story / Lily Golightly
photos / Shanna Fisher
styling / Quentin Fears
grooming / Christina Guerra @ Celestine Agency
I’m not just a fan of Jonathan Tucker’s undeniable acting chops and his knack for picking complex and dynamic roles, from his stints on Parenthood and Justified to his strenuously physical starring role in Kingdom. I’m not just a fan—I also happen to basically be his doppelganger… you know, minus the fame and the cool acting job.
JT and I are both from the Boston area, we both have Jewish mothers and semi-Catholic fathers. We’re both married and have small dogs with handsome underbites, and we both took to ballet as children, even though I was kicked out of my first class for trying to play the piano. Jonathan Tucker, however, would never get kicked out of a class. Jonathan Tucker would obsess over the class and the content matter, throwing himself fearlessly into whatever it was that piqued his interest at that particular moment. Jonathan Tucker is an absolute master chameleon, constantly changing and challenging himself to get to that next level, to become that next character.
I had the chance to catch up with him on the phone as he sat in his Crown Victoria outside of his gym, a place that he goes to turn himself into MMA fighter Jay Kulina for Kingdom. Though he was never a fan of MMA before started filming, he has become close to the MMA community and has embraced the sport while soul-searching for his character. And his enthusiasm is contagious: After our interview, I found myself googling MMA and falling into an Internet rabbit hole learning about the sport, curiosity sparked by his glowing enthusiasm. Tucker’s enjoyment in peeling the layers back and exploring the complexities of life puts him in a true place of power. To risk-take and be able to walk into a world you are unfamiliar with and approach it from a place of vulnerability is a feat. And it’s precisely in this process that the actor feels the most comfortable and finds his power.
What made you want to explore dance, especially being a boy learning what is stereotypes as a women-dominated art form?
The New York City Ballet had a place called the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and there was a bakery in upstate New York called Fly Hoppers. It was sort of a local company and they would pay for any senior citizen and kid under 12 to go to the New York City Ballet and you could sit on the lawn for free. My grandmother would take me every night in the summer to see one of the greatest ballet companies in the world and I really fell in love with the art, the discipline, the whole experience of the stage and I became kind of a ballet ‘groupie,’ you know, getting their autographs and their shoes and programs signed. And my role models were some of these ultra masculine, extraordinarily physically dynamic dancers. Jock Soto was an ultra masculine force. I remember someone putting on a questionnaire when I was 10: Who is your role model? And I said Jock Soto.
So I became obsessed with ballet in the same way that I become obsessed with anything—I love to really drill into things and find more layers, whether it is urban or contemporary art or classic automobiles like my beautiful Crown Victoria or boxing or acting. Losing myself in something really interests me and ballet was really one of the first things that was like that for me. So I came back to Boston and told my parents that I wanted to be in a real ballet class…And it helped me in my transition into acting. It taught me discipline, the ability to take directions, and of course the physicality and the ability to be comfortable in front of a group of people.
Kind of like the physicality that you have to tap into in Kingdom?
I believe every role is physical. If you are not bringing physicality to your role as an actor you are short-changing the character. Kingdom happens to be a very obvious example of that but I don’t consider that role to be any more physical than my character on Justified or my role on American Gods.
And then you transitioned into acting. When you imagined your acting career when you were starting out, what types of genres were you attracted to?
I think I was maybe 11 when I started acting, and there was overlap with ballet but I started doing national commercials out of Boston. The genres that I was interested in then were really the same as the genres I am interested in now. It’s less about the genre and more about the character and interesting directors and storytellers and the collaborations that one can find with other actors and the people that are bringing something to the story. As I have gotten older I have seen how collaborative my process can be with someone I did not know about when I was younger, like a production designer or a wardrobe designer. There are a lot of storytellers that bring their talents to the filmmaking process and I’ve had the privilege of discovering that we can all work together and make something bigger than ourselves.
Suit, ASOS. Shirt & Shoes, Bar III.
When you started out acting, I imagine it must have been difficult going to auditions and basically competing against all of the other emerging actors. What did you do to pump yourself up before auditions?
I have never really felt as competitive with other actors as I was with myself. The way I pump myself up is by preparing as thoroughly and as diligently as possible so when I end up meeting for a role I am completely and utterly open and free to that environment, and that environment is multi-dimensional. Doubt only creeps in when you are not working.
