Johnathon Schaech is one of Hollywood’s most respected and seasoned actors, with a successful acting, writing and directing career spanning 20+ years with reoccurring roles in the Showtime original, Ray Donovan, and in The Legend of Hercules to name a few.
Chances are pretty good, you’ve seen Schaech in any number of movies or TV shows in recent years and maybe thought, – that guy is pretty cool. If so, your intuition was spot on, Johnathon is grade A, professional with a charismatic and charming soul and an equally positive mindset. The fact that he also starred in one of the biggest must see cult classics of the 90s and over 40 other films and T.V. shows is but the tip of the iceberg.
Ferrvor Magazine’s Christian Burkholder hung out with Johnathon Schaech on a beautiful day in West Hollywood at the Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills post editorial photo shoot with Ferrvor’s creative director Kaleb Khu.
Suit: Sandro, Sweater: Sandro, Shoes: John Varvatos
Today you are going to learn a lot about Johnathon Schaech. I spent a few hours with him eavesdropping on his life. We busted out some good conversation, dove into his past, his family, his successes, defeats, his marriages and some amusing stories about Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and his time studying Buddhism in Japan.
Schaech loves to act. He’s had a seriously full plate over his 20+ year career, including the 90s cult classic “That Thing You Do,” directed and co-starring his now friend, Tom Hanks, which incidentally was Hank’s writing and directing debut to boot and a legitimately funny comedy where he kicked ass as the singing co-star. He’s played opposite Harvey Keitel in Finding Graceland, appeared in Stephan Elliott’s, Welcome to Woop Woop, he was Harry Houdini in TNT’s Houdini, he appeared with James Caan in Blood Crime, played opposite Jennifer Love Hewitt in Time of Your Life. He guest starred on Ray Donovan, FOX’s Sleepy Hollow and is now co-starring along side Bill Paxton and Ray Liota in the up-and-coming History Channel 8-part documentary series, Texas Rising.
I’m in one of the suites at the Sofitel hotel in West Hollywood, where Johnathon Schaech has just wrapped up his editorial shoot for Ferrvor.com He suggests we go downstairs in an area just outside the Sofitel restaurant and bar, to a cool little spot that has some comfortable couches, chairs and a place for my drink. It was a 3-hour shoot and I know he’s probably a little beat, so I dive right in.
You’ve been at this for awhile and have a long history in Hollywood. What got you wanting to act, did you always have some sort of a calling to do it?
“You know, acting didn’t seem real growing up, you know how you discover a new band, or go to the theater to watch a movie and it all seems bigger then life? The images that were created were iconic to me.”
You mean unbelievable, or otherworldly?
“Yea it was bigger than life, and then out of nowhere, they started making movies in Baltimore where I’m from and my dad just happened to be a cop on the movie set of Hairspray.”
“Yeah, He would tell me all about it and that made me think, ok, wow!, that is real. And then one day he showed them some pictures of me and got me an interview with one of the producers to be in the movie. I could do those 1950’s dances and was going to be an extra to come and do the big high school dance scene and yet, I didn’t show up.”
“Because, I was too scared. From that moment on I felt I let my father down.”
What did he say?
“He was embarrassed. My dad was a city cop, he was tough and it’s not too often an officer walks up to the producers of a film, like I imagine my dad walking up to them and asking for a shot at a role for his kid. Now looking back I get chills.”
Blazer: Sandro, Pants: Levis
You grazed the covers of several influential magazines over the years, including Interview Magazine and Vanity Fair among others. In fact you were on the cover of one of the Hollywood issues of Vanity Fair in which you shared the cover with Leo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Tim Roth and Matthew McConaughey.
“Yes but as an actor. Not a model — I was one of their “leading men to watch” in their annual Hollywood Issue.”
When did you begin modeling and did it come natural for you?
“Yeah the modeling thing was. People were telling me I was good looking and that I could model, so I took some photos and started modeling little side jobs. But I was really more interested in the fitness side of it and lifting weights. I was a 98 pound wrestler and the star athlete through my high school years, but then I started getting cut from my favorite sports, like baseball, football and so on, so I would stay out Friday and Saturday nights lifting weights because I was sick of getting cut from every team that I went out for. Not until my senior year did I get big.”
One obvious benefit is that you’re in great shape now and you’re taller.
“Yea it was one summer during my senior year. I just grew and started getting bigger and people wanted to take pictures of me, I then went to college at the university of Maryland and started studying acting.”
