You can’t lose what you don’t have. It can feel like we are trying to prove that we are good enough or worthy enough for a role. But that is not what casting is about. It isn’t a place where we must prove you can do a role. If they didn’t think you could do it, they wouldn’t have called you in. The point of a casting session is to see if you would be a good fit. Finally understanding this shifted my paradigm. Instead of thinking that I have everything to lose in an audition, I thought about how I had nothing to lose. I then focused on doing my best instead of being “good enough for the role”. Because to be honest, you can’t lose what you don’t have.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing John Way, a classically trained actor and has won several national awards for his work in Shakespeare productions. He now finds himself playing a variety of film roles from country singer (Sweet Sunshine) to cowboy (The Boardinghouse Reach, due out in 2021), and has guest-starred in the Amazon Prime Series Romanoffs.
John was born in London and raised in Tokyo and is now based in New York. He spent his high school years in Phoenix, the place he considers to be his American home.
He is a National Young Arts award winner, and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon. He is also certified by the Royal Academy of Dance, and has singing awards from Classical Singer Magazine.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Absolutely! Born in England, raised in Japan and finished middle school and high school in The United States. Though being a third/fourth culture kid was not always easy, I am lucky to have had formative experiences in variety of places called home. This gave me a perspective on the world. Acting was a huge part of finding friends. I had great parents that wanted to expose us to different cultures. They loved to meet and share experiences with new and diverse groups and have passed that love along to me. By the time I was twelve I had visited over 20 countries in Europe and Asia. My parents now work full time for non-profits looking to address global health, poverty and education, an example I hope to follow.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Wow…Imagination! I was not a brilliant reader as a kid; there was always a new school, new language and new friends. I was in my head drawing cartoons or playing out stories with the little dogs that come in the McDonald’s Happy Meal. I was at home telling stories. Looking back on it, that was theater. I could never shake the feeling I had as a kid after seeing film or local play. There was a magic the performers created that allowed not only them, but the audience, to see, hear, feel, and experience a life that was not their own. A world of imagination. I believe performance is the most comprehensive teaching tool we have. I knew from my early teens that if I could be one of those performers, on that stage or screen, telling stories, that it would be the greatest honor of my life.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My first acting job was on the Romanoffs. Romanoffs was written and directed by the creator of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner. Mad Men was one of my favorite shows. The fact I was now looking behind the curtain at the Wizard himself was wild. I had this huge epiphany that everything we see in movies or television is made by real people.
I was able to see talented individuals who previously were only names on the credits. Everything about film became real and tangible. Mathew Weiner is a great director and a human being. After this experience, I am far less critical of film/TV because I know there are individuals working hard on making good art. I learned, in making the Romanoff’s that every film takes significant communication and dedication to create.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first starting, I was out for an audition in a New York casting office. I arrived early (as you should always do) and I waited in what I thought was the seating area for this office. Around an hour and forty-five minutes went by and I knew something was up. I crept out to investigate and found there were two waiting areas! One on the south side and the other on the north side of the office, and the one you would first see was completely dependent on which elevators you used. I guess I was the only sorry fool who took the B side elevators. I learned to always make sure you’re in the right spot and not to wait 90 minutes to confirm!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just finished filming a movie called The Boardinghouse Reach. It is a fascinating movie which not only explores the diversity of the Americana West, but also space and time. The cast is a diverse and well-known group of actors and I was super lucky to be part of the team. It has some crazy animation and I can’t wait to see what happens to the film in post-production. Keep an eye out for it in 2021!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Seeing yourself on stage and identifying with the character provides a deeper level of connection and understanding. It allows a connection between the character and your own life in a special and emotional way. Growing up in Japan, I know what it is like being in the minority. We are more touched by stories, more affected by stories, and more likely to change because of stories when we feel that connection.
It also helps us understand those different from us when we can see someone who is not like us have an experience we can empathize with. We see their struggles, and their joy, and we can better understand and connect with them. Understanding leads to love.
Having all diversity in performance helps not only discover more about ourselves, but also the world we live in. It makes us a kinder and more connected people when we strive to understand different experiences.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You can’t lose what you don’t have. It can feel like we are trying to prove that we are good enough or worthy enough for a role. But that is not what casting is about. It isn’t a place where we must prove you can do a role. If they didn’t think you could do it, they wouldn’t have called you in. The point of a casting session is to see if you would be a good fit. Finally understanding this shifted my paradigm. Instead of thinking that I have everything to lose in an audition, I thought about how I had nothing to lose. I then focused on doing my best instead of being “good enough for the role”. Because to be honest, you can’t lose what you don’t have.
