December 18, 2012

More likely than not, you’ve seen Jayson Blair shirtless. Perhaps it was during the pilot of Ryan Murphy’s hit sitcom The New Normal, in which Blair is held at gunpoint in his underpants by Ellen Barkin, or maybe you saw him cavorting on the beach with lady-friend Rumer Willis in the pages of US Weekly. Although relatively new to the scene—previously to The New Normal (about a gay couple trying to start a family), Blair starred in the now-defunct The Hard Times of RJ Berger—we predict that those abs (and the guy they belong to) are going places. The 28-year-old actor was happy to open up, chatting freely about his relationship, working with Ryan Murphy, and cheating his way through high school. 

You’re dating Rumer Willis, right? What’s it like, suddenly having to deal with paparazzi?
Yeah, it’s all pretty crazy. Dating her has been great, we’ve been together six months; it’s been a lot of fun getting to know each other. I’d had my little run-ins with photographers but never anything like that. It’s madness, it’s such an invasion of privacy. We were out with my buddies actually on Saturday night, and I was like, oh shit, there’s paparazzi. And my friends were like, where? And then he comes running out of nowhere and the whole time he’s like stalking us, hiding, and she [Rumer] and I kept turning when he was trying to take photos of us, and finally he came up to us and was like, hey guys, I’ve been trying to be low-key, do you think I could just get a couple photos of you? And I was like, no!

Was it awkward having a relatively new relationship scrutinized by the media?
When it got into the magazines, we were already pretty heavy into it. We’ve been together almost 7 months now, and we were pretty smitten with each other from the beginning. But there were a lot of rumors and stuff like that in the beginning, and my mom is the one who calls me and is like, “Do you hear the shit that people are saying?” And it’s like, Mom, it’s their job to say stuff, whether it’s true or not.

Did you watch movies with Demi Moore and Bruce Willis growing up?
I did, absolutely. I’ve been out here like 10 years now, so when I met Bruce, had it been like 5 years ago I would have been shell-shocked, but I mean, the guy is just trying to live his life. He’s had people freaking out over him for so long. It was great to meet him, being a huge fan and stuff, but it wasn’t really anything more than that. I met Demi as well, and I was a fan of her work, but Bruce was like, my hero. He’s the man!

You originally moved to LA for modeling, right? What made you decide to become an actor?
Yeah. Well, I was horrible at it. I was a little chubby, and I had very curly hair—like really curly, ‘fro curly, like, round. I was this little badass from Michigan, and I came out and I thought, oh man, I’m homecoming king, I’m gonna be a star tomorrow. And then I ate off the dollar menu for 3 years, and I realized it was a little bit harder than that. But yeah, I was like, I’m gonna be a model, I wore pooka shell necklaces, I didn’t know anything. It was a very humbling experience when I found out my modeling career wasn’t going to work. Modeling doesn’t have longevity, so I was going to try acting, and I ended up falling in love with it. I quit modeling two years after I got here, and just started trying to pursue that.

Can we go back to what you said about being a “little badass from Michigan”?
Oh my God, I was horrible, I was a bad kid. I read my first book at 21 years old. I guess you can call it living up to the expectations of your peers, which is not who I wanted to be, but I thought I needed to be the way that others perceived me. I mean, I was well-liked, I always looked out for the underdog and things like that, but I did a lot of bad things growing up.

How did you get through high school without reading a book?
I cheated. I got suspended a couple times a year. My freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I was really bad. I guess some teachers would say I was a really sweet kid, but when I was a freshman I got into a fight with a teacher and threw a book at his face and was like, Fuck you, and walked out of the classroom, because he made me feel stupid and ignorant—when I was, of course, but that’s kind of why I was so charged, I guess, because people didn’t expect a lot from me. When I didn’t live up to their low expectations, it made me feel even worse, and I felt like I had to revolt. I don’t know how, maybe they knew that deep down I was a sweet kid with good intentions, but they let me get away with so much shit.

How has being on a popular TV show changed your life?
I think that the most important thing, and the thing that’s most meaningful to me, is the respect I get as an actor. Which means a lot to me, because there are very few shows that I respect as much as my show. I think the way that it’s geared towards race, family, sexual orientation, is super progressive. It kind of makes people think, and it shows both views on everything. RJ Berger was fantastic and a lot of fun, you know, it was like high school. You’re not gonna get into too much trouble, it’s not going to make or break you, you can kind of dick off when you’re shooting, you’re not gonna mess the production up, because it’s a fun thing. Whereas The New Normal is fun as well, but I’m working with Ellen Barkin, and Andrew [Rannells], and Justin [Bartha], and all these people that are known for being phenomenal actors. It really raises the level of the work, which I really appreciate.

What is it like working with Ryan Murphy in comparison to other directors?
Working with Ryan is amazing because he gives you so much, as an actor. As far as TV goes, a lot of directors are only concerned with what they have going on, rather than what the show is doing. Ryan, being one of the creators as well as the director of many episodes, he’ll come on and help create your character and make it stronger, whereas a lot of directors are only focused on getting the shot. He’s focused on the shot, but he’s also focused on performance. He’s just brilliant, he’s a writer first and foremost, and if he can do all those things with the integrity of what is best for the show, as opposed to what’s best as a writer and what’s best as a director, those are two very different things. That’s why it’s so hard for writer/directors to be successful, because they’re so attached to their writing that they don’t want to give up things like they should. Ryan is not like that at all – if something doesn’t work on set, he and Ali, the co-creator, will have six other options. They just give you so much to work with; it’s amazing.

Who would you say is the least “normal” cast member of The New Normal?
I would have to say Bebe [Woods, who plays Shania Clemmons], but in the most amazing way possible. Bebe is more normal than anything, of course, but she’s beyond normal—her favorite TV show is Quantum Leap. This girl is brilliant, and the way that she does impersonations…she is not human. She’s the sweetest, and her parents are just amazing. She’s rad, I love that little girl.

Who are you closest to in the cast?
Probably Georgia [King], who plays my wife on the show. When she moved out here, she’s from London, so she didn’t really know too many people. I kind of helped her get her apartment together, and we play tennis together and things like that, so she’s a really good girlfriend of mine.

Organizations like One Million Moms have targeted the show. Do the show’s producers perceive a real threat, in terms of losing advertisers, etc?
I mean, all that stuff is kind of laughed off, but I think—and this is just my speculation—I can only imagine the shit that Ali and Ryan would come up with if they had complete free reign. We’ve talked about it on set, and it’s like, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it’s unfortunate that some people feel the way that they do, I think they’re missing the point of the show. But everyone is so confident and sure of the material that we’re putting out and what it stands for, that we don’t really worry about that. We’ve never been like, oh, we need to scale it back or else these people will be pissed. You can’t, or else your show’s not your show anymore.

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