Interview: Actor Teach Grant stars in USA’s new series “Damnation”

Actor Teach Grant stars in the new USA Network series “Damnation,” which premieres on the network November 7 and later internationally on Netflix. An epic saga about the secret history of the 1930s American heartland, “Damnation” centers on the mythic conflict and bloody struggle between big money and the downtrodden, God and greed, charlatans and prophets. Teach plays Preston Riley in the series, which also stars Killian Scott, Logan Marshall-Green, Sarah Jones and Christopher Heyerdahl.

Teach is also set to star in a heavy recurring guest-star role as Jimmy DeSoto in Netflix’ new  series “Altered Carbon” out in early 2018. “Altered Carbon” is a futuristic drama series based on Richard Morgan’s award-winning 2002 cyberpunk sci-fi novel of the same name. The series  stars Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy and Martha Higareda.

We spoke with Teach about his roles on “Damnation” and “Altered Carbon” and what’s next for him.

Photo credit: Robert Rowland

You tend to play dark, gritty characters. Is that a coincidence or are you drawn to darker stories? 

I definitely do have a dark side and I think it’s also just my face. (laughs) I think that puts me into the darker characters and I can definitely tap into that side of myself. I prefer social dramas, something that’s reflective on humanity, our relationships with one another and basically the state of our nation.

Can you talk about the characters you play “Damnation” and “Altered Carbon”?

The roles I play in each series couldn’t be more polar opposite. I shot the Pilot for “Damnation” last October and then in the Winter and Spring I jumped into “Altered Carbon” and then back into a full-run of “Damnation” during summertime. In “Damnation” it’s partly about the haves and haves-not and Preston begins at the lowest of the low. He’s an alcoholic but he’s not empty.  He has a beating heart and a sense that there’s something for him left to fight for, but he’s an internal person and his perception of his life has caused him to retreat into himself where he self-medicates and quietly observes his surroundings. In the first episode he makes an awful mistake and Season One is about recovering his person-hood and working towards having the bravery to seek atonement. He’s got a big heart but there is a toughness deep within. I like to play guys with a tender side or the inverse, tender guys with a tough side. I think they play nicely off one another. Preston is a daytime drinker and a night time drinker and at all times seems full of shame but there’s hope. He’s the kind of guy you root for.

Cutting to “Altered Carbon” I play a very fit, very capable member of an elite group of people that are basically uprising and fighting the status quo. They couldn’t be more opposite because when I’m doing Preston I’m eating french fries and when I’m playing Jimmy DeSoto I’m having kale smoothies and in the gym for three hours a day.

What is it like stepping into the Depression with the sets, costumes and hair and makeup?

When you take a look at the costumes and sets  it feels like you really do travel in a time machine and it is absolutely immersive and feels incredibly authentic. Everybody showed up looking like 2017 and then we got to hair and makeup and wardrobe on the first day and we all came out with these 1931 goofy haircuts and were clean shaven. You’ve never seen so many actors in a hotel hiding under baseball hats. You’re clean shaven and step into your costume and on set it feels great, but when you go out for a bite to eat at the end of the day and see people looking at your hair and you’re like ‘oh yeah, that’s how I look.’

There’s not too much information about “Altered Carbon” out there yet. Is there anything you can tell us on what to expect?

What I can say about “Altered Carbon” is it’s massive on a completely different kind of scale. It’s going to feel more like a super high budget feature film that’s stringed out in ten episodes. What I most like about “Altered Carbon” is sometimes in sci-fi the narrative can be about  intellectualizing the idea of what it is to be human. “Altered Carbon” puts humanity on trial. It’s dark,  it’s sexy and it’s a brand new packaging of sci-fi. As cerebral as it can be I think it’s going to attract sci-fi fans and non sci-fi fans and I think Netflix and Skydance TV have made a game changer in the science fiction world.

As a viewer we have so many options to watch in terms of content. What is it like as an actor with the emergence of so many different streaming channels? 

I think it’s more exciting as a viewer. I like being able to search out these incredible Scandinavian TV shows and products coming from all over the world. It’s exciting because it’s raising the bar and we’re not just seeing it in North America, but in Britain, Scandinavia and all these other countries that are creating amazing shows. As an actor it spreads it out a little bit. Hollywood might always be the epicenter of where things get done things but with Netflix shows travelling all over the globe in order to do location shoots it gives foreign actors an opportunity to take on bigger roles and get seen. For us as actors it is terribly exciting.

You wrote and directed your first feature film, “Down Here,” in 2014. Do you want to direct and write more in the future? 

I was surprised by how much and how long the process was going to be and even managing taxes seven years after the movie was done. Creatively it was an absolutely incredible experience.  The story centers around these young prostitutes in downtown east side of Vancouver and an alcoholic detective that ultimately finds redemption in the community he’s trying to help.  It was an important movie for us to make about our community, for our community and it was a good conversation starter. I do have another story about mental illness that I want to get going.

What do you hope for the future and what would be your dream role? 

Into the future, my biggest dream is we get Season Two on “Damnation.” Our creator Tony Tost of “Longmire” has attracted the right kind of people and we all feel like we’re doing something really important with this show. It has a narrative that is highly reflective on the current state of our nation. Working with Killian Scott, Logan Marshall-Green and seeing their dedication, their focus and commitment has just trickled down to the cast and crew. There’s no egos to pander to, everybody believes in this show and we all feel lucky to be on it.  I have my dream job and of course there’s other roles out there for me and I’ll certainly be searching.  “True Detective” Season Three is coming up and something I would definitely be interested in. (laughs) 

Can you tell viewers why they should tune in to “Damnation”? 

Something that interested me a great deal about “Damnation” is it might strike you as a masculine show set in a masculine world but what “Damnation” has done with the women in our cast is incredible. When you look at Amelia Davenport played by Sarah Jones her character is lethally intelligent and Melinda Page Hamilton as Connie Nunn is just plain lethal and Bessie Louvin played by Chasten Harmon has a lethal adaptivity and is a survivalist. Three of our six directors were women and so I think our female characters are going to serve as a refreshing notice to viewers as the power and strength that they behold. I don’t think “Damnation” just meets the Bechdel test it long surpasses it and in my opinion it’s setting a new standard. I think that women who watch the show and men are really going to respond to that.

You can catch the series premiere of “Damnation” on USA on November 7 at 10/9c. Stay tuned for Netflix’s “Altered Carbon” series premiering in early 2018. 

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