2. People remember. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like all the work you are doing is being lost in a void. People remember things you did from auditions and projects. Especially casting directors. I have gone into auditions that led nowhere only to have the same casting director give me an immediate call back for another part.
3. Be a constant student. After graduating I thought that I would arrive at the industry a ready product. I was painfully wrong. It took me a lot of trial and error before realizing that I was stuck in my way of doing things, and I wasn’t telling the story the way it needed to be told. I have completely changed the way I went about my work. There is always more to grow. That might be the best and worst part of the artistic journey, you never really arrive, there is always more you can learn.
4. This profession is a long-distance race, not a sprint. Don’t get discouraged. Always move ahead and look how you can improve every day. I had a wild expectation that I needed to “make it” immediately upon arriving in New York. But something I failed to realize is I have the rest of my life to do work in this industry. That I will grow with my art throughout my career. I was so outcome oriented I forgot about the process. The purpose of the process is to make a story real and believable. So remember it’s a marathon not a sprint. Take the time to do it right, it will deliver rewards in the long run.
5. Stay inspired. If you have a passion for your craft, you should look for moments to fuel your fire. But also make it a point to experience other people’s passions. It could be a great show or a museum piece, a comedy set or a ballet. I have found that seeing other people’s art, even if it’s not acting, keeps my mind active and engaged. It’s easy to slip into a creative lull, at least for me. In these moments I look to others to see what inspires them and without fail it sparks creativity inside me.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find somewhere to go and something to do outside of acting. I have found it energizing to have passions outside of acting. This helps me find value in what I do. Have something solid that you find value. I also like hanging out in places and with people that have nothing to do with theater. Helps keep me grounded. It would be so easy to spend all day with likeminded artists talking endlessly about “the craft”. It’s important to remember that there is still a world beyond acting, and more do being a human than just doing your profession. That’s why I always plan to have somewhere to go and something to do.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
While there are pressing global problems that come to mind with this question, I would like to focus on something much smaller and more personal. I am a huge believer in finding and exploiting the wisdom of the elderly. I think it is a benefit that we simply don’t value. They are a living part of history and I enjoy getting involved with interview programs to help record these firsthand stories. I think it is so important. Often we think the world is so different. But the problems are sometimes eerily similar. I spend time in retirement communities just listening. I am working to connect youth groups to the elderly. I know theater groups that go to retirement communities have a such positive impact on wellbeing. Talk allows us to learn from each other. In our world today we waste a lot of resources and I would include the wisdom of the elderly among those squandered.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I could make an army with all the people who have helped along the way. It is hard to just give one or two names. Of course, I have my mother and father who have always been wonderful role models of social advocacy. I have also had great athletic coaches, acting mentors, college professors, agents and managers, childhood friends, English teachers, singing coaches, and many more who have made me who I am today. Especially as an actor, all these personal elements are fueled by many different individuals.
If I had to single out one individual, I want to thank my first piano coach and accompanist Ren Anderton. Ren taught me the values of patience, selflessness and humor, especially when collaborating in an artistic endeavor. He showed me the value of being serious, but not taking yourself too seriously. The last words he said to me before he passed away way too early were, “don’t worry about me, go out and have fun”. I was not the piano student he deserved, but he was the role model I needed. I’m having a blast, and I hope you’re doing well upstairs Ren!
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“This too, shall pass”. Perhaps the greatest wisdom ever shared. We must remember to be humble in the great moments and be strong through the tough times because every chapter’s end is a new beginning. Live in the moment. Very little is guaranteed in life so take it in stride. Be humble. Be patient. Be steady. Be grateful.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Stephen King what’s up! My all-time favorite film is the Shawshank Redemption. Followed by Stand by Me. I have been a fan of your writing since middle school and a huge fan of cosmic horror as a genre. Even if I never meet you, thanks for everything, you have filled me with wildly entertaining ideas and love for the unknowable. Stretched my imagination to new places. And given me the love of a well written character.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” — H.P. Lovecraft.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am remarkably new to social media, so please come start this journey with me on Instagram @johngriffithway. Would love to figure out this world with you. DM me if you see this, that would be cool. Take it easy.