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Off Camera with Sam Jones

Off Camera is a podcast hosted by photographer/director Sam Jones, who created the show out of his passion for the long form conversational interview, and as a way to share his conversations with a myriad of artists, actors, musicians, directors, skateboarders, photographers, and writers that pique his interest. Because the best conversations happen Off Camera.

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Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis had his big moment of success a bit later than most. Zach was a stand-up comedian with a small but loyal following, but when the massive hit comedy The Hangover came out, his life drastically changed. At 40 years old, Zach was unaccustomed to throngs of fans and perplexed by the attention brought by fame. As he says, “No one wanted to hear me speak or ask my opinion until I got into the movies. That doesn’t make any sense.”Zach’s down to earth approach to life likely originated with his family—a naturally funny and supportive crowd who encouraged Zach to follow his dreams of performing at an early age. After school, he moved to New York City to find an acting coach who could take him under their wing and provide an entrance into the business. Success wasn’t imminent though. As Zach says, “I worked for an uncle who managed a restaurant called Tequila Willie’s, where I had to wear a sombrero and pick up my tips off the kitchen room floor. Have you ever been on the kitchen floor on your hands and knees picking up quarters with a sombrero on? It’s very uplifting. Especially, when you’re still a busboy at 28.” Zach never found his long sought after acting coach but instead discovered stand up in the back of a burger restaurant, and never looked back.Even with his roles in big budget films, Zach continues to take on interesting, outside the box projects—whether it’s being a fake talk show host in the Netflix movie adaptation of Between Two Ferns or doing impromptu stand-up at a steakhouse in Pasadena. Over the course of our conversation, you’ll realize Zach’s honesty and modesty is as endearing as it is hilarious, as awkward as it is intimate.Zach joins Off Camera to talk about his favorite Between Two Ferns moment, his mission to take the piss out of “celebrity,” and why you should dress up as a witch and go find him on the streets of Venice if you want to have a nice ten-minute conversation.

1hr 11mins

26 Sep 2019

Rank #1

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Edward Norton

For the past 25 years, Edward Norton has established himself as one of the greatest actors in his generation. His legacy includes roles in films like Primal Fear, American History X, Fight Club, and Birdman to name a few, and he’s the type of artist who constantly seeks to challenge himself. Take his new film Motherless Brooklyn, which he wrote, directed, and stars in. The noir-esque film is an incredible achievement for Edward, and it’s a direct product of all of his years of hard work and experience in the industry.For Edward, being an artist is more of a compulsion than a mere desire. As he says, “Most of us are one or two degrees away from obsession tipping over into a true condition and affliction. That’s how I feel about acting and writing.” Luckily, Edward has a creative place to put that obsession, and that creativity was inspired by the work of musicians like Bob Dylan and David Bowie when Edward was a teenager. The resounding message was: “The freaks are who you want to hang with.” So, Edward sought to find his own tribe of like-minded, creative people. It’s through that band of people that Edward got his first big role, and it also helped him fund and cast Motherless Brooklyn. As he says, “If I’ve got any collateral via what I’ve done, why wouldn’t I try to do something else? Why wouldn’t I try to swing for a story that I think I understand and say something?”Edward joins Off Camera to talk about identifying with his underdog character in Motherless Brooklyn, learning to put problems in perspective after his mother passed away, and why he has a hard time trusting anyone who actually enjoyed high school.