Was it a personal calling or just something you enjoyed doing?
“During that time you’re trying pretty much everything. For me it was philosophy and economics at first. I then saw one of the school catalogues one time and I was like, I’ll try an acting class. After that I was hooked, I loved it. I got such a kick out of that class, and the passion behind the man that taught us, Sam McCredie”
You’ve shot with some iconic photographers over the years; Bruce Weber, Herb Ritz and Annie Leibovitz. How did you get into the whole modeling thing?
“I had met one of the Chippendales guys in Baltimore during college. He told me stories about how much it pays and that it was a fun life, so he introduced me to the Chippendales people and they flew me out to LA to dance with the instructor, Mike Black, a well known choreographer at the time. He started teaching me all the moves to get me ready. Then on my second day in LA, I was at the Fiddler Cafe eating breakfast and this guy came over to me named Peter Savic, who was Madonna’s hair dresser at the time. He said “excuse me are you a model?” and I was like no, and he said, I’d love to take you to this modeling agency called Wilhelmina. I told him I had heard of Wilhelmina, but wanted to be an actor and he said, I’m sure they can help you out with that too, and so he set up a meeting with them. I walked through the door and they said to lose weight your too muscular, but you’ll work right away. He basically rescued me.”
What happened to the Chippendales gig?
“They offered it to me, which I ultimately turned down and when I did that, they doubled the offer. I’ll never forget that the first time I got something doubled, and I was like wow you’re going to double it? The reason I didn’t take it, was because of these two twin dancers that basically said, listen kid, you’re a really good person and these people are not good people to be around. They said ‘go do your thing and you’ll be a success as an actor. That was my first big decision within a week of arriving here.”
Johnathon is generous with his wisdom about how to stay away from bad managers.
That sounds like a beautiful thing they did for you as you’ve had quite the career.
“They were good southern boys, nice as pie.”
What was your first modeling gig?
“Herb Ritts shot me”
Out of the gate?
“I know! Herb Ritts, I had no idea.”
How was it working with him?
“He was about the sweetest man I had ever met before in my life. He took me under his wing. He didn’t exploit me, use me, or try to sleep with me. He kind of just kept looking after me.”
You also shot with Bruce Webber?
“Yah, they sent me to see Bruce Webber who was in Santa Barbara, to do photos with him. By this time I had shot with Cliff Watts, who was one of the first guys I had shot with out here. He’s a big photographer now, but Herb was massive at that time.”
Any good Bruce Webber stories you care to share?
“Bruce shot me at a hotel one time and he wanted me to drop my towel, so he would do this thing where he was like, ‘just let the towel hang loose’, instead of just saying, would you do some nude photos for me.” I also remember at one of my very first dinners in Hollywood, Herb had invited me to dinner along with his boyfriend, Elton john and his boyfriend at the time and Sly Stallone and his two girlfriends. We met at this place called Atlas. Was a fantastic night as you can imagine.”
That’s mildly insane.
“Yah it was one of those things, if Instagram was around and I could have just taken a picture and captured it yah know. I was sitting there thinking what the hell?”
Any favorite photographers?
“Herb Rittz, by far. Nothing like Herb.”
Suit: Sandro, Shirt: Michael Kors, Handkerchief: Turnbull & Asser, Shoes: Prada
What do you think has contributed to your continued success and longevity in the industry?
“I was always successful with the creative endeavors I went into and I never sought fame. I wanted to be the best at my craft and so my career became what I wanted. And I have continued to challenge myself to grow and be respected for my work.”
You’ve had some challenges to overcome along the way. At 32 you found out you had reading comprehension dyslexia.
“Dyslexia wasn’t something that was specifically diagnosed or treated. During my very first TV pilot season, I kept saying the wrong words. I couldn’t comprehend the material fast enough. (T.V. productions works faster than film which was the world I was coming from).”
How did that feel?
“It felt horrible. It wasn’t until I started getting into the arts and drawing did I really start comprehending stories. It wasn’t until I would draw it that I could see and comprehend it clearly. My Dyslexia is the gift that helped me find my bliss and is truly one of my greatest assets as an actor.”
Since we’re on the subject of career. Any advice for actors just starting out looking for management?
“Stay away from people who promise you the world and ask for money up front. That’s not how it works. Once you hit that role you need that team behind you to help find the things that move your career forward, with the long term in mind. It’s absolutely everything. I used to have bad representation and I have no problem saying that.”
