Hollywood teen heartthrobs are a never-ending revolving door of beautiful males who peak and then fade into irrelevancy. Their faces briefly adorn magazines, serving as this abstract fantasy which millions of neurotic prepubescent-teenage girls project their loneliness and insecurities onto in order to provide hope in an otherwise terrifying world, and are then lost in a never-ending ocean of eternal California youth.
Way back in the early 2000s, Chad Michael Murray was the ultimate sex kitten, providing a much needed distraction from both teenage angst and the Iraq war. Having been groomed by various producers and show-runners over at the CW, he came to dominate teen dramas, playing leading roles on such classics as Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, and One Tree Hill; he would also go on to star alongside my two future ex-wives Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton in Freaky Friday and House of Wax.
However, unlike most teen heartthrobs who succumb to ego and bankruptcy, Chad Michael Murray is humble and reserved, adapting to the inevitability of time by seeking out projects that challenge him as an actor and fulfill him spiritually. Currently, he stars alongside Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy on ABC’s Agent Carter (a welcome addition to Disney’s expansion of the Marvel universe) and is set to lead a miniseries for History Channel later this year chronicling the rise of Texas, featuring an ensemble cast comprised of Ray Liotta, Bill Paxton, Thomas Jane, and Max Thieriot. Oh, he’s also written a badass novel titled American Drifter (a metaphor perhaps for the actor’s own existential wanderings throughout LA’s morally bankrupt wastelands?)
I told my girlfriend I was interviewing you and she literally shrieked. Apparently A Cinderella Story really stuck with her after all these years.
(Laughs). That’s funny, that’s funny. I don’t know what to say. Usually, I’d say, “I’m sorry.” But I’m glad she got excited, that’s good news.
She’s hard to please too.
Give her my best, please.
Jumping right into it… How did you first get into acting and what would you consider your first big break into the industry?
Oh, man. At eighteen, I picked up and went to Los Angeles. I was incredibly fortunate and began working within three to four months of being here. Back when the CW first came to be, they took me under their wing and put me into Gilmore Girls and Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill. I shot a couple things for them. I was really blessed and really fortunate to have them and their support when I was first starting out.
You came up as an actor playing teenagers on shows largely about teenagers marketed towards teenage audiences. Over the years, how has your fan base evolved alongside with you?
I got to say that’s probably the best thing about starting when I started was: the multitude of people that have seen different projects I’ve been involved with have grown with me. We’re all growing at the same pace obviously, so kids that were fifteen and watching Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek are now all grown up and can tune into Agent Carter or any of the current films I’ve been working on. It’s actually kind of amazing to grow up together. I was thinking about it this morning, actually, and it’s pretty cool to be on this journey.
What’s been the craziest fan moment you’ve had?
(Laughs) I can’t tell you that. But it goes from the fan dedication we have on social media to the love they shed for some of the programs I’ve been apart of to the moments where you say hello and they cry or laugh or experience one of the million emotions we have. It’s always humbling and I always try to make time to give someone my attention if I meet them, even if I am in a hurry or my shirts being pulled in a thousand different directions. I always like to let them know that I am grateful and I love that they got to see that work.
Currently, you’re on ABC’s new show Agent Carter. How did that come to be?
I was in Mexico shooting Texas Rising. The pages [for Agent Carter] came across my email and I took one look at them and immediately felt a connection with Jack Thompson. I just thought, “Okay, this is the place where I want to be. These are the people I’d like to be working with. This is a guy whose shoes I’d love to live in for a little bit and see where his journey takes him.” So I put myself on tape on my iPhone without Internet service, trying to send text messages of little tiny images of my take for it. It all came together – I had a huge giant beard, but I came in and met with everyone at the studio and we found it was a really good fit.
What specifically about Jack Thompson resonated with you?
He has this bravado about him that I really enjoy. He’s got this chip on his shoulder that I thought would be really fun to play with over the course of the year. I really liked there were some dark hidden secrets below the surface that the audience isn’t aware of yet, that I was able to work with as an actor.
Are there any similarities the two of you share?
I think the biggest similarity would be drive. I’m a pretty driven person. It’s hard for me to be satisfied. Jack is the definition of drive; he wants nothing less than being the best. If he wanted to become President of the United States, he would and he’d do whatever he had to do to get there.
Have you always been a fan of Marvel?
I love their universes. I grew up on the X-Men. Gambit was always my favorite, and Wolverine of course. The world has grown so fast over the course of the last ten years or so and you see these unbelievable films they’re making, these great stories, and just being a part of one of their projects is amazing. It’s great to work for Marvel and ABC and join a world they’ve created.
You mentioned earlier that you heard about Agent Carter while you were shooting Texas Rising. Can you tell me a little bit about that project?
Texas Rising is about the rise of Texas. We pick up at the Alamo and tell the story of everything that went on with the war and how Texas ended up winning its independence from Mexico so it wasn’t taken over. They could have very easily fallen at the hands of the Mexican army if it wasn’t for American spies.
I saw on your IMBd page that you’ve also dabbled a little bit in writing and directing. Do you currently have any future plans of doing so?
I do. Currently, I have a novel that should be out in the next year, we’re just trying to get a launch date, called American Drifter. It’s a full-length novel. At the same time I want to adapt certain things and just keep writing. Writing is something that’s a passion of me that I love to do. As far as directing, I don’t know. I honestly haven’t thought of it. Right now I’m really enjoying trying to better myself every single day as an actor. Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll want to try the director’s cap on again, but for right now I’m going to leave directing to the directors.
Could you tell me a little bit about your writing process?
The way I see it is that people can be used as conduits for storytelling. I tend to write what comes to me, not what I search for. I tend to just expand upon those ideas from there. It may start off as a poem or something as simple as a title and then I’ll expand on it from there.
You’re taking a simple idea and exploring it so it takes on a life of its own. Would you say there are similarities between the process of writing and the process of creating a role as an actor?
Absolutely. There’s no doubt about that. I think it goes for all art. You have to layer everything. It starts with a line and you have to bring life to it. The lines on the page are just one part of the job. The rest of it is to bring a life to it, bring commitment, an energy, a tension. Writing and acting are very similar in that regard.
Forgive me for asking this, but I’m a huge Nicholas Cage fan. What were some lessons you picked up in acting from him while filming Left Behind?
I grew up being a Nick Cage fan too, my man. It was such a very interesting moment to be there in a cockpit next to him for two weeks working together: just slightly intimidating. He had an incredibly energy about him and I found that really interesting. It’s nice to be in that position as an actor. I really loved the process of being able to work with someone who’s done it all… who’s literally done it all. He’s had the Oscar nods; he’s had character work for years and years and years. To sit there opposite of him and just look into his eyes and be there in the moment… It was pretty cool.
What is some advice you’d have for someone trying to start a career in film and television nowadays?
Don’t get involved in the hoopla and do the work. That’s the simplest way of saying it. Just focus on what you love. Find the people you love and commit to them and go from there. But I’m definitely not the guy to give advice. I’m just trying to do it myself (Laughs).