1hr 4mins

31 Oct 2019

Rank #2

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Seth Rogen

Believe it or not, the origin of Seth Rogen’s incredible acting, writing, and producing career traces all the way back to Bar Mitzvah class in Vancouver. That’s where twelve-year-old Seth met Evan Goldberg, a fellow movie enthusiast who loved writing just as much as Seth did. A creative partnership between the two began instantaneously, and they started writing what would become Superbad, inspired by their own high school escapades, by the time they were thirteen. “We always wondered if our very specific high school experience would be relatable to other people, because we were just writing what happened to us as Jewish Canadian boys in Vancouver. It seemed pretty niche.” Of course, it became one of the most successful movies about high school of all time.As his writing career post-Superbad took off, so did his acting career. Within the span of a few years, he became the face of American comedy, working on hit films like The Pineapple Express, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Knocked Up. In fact, he had so much success over that span of time, he just assumed that was how the business worked: “I didn’t appreciate how miraculous that streak was. At the time, I was like, ‘Oh, great. You make a movie. It turns out great. Everyone loves it, and you make tons of money. Perfect.’”Eventually, he learned that wasn’t always the case—and as the movie budgets got bigger, so did the stakes, with more creative pressure and input from studio executives. It took one bad experience as a studio’s most expensive movie for Seth to realize that it was more important for Evan and him to maintain their artistic freedom than make the highest profile movie. To this day, he holds onto that philosophy and it’s why he still loves making movies, including his newest film Long Shot, a political romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron and himself. “When Evan and I make a movie like Long Shot, and we’re able to sit in a theater and watch the audience laugh at and feel what we hoped—it’s really gratifying. It means they’re invested in the same things we are.”Seth joins Off Camera to talk about why moving to Los Angeles for a role in Freaks and Geeks was his version of going off to college, how he and Evan turn an idea into a full-fledged movie, and why saying no to a role on a CW sitcom early in his career wasn’t a hard choice at all.

1hr 11mins

25 Apr 2019

Rank #3

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Josh Gad

Josh Gad was drawn to acting ever since he took the stage as The Simcha Machine in Beth Shalom Academy’s kindergarten play. Onstage, Josh felt euphoria, but at home, he struggled with his parents’ divorce. Luckily, he found an escape through watching and performing in theater. Josh vividly remembers the first time he saw a professional play, sitting in the nosebleeds, and watching breathlessly. “What finally took me over the edge was going to New York City and seeing Topol in Fiddler on the Roof. I was sold. Sold. ‘I’ve got to do this.’”In addition to his dream of performing, Josh had an innate talent for making people laugh. Humor was how eased his mother’s pain after divorce, and it also helped him diffuse social tension. Josh explains, “One time a kid called me fat in front of a group of people, and instead of kowtowing, I started reciting a monologue from My Cousin Vinny to the point where the guy was like, ‘What is happening right now?’ Everybody was laughing at him, and I turned it into an opportunity to take the weapon out of his hands and make it my own.”For college, Josh went to conservatory at Carnegie Mellon, but getting work after graduation wasn’t easy. The cycle of auditioning and rejection was depressing, especially when his agents sent him on auditions against the likes of Nick Lachey. “Had my agents even seen my headshot?” Josh jokes. After a couple of years, he almost quit, but he finally got his big break as the lead in the Broadway show The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. In the years since, Josh has done work in a wide range of projects onstage and onscreen, including The Daily Show, Book of Mormon, The Comedians, Frozen, and more.Josh joins Off Camera to talk about the way voice acting taps into his childhood, the worst night he’s ever had on stage, and missing his calling as an opera singer.

1hr 5mins

21 Nov 2019

Rank #4

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Jenny Slate 2

I’m really happy to have Jenny Slate back again. She’s smart, funny, and charming, and she’s refreshingly honest about her struggles as an artist and human being. Every time I find myself in conversation with her, I feel inspired and joyful. She’s just released a Netflix special called Stage Fright, which is part standup, part documentary, part confessional, and wholly original. And she’s also released a new memoir called Little Weirds, which is probably the most esoteric and private book to ever land on The New York Times bestseller list. Bottom line, Jenny is an unapologetically human artist, and she is at the height of her powers.Jenny had to do some soul-searching over the past few years. Divorce, the public spotlight, and emotional turmoil were inhibiting her creativity, and as she depicts in her memoir, she had to work through some of that “gloop.” Writing Little Weirds led to a maturity and self-assuredness that helped her reach not only new creative heights, but also to find peace and happiness within herself. She inhabits an interesting space between creating entertainment and soul-searching. As Jenny says, “I don’t think that there will be a world in which I don’t try to be funny and add levity to reality, but the most important thing for me as an artist and the only constant is, ‘Openness until death.’ Stay open until you’re terminal.”Jenny joins Off Camera to talk about losing her creative spirit in the woods of New England, freaking out after she bombed the Stage Fright rehearsal, and the psychological and creative benefits of dressing monochromatically for a couple weeks.HOME

