story / Koko Ntuen
illustration / Ashley Pawlak
Grant Bowler is a heartthrob. Upon his many heartthrob attributes including his amazing body and that enchanting voice, Grant is a genuine kind man with a heart of gold. Not to be cheesy but I dare you not to fall in love with him after reading this interview. For instance, when I ask him what characteristics make him a fantasy man, he laughs and responds, “I don’t know, maybe I’ve got a sense of humor, I love to laugh, and I have a really kind of strong drive to have a woman feel secure.”
I mean seriously, what a dream! We talked about other things as well including the biographical TV movie that has created a buzz since before production, LIZ AND DICK, in which Bowler acted alongside Lindsay Lohan to depict the relationship between Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. Having played characters spanning anywhere from murderous werewolves to Jesus Christ to a character from an Ayn Rand novel, Bowler is anything if not versatile. Here he talks to us about the upcoming feature channeling Richard Burton.
Do you have a trainer? How do you get your body to look like that?
No, I don’t. I don’t know, I just keep fit. I’ve spent so many years living in hotels and serviced apartments and shooting around the clock. I can pretty much keep fit in a six foot by four foot space. I’m really old-school. We live in the age of fantastic things like spinning and Pilates and all these wonderful things that keep people in incredible shape, but I’m kind of “do as many push-ups as you can until you fall over” and then you start doing sit-ups. I’ll wake up four weeks before a job and think, ‘I should probably get out of this bed and do a push-up.’
That’s so funny! So speaking of preparing for roles, how did you prepare for the role of Richard Burton in LIZ AND DICK?
That was a lot of work, pre-production on LIZ AND DICK, and then there was a short lead-up. I think I had nine or ten days after I signed onto the job before we started principal photography. I had been talking to production for a couple of weeks earlier, so maybe altogether about three weeks prep. It was a lot of work and a lot of detail. I kind of looked at him [Richard Burton], and I must have gone through 120 hours of video archive footage of interviews with him. I watched God knows how many of his movies, over and over and over again, and worked very closely with this wonderful dialect coach in LA, Liz Himelstein. We would just go over and over and over stuff, and kept working on the dialect, all through shooting. If I wasn’t actually on set, I would go to her place, working. With him, I decided the primary thing, the most important thing, was his voice. The more I watched him, the more I realized he wasn’t very demonstrative, either physically or facially. His focus seemed to be on the sound that was coming out of him. You look at him and he doesn’t move his face very much or raise his eyebrows. There’s no kind of characteristic or facial gestures in him as an actor. But there was a big kind of flow of how the sound came out of him and so, the more I latched on to him, the more I realized all of his energy came out of his body through his voice, and that was really, really interesting because it’s completely different than how I act.
Can you talk to me like Richard Burton?
I haven’t done it in a month, you know? It’s not kind of like putting on a hat.
What was it like working with Lindsay Lohan as your co-star?
Lindsay’s kind of very instinctive. And she’s kind of capable of, she’s got this amazing ability to just hit moments. Quite extraordinary in the sense that she’ll just kind of almost inhabit moments. And there was one series of things she did in particular, which was the spine of the film, these interviews scenes, if you will. And we shot them all, goodness, over maybe six hours. It was like the entire spine of the movie. We kind of sat down and went through one after another and we shot them up in six hours flat. And it was amazing, and she found moments in there and hit notes that I would’ve never expected and I found it wonderful and profound and she’s got this amazing set of instincts.That’s wonderful and challenging to work with as an actor because you feel like you have to be completely present to what’s happening because it’ll change every time and it’ll be very instinctive and it’ll be very organic and it’ll happen in that moment and you’ve got to grab a hold of it, you know, you can’t just let it go, because it might be different the next time around. So that was kind of really cool to work with.
I think, she’s been acting since she was a kid and I haven’t worked with actors who kind of have that upbringing very often. At home, we tend to come at it more from the other direction. That’s just the culture. It’s neither here nor there but most of the actors I work with went to school and then they left school and decided they wanted to become an actor and went to drama school for three years, and there’s pluses and minuses with that because you all kind of operate in a similar way. You go through a craft that’s kind of very similar, which means it’s easier to identify what’s going on with the other actor, you know what I mean? You kind of pick them, if you like. But at the same time, it also leads to a little bit of comfort-ability, like same-sameness. Lindsay, because she has learned her trade, acting, from when she was a kid, it’s kind of much more instinctive than that. And I think that that was a very new experience for me and challenging in a really good way, too, working with someone who, you know, whatever was happening was happening. So that was good. I mean, she can be a challenge.