I wish I would have known that when I was 24 years old. As you said, when you’re young you just don’t know.
“Yea, you have no idea. I got a great group of people around me now”
Artists deal with rejection allot, how did you deal with rejection?
“When you’re an artist, you have to know that the ‘thing’ your auditioning for is sometimes not the ‘thing’ that you’re really auditioning for. If you don’t get that audition, it’s ok, its doesn’t mater because your really auditioning for something bigger. When I first started acting, I felt like I had to get some role because I had been away from my parents for about 3 years and was like God, please give me this role, but God’s not going to give you something your not ready for, so that was a big lesson. Many times in my life I would get a role from something that I had auditioned for prior.”
You grew up Catholic, are you still?
“Catholics were talking about the Holy Spirit, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They would always talk about Jesus being number one, but also the spirit and so I started to study what the Great Spirit was. I love the title ‘great spirit’. It feels most representative of this power that connects us all and is so much bigger then just us.”
Sounds like you are you a spiritual guy.
“I’d like to think so. I was raised catholic but there was a period in my life, when a lot of ‘things’ had happened.”
You can get in your head a lot as an actor, especially with all the rejection.
“If you do your in trouble, I was all over the place. In order to be a really good actor you need to know how to concentrate, so I started doing vipassana meditation, and that lead me to mindfulness and equanimity.”
You also studied Buddhism.
“Yes, I went to Japan and studied Buddhism, under a teacher named Abiko.”
How long were you there?
“I was there about two weeks and when I came back we would talk back and forth, and this was the time of long distance calls.”
If you could do something other then acting what would that be?
“I’m an excellent teacher, and fitness is my passion. I would probably be a trainer.”
On that subject, you are in rip roaring excellent shape my friend. What helps keep you consistent with staying in shape?
“I just train hard, I have to now. The drive to be able to be there for my son, as I grow older is a big one. I’m 45 and when he’s 16 I’ll be 60, so I need to be in shape for him he’s going to need someone to play catch with.”
What does your daily routine look like?
“A daily active fitness routine and healthy eating are important in our home, especially since we try to teach our son healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle. We eat whole organic foods, daily green juices and clean protein shakes etc. And you gotta drink lots of water so you cycle plenty of shit out of your system. That’s how I stay thin. I want to be stronger and healthier at 50 than I was at 30.”
It really is about the chicken, broccoli, nuts and greens.
“Well, when you just eat all that processed foods and it just sticks to you.”
I’m sure our readers would love to know what type of workouts you practice?
“Well, I’ve done everything from palates, to TRX training and spinning. Soul cycle is great. People go there and they drop all kinds of weight. I used to watch Brad Pitt and always wondered how he’s always in such great shape. The last time I talked to Brad when he was shooting Troy, he told me that he’s never been in more pain in his life. He trained so hard, but he was freaking’ big.”
Yeah he was seriously ripped.
“He was thick and he just constantly would flush his system and eat natural foods and everything that he ate was going right through him.”
You have a cool little newborn son, Camden.
“Aww, yeah, he’s awesome man, he’s changed my life.”
How has he influenced how you balance family and professional life?
“I take action on the only the important things. Being in this business as long as I have I know when to say no. God comes first in our marriage, which is what keeps us grounded and spiritually connected. My wife and I are pretty good at compromise. It’s a team effort. We don’t go 2 weeks without seeing one another and we make sure to get in the family time, even if it’s just for an hour on busy days. We’ll go to dinner, or grill out in the backyard and play ball with Camden (our son). The rest I give to my faith.”
Do you have an inspirational quote that gets you through the day?
“Probably the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” And my father wrote to me once, “keep God in your heart and you will make it”. That pops into my brain still, daily.”
Many people may or may not know you’re also a writer and director, in fact you wrote for Stephen King. “I made a film with Stephen King’s publisher, Richard Chizmar, that I directed. He showed it to him and he granted us a dollar option for “From a Buick 8″. It almost got made about 52 times!”
Are you still trying to get it made?
“No, he got the rights from us last year.”
Johnathon Schaech co-stars in a cool new History Channel 8 part series called Texas Rising.
What’s one of the tougher decisions you had to make regarding your career?
“The show Queer as Folk had offered me a lot of money one time to be on the show, but cable TV wasn’t the thing that I did (at that time). I was making movies with greatest actors around and Showtime hadn’t fully transitioned to where it is today. My thought was ‘Why do something that locks you in for five years?’ Nowadays, we actors kill for that opportunity.”
