Being in demand for his physical prowess, Gaius Charles has deftly moved between equally grueling roles both as football stars in the television series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and most recently in the sports drama NECESSARY ROUGHNESS. In a recent press conference call, Gaius shared his thoughts on the similarities and challenges of portraying the newest Hawks’ football player, Damon Razor. Damon is an ultra-bright and gifted athlete afflicted with an unusual condition called “imposter syndrome,” who doubts his own unique abilities simply because he feels he does not deserve them.
Damon Razor is sort of living Smash’s (from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) dream. So how do you feel about playing a character while the environment, sports wise, is similar but very different because this is a different league?
GAIUS: The character is very, very different from Smash. Seems like the opposite sort of because Smash has this little bit of cockiness going on about him, and Damon instead looks like — at least from what we have seen so far — looks like he is a very humble guy who doesn’t think he deserves what’s coming to him.
How was it to get into playing this character while being, again, a football player in such a different way? And how do you feel the character is different than the actual players that we see in the NFL?
GAIUS: Well, that’s a very good question. Thanks for asking. First, I would say that the world of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS with Panther football, Smash and the NFL is a completely different and separate world from the world of NECESSARY ROUGHNESS and Damon Razor and the Hawks. So one thing that actually really helped me that differentiation in my mind was just realizing that this is a totally different show. Totally different style. Totally different genre. Totally different shooting style. So in a sense I have had a fair amount of experience playing TV football, but I really saw a completely new character and completely new story. And, as an actor, you are always looking for ways to show a new side of them, or a different kind of range of what they can do. So because I had the wonderful opportunity of playing Smash, when this part came along it was something to help me show another side of the coin, so to speak. It helped me show just how I can play the really big and gregarious confident characters, and how I also play very introverted complicated character who is also trying to find himself. And the vehicle, obviously, is professional sports. I think that it’s great because the sports, whether it be football or whatever professional sport — and on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS the pressure of high school football — it’s a great class form to show how people respond to challenges. So I was just really, really happy to be able to play Damon and show another side to what I can do as an actor.
What it’s like for you to play this humble character when you have to play opposite such a bigger than life character, like TK, who is somewhat similar to your character in FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, but bigger.
GAIUS: Well, I tell you Mehcad, who plays TK — I mean everybody is wonderful, but I actually thought it was really smart writing in the sense that okay we have this larger-than-life wide receiver — to now put him up against this very humble complicated character Damon Razor and see what happens. We have shot four episodes so far, so you are going to have to wait and see how that interaction plays out and how Damon is affected by TK’s persona, his behavior. But also how TK is affected by Damon. The challenge of having to hold your own when there is a new kid on the block so to speak. So it was a lot of fun, both on screen and off. I felt comfortable on set with many other actors, so it was a real pleasure to work with them.
Now that we know the history and the secrets that Damon has been keeping, how much of that is going to affect the future of your role on the show in terms of working with Dr. Dani and maybe having some issues on the field?
GAIUS: Well, I never know how much I can say. But, it will affect it. It will play in great and dramatic ways. There is a point where you see Damon have to face the music, coming out and because he has so much potential, he actually ends up doing a lot. Matt, played by Marc Blucas, you sort of see their relationship [Matt and Damon] start to develop well. To make it more compelling, Damon doesn’t get away that easy in terms of his past. He eventually has to deal with the pressures, deal with the press, and deal with his past.
You said you did a lot of research into Damon’s insecurity disorder and you’ve also mentioned that as an actor you could kind of relate to that. Could you elaborate a little bit?
GAIUS: Yes. It’s interesting because when I was speaking they asked me about it, and in my research I found out that it’s something — well first of all the actual diagnosis of “imposter syndrome” is very well documented according to the psychologist that I spoke with — but the symptoms are common in the sense that high achievers, at times, struggle with their own gifts. So from my research, I talked about therapists and psychologists from places like Harvard and Cambridge, who had talked to these super gifted folks as they explained this thing called “imposter syndrome” and basically the room fell silent because these people had all at some point struggled with it. Because you are so good at what you do you sometimes doubt yourself. I guess is what the article is pointing to. But even actors, in my research, actors and actresses like Michelle Pfeiffer and other folks who are super talented, including award winning Kate Winslet, struggle with “imposter syndrome.” And I have talked to actors in the past who have said they struggle with believing in themselves. I think he whole “imposter syndrome” is kind of a big diagnosis to get your head around. But I think if you talk more in terms of self-doubt, whatever point of success you find yourself, I think that it’s much more common and much more a concept that we can grasp. SO I think we all struggle with self-doubt, but I would hope that we all also find the courage in ourselves to overcome it, if that makes sense.
As an actor, you are always being judged and you have to face rejection a lot. Did that help you relate to the character?
GAIUS: I’m glad you asked that because I think that as an actor you almost become really resilient to criticism and rejection. In the since that like if you don’t get the part, you haven’t gotten the part. Like you have been down that road before. You know how to react. You get back up on your feet and keep moving. So, in a way I think being an actor can make you confident or more confident than certain other professions where you are not challenged or you are not rejected as much.
You’re working a lot with TK this season who is obviously dealing with a post-traumatic stress disorder. Did you do any research into that or how did you deal with this story line knowing it is such a controversial one?
