Grayson Berry is an actor, writer, producer and director who channels his passion by hosting and executive producing documentaries and network shows that celebrate its fans.
This University of San Diego graduate and Texas native has played everything from the eccentric Pablo Picasso to iconic western hero Butch Cassidy. His roles from 2019 include shows from networks such as Lifetime, Amazon, CBS and more.
Berry’s most recent work includes dramatic roles in Dreamland, Dying for A Baby, Interrogation and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. He also hosted the Whatagames and Whataburger 2019 Awards ceremony in his hometown of Houston. It’s safe to say he’s booked and busy this year.
Catch Grayson Berry in the movie One Nation Under God in theaters July 4.
How did Texas shape your interest in film?
I grew up loving westerns like The Alamo (with Richard Widmark and John Wayne), and Lonesome Dove (with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones), so I was inspired by the unique Texas beauty those films were able to capture. Many people consider that a contradiction in terms.
I moved back to Texas (Houston) in 2009 because of my father’s cancer diagnosis, after seven years in Los Angeles, and 12 in California altogether. Ironically, I immediately began scouting an independent thriller to be shot in west Texas. We traveled down the old Highway 90 West, through Van Horn, Hondo and eventually Marfa, Alpine and Lajitas, and were blown away by the landscape and topography. My producing-directing dream is to make a series of post-apocalyptic thrillers, a la Mad Max, in that same area…
Tell me about the feeling of landing your first lead role.
My first big lead role in TV/film was as Butch Cassidy on the Emmy-nominated show Gunslingers (AHC). It was literally a dream come true. I don’t think I stopped smiling for three months. Wanting to honor the legendary outlaw, I trained a good amount on horseback, and even mastered a one-armed saddle mount, as Butch was an expert equestrian and horse thief, first and foremost. I then trained with a period pistol for about two months, before arriving to set and being told Butch never shot anyone!. Robbing a bank is still the highlight of my acting career, and it’s as close to acting heaven as I’ve experienced.
Do you have a routine before going to set?
Yes and I’m incredibly superstitious. I wake up at least three hours before arriving, and start with a hotel-brewed coffee, followed by a 30-minute rehearsal of that day’s scene(s). Then I do 30 minutes of mediation, followed by an hour of yoga and deep breathing. The idea being, since very little is in your control on set, the least I can do is prepare and center myself for whatever surprises inevitably come. That combo tends to make me feel immune to negativity and anxiety, and I can just be present.
How was hosting Whatagames and Whataburger 2019 Awards Ceremony in Houston different from other hosting you’ve done?
Never have I seen a legitimately happier work environment than during my week with Whataburger in Houston. I hosted a travel show at Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, and the Whatagames was right there, in terms of pageantry and enthusiasm. I worked alongside the brand content team during the competition, which consists of a series of work-related and time-sensitive challenges. I saw real tears of joy, and the agony of defeat from these competitors, who had been training for six months. On the lighter side, I’ve never been so hungry for fast food in my life, and went on a Whataburger binge at weeks end! The Awards ceremony was first rate, and gives the Oscars a run for their money.
From the perspective of a producer, how do you feel Netflix has changed television and film?
Destination TV is basically over, and no one goes to see movies in theaters anymore. In a sense, it’s better for a producer, in that there are more platforms to sell an investor on. The streaming sensation allows us to go straight to video to hedge our bets (guaranteed license, etc), without the risk of how it will do in (and how much it will cost us to do) theatrical release. At the same time, there is a glut of material, and more crap than ever before. Netflix, as you can see by browsing, is headed towards a completely “original” format, where non-Netflix films will have to find alternate homes. As filmmakers, we have to take it on ourselves to find new and original ways to market and showcase our stories. One option we’ve been playing with is a live stream one continuous take, where we promote it, and have people go live with us when we call, “Action.” It requires a lot of rehearsal, but it’s pretty exciting.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from your mom or dad about the industry?
My mom was an actor in the ’60s, and did guest spots on “Ozzie and Harriet,” and “The Green Hornet.” The wisest thing she’s ever said was “the roles make the actor, not the other way around.” Not really advice, but a reminder that good writing and great characters are hard to screw up… Jack Nicholson isn’t Jack without One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, or The Shining. Pacino and The Godfather, Kingsley and Gandhi, etc etc. My dad was a screenwriter briefly, before becoming an attorney, and saw first-hand the lack of meritocracy in Hollywood. Being the Best Actor, Director, Writer etc. guarantees you nothing in this business, and he found that to be the most frustrating aspect, both in his own experience, and in watching me.
Are there any roles you wish you could play?
My vein of gold is the reluctant hero, and the funny, vacant, but well-intentioned protagonist. That said, I haven’t had the luxury to choose my parts, and that’s made me a far more well-rounded actor. I’m not the tallest guy in the world, but enjoy physically demanding roles as much as anything. I had a pretty turbulent adolescence that forced me into a lot of situations you wouldn’t normally associate my “type” with. So a chance to show that grit and fire is always welcome. Like Emile Hirsch in Into The Wild, Mark Wahlberg in The Other Guys, Owen Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines.
What is your goal along this journey you’re taking?
From an acting standpoint, it used to be a series regular on a well-written cable series, but now I have no idea. I have really enjoyed producing and directing our trailers, and the pilots we’ve shot over the years. I guess to have a situation similar to the Always Sunny In Philadelphia team, where you’re working with people you like, and contributing on multiple levels. The big picture though, as I get older, is to take time out for friends and family in the midst of what can be a self-indulgent trip, and help others with their passion projects.
Cover: Grayson Berry poses on the Dreamland set as a Depression-era cop with Matador PD. Courtesy photo
Alexis Michele Higgins, a Texas State University graduate from Houston, has a professional background in music, sports and entertainment. Her next move is launching her own brand, Laces N Spaces, a traveling retail lounge that services sneaker enthusiasts, artists, and creatives.