From theatre to film to television, John Behlmann does it all. He has delighted audiences on stage in Broadway's Tony Award winning revival of Journey's End, Off-Broadway's The 39 Steps, Ghosts, Wild Animals You Should Know, and regional productions of Betty's Summer Vacation, As You Like It, The Glass Menagerie, the world premiere of Bill Pullman's Expedition 6, Doubt, Measure for Measure, A Christmas Carol, A Flea in Her Ear, and The Madwoman.
John's film and television credits include Revolutionary Road, Pretty Bird, Unstoppable, The Good Wife, 3 lbs., recurring roles on All My Children & The Guiding Light, and the voice of "Neptulon" in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. He is also the national spokesperson for Edge Shave Gel and Dairy Queen.
In addition to performing, John is the Co-Artistic Director of NYC's aerial theatre company "Fight or Flight" that explores classical and original texts by performing them not only on the ground but also up in the air, on the low-flying trapeze.
John has written several original web series for CBS.com including "Heckle U" and "Dudes" and served as a regular writer for the long-running Webby-nominated series "Wallstrip." He has had a number of his one-act plays produced in New York, Denver, and Washington D.C.
Now, John is taking to the stage once again in Slant Theatre Project's production of Mat Smart's The Steadfast. This gripping new play that looks at eight U.S. soldiers across the sweep of American history – from theRevolutionary War to the War in Afghanistan – and the common thread that connects them across continents and centuries. The Steadfast is inspired by Mr. Alpert’s Legacy painting (which can be viewed at: http://www.stevealpertart.com/2010/10/20/a-painting-called-legacy/)
The Steadfast runs through February 3 at TBG Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? It wasn't a natural course for me. I did a lot of theatre and speech and debate in junior high and high school, but it wasn't a career decision for me until way later in life. It wasn't something I grew up wanting to do. My family had very "Fisher Price Jobs," jobs you understand like lawyer, doctor, businessman, etc. I wasn't in that world of wanting to be a professional actor. I went to college and did theatre, but I majored in Politcal Science and French. There was this one time someone assumed, during a play, that I was going to be a professional actor and treated me as such and that was when the idea first entered my mind that being an actor was a career possibility. While I applied to grad school and got in, I quickly learned acting was something that I wanted to do full time and so I spent a lot of time around professional actors and saw they were regular people and not just people on TV who live in far away places that you'll never ever meet. It was at the point my career as an actor began. I'm very glad I chose this path. Being an actor allows me to dabble in a variety of jobs with the roles I play.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? So many people...Julie Taymor and Joe Mantello are two directors I'd love to work with. There are a lot of actors I'd love to work with, but there are also people I'd like to work with again. There are those people I've been with in a workshop or full production that I just didn't get to spend enough time with and I feel our paths will cross again. I think that's a great way to guide a career. You've worked with someone once by circumstance and then you maybe get the chance to go work with them again and you think oh yeah, that's the one I want to continue to work with. People like that for me are Mariah Aiken. I would do anything she does because I adore her.
3. What attracted you to "The Steadfast"? This kind of ties into the previous question. The people mostly attracted me. I've known the founders of Slant Theatre project Wes Grantom, Adam Knight, Mat Smart, and Matt Dellapina for a while. Wes and I go back to High School, even though we didn't go to the same high school. When I got to NY, Wes was already here and I did an early show with Slant called "The Obstruction Plays" in fall of 2006ish. It was group of young actors that all just got out of grad school who now have these crazy careers. They were one of my first introductions to NY theatre and that work led to so many things that I feel like I owe them a lot and would do almost anything they asked me to be in.
4. What do identify most with about your characters? The show was inspired by this painting by Steve Alpert and it's about all these soldiers in various years of American conflict. Everybody has a main soldier they play, but everyone has other parts in the show too. My main character is "Aaron," this young guy/kid who is in the Vietnam War era and trying to doge the draft with his friends by going to Canada. Out of the three guys he goes with, "Aaron" is the one who decides to go back and not dodge the draft. The thing I identify the most with is this character's first adult decision. I remember making a choice that you have to think hard about and it not being the popular choice. It kind of reminds me of the time I was in high school and it came time for Confirmation and we went through this whole process to get me to Confirmation, but I was not enjoying it, so I made the decision, much to the dismay of many family members, to not go through with getting Confirmed. That was an important and hard thing to do.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? I hope that audiences will come away with a better understanding of what may make someone decide to get involved in a war, whether it be in combat or another capacity.
6. In addition to seeing you soon in "The Steadfast," I've had the pleasure of seeing you in "Betty's Summer Vacation" at Bay Street Theatre and "Wild Animals You Should Know." What did you enjoy most about starring in these two productions? What do you look for in a character when auditioning for a role? There seems to be a theme in my answers. Both those shows were all about the people. I didn't really know anyone going into "Betty's Summer Vacation," but I auditioned and got the part. Because of the environment of the show, getting to do this play out in Sag Harbor on Long Island for the summer, which is already great no matter what because you are by the beach in the summer. Aside from that it was the most wonderful group of actors and people I have worked with. I had the greatest time doing that show. I became friends with Veanne Cox, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Bobby Steggert, Heidi Schreck and all these great people that were there doing this play. It was great getting to know Trip Cullman who directed "Betty's Summer Vacation," because he got me into "Wild Animals You Should Know," which Trip also directed. He just assembles the greatest people to work with. I did these two plays on the heels of each other and that was a great balance. "Betty's Summer Vacation" was so ridiculous that it was nice to get to do "Wild Animals You Should Know" which had more emotional content behind it.
