June 2011

C2 Exclusive - Edi Gathegi is Coming to a Theater Near You. The Star of Twilight and X-Men: First Class Strikes a Pose for C2

Author: Lindsey Hawkins | Photographer: Kristian Lonyai

Actor Edi Gathegi, known as Laurent in the epic pop-culture films Twilight and The Twilight Saga: New Moon and as Dr. Jeffrey ‘Big Love’ Cole in FOX’s hit television series House, is on the way to becoming a household name, starring as Darwin in the upcoming summer blockbuster Xmen: First Class, out this June. CH2 had the chance to get personal with this young, Kenya-born actor to find out if he, indeed, has what it takes to sustain longevity in this romantic industry.

Too often people know the celebrity but do not know the story behind the climb to the silver screen. Gathegi has, in a sense, “made it,” although he would disagree. It took an innate passion, a few twists of fate, and whole lot of work to get where he is still going. At the ripe age of 32, he has conquered the stages of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. He has played memorable supporting roles on television and starred in acclaimed movies like Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone, opposite an award-winning cast, including Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Amy Ryan.

Talking with Gathegi on a Friday afternoon proved to be wildly entertaining, as he opened up while making tuna tartare for himself and a guest in his own kitchen before grabbing a quick shave to hit the L.A. scene. As he told his story, throwing in a few impersonations of characters he loves, he informed us that this was his first attempt at multitasking and he was trying to be like all the amazing women in his life. When asked who these lovely ladies were, he took the Fifth with an infectious laugh that only someone truly happy and free spirited could project.

CH2: Let’s just kick it off blunt and broad. How did you get here; where did you plant the roots?
Edi Gathegi: I was in college, and I had a sports injury playing basketball. I was really, really depressed because I had never been injured before where I couldn’t play. I couldn’t walk for several months and decided I wanted to take a class that was easy to pass the time. So I enrolled in an acting class. I discovered that it was far from easy, but challenging in the right way, and I fell in love with it. After that, I claimed it as my profession.

CH2: Where does the confidence and drive come from to follow the dream that every young person dreams at some point?
EG: (laughs) Does everyone want to do it? Here’s what it is. Being famous and being an actor are mutually exclusive, I think. Just because you’re an actor doesn’t mean you’re ever gonna make money or get recognized for it. I was always interested in storytelling and entertaining my family at dinner as a kid and even still. Acting was an extension of that. When you watch movies, it’s easy to get seduced by the notion of acting, but when I started to understand the craft of acting, it became more about the craft. The drive comes from the love of the art and not wanting to do anything else. But, obviously you want to make enough money to fuel that dream.

CH2: Did you ever doubt your career choice in the beginning?
E.G.: You can’t really doubt it, because everyone else doubts you. For the six years I was training, I never doubted it. I moved to L.A. and worked consistently for two years and then had a dry spell for six months and started to doubt it. I had all these student loans and started to realize it was a non-secure profession. But you got to put your head down, grind it out and hope that the opportunity presents itself. From my experiences, the longer you stay in it, the greater the possibility of success. If you give up, you never know if, in that next day, you could have had that break. So it’s that very fundamental philosophy that keeps me focused. You just have to keep sticking to your passion and dedication on a daily basis, because there are so many ways to skin a cat and you never know when that day is going to be. I learned that from Morgan Freeman who didn’t get his big break until he was 40.

CH2: Did you have a fall-back plan in place if that “grind” got to be too much?
E.G.: Many years ago I had a friend ask me, ‘What’s your plan B?’ And I said, ‘Well if I have a plan B it means I don’t believe in plan A.’ So I never did have a plan B. In the six months I didn’t have work, though, I didn’t know what I was thinking. It definitely wasn’t a healthy place. It was terrifying thinking things like I could have gone to medical school. So I had to put my head down and keep at this, because this is definitely what I wanted to do.

CH2: What was the job that pulled you out of the six-month dry spell?
E.G.: The job that pulled me out of it was House [FOX’s hit television series]. I am making tuna tartare right now, and I am actual really proud of it because I am the world’s worst multitasker. I know I am not super passionate about working in a restaurant or being a chef, but I love to cook. I experiment with all types of recipes.

CH2: What’s your method of transformation into all of these eclectic roles you’ve played so far?
E.G.: It’s case by case; I don’t really have a set method. It literally depends on how deep the role is—what is required of me physically. Do I have to go on a workout regimen? Do I have to gain weight? If the role is small, sometimes I am required to memorize my lines in the green room and then go in front of the camera immediately to film. If it’s a major role that requires depth, I might be preparing for weeks.

