For all actors, the road to finding meaningful and challenging work is long and yet every now and then it yields fruit and gives them a role to savor. For actor Teach Grant, that role is portraying Preston Riley in the USA Network drama series DAMNATION. In an exclusive interview, Teach talks about the appeal of working on DAMNATION and reflects on the lessons he has learned as he travels tenaciously on his chosen career path.
What initially appealed to you about the role of Preston Riley and working on DAMNATION?
TEACH: At first glance, it was an opportunity to work with writer/creator Tony Tost (LONGMIRE) and Director David McKenzie of “Hell Or High Water,” both of which I loved. Digging deeper, the material immediately stood out as something that I hadn’t encountered in standard TV and I felt like I was getting the opportunity to work on a project with a narrative that had an important message about the state of our nation and how we as a society arrived here to begin with. For my part, if DAMNATION is partly about “Have’s VS the Have Not’s,” Preston begins the story among the lowest of the low. We meet him as an alcoholic, but he’s not empty, he has a beating heart and we sense that there is still something left in him to fight for.
How would you describe who Preston is and his arc this season?
TEACH: Preston fell off his rails long before we enter the story that is DAMNATION. His perception of his life has caused him to retreat into himself where he self medicates and quietly observes his surroundings. In the first episode, Preston makes a terrible mistake, and this mistake hits close to home and so in season one, for Preston, it’s about recovering his personhood and working towards having the bravery to seek atonement.
What do you most admire and/or like about him?
TEACH: Preston has a big heart, he’s a good natured person, rather sensitive, but there is also a toughness deep within. I’m attracted to that, I like to play tough guys with a tender side, or the inverse, tender guys with tough side. I find these the elements play nicely off of one another and create depth and make room for dimension. I suppose I can identify with being an underdog and effectively that’s what Preston is. He’s the kind of guy that I’d root for because he’s not all the way gone. He’s still got hope.
What is it like working alongside such a talented ensemble on DAMNATION? Who do you get to work the most with?
TEACH: The cast is incredible and coupled with brilliant writing, the players really have an opportunity to make the best of it. Our main men, Logan Marshal-Green (Creely) and Killian Scott (Seth Davenport) are not only extremely gifted, but also remarkably easy to work with and committed to the process. And this sets the tone, a tone that’s trickled right on down, not only to the rest of the cast, but also throughout the crew. There are no egos here, no one to pander over or pivot around. It’s about the show, serving the narrative and ultimately, the entire cast really do feel lucky to be here. And the cast is huge, weather top 6 or deeper in the ranks, there is a team spirit here on DAMNATION. Everyone is showing up to play to win and I feel like we’ve really embraced the Gestalt of it. There are no small parts on DAMNATION, Tony hasn’t left anything frivolous on the page. If you’re here, you’re here for a reason, and for me, working with these consummate professionals is a dream gig.
Any favorite scenes that you got to work on so far?
TEACH: I have a scene with Logan (Creely) in the first episode. It’s not only my favorite scene onDAMNATION, but of my career. It’s a long scene for TV and our pilot director David McKenzie really let it pace with the dripping sweat of a classic western. For me as an actor, that one scene, which is my first of the season is so well crafted that it sets us up really nicely with who Preston is historically, ‘a terrible mistake’ and the long path toward redemption. Good writing makes all the difference in the world. And Logan isn’t ‘bad’ in it either. Lol. I kid, Logan is a force.
Then what is your favorite part about working on the show?
TEACH: The writing on DAMNATION is the best I’ve personally ever seen in TV. It makes our job a lot easier when we don’t have to get weirdly inventive and everything you need has been buried for you to find. As I said before, couple that with incredible actors and we get to dig in and do our thing. Then there are the people, the crew out here in Calgary is pretty amazing and their endurance and spirit has been unrelenting. It’s not the bush leagues here in Alberta. They always have a marquee production in town, FARGO, HELL ON WHEELS, TIN STAR, THE REVENANT, so we’re in very friendly, capable hands here. Lastly, Tony Tost has created female characters that transcend the norm of what we often see on TV. In some cases with lethal intelligence such as Sarah Jones (Amelia) or just plain lethal, Melinda Page Hamilton as (Connie), I think our female characters are going to serve as a refreshing notice to viewers with the power and strength that they behold.
What has been the one thing you as an actor haven taken away from working on DAMNATION?