1hr

5 Dec 2019

Rank #5

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Fred Armisen

Fred Armisen is known as one of the funniest and most memorable Saturday Night Live cast members, but surprisingly, a career in comedy wasn’t something he originally envisioned. As a kid, he was obsessed with becoming a musician. Punk—his first love—was perfectly suited to his self-described “weirdo” sensibility. He and his band Trenchmouth had some success, but it paled in comparison to the record deals and acclaim his peers were getting. “The hardest part about watching all the bands around us get famous was that I wasn't able to enjoy music anymore because I was so jealous.”Fred wasn’t lighting the world on fire with his drumming, but he knew he had a gift for making people laugh with impressions—a valuable skill for entertaining band mates on long concert tours. Fred started wondering if he was supposed to be on a different path. “I worried for a moment that I was too late for this career, but the rewards were so huge that I made up for lost time. Within a few years, I was on Saturday Night Live. I went through the side door entrance, and even I wasn’t a traditional comedian, I had impressions and characters.”That side door proved to be the right one. Fred spent 11 years on SNL, developed and starred in Portlandia with Carrie Brownstein, did Documentary Now! with Bill Hader and Forever with Maya Rudolph, both fellow SNL alumni, and he’s at it again with Los Espookys, an upcoming Spanish-language show on HBO about goths, entrepreneurship, and chocolate. He’s keeping it weird, and that’s just how he likes it.Fred joins Off Camera to talk about finding a lifesaver and pen pal in director John Waters, why The Clash informs just about everything in his life, and the time he got sent to the school psychologist just because he wanted to burn down Main Street.

1hr 10mins

6 Jun 2019

Rank #6

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Ep 26. Will Ferrell

Just mention Will Ferrell’s name or glance at a picture of him and chances are you’re already smiling (or smirking or laughing out loud). But the really funny thing is that it’s not necessarily because his best-known characters are so gosh-darn loveable. See, Ferrell never bought the conventional movie truism that comedic leads have to be likeable, and went on to prove it, perhaps most pointedly with the iconic Ron Burgundy. In fact, he doesn’t even think comedy has to be particularly funny to be hysterical.While working a number of “regular” jobs, (he actually almost became an anchorman), Ferrell did stand up in small clubs, clinging to his father’s surprisingly helpful advice that his ever making it would be a long shot. It was just that take-it-or-leave it approach that allowed him to pursue his unique comedic style free from the angst that might have otherwise crushed it. It might also explain a small sadistic streak that underlies his performances – if you don’t like what he’s doing, sit back and enjoy it anyway…or else.In this issue, he describes his stomach-churning, knee-buckling Saturday Night Live audition and the even more daunting experience of joining the legendary show at one of its lowest points. He also shares his writing process, stories behind some of his best loved impersonations and his long and sometimes perplexing feature film cv. His success and work in projects as diverse as Elf and Stranger Than Fiction illustrate the rare genius of someone who can make the ridiculously absurd not only believable, but sympathetic. Chalk it up to talent or unquestioning commitment to any role he takes on, but not to hard work. Ferrell’s a firm believer in not overthinking the work or worrying too much about whether his projects succeed, as long as he’s having fun along the way. He may not be cerebral, but trust us, he’s brilliant.

1hr 22mins

19 Feb 2020

Rank #7

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Olivia Wilde 2

It’s been four years since Olivia Wilde last visited Off Camera, and a lot has changed—she’s had another child, taken a step back from acting, and embarked on a completely different career path as a director. “I almost feel like someone who’s come out of the closet. There’s this feeling of honesty about what I really want to do, and it's a level of comfort that comes from being true to yourself that I haven’t felt in a long time.” Booksmart, her first feature film, offers a unique perspective on friendship and identity during one of the most tumultuous times in life: the high school years.Being an actress for so many years allowed Olivia to see behind the curtain into the directing process, whether it was Martin Scorsese on set of Vinyl, Ron Howard on the set of Rush, or Reed Morano on Meadowland. But learning what not to do from her less positive experiences was equally important. “Knowing that my actors were walking onto a set that was the exact environment that I would want for myself felt really great. I used all my bad experiences for something good.” A perfect example of that was shooting a sex scene on a truly closed set on Booksmart.At times, acting in TV and film was an isolating experience for Olivia, who would often be brought in to shoot a scene and then promptly whisked away to her trailer. She felt more like a caged circus animal than a creative human being, and she longed for a more collaborative environment.Olivia joins Off Camera to talk about the importance of zooming out on your life every once in a while, why cell phones are the enemy of storytelling (and our souls), and how Converse high tops can double as chastity belts.