CH2: With the more in-depth characters, do you ever feel like they take over the real Edi and cross over into your everyday personality?
E.G.: I played a very flamboyant and happy gay character in college, and I played him every single night for a couple of weeks. When the play was done, people were asking me if I was gay. My acquaintances were like, ‘When I first met you Edi, I didn’t think you were gay.’ I am running up and down the basketball court with my boys and with the characters like that, I’ve been playing for weeks, it’s a little harder to shake off. I am not one of those actors who gets called by their character name only on set. You know, when the camera is on, I turn it on; I usually don’t take them with me.

CH2: Staying on depth of character, which is more difficult to develop and more demanding on you mentally, playing someone like Dr. Jeffrey on House, or playing an epic film and book character like Laurent in Twilight?
E.G.: For the role in Twilight, I had only two weeks to play that role and it was set in stone. A supporting part in a TV show you have to adjust and go with the change of the script. I love both, I like to show up, do a job and then wash my hands of it, but there is something lovely about job security and showing up every day to the lot with a cast of actors.

CH2: Did you have any idea how big the Twilight series was going to be when you got the part? And how did you get the part of Laurent, by the way?
E.G.: With Twilight, in the beginning, not many people knew what it was. We started to get little hints, gradually, about how big this book was becoming while filming. And then overnight, after the movie hit, it was a mass pop-culture phenomenon where at public appearances you have six thousand fans running. Everyone should have that experience at least once (laughs). I auditioned like everybody else, and they liked me and they gave me the job. But I did find out that a wife of one of the producers at Summit was a big House fan, and when they saw my tapes she was like, ‘Use him. I love that show.’

CH2: Do you think Twilight has jumpstarted your career?
E.G.: No. I didn’t work for a year and a half after New Moon. Twilight was a job. What jumpstarted my career was my first movie, because for me personally it said, you can do movies. That first gig was my validation. But the job that gave me confidence as an actor was getting to work with Ben Affleck in Gone Baby Gone. I think that experience sort of opened up all doors for me in the sense of seeing an actor who could have a lasting career. It was an Academy Award-winning cast, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan with Ben Affleck directing it, a movie star that I liked when I was younger saying to me, ‘You’re good enough to be with these other guys.’ And then I look at House, which was the job that gave me visibility, because it was such a watched program. When I got that part, people started actually recognizing me, not by name, but they would say, ‘Hey, you’re that guy on House’ (laughs). Twilight was an extension of that, but in many ways I feel like I still haven’t broken into the industry. I’m definitely in the hustle of getting jobs like every other actor and trying to make smart career choices—pay my rent and keep plugging away and hopefully keep getting opportunities to work and keeping crossing the next milestone.

CH2: Do you ever look back at roles you’ve played and wish you had a do-over?
E.G.: Of course, absolutely, all the time. I could say that about every role in a way, because I’m ever-changing as an actor and in my ability. I can look back two years ago and like my work but say I still would have done this differently. I have more perspective now than I did then. I’m not really satisfied ever.

CH2: What has been one of your most memorable moments or good advice from a movie set?
E.G.: When I wrapped on Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck asked me if I was upset I didn’t do any push-ups between takes. I was like wait. What do you mean? I told him I didn’t want to be that guy who was doing push-ups in between takes (laughs). And he said, ‘Are you kidding me? Every actor does that; all of them do that.’ And I was like, why didn’t you tell me that before?! I have been doing push-ups ever since.

CH2: What qualifies as a most embarrassing moment on set, to date?
E.G.: I went to dinner with the cast of Twilight after one of the first filmings, and I made a toast not really knowing anyone yet, about being on the ground floor of something great. I think it was misperceived. No one understood what I was saying, and I don’t think I articulated myself in the right way. There were just blank faces staring at me, and I thought, huh, well that came out wrong. It was an awkward silence, and I think we were celebrating someone’s birthday, too. They were looking at me like, ‘Why do you think that, how do you know?’ But then it went on to gross like a billion dollars, so…

CH2: When the curtain closes, figuratively speaking, in the future, where do you see yourself?
E.G.: I see myself with a gorgeous wife and gorgeous kids, living in a nice house. But I also see myself as a storyteller at heart, and acting is the first step. I see myself writing and directing. I directed a good friend in her reel so she could get into acting, and she had a whole crew together. It was an addictive process for me, collaborating with the cinematographer, the lighting guys, the sound guys, getting her acting notes, going into the editing room. I absolutely, without a doubt, want to direct at some point.

CH2: Best advice you can give aspiring actors?
E.G.: Ask yourself truthfully with full honesty why you’re getting into it. And if you feel like there is anything else you would do in your life that will make you happy, then pursue that, because this is not an easy profession. You are told no a lot more times than you are told yes. It has got to be the thing that makes you wake up in the morning. And if it is, then never give up no matter what happens, because you never know when you will hear yes.

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