas, who kind of has been the conduit to these larger films that have introduced me to some of these cool people… Right after I shot Hell is Where the Home Is, which was last August, that is when it really kind of changed, and then I went back to back with The White Crow and Farming and Last Moment of Clarity.
AO: How was working with people like Ralph Fiennes, Kate Beckinsale, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Adewale Akinnouye Agbaje?
Zach Avery: They’ve been amazing. Every experience with each one of those [actors] was unique in its own right. On Farming, working with Kate Beckinsale, and Gugu and Damson [Idris] and Adewale, being able to sit back and watch them work through their craft and be the artists that they are – it was like a master class. It was like [being] in that acting school that I hadn’t actually gone to, just by the way they interact with each other, the way they kind of digest the material and are able to take a direction, or even take their own direction, and mold their performance in a way they feel can enhance the whole project. Just trying to steal everything I possibly can from them as quickly as possible is really what I was doing.
It really was amazing that almost everyone – if not everyone – I’ve worked with or met, it’s just been such a genuine kind of openness to collaborate together, when we’re actually acting in scenes together, but also outside of action and cut, just being really great people, having normal conversation. There’s no celebrity, “I’m higher up than you on the call sheet” situation. It’s just artists and actors hanging around and trying to do the best movie possible. So, it’s been really, really cool, and a blueprint for if I ever am in that position someday, how I’ll do it, as well.
AO: Was there one person you were particularly starstruck or surprised by?
Zach Avery: I mean I was pretty starstruck by Kate Beckinsale. She’s absolutely gorgeous obviously, and she is just such a nice person that it was really one of those, [in exaggerated mousy voice] “it’s really, really nice to meet you Ms. Beckinsale,” and she’s obviously not having me call her that, but it was pretty cool.
AO: Were all these recent experiences similar in terms of set vibes or your involvement, etc.?
Zach Avery: Yeah, definitely… The White Crow we shot in Serbia, and Farming we shot in London, so just by… not being in an environment that you’re used to, it really takes the process in a whole different way. I felt like, “ok, you’re here essentially by yourself, doing this thing, you have no home, no friends, no one around you,” and so going about it in that sense was a bit of a change.
But from how I go about the role, and my involvement, I think the biggest change was in Last Moment of Clarity, because that one I am the straight lead of the film, which is the first time that’s happened. And so getting to meet with the director beforehand, talking through not only my character, but the other characters and the whole world they’re creating, it really was amazing to be able to be involved throughout this pre-production process, and then go into production fully ready for anything that would possibly happen. As opposed to past projects, you only have so much time to rehearse, if at all, with the other actors, and then you go in and you do your thing and you hope you’re doing it correctly.
AO: Tell me about Last Moment of Clarity.
Zach Avery: Yeah, so, I play a guy named Sam who essentially is a New York realtor. [He basically thinks he witnesses his fiancée get murdered by this Bulgarian mob]. He moves to France, kind of runs away from hurting, or from the mob, and to kind of get his life back together. Three years later, he’s watching a movie and he sees this girl [in it] that [he thinks is his fiancée]. And essentially, he goes on this mission back to the U.S. to figure out [what’s going on]. And it turns into this really cool Hitchcockian thriller love story with so many nuanced layers and emotions throughout, it’s awesome. I’m really, really excited about seeing it and have everyone else see it.
AO: How did the schedule of being in all these movies work out?
Zach Avery: It was pretty intense. I wrapped Hell is Where the Home Is, we shot that in Malibu, which was nice. We wrapped that in August, then I was in basically back to back Serbia in September, London in October, then we started prepping Last Moment of Clarity in December. That went straight through March, and two weeks after that I was in Kentucky shooting Shookum Hills, so it was a good 10 months back to back to back, which sounds kind of crazy but in reality, I had to pinch myself every day that it was a dream come true. That’s what you want.
AO: How do you juggle the films with being a husband and father?