1hr 11mins

13 Jun 2019

Rank #8

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Adam Devine

When Adam Devine was in fourth grade, a bully turned the entire class against him, and it took Adam nailing his performance in that year’s school play for his social prospects to start looking up. One great scene made the entire audience laugh, and after the play, he was greeted by praise. “From that moment on, I realized that no matter what was happening in my life, I could be good at acting and that can be my thing.”The following year, Adam suffered a near fatal collision with a cement truck which broke most of the bones in his body. When he wasn’t relearning how to walk, he had plenty of time to himself to watch TV, movies, and old SNL clips. He began writing his own sketches and regularly calling in to the local radio station as his idol Chris Farley. By the time he recovered from the accident, Adam had taught himself how to write and had a natural instinct for comedy.When college came around, Adam opted to go to community college in California to pursue comedy instead of going to state school in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. It ended up being the right choice, because Orange Coast Community College is where he met likeminded creative friends Kyle Newacheck and Blake Anderson. They began writing and producing sketches together, and they eventually created the hit series Workaholics. Between acting, writing, and standup, Adam does it all. Right now, you can watch him in his Netflix standup special Best Time of Our Lives, the HBO series The Righteous Gemstones, and his new film Jexi.Adam joins Off Camera to talk about the value of relentlessness, practicing standup in front of an imaginary audience, and why a slap in the face might do you some good.

1hr 8mins

10 Oct 2019

Rank #9

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David Tennant

When David Tennant was a child in Scotland, he spent his free time running around the back garden pretending to be characters from the TV shows he loved. In honor of his favorite show, Doctor Who, his grandmother knit him a multi-colored scarf to wear, just like his favorite Doctor, as he let his imagination run wild.During that time, David realized he wanted to become an actor—he just happened to live in a place devoid of actors. His parents were pushing him towards a more practical, stable career, but David was having none of it. “Becoming an actor was something I was very set on, and it was an idea that grew up alongside me as I began to understand more of what being an actor was. I never wavered from it.” At 17, David got into drama school, and the world opened up for him as he met like-minded people. His dream slowly became a reality.Between his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, his work in shows like Broadchurch, and most recently, Good Omens, David has amassed a large body of work on stage and on screen. Of course, his biggest claim to fame in the U.K. was his role as the tenth iteration of the Doctor in Doctor Who. If fate didn’t get him that role, then perhaps it’s because he’d been preparing for it his entire life.David joins Off Camera to talk about the self-critic that always seeks to undermine him, why losing your anonymity feels a bit like being flayed, and the retirement speech he prepares as a backup in case he forgets his lines on stage.

1hr 10mins

27 Jun 2019

Rank #10

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Jason Mantzoukas

Growing up on a little island off the coast of Massachusetts didn’t afford Jason Mantzoukas, an aspiring performer, much room to interact with the outside world, but it was a good place for Jason to hone his comedic skills. “I was a little Greek kid in a very WASP-y town. I very much felt like ‘the other’ and was subjected to lots of name calling and threats, but that’s where I came into being as a funny person—I diffused situations by making people laugh, and I never got into fights.”Jason’s world started to expand when he got bussed to a regional high school. That’s where his talent and passion for performing really took shape—he wrote and performed in sketch shows, played in bands, and did comedy bits for his class.After college, Jason received the Watson Fellowship to explore abroad. He was greeted by fear and loneliness the moment he landed, but working through that experience was essential to his growth. It’s why he got involved with improv and the Upright Citizens Brigade; it’s how he persevered through the rejection during his early acting career; and it’s why he writes, co-hosts a podcast, and has so much acting work on television and in film (The League, The Good Place, The Long Dumb Road, and John Wick 3 to name a few).Jason joins Off Camera to talk about his nervous breakdown in Morocco, why he’ll never stop doing improv, and why playing a maniac in The League made him a target for drunk bros everywhere.