As far as what I look for in a part, I feel it's all about having balance in your career. It's so timing dependent. I don't have dream roles I long to play, I mean, maybe I do, but I don't know what they are yet. It's more about where I am at in my life. Parts that were not interesting to me two years ago are now interesting to me because of my life experience. When I see a role I can present some kind of unique point of view about or perspective or that relates to me in some way, that's the kind of role I go for. I've had to turn down auditions because while they look good on paper, they don't feel like the right part for me.
7. You are one of the founders of Flight or Fight Theater. What made you want to start your own theatre company? What has been the most rewarding part of this venture? Flight or Fight Theater is a trapeze theater company. We didn't set out to form a theater company. We were just a group of actors who were trained in trapeze. Traditionally aerial shows involve a lot of tricks, but we started doing these aerial shows of telling stories while on the trapeeze, using it as an interesting abstract to the staging. We did a retelling of Top Gun in about 10 minutes. We also did Richard II and Henry V. Those are the moments to speak of, when you are in a room with your friends, but also artists you respect and get to make something special and walk away knowing you created that thing from the ground up is tremendously rewarding experience every time. The main draw of this profession to get to work with the people you want to on projects that speak to you. It's not get rich or have the most convenient life all the time.
8. You have also been the face of many commercials: Dairy Queen, DISH Network, and Edge Shaving Gel. What do you enjoy about filming commercials over theatre, a TV series or film? I think I have been lucky in my commercial life to not only book them, but to do awesome commercials. I've had things that were tremendously fun to do. I filmed 14 Dairy Queen commercials in 9 days and it was the greatest two weeks of my life. I got to do a variety of things...sword fighting, kicked through a plate glass window, water skiing, met Mary Lou Retton, and held a live falcon on my arm. I flew to LA for the Dairy Queen commercials; I filmed the Edge commercials in South Africa. To get to do things like that are the great moments of being an actor. The money I made from the commercials really allowed me to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to, which is so important for an actor, especially one in NY. I've been lucky that my commercials are fun. Though now I'm sure I'll book a really boring commercial that will play for years.
Me: You can blame me for that. Hahaha.
John: Good, good. I'll see if I can work in a "Thank You" into the 30-second spot. Hahaha.
Me: That would be awesome!
Dairy Queen Commerical - Falcon
Dairy Queen Commerical - Waterski Boxing
9. What is your favorite part of the rehearsal/preview period in a show? Where is your favorite place to rehearse on your own? There is always something special about that first day and read through, but I'm usually nervous. I think the most fun part is a few weeks into rehearsal, right before you go into tech when you know the structure and movement and you can be free in those moments, where you can screw everything up, fall flat on your face, and be an idiot in front of your colleagues, but you've built a trust with them, so it's all okay. For previews, the first few are always a bit like a "deer in headlights," you don't know what's going to happen, but after a few of those and you know where the show is going, you can really get into it then.
I like rehearsing in my house, but I do do a lot of talking to myself on the subway. Most of my at home rehearsing is learning lines or looking at scripts, but if that can happen somewhere else, I will do it there too.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? I don't know what the best advice I've ever received is because I probably haven't realized how good it was yet. Hahaha. In all seriousness, a few people have told me, in relation to this business to "Respect your champion." There are people in this career who adore and respect you and whom you adore and respect as well and if you are lucky enough to find them, you have to stick with that person. They might have a part in a show for you, even if it's a smaller role than usual, but then their next project might be a bigger role. The same thing might happen for them from you.
11. What have you learned about yourself from your various ventures? That I like to be busy. One of the things I love about acting and being in NY (specifically) is the opportunity to be in all kinds of stuff. It can allow you to be in some very rewarding stuff that gives the best expression of you, which can be very rewarding. When you commit yourself to something you really believe in, it becomes a great project. I had a knee injury a few years ago and I was laid up in my house and I made a rap music video invitation to my birthday party and it was a hit and I made another one and another one and now I've made about 5 or 6 of them and it's gotten me some of jobs, like the Dairy Queen commercials. Now, I've done rap benefits for Jack O'Brian and Julie Taymor, and now I'm doing one for Judith Light. That's just one example of how you can make yourself when you are yourself.
Behlmann Birthday Rap 2008 - The video that started it all
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? I usually get anxious when I have a day off because I always think I have something that needs to get done, but when I have a day off, I like to try to get up early, make some coffee, be around my house for a bit, tie up some loose ends, make some breakfast, go to the gym, meet up with people, just basic simple stuff.
13. Favorite way to stay in shape? Trapeze, hands down. I do it twice a week.
14. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer-Briefs. No question about it.
15. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I would like to be able to freeze time like "Evie" on Out of This World, the 80s sitcom when she would touch her fingers together and everything stops and you can add people to be frozen in time with you. It was like the world stopped progressing, but she got to do things.
Funny Edge Shave Gel Commercial - Ready Rooms
Dish Network Spot #2 - Satellite Spot