Zach Avery: If we can figure out scheduling, my wife and [son] are [on location] as much as possible, and then it’s really making the time when I’m back in LA to be with them. My wife and I, we know that this point in the career, you really have to take the opportunities presented to you and you have to build the filmography up as much as you can so that maybe later on, you have more choices and can schedule according to what fits the family. But it really is about when I’m here, quality time as much as possible and when I’m gone, hopefully getting them out there.
On Favorite and Future Things
AO: At these early stages do you look for certain things in roles or is that a luxury that comes later?
Zach Avery: I think, there’s two sides to that. Yes, I am always looking for – it’s the same thing when you read a book, there’s always these elements that grab you… but with a script, when I’m reading, I always try to put myself in whatever role I’m reading. So, I’m reading Last Moment of Clarity, I’m imagining myself as Sam. If I can really transport myself to that place and see the movement, what he might look like or sound like, or any of those things, and be able to really embody it, that’s what I’m looking for, that kind of visceral experience to say, “I can be this guy, I really want to be this guy and I love this story.”
The second side of that is I think there’ll be many more opportunities as the career goes on, where you’re looking for other things, as well – amazing directors to work with, other actors that you’re really passionate about working with, and you have more of a choice. Whereas now it’s really whatever comes across the table, I have to say, “can I do this or not?” then try to put my best foot forward in the role.
But I definitely would say in the future I’d be open to almost anything that really grabs my attention on the page and has a cool team to work with.
AO: Speaking of choices, do you have a dream co-star, or an actor who’s inspired you?
Zach Avery: Yeah… Bradley Cooper has always come up. I really have respected the roles he’s chosen, his trajectory of how he’s come up, and obviously now with A Star is Born, I mean I was just blown away by that – not only the fact that he directed it, co-wrote it, but I mean just his acting in it alone, it’s just incredible. If I could do anything even close to that at some point in my career, I would be extremely happy.
AO: You have a music credit on IMDB… are you musical, is that in your future?
Zach Avery: I love music… I play the piano a little bit. It’s a passion for sure. I don’t think it’ll ever be a Hugh Jackman-level passion, but it’s there.
AO: I take it you saw The Greatest Showman?
Zach Avery: I did. It’s incredible.
AO: Agreed! Now, let’s do a lightning round… favorite social media platform?
Zach Avery: Instagram.
AO: Favorite movie right now.
Zach Avery: A Star is Born.
AO: Favorite show?
Zach Avery: My wife and I just started watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and it’s solid, I really like it.
AO: Top of your holiday gift wish list?
Zach Avery: I want to get an Alexa… I feel like I have to get on the Alexa train [laughs].
AO: To wrap up, at this point, are you where you’d hoped to be seven years into your career?
Zach Avery: I think that it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be at this point. I think if you had talked to me four years ago, I would’ve been like “oh my God, it’s so hard, there’s all these doubts.” Now I feel like if I hadn’t gone through the – and I’m still going through the struggle, obviously – but the real struggles of doing the background stuff, getting the little jobs here and there, really learning the industry, as well as learning the craft, I don’t think I would’ve been prepared to do what I’m doing now… I think everything happens for a reason, and I’m here and happy and doing what I’m doing now.
AO: And what’s next for you?
Zach Avery: I actually will be going out to Spain and shooting a movie in the beginning of next year, which I don’t think I can say the name of yet, but… I’ll be going out there in February to start shooting in March… And then there’s another one coming up that I’ve been auditioning for multiple times that’ll be like a big action movie. If I get it, that will be shooting probably May of next year. Those are two very exciting things that hopefully will come to fruition soon.
AO: Anything else you want to add about recent or upcoming projects, or your career overall?
Zach Avery: No, I really appreciate you taking the time. I’m really excited about Last Moment of Clarity and Shookum Hills coming out next year and then everything else continuing on the right direction.
Avery says Last Moment of Clarity is currently being submitted to festivals for 2019, with either the Brooklyn Film Festival, South by Southwest, or the Tribeca Film Festival planned as its debut event. He says pending a distribution pickup after a festival showing, the film should come out mid-2019. Shookum Hills is slated for a spring or early summer release.
In the meantime, you can see Avery in The Laughing Man here. You can also follow him on Instagram at _zachavery.