1hr 6mins

16 May 2019

Rank #11

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Ep 57. Kristen Bell

If souls or psyches can be compared to houses, Kristen Bell’s would be one with few dark corners. It would probably also be lavender scented, with a nice breeze blowing through. Delightfully real and candid, she’s become one of the most relatable and loved personalities on TV, that personality often being herself: Her Samsung commercials and goofy personal videos with husband Dax Shepard are some of YouTube’s most popular. No word on how many high-tech home appliances they’ve sold, but the Toto cover video they shot in Africa has garnered well over five million views. The soft heart and strong values that Shepard both teases and loves her for are ones she supports in both words and example—marriage equality, animal rights, and voter registration, for starters.Not surprisingly, then, the sunny, perky blond wasn’t the first actor that came to mind for Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas. “I had Christina Ricci in my head when I wrote it. I wanted someone who had a caustic delivery for lines that had weight and dryness.” As it turned out, Bell was also damn funny, with a gift for injecting just the right amount of dark, wry wit into what became her breakout role, turning her into a geek goddess of sorts. Her excellent turn as Elle Bishop in Heroes only settled that crown more firmly on her head.Maybe the fanboy hall-of-fame was a pre-destined landing place for someone who always felt (and early on, was often told) she wasn’t homely enough to play the nerdy girl and not nearly pretty enough to play the pretty girl. If that was a struggle at the outset, it seems to have made her a guileless and non-judgmental career plotter. That approach doesn’t work for everyone, but in Bell’s case, it’s allowed for angst-free role choices that ultimately did justice to her surprising range. (Check out Hit & Run for an early example of her abilities—and her director and then-fiancée’s knowing exactly how to push her buttons.)Post-Veronica Mars, her big screen break arrived with a part in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a potentially intimidating career leap that landed well. In its review, Rolling Stone gave “Cheers to Bell for finding nuance in a diva written as a stone-cold bitch.” More recent evidence of her range turned up in a role in which she technically never appeared. For thousands of unsuspecting fans, Disney’s unstoppable snowball of a hit Frozen unmasked her extraordinary talent as a singer, a gift she honed in years of early musical theater training but modestly underplays.These days, Bell finds herself increasingly in demand, and increasingly in the company of bar-raising colleagues, a challenge she deliberately seeks out. She’s playing the ambitious partner and foil to Don Cheadle in Showtime’s not-so-sunny House of Lies. In the upcoming film The Boss, Bell plays a mousey would-be brownie maven alongside Melissa McCarthy, one of her comedic idols. She’s also somehow managed to start work on a new NBC show called Good Place from the executive producer of Parks and Recreation and co-starring Ted Danson. The series allows Bell an interesting opportunity to explore the character of Eleanor, a not-so-good person trying to figure out how to become a good person—if she can figure out what actually defines “a good person.” Our advice to Eleanor? As examples go, your friend Kristen Bell wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

1hr 6mins

6 Feb 2020

Rank #12

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David Harbour

When David Harbour was growing up in the suburbs of Westchester County, he was an outcast. A self-described nerdy and intense weirdo who preferred to march to the beat of his own drum over assimilating with the popular crowd, David explains, “I basically felt like an alien growing up.” But his isolation from the group and things like team sports led him to pursue more solitary, artistic, and creative endeavors, and along the way, he discovered acting.On stage, David’s socially off-putting intensity was an asset, and it allowed him to explore all of the dark and complex emotions he was feeling at the time within the structure of a story. By the time he was 19 and cast as Hamlet in a regional theater production, David had hit his stride. “I played Hamlet, and I don’t think I’ve ever been better. I was so fired up and alive, so engaged with the world. Hamlet was just me. All the things he was feeling were all the things I was feeling.” As a naturally gifted actor who simply loved the craft, David made the choice to pursue acting as a career, and it was a no brainer.Over the years, David has amassed a large body of work in things like The Newsroom, Revolutionary Road, Pan Am, the upcoming Hellboy remake, and much more, but his role as Jim Hopper in the beloved Netflix series Stranger Things has really blown up his career over the past couple of years. In large part, David’s success as Hopper is a result of the humanity he brings to his character, an internally broken leading man that we’re all rooting for. David, now in his 40s, has come to leading roles late, but with all of that life and career experience, he’s bringing much needed nuance to our idea of what it means to be a hero: “One of the traps actors fall into with leading roles is that they think they need to present a strength, but I think most people really want to identify with someone who goes through the same vicissitudes of life and brokenness that we all do.”David joins Off Camera to talk about how a group of industry rejects turned Stranger Things into a massively popular phenomenon, how he dealt with the inner monsters that nearly cost him his life, and why he really doesn’t like his face.