You also did a bunch of guest starring on TV shows. What were some of your favorite gigs for TV?
The guest star work was critical in allowing me to really find myself as an actor who understands how the process works and to implement all the work I’ve done on a set that is moving 115 MPH and doesn’t really care how fast you are stepping onto that moving platform. It allows you to cut your teeth, so to speak. It gives you the opportunity to create a complex character and bring life to a story for one episode where the time-frame is so limited…
Two shows I really enjoyed were Parenthood and Justified. But doing Hannibal was one of those pivotal times for me because though Bryan Fuller and I had many discussions about a particular element, he wasn’t on set when I had implemented it and people were nervous about what I was doing. I just had to believe that we are there to operate as artists and we have to listen to our own sense of truth and our own creative source, and so this situation playing out successfully…really empowered me.You can’t allow other people’s feedback to dictate your sense of self worth or your artistic integrity. If you have done the work, you need to let that speak.
I love that! Let’s talk about Kingdom. I read that before you took on the role of Jay you weren’t an MMA fan but now you are. Are there any other ways that this role has changed you?
As an actor, as much as you give to a character, a character gives back to you. My understanding of addiction, family, my appreciation for the unconditional love that my parents gave me… all of those things have really come into play. I travel with my combat gear whenever I go somewhere for a weekend like someone might travel with a golf bag. I think the spiritual component is much more interesting to me: He’s such a complex, tragic and dynamic character and there’s almost never too far for him to go in one direction…and that’s been very gratifying to experience; that kind of liberation as a character, actor and person.
I heard you had to physically transform yourself for the role. Did you find power in being “bigger” for this role? How did the transformation affect your sense of self?
I think I found less power in the physical appearance and more potency in what it took to get there. When you understand the self-discipline that’s required to achieve a certain goal, like this one for instance, and you’re able to ask more of yourself than you’ve ever asked, to set a bar that you’re not sure you’re going to reach and to reach it…that’s where real self-confidence comes from. And self-awareness too. Because it’s a big dance between your ego and your heart and your sense of self and determination.
The press are saying that your next project, 2017’s American Gods, might be the next Game of Thrones. Were you a fan of the book before you signed onto the project?
I knew the book and I knew it had a legion of fans and I wish I could tell you that I was one. I am a Bryan Fuller worshipper and I am simply moved to find myself in any world that he creates or is a part of. That was really my main attraction. And of course, I had the opportunity to read the book and meet the fans and I understood the responsibility I had in making this adaptation work for them and Neil Gaiman.
What genre of music, and also specifically which artists or songs, really get you pumped up?
This is going to sound insane but… my mom is Jewish, my father is a recovering Irish Catholic, my wife’s family is Muslim and Hindu, and I end up listening to a ton of Christian worship songs when I go to the gym! For some reason I find them incredibly inspiring. It goes between that and like, Kanye West and Avicii. I have the most disgusting, diverse, and wildly different songs that get me to where I need to get to.
What are you absolutely powerless over?
Dark chocolate peanut butter cups are out of this world…They allow me to understand people’s drug addictions! And waking up next to my bride and Rothko, our twelve-pound rescue mutt who was found in a trash can in downtown Los Angeles… Seeing him snuggled up like a fur stole around her neck is more potent than a morning cup of coffee.
That’s beautiful! I already asked you this as it pertains to your work, but is there any saying, memory, TV show, song or quote that when you’re feeling down makes you feel empowered?
There’s a quotation in my bathroom—it’s the only quotation that I have—and I keep it there so I can see it when I brush my teeth. It’s by WIlliam Blake: “Great things happen when men and mountains meet.” And that’s a really important thing for me to know. Everything is relative—there is always someone making more money, getting more offers, who is seemingly getting more, and you have to be comfortable with where you are in your life which doesn’t mean you can’t be working hard at the same time. But knowing this has been critical for me to recognize every single day that I have been lucky to work as an actor. You can’t see the view from the top of the peak unless you’ve crawled in the lowest parts of the valley.
Shirt, Clade. Jeans, DROMe. Shoes, ASOS.
Jacket and shirt, Clade. Jeans, DROME
Jacket, Angelino. Shirt and shoes, ASOS. Jeans, DROME.
SEE MORE JONATHAN IN LADYGUNN’S #14 POWER TRIPPIN’ ISSUE !