Joe Chrest [Interview]

Joe 2288

One of my favorite things about running this site is gaining the ability to at least digitally talk with some folks who have been involved in some major projects that have either influenced or entertained me over the years.  Whether it is with laughs, inspiration, or just pure and non-granulated talent, each individual that has been interviewed on this site has been someone who is very special to me for one reason or another.

And our interviewee today is no exception.  Well, maybe a slight exception, as Joe Chrest has turned out to be one of the funniest and most down to earth people I have had the honor and privilege to have a digital conversation with since, well the last person who was extremely cordial via e-mail (honestly, they’ve all be pretty cool, but Joe has been THE man!).  We also happen to share two very important commonalities.  We’ve both flown desks for the Air Force, and we absolutely LOVE the feel of brand new pair of socks.  How can you not dig a guy like that.  I guess more importantly might be that he is a very talented actor who you should recognize as Schmidt’s dad in both 21 Jump Street & 22 Jump Street.  Along with various other roles in films like Oldboy, One the Road, Lee Daniel’s The Butler, The Blind Side, Jeff Who Lives at Home, and many more.  More notably so, you may recognize him for his reoccurring role on HBO’s hit drama True Detective, that is certainly one of the finest shows on television today.  You can also see him in the upcoming and final(?) installment of The Hunger Games films in 2015.

No matter how you know him, he is a hilarious and talented son of a gun, and we are so honored to welcome him to the Trainwreck’d Society family.  With that being said, ladies and gentlemen…..Joe Chrest!

When did you first decide you wanted to become and actor? 

First got interested in acting during my senior year of high school. I was always heavy into sports (and still am) so I always needed the adrenaline rush and with my skill set, it was becoming obvious I was not going to take it to the next level in sports. I auditioned for a play and it really got the heart pounding — I was hooked, but it wasn’t until I got out of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and started sitting at a desk every morning, in a uniform that I realized I wasn’t going to be happy unless I went all in with the acting thing and see where it took me. Bummer was that I still owed Uncle Sam 4 more years. I was able to finish out my service and finish undergrad at the same time, so all was not lost, and my theatre degree was fully funded by the U.S. Government!

What were some of your earliest influences?

My early influences were all about comedy. I loved Monty Python and British humor since I was around twelve years old and I couldn’t get enough of the Cheech and Chong LP’s — my buddies and I would recite them in the locker room even though I didn’t understand half the shit — they still made me laugh (at twelve I couldn’t understand why the effeminate pirate would say “yes!” when they beat him with cat o nine tails on the yardarm, but it still broke me up). Of all the famous people I ever worked with, meeting Cheech on Nash Bridges was a true highlight. He still liked to talk about the old stuff and signed my buddy’s Los Cochinos album, “snack bar’s closed, fool…” referencing the prime parking spot from Pedro and The Man at the Drive-in.

What was your first paying gig as an actor?

My first paying gig was the same as Andy Griffith — The Lost Colony summer theatre in North Carolina. He found a wife there as well, but I quit after the first week and left wife-less (and soundly convinced by the producer that I would be black-balled forever in the industry if he didn’t see me at rehearsal that evening). Maybe that’s why I never got a Matlock gig?? I had never quit anything before, nor have I since, but suffice to say without going into detail that I felt justified enough with the circumstances to walk — even with Mr. Knowles’ black ball (balls??) hanging over my head.

Can you tell us a bit about Swine Palace?  How did this come to life?

After graduating Marshall University in my home state of West Virginia, I needed a good reason to procrastinate the big move to New York, and LSU came through with an offer of an assistantship and a full ride, so I figured what the hell and headed down to this mysterious land called Louisiana. Great move. There I met the three artists who have been the most influential on my life…John Dennis (my mentor), Steven Soderbergh (who gave me my breakout film role as Ben in King of the Hill in 1993), and Barry Kyle (Royal Shakespeare Company Director Emeritus) who after guest directing at LSU decided Louisiana was the perfect place for his new American acting company. He asked me to come down and found the company with him. It was to be called Swine Palace. Despite the odd name, I didn’t hesitate. Barry Kyle was a brilliant director, a visionary, and this was an artist’s dream…an artistic home. We had no theatre space, just a vision and a dream to turn the abandoned pig viewing pavilion (thus the name Swine Palace) on the LSU campus into the most state of the art, innovative performance space in the world. Eight years later, the doors were opened on our new multimillion dollar facility, The Reilly Theater, the dream having become a reality. The irony is that not long after the ribbon cutting, Barry Kyle was run out of town on a rail. Amazing. The man had directed a who’s who list of British super stars and it would be very difficult to argue that he was not a genius, but he could be… shall we say, “difficult.” Tough loss for Baton Rouge. The coda here is that the theatre is finally back in good hands with a great guy, Kennedy Center Fellow, George Judy.