1hr 12mins

11 Apr 2019

Rank #13

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Busy Philipps

For over 20 years, Busy Philipps has been navigating the highs and lows of a being an actress in Hollywood. With unrivaled determination and a strong belief in herself, Busy left her home in Arizona at 18 years old for Los Angeles to pursue acting and briefly, college. Her dream came true sophomore year, when she was cast in the cult TV show Freaks & Geeks, and since that time, Busy’s been a staple of American television, with roles in popular shows like Dawson’s Creek, Cougar Town, and Vice Principals.Despite her success, Busy hasn’t been immune to the uglier elements of being a woman in Hollywood. She’s dealt with body shaming, inequality, and harassment by male colleagues while also fighting the insecurity that comes with the job. But overcoming challenges is in Busy’s DNA: “I only do things the hard way. It’s the only interesting way to do anything, and it’s a part of my personality.”In response to her traumatic experiences and as someone who has “wanted to be seen” ever since childhood, Busy chose to write a memoir, titled This Will Only Hurt A Little, to give herself a voice and to memorialize her story. Between the book’s success and the large social media following she garnered by posting snippets of her daily life, Busy had an epiphany: “Maybe I need to lean into the thing that people are responding to and saying is really interesting.” That led to the creation of Busy’s late night talk show Busy Tonight, currently airing on E!. She’s spent her entire career in the shoes of different characters, now, she gets to be herself.Busy joins Off Camera to talk about the double standard that exists for female actors, losing a job she knew was hers because the television network deemed her overweight, and the first gig she ever booked…as a life-size Barbie.

1hr 4mins

18 Apr 2019

Rank #14

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Tracy Letts

The first time Tracy Letts participated in a community theater play, he knew he found something special. At school, Tracy was shy and had a hard time connecting with his peers, so when he discovered the comradery surrounding the theater, he finally felt embraced by a community. His talent for acting came later, when his father, also an actor, taught him the power of speaking simply rather than proclaiming. As Tracy says, “I went onstage, and I said my lines simply and truthfully. It was my first real acting lesson. Speaking truthfully in a room has great impact—everyone can feel it. After that, I was hooked.”After graduating from high school, Tracy was eager to start his life and decided against going to college. He landed in Chicago, which had a rich and booming theater scene. When he wasn’t auditioning, he filled his free time writing, a passion of his ever since he was young. Killer Joe, a play about a brutal and murderous family in Texas, was Tracy’s first attempt, and it became a massive success.In the years since, Tracy has continued to write and act. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his play August: Osage County, based on his own family, and in addition to his acting work on stage, he’s been in a number of projects on TV and in film, such as Homeland, Lady Bird, and most recently, Ford v Ferrari. There’s an empathy that suffuses all of Tracy’s work, and it all stems from his desire to achieve self-acceptance. As he says, “It’s hard to give yourself a break, isn’t it? You can’t just decide to do it. It’s not an act of will. It takes actual work, whether that means getting sober, getting into therapy, writing or acting in plays, or paying attention and really listening to other people.”Tracy joins Off Camera to talk about working with his father in August: Osage County, how theater provokes vulnerability, and why his career trajectory basically comes down to chasing a girl.