GAIUS: I was more focused on, again, my character’s issue than TK’s. So even when my character was introduced in the episode that aired [a few weeks back], he doesn’t really have a knowledge of TK’s background – in terms of Damon Razor. So I wasn’t particularly playing that I know that TK has PTSD and all that kind of stuff. I was more so staying in the moment and staying in the short line of each individual script if that makes sense. Because I think that the episode goes on you see other issues come up in players which is actually really cool. But I think for Damon and for me the focus is really on the “imposter syndrome” — the self-doubt and dealing with the results of it all.
What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of putting back on the shoulder pads and returning back to the football field?
GAIUS: That is a great question. I know it’s really cool. I remember when I did the pilot for [FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS]. I hadn’t played high school football and so you know the pads were bulky and trying to figure out how they all work, and trying to get into gear so to speak. So returning to the field to portray Damon Razor on NECESSARY ROUGHNESS, actually the learning curve was much shorter. In terms of just feeling comfortable in the pads, feeling comfortable on the field. Shooting — we shoot in Atlanta — and Atlanta and Austin are not necessarily the same in weather. Like we are on the field one day and it is a 190 degrees and people are like, “Oh my gosh!” So in a sense I had that experience before — just kind of getting past some of the challenges. I think some actors maybe fleeing from New York or L.A. to do something that they haven’t really worked in those kind of conditions. They haven’t had to get on the show and put on the pads and really get in the physical space of their character. That was not a challenge for me. So I guess that was the good part. I can’t really think of anything negative. I would just say that it was just good to have that experience because it has just helped me and it has helped me get into a role that much easier.
What has been your favorite aspect of being on the show and why? Particularly getting to play such a complex character.
GAIUS: Probably getting to play a character again that is different than what people see me as, in terms of playing Smash and that kind of thing. I am really very into research and very into like taking notes and calling contacts and people, and picking at brains and asking questions. And the research to me is probably one of the most fun aspects of acting because when you have the research down, you have a framework to rely on. And then you can really kind of take risks and go places because you grounded all of your research and your understanding of who the character is in a reality that gives you the flexibility to kind of play. To go places that maybe you wouldn’t go if you weren’t sure. So I think the research is probably one of my favorite things to do. It’s challenging going into a guest star role, particularly on an established show because it’s like getting on a moving train. But the show is already well oiled. The characters and relationships are established. The rhythm of how things work are established. Actually I was very fortunate coming on because Kevin Dowling who is an executive producer actually directed my episode. So I didn’t have to kind of learn the set and learn the new director. I just kind of had to join in to that family and that rhythm that is the production. So that was great. I would also say another positive thing was just being able to get to work with people who were very gracious and help me to just find my way, which is a real blessing.
Could you tell us a little bit more about how Damon will or won’t be corrupted so to speak about this world he just entered and how he will cope with that?
GAIUS: That is a really good question. It’s easy to see how the rivalry between these two wide receivers [TK and Damon]. What ends up happening is you get more of sort of a friendship that develops and almost a brotherhood develops. In a sense that’s grounded in reality because I am entering this new fraternity that is the New York Hawks and TK is Damon’s guide. So just as much as Damon is processing and figuring out how to deal with his past, he is also learning how to deal with his present with TK. So in that part scene you see sort of a mentor/mentee sort of relationship developing, and Damon has to decide whether the life that is presented for him by TK is the life he wants to live. I think it was probably one of my favorite kind of moments in their interaction because you do start to see the respect and the need that these two have for each other. Sometimes when you help somebody else like TK is helping or mentoring or leading Damon you benefit from that. So in a sense I think the relationship might also be healing for TK like okay let me shepherd this young guy. And in a way that kind of helps me along with my own issues. I am reluctant to say that because I don’t know what Mehcad’s perspective is but I could imagine that could be the case.
You mentioned the potential brotherly relationship that will exist between Damon and TK. In the last episode where Damon and TK interacted, what was it like to shoot that scene?
GAIUS: That was really great because it was at the end of the day. When you shoot TV, as I am sure most folks know, you shoot one location that whole day, or you try to shoot out that location in a day so all the stuff in the [Georgia] Dome was shot in the same day. So all of like the catching scenes where [Damon] is doing the drills and the gauntlet, all of that was shot in the same day. But at the end of the day we shot the race scene. I think that was my first scene with [Mehcad]. Yes, that was my first scene with him because before that I was just with the other “combine” actors who were portraying the “combine” and all that. So it was just kind of cool to have that first introduction of working with him. I mean honestly, I was really looking forward to the kind of rapport that we would have and everything. It was really interesting too because having played Smash and now looking at TK there was a thing in my mind where I had to be like, “Okay, remember you are Damon.” Because the Smash wants to come out you know. But it’s like, “Okay wait a minute you are Damon now. Okay I got it.” So the race was cool because it was like I said our first initial sort of meeting on screen and just setting off that rivalry and that relationship was a lot of fun.
To see more of the developing bond between Damon and TK on NECESSARY ROUGHNESS and what they can teach each other both on and off the sports field, be sure to tune in for an all new episode of NECESSARY ROUGHNESS on Wednesday, July 18th at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network.
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