True Detective Group

On the set of HBO’s True Detective.

In the span of your career, you seem to have portrayed several cops, or at least some form of law enforcement. Why do you think you tend to land so many of these gigs, including your reoccurring role on the hit HBO series True Detective?

Possibly the only thing longer than the arm of “Johnny Law” is my list of law enforcement roles. It’s kind of funny, but I spent the first half of my career on the other side of the law, playing just about every type of criminal found on line at Hedley Lamar’s card table in Blazing Saddles, and now all I’m pulling in are the cops, FBI, ATF, SWAT…you name it. To be honest, I really believe the reason is because when I would go to an audition in Los Angeles, I was always one of the weirdest looking guys in the room, but when I go to an audition in New Orleans, I’m always one of the most normal looking people in the room. I long for those days on the wrong side of the law — in film it’s far more interesting. Problem is, every time I get a good beard going, or a makings of a decent mullet, I get cast as a cop or lawyer or military officer and I have to break out the razor.

I noticed that you will be appearing in the next in line of the Hunger Games films.  I also noticed that you have some kids.  Are they fans of the movies, and stoked about seeing their dad in one of these films?  How about yourself?  Are you a fan as well?

5. I was a huge fan of The Hunger Games so I was stoked to find myself right there in the world with Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick going to take down Panem. The great part was that I was sucked into the world by the first two movies and the cliff hanger at the end of Catching Fire sent me running out to get my hands on Mockingjay, which I read in a day. What made it surreal was that I was so angered by President Snow at the end of Mockingjay, and then I get a call to audition to be in the “Star Squad” “Squad 451” who goes in to kick that son of a bitch’s ass! It was like being an arm chair quarterback and then waking up to find myself in the real Super Bowl. My kid’s are still a little young for The Hunger Games, but by the time MJ2 comes out, it’ll be a cool thing at school. It’s already on my 10 year old’s friends’ radar for sure. Spending the hot summer months shooting in Paris and Berlin made the whole thing about the coolest thing I’ve done in my 20 years in the business.

You have appeared as Jonah Hills father in both 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street, and were involved with some of the most hilarious scenes of both films.  How is the set life like films like these?  Is it as fun and full of laughs as it appears to be on the screen?

Everything about 21 Jump Street, AND 22JS has been a blast. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are laid back, fun to be around, and FUNNY dudes. Their attitude trickles down on the entire company as it always does with the best directors. Soderbergh’s sets are fun sets, and Francis Lawrence creates the same happy space. What makes their stuff great is that they trust their actors, and welcome anything you bring to the table. On the Jump Street sets improv was the order of the day and the only sad part about it is that so much funny stuff has to get left out. A great comedy director has to have the discipline to cut out the stuff that is hilarious, but not really needed to advance the movie. On something like that, the only hope is that the audience has as much fun watching it as you had making it.

What is your preferred genre of film to work in?

Comedy is the best. I love it all, dumb stuff like Stripes, and The Animal to high brow Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward plays to the corny stuff like Andy Griffith and Don Knotts movies. In junior high and high school, before ever wanting to act I was always voted class clown and stuff like that. I’ve always enjoyed laughing and I love making people laugh. One of the most important lessons I hope to teach my kids is to learn to laugh at themselves. Humility is a virtue. We need to lighten up as a society — laugh when it hurts! Cliches are cliches for a reason.

Dead Man Walking

On the set of Dead Man Walking, for being re-casted by Clancy Brown due to scheduling conflicts

What is the most embarrassing moment you have had on set, whether in the theatre or on a shoot?

Most embarrassing moment on set? Wow, there have been so many. We always laugh at the stuff Barry Kyle used to yell at me, like the time he stopped rehearsal when I grabbed an actress by the arm (not too roughly or anything) but we both kind of stumbled making it look worse…he yelled in front of the entire company, “Joe you and your bullshit method acting have been holding the American theatre back for years!!” I was young and green and this coming from someone I held in such high esteem was humiliating and devastating. Now it is one of my favorite laughs…man, to shoulder the blame for the entire American Theatre’s backward ways??

What was the last thing that made you smile?

9. Ha ha. I’m smiling now thinking about all those embarrassing Barry Kyle outbursts, “Joe! Cut the bit with the jacket!! It’s a TERRIBLE BORE!!!” I can hear it like it was yesterday.

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

2 Responses to Joe Chrest [Interview]

  1. Tina Bullard Tye says:

    Really enjoyed reading this interview. Joe was my neighbor for almost 10 years growing up in St. Albans, WV.

  2. Very interesting interview and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Joe Chrest is a true talent… pure and simple. I could have told you that in the seventh grade. We have been life long friends. I truly look forward to seeing his career continue to blossom!

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