1hr 2mins

28 Nov 2019

Rank #15

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Ep 13. Michael B. Jordan

Drug dealer, football player, alcoholic, shooting victim. In his first decade of acting, Michael B. Jordan has found ways to humanize characters that, on the page, may seem stereotypically what he dubs “the black guy.” In The Wire, a young and very sheltered Jordan asked fellow actors to help him understand how to simulate a cocaine high onscreen, and through that surreal experience discovered his unfettered love of acting.  In Friday Night Lights, Jordan started journaling as an acting exercise, and amassed a detailed back story for quarterback Vince Howard that made the character seem shockingly real.      With Fruitvale Station, Jordan dug even deeper. Playing a real person for the first time, he inserted himself deep into the family of the slain Oscar Grant, who was killed by a police officer on a train platform in Oakland in 2009. Jordan spent time with Oscar’s former girlfriend, mother, daughter, and all of his friends. The result was an intensely real portrayal of an innocent young man in a film that exposes our ongoing race problem in this country, and Jordan’s performance was nuanced, understated, and masterful.      Perhaps his ability to play characters with the odds stacked against him comes from his own desire not to fall into that lifestyle. Jordan started working very young, doing modeling and acting in commercials, and saw an acting career as a way out of the tough urban environment of Newark, New Jersey. In his words, he saw “plenty of Wallaces, Bodies, and Avon Barksdales,” and was determined to make a better life for himself.     Not only does Jordan not want to just “play the black guy,” he also doesn’t want to compare himself too closely to actors that came before.  He says he doesn’t want to be the next Will Smith, or the next Tom Cruise--he just wants to be himself. When you are around Jordan, his optimism and ambition are infectious and endearing. He doesn’t just want to star in films – he wants to produce them.  He doesn’t want to just be on television, he wants his own channel. And he doesn’t just want to be the face of a studio, he wants to run a studio. At Off Camera, we wouldn’t bet against him doing anything he sets his mind to.

1hr 7mins

19 Mar 2020

Rank #16

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Ramy Youssef

As the child of first-generation Muslim immigrants, Ramy Youssef grew up with a sense of practicality about his future. He was drawn to comedy and performing, but he saw no one who looked like him on TV. Add to that the fact that acting isn’t exactly a pragmatic career path in the first place. “I had parents who gave up everything to move to America, and I’m supposed to call them and say, ‘Hey, can you pay a bunch of money for me to study the Meisner technique?’ I didn’t have the balls to ask that question.”While in college, Ramy developed his stand-up and sketch comedy skills at UCB in his free time while studying political science and economics. He auditioned for a small role in the Nick at Nite series See Dad Run, and got the part, and decided to drop out of college and move to Los Angeles. That gig lasted for three seasons, and then Ramy got stuck in acting purgatory. According to audition feedback, he wasn’t good looking enough to be the lead; he wasn’t nerdy enough to play the nerd; and he wasn’t “ethnic” enough to play the ethnic guy. That’s when Ramy realized, “You never know where people are going to put you. It’s nice when you get to put yourself where you want to be.”Ramy took charge of his own destiny. He had writing skills, plenty of personal experience, and a unique cultural point of view. What he came up with was Ramy, his Hulu series based on his experience growing up in New Jersey and coming to terms with his Muslim faith. It’s being hailed as the first American television show to feature a Muslim family, but more importantly, it throws away Muslim caricatures and depicts rich and complex human storylines about family, faith, and cultural differences.Ramy joins Off Camera to talk about the moment his parents finally acknowledged he had “made it,” how puberty will be forever linked with global terrorism in his mind, and why stand up comedy makes everything else seem easy.

1hr 9mins

2 Jul 2019

Rank #17

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Andrea Savage

If you haven’t seen Andrea Savage’s comedy series I’m Sorry, you should…just be prepared to laugh your butt off. As the creator, writer, and star of the series, Andrea does it all—which makes sense since the show is based on her own experiences being a comedian, wife and mom. But it is also a show about us. Andrea has found the universal truths of being a parent while being a working artist, and her observational powers reveal the absurdity and pathos in our own lives.For years, Andrea was stuck in development hell. She had a stable acting career with roles in Step Brothers, Episodes, and Veep, but true to her improv and Groundlings background, Andrea wanted to write and create as well. She was pumping out pilot scripts and selling them, but they weren’t getting made. As she says, “It was heartbreak after heartbreak of putting your all into a project, getting good notes, and then nothing. It was always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” When Andrea turned 40, the self-described “successful failure” decided to change her approach with I’m Sorry. She put together a crew with some help from her talented friends Judy Greer and Jason Mantzoukas, and she filmed her own pilot presentation.Andrea figured out that she needed to show her vision, because her story was nuanced and personal, not full of big jokes that jumped off the page. The approach worked like gangbusters. Her presentation became the first episode of the show and established her as a creator, showrunner, director, and a force to be reckoned with. As she says, “I literally just willed it to happen.”Andrea joins Off Camera to talk about why her writer’s room is better than therapy, why her lack of darkness makes her question her comedy bonafides, and her dedication to being a “joke shepherd.”