So was it also a challenge just dealing with production, you know, paparazzi every day? One thing I was surprised about was that you seemed to bring an air of stability to the production. There wasn’t like “Grant Bowler takes off his shirt and he’s in the trailer with blah blah blah”, headlines. Your energy made the whole thing seem a little bit more calming. Did you feel that way, too?
I tend to like-every actor tends to- there’s a certain temperature or vibe you go looking for to work and it can be wildly different from one actor to another. Mine is I kind of, I do like the set to be relatively calm so the actors can kind of feel safe enough to strip down their skin and have a dig around inside, so I’m always a bit like that. I always like to have a laugh, I love a set that’s laughing, but yeah, I’m not into the paparazzi thing.
What do you want to get out of acting and your acting career?
It sounds really kind of boring compared to many of my colleagues but I love the process of acting. I love characters. And for a long time now, I’ve managed to work as much as I can that I just don’t have any more weeks in me to act, and so that box is checked, and you know, I get paid enough. I’m happy. I’m sitting here in a pair of board shirts, a t-shirt, and my flip-flops. I can afford them. That’s alright. So that’s it, the characters, and the jobs, and the story-telling. And look, I want to work with the best people I can, I want to get my hands on the best scripts I can. I want to be in those kinds of projects with the most dynamic people I can. So there’s a lot of ambition there, there’s always other tier in those things to kind of climb. I just want to push myself. Every time I want to be better. Every time I’m out of the gate, I want to do a better job in a newer way, in a more creative way, and I have said to myself just that. I just very frustrated with myself. If I start to get bored with me, I get very frustrated. Because I’m not doing my job properly.
That’s awesome. So you’ve worked in America, Australia and New Zealand film and television industries. Is there any other industry you want to explore, like any other country you’d want to work in?
Yeah, I’d love to do some European films, to be honest. I’d love to get over there and work with some of the directors over there, particularly-there’s some amazing work coming out of Britain and Germany. Germany’s just incredible.
What characteristics about you make you a fantasy man?
Oh, wow. I don’t know, maybe, I’ve got a sense of humor, I love to laugh, and I have a really kind of strong drive to have a woman feel secure.
Aw, that’s so sweet.
And also, I think girls, there’s like an anxiety chromosome. You’re all so worried. I really find that particularly with my daughter. I just want her to feel safe in the world. So that she can explore herself and her relationship with the world around her without any fear or any sense of anxiety at all.
That’s such a sweet thing to hear a dad say.
I try to teach my daughter to be fearless, about herself. That’s key for me. I think one thing girls and therefore women often get worked of, is that sense of themselves and their own bodies, and that being a really wonderful experience
What is your fantasy role?
I have a few of them. It’s the biggest joy of my life to say I’ve had a few of them now. My fantasy role is the one I’m playing right now I think, at the moment.
I know! I’ve waited a long time for the right role, and my fantasy role is a very fluid but ultimately good man who is dynamic and conflicted, kind of like my Jesus and Burton. I think that what I fall in love with in people are, I guess, the inconsistencies, the flaws, you know what I mean? The gap between one thing and another and you’ll find someone who’s a wonderful person and then they do this to themselves and then I can attach to it and fall in love with her so yeah, my fantasy role is a character who is incredibly dynamic but also capable of kind of failing and making kind of big mistakes.
Oh yeah. Like everyone. Your story is pretty inspiring, just your early days of acting in Hollywood. What is some insight you can give our readers about persistence?
Oh, well I think ultimately, you know, you pick what you want in life and one of two things are going to happen. You’re either going to get it, or you’re not. Either of those for me are acceptable. They’re fine. What is unacceptable to me is to get to the end of my life, realize I never pursued my passion, and be out of time. So my philosophy is really really simple. I just keep going until, you know, I have to. I’ve banged against the door so many times just eventually out of exhaustion or frustration opens it up and says come in.