Are you generally happy?
“My father was a brooder and so I became a brooder as you naturally become like your parents. He was a cop and constantly on guard, introspective and could never sleep properly.
Hyper aware, huh?
“Yeah, controlling and scared all the time, but he had a right to be scared he held up the law, you know something could happen to your child. But something changed with me when I was on the set of That Thing You Do, I realized how much you could laugh and have fun and just how important that was. I’ll never forget when Tom Hanks, danced from one side of the room to the other towards me and did this little jazz hands thing and he was like hey kid! He basically showed me the light and to not take things too serious. You know in an industry that is all perception anyway.”
When was the last time you really laughed hysterically hard?
“This happens everyday with my wife and son.”
You seem pretty active on Social Media – necessary evil, or great tool for promotion, or both?
“I originally got pressured into social media by a fan of mine in Australia. She knew I had a fan base in the social space that were eager to interact. At the end of the day, we all want connection — and that is what social media is based upon. I have found social media to be the one way I keep my integrity.”
I hear you’ve sky dived. How was that?
“Yes, roughly 30+ times, in my 20’s, when I didn’t know any better. It was scary as shit. I think, in one way, skydiving is every man’s alternative to suicide. I knew I could pull the ripcord, and I always wanted to!”
So you grew up listening to hair metal?
“Yea, Guns and Roses”
Do you have a nickname people know you by in your inner circle?
“Johnny, its what everyone from home calls me. A few of my close friends in LA took to it as well.”
Do you have a favorite baseball team?
“Orioles, My son’s name is Camden.”
…as in Camden Yards!
Being from LA, Do you go to Dodgers games?
“There’s just something about hanging out at the Dodgers games once in a while that’s cool. I do go occasionally when I can.”
I hear you promote tourism for Baltimore?
“I’m one of the faces of Baltimorean tourism campaign. It’s still one of the greatest cities in our country. The campaign is called ‘B’More Baltimore’. Baltimore is where “The Star Spangled Banner” was was born and will be the place our nation as a whole can become one.”
Favorite person or mentor?
“My favorite movie is Shawshank Redemption.”
“Just the way it was told the story its beautiful”
Ever been arrested?
“No, never, probably should have though”
Beach or Mountains?
“Beach. The ocean waves are the only thing that cure my insomnia.”
You’re putting together an outfit for a big nighttime event, which designer would you choose for your evening wear and why?
“I’d love Under Armour, but my wife would reject that for a red carpet event. I’m big fan of John Varvatos, Burberry, Ted Baker and Armani.”
Is there anyone that you’d want to act alongside that you haven’t already?
“You know I’ve never worked with Charlize Theron. She was in That Thing You Do too, but I never have worked with her, same with Sean Penn. He directed me once along side Warren Beatty at a table reading.”
Suit: Beautiful Fül, Pants: Levis
How was it working on the set of Texas Rising?
“There are a lot of amazing actors in that one. Good company to be around!”
What’s Texas Rising all about?
“It’s about the Texas revolution and how Texas became a country back in 1853, after the Alamo when a war took place between Mexico and Texas.”
Sounds good, who was your character?
“I play colonel Sydney Sherman, a military man who came down from Kentucky and brought 52 Kentucky riflemen with him. In fact Sherman Texas was named after him.”
Pretty badass. Sounds like a good role.
“I’m one of the main nemesis and military counterpart to Bill Paxton, as Sam Houston, who was more of a political man and wanted to always fight. I had soldiers that were trained military guys and the rest were just rag tag group of farmers. There were a lot of questions back then as to whether we should attack or shouldn’t and Sam Houston was known as a very wise man in the military at the time.”
What was it like working along side Bill Paxton?
“He was awesome, he’s such a perfectionist”
I hear you have a couple more projects in the cue?
“Yeah, there’s Quantico, which is the FBI headquarters in Virginia, and a pilot called, The Advocate, that I have a big part. It’s with Kim Raver from 24.”
My alarm goes off and then for a second, silence. We’ve been at this for two hours. I feel like I’ve been through a therapy session, he’s shared some personal gems of advice and great life stories. For some reason the words, I Quit, I Quit, I Quit run through my mind. We both get up and walk towards the front of the hotel. He shakes my hand, wishes me a good day and walks off. And a good day it was.