1hr 12mins

12 Sep 2019

Rank #18

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Ep 102. Elisabeth Moss

Watching Elisabeth Moss as Mad Men’s sec-turned-exec Peggy Olson (as millions did for 88 addictive episodes) and in recent projects like Top of the Lake, High Rise and Queen of Earth, you’d be forgiven for assuming she’s a capital-S Serious or capital-M Method artist. Even director Jane Campion might’ve drawn the same conclusion from Moss’ Top of Lake audition tape. “It was remarkable…I just found myself really interested in watching this gentle, quiet, obviously interior performance. At the end of about six hours, I was still really interested. She’s a little bit like a Mona Lisa. There’s a lot that she’s not showing you.”It’s an impression Moss sometimes wishes were true, but acknowledges that capital-C Class Clown is more apt. (That was, in fact, the title unanimously bestowed by her Mad Men cast mates). So much for our illusions. As she told The Guardian in 2016, “I wish I was super-serious, anguished. I see those actors and think, God, they are so cool and seem so interesting. I don’t take acting that seriously.” But she does it seriously. Tales from several sets support her seeming ability to perform the acting equivalent of doing zero to 60 for a scene without ever appearing to bear down on the gas. “I was shocked at how quickly she metabolized the material,” Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner once marveled. “She is that kind of actress where we don’t ever intellectually delve into what is going on with her character. It’s almost like it doesn’t pass through Elisabeth’s brain. It’s completely instinctive. She works hard, but I think she also works hard to hide it. Either that, or she’s an alien.” Weiner may deal in alternative facts, but we’re going with the former, which begs the unanswerable question, what is instinct anyway?That’s probably not something an eight-year-old thinks much about. Moss just liked playing the TV roles she started getting at that age. But she also liked dancing, studying ballet seriously while being homeschooled as she pursued both. She earned her GED at 16 and decided acting offered the more physically enduring career option. She worked steadily in supporting film and TV parts like Girl, Interrupted and Picket Fences before being cast as first daughter Zoey Bartlet on West Wing. That led to Weiner’s casting her in Mad Men, which subsequently led to six Emmy nods and fame as an unintentional feminist icon.As Peggy Olson grew in confidence and complexity, her character’s storyline grew more compelling, rivaling Don Draper’s for our interest. If making us believe and champion Peggy’s huge personal and professional transformation is an accomplishment, an even bigger one is emerging from a seven-season national TV phenomenon without being forever identified with or pigeonholed by it. But even before the show ended, Moss told The Telegraph UK, “I think it’s up to you as an actor to make choices that are different, to stretch your ability, to not get too comfortable doing something you know you can do. Of course, if you play one character for five years, people are going to think of you as that character. But you can break out of that.”Can, and did. If viewers weren’t quite ready to move on, Moss was. She’s since chosen a string of largely independent projects that allow her to tell stories as diverse and interesting as the women in them. You’ll find virtually enslaved housewives (High Rise) single-minded detectives (Top Of Lake) and mourning, possibly unhinged vacationers (Queen Of Earth). Harder to find is a bad review. Just one of way too many to list is The New York Times’ take on the latter. “It is Ms. Moss, with her intimate expressivity, who annihilates you from first tear to last crushing laugh.” In addition to landing an emotional punch, she has a talent for landing herself in stories that regardless of time period or milieu are strikingly relevant to current times. None more so, unfortunately, than The Handmaid’s Tail, Hulu’s excellent and much buzzed-about adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel.On the off chance you’re not convinced of her versatility – or guts – know that when Moss decided to try the stage for the first time in 18 years of acting, she did it on Broadway, in Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, no less. And there was The Heidi Chronicles. While you could argue there’s no one better suited to play its evolving, wisecracking proto-feminist lead, taking on an iconic 1989 role and making it resonate in 2015 is a gamble. It paid off with a Tony nod and raves from noted theater critic Charles Isherwood, who called Moss “a superb actor who possesses the unusual ability to project innocence and smarts at the same time.”High praise, but as far as Moss is concerned, Get Him to the Greek is as valid a choice as the largely improvised indie The One I Love, if it makes her a better actor. Whether that’s possible is debatable, but what’s not is this: More than ever, we need stories about heroic, flawed and completely believable women, and few actors play them better.

1hr 3mins

6 Mar 2020

Rank #19

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Year End Holiday Special

1hr 4mins

26 Dec 2019

Rank #20