TEACH: When you watch Chris Heyerdahl work, he reminds you that you still have work to do. He can ‘gound’ a level of characterization that most of us would crash and burn if we attempted. Secondly, I’ve never been cast number one or two in TV and watching Logan and Killian’s dedication and commitment has been a lovely eye opener. They don’t take a minute off, weekends included. The occasional social, but more often they are at home keeping up with the work load. I’m not sure they had a choice, because the task was magnanimous, but their professionalism has been astounding.
What do you hope viewers to take away from watching DAMNATION?
TEACH: I hope people can see the onset of what has perpetuated the current state of our nation. DAMNATION is set in 1931, but we are still dealing with its themes and variations, only the world is far more complex and sophisticated now. I think by portraying these issues in their infancy and in a simpler time, people are going to be able to see the parallels. The 99% vs 1% didn’t start yesterday, it’s been woven into our fabric since the birth of the nation, and on a global level, since the beginning of modern civilization and the formation of class and rulers. This show is going to be an eye opener for many, if nothing else, it is going to make you think.
What is the biggest challenge working on DAMNATION?
TEACH: Living for the better part of four months in a hotel can get a bit ‘interesting’. There is only ‘a short week left’ for me here, but it’s definitely time for me to get home to my wife, dogs and my Vitamix. Eating healthy on the road isn’t easy and I’m ready to start cooking again. Creatively, nothing, I’m stimulated and full of gratitude.
What is the biggest surprise working on DAMNATION?
TEACH: In the month of October, I’d have to say the weather. It’s almost as if there is a switch here in Alberta, one day it’s 80 degrees out, the next it’s below zero and snowing. Then there are wind storms that shut set down. I think next year we will likely start a month earlier, I hear May in Alberta is stunning.
What has surprised you most about your career to date?
TEACH: I did full frontal nudity in “Once There Was A Winter,” that recently premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival. My mother and father-in-law were in the audience. I hadn’t previously anticipated sharing that with them, or the world really, but as the question states, surprises certainly do happen.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the amazing variety of roles and projects you have worked on?
TEACH: I’m constantly learning, not just from various characters, or the process, but also from exposure, form other performers and the way I see them working. I’m pretty baked in my process, but you can’t shut down, you have to keep evolving so I try to allow for the space to consider other ways to develop. For me, my characters always come from within, I’m in there somewhere if I look hard enough, or they are in me, pieces, that’s all you need to get going and so by simply doing this excavation to bring these characters forward, I suppose I’m in a constant state of learning about myself. In some way, I think that has helped to keep me on the rails.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
TEACH: The precursor to this is that I often play dark, sometimes violent characters. I am finally in a place where I can begin to say ‘no’, and with that comes….”I’m not your rapist, I’m not your pedophile, I’m not your one note child/wife abuser.” If I’m to take on something this dark in nature, it has to have meaning, it has to be a point of learning and being able to say NO to anything less is empowering. I did this a few days ago and I’m still smiling about it.
If there were one role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
TEACH: Most roles exist in a time and place for me so I’m rather forgiving of myself. I generally put everything I have into developing the character and my performance, however. sometimes we come in late, especially in TV. While, I’ve made a couple of regrettable choices, I feel that was before I really had the luxury of even having a choice. Looking back, I wish I’d had more lead up time on “The Leprechaun” movie. My apologies to all the good people of Ireland. If I ever get the chance, I’ll make sure it’s on a project where I have ample casting notice and time to prepare. My accent was abysmal and possibly offensive.
Do any of your characters and the situations they find themselves in ever leave a lasting impression on you?
TEACH: Always. They are a part of me, or I’m a part of them. By understanding the choices my character makes, discovering the differences between how I might have behaved instinctively is an interesting cross comparison. I like psychology, it fascinates me and in many ways, it informs much of what I do in the work. In the best light, a character can help you to make change in your own life because it has caused you to see your own reflection.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten? What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
TEACH: As my attorney Brad Turner would say, “Stuff your money in a sock and don’t wear socks.” Lol. On a more serious note: “Love the work in yourself and not yourself in the work.” I’m not famous, I see it as a by product and in my opinion it’s not a worthy reward to seek, the love of the craft is…and if you are looking for the wrong trappings this business is only going to ground you down and leave you feeling empty. We are here to make a contribution, period. Lastly, separate happiness and success. This is a hard one, but it’s deadly important.
To see how Teach captures the complexities of his role, be sure to tune in for the premiere of DAMNATION on Tuesday, November 7th at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network. To follow Teach’s career and his continuing life adventures, you can follow him on Twitter @TeachGrant.