In Hollywood, there are a million different stories but few are as captivating as the amazing career path of Brian Letscher. While playing football for the University of Michigan, Brian took a few acting classes and, on a lark, decided to audition for the Main Stage Sketch Comedy show which he booked, playing to 500 seat houses his first time onstage. But that was that. He continued on into coaching and it was not until being back in Michigan on a recruiting trip several years later that he drove by The Purple Rose Theatre – started by Jeff Daniels — and found himself turning off the road, parking and going inside. He was able to meet with the Artistic Director and, Brian, curious about this still-present desire to act, even as a successful college football coach, asked this man what it would take for him to become an actor. It was the meeting that changed his life and led him in the direction to slowly phase out his career in sports. While coaching college football in Michigan, Brian found a way to attend acting classes at The Purple Rose and then slowly started to audition. When he completed his training he moved to New York and quickly started booking guest star roles on high profile shows in New York and Los Angeles and started to write and produce theatrical plays.
The next stop on his already impressive career would be Los Angeles were his hard work and dedication to his craft are unparalleled and continue to turn the heads of fans, critics and industry insiders. Already appearing in a recurring role on the hit ABC series “Scandal,” will be doing double duty this Fall by adding NBC’s “Grimm” to his busy schedule. On last season’s “Scandal” (spoilers!), viewers saw an interesting twist when they learned he was actually a B613 agent working in the White House as a POTUS Secret Service Agent. Then he shocked us all at the end of Season 3 with his role in the death of the president’s son. On the hit show “Grimm,” Letscher will unleash his inner monster by playing a sinister and mysterious individual with a horrific ability to absorb memories of his victims, which he sells to enemy powers.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Brian Letscher to discuss his career, his process for bringing characters to life, his powerful roles on the highly successful series’ “Scandal” and “Grimm” and what the future holds for him in the months to come.
I wanted to give our readers a little background on you. You didn’t get the typical start when it comes to being an actor. What can you tell us about that?
It definitely came to me in a different way. I started late after coaching college football for a while. I had a great mentor at The Purple Rose Theater Company. Guy Sanville, who is the artistic director there, really encouraged me and gave me some pointers early on. Then, of course, there was my brother Matt who was already in the business. He gave me some very honest advice early on about what to expect and what not to expect! [laughs] At the end of the day, that really honest information, along with the fact that I really loved it in a deep way, made me want to pursue it. I decided to do it and that was 13 years ago! It has been a long, hard fought road since then but I have loved every minute of it.
Who were some of the actors you looked to for inspiration through the years?
I really love Matt Damon. I am a writer as well, so I love the idea that they would take their career into their own hands in the way they did with “Good Will Hunting.” I know they had a career before that but that they were hungry enough to write that and insist they would be in it, is something I have always found inspiring. I am a huge fan of Paul Newman. I am a huge fan of Jeff Bridges and the freedom in which he works. Philip Seymour Hoffman was another favorite. I was a New York City stage actor when I started out, so he was absolutely an icon. I saw him in “True West” early on and he just blew me away. Jeffrey Wright was another New York City theater actor that has done a lot of film and television work and he was incredible and really inspirational to me. Those are the guys who top my list.
As you said, it has been a long road for you as an actor but it is paying off in spades at the moment! You are a part of several high profile projects. Lets start with “Scandal.” How did you get involved and what made you want to pursue the role?
They asked me to audition! [laughs] Which when you are an out of work actor, I will audition for anything, man! [laughs] Just tell me the time and the place and I will show up to read for it! [laughs] Linda Lowry was the casting director at the time for “Grey’s Anatomy” and I really thought I bombed the audition by doing some really crazy stuff in the room. I remember thinking, “I will never get back in that room again!” Then I got called in for the role of Tom, which at the time was just a guest starring role. It was just supposed to be one episode as far as I knew and they played it very close to the vest but I don’t think there were a lot of plans for anything past that. Then I got one more episode the first season and it grew from there. The second season I did seven or eight episodes and the third season I was in half of the episodes and I became much more involved in the storyline between Fitz and Olivia. At the end of Season 3, I obviously had a significant role in the death of the president’s son, which sort of put me right in the middle. This season, Season 4, I have been fortunate to get even more material, which has been awesome! I feel really fortunate because it was just one of those things where it started as one episode and grew to over 20 episodes now.
It is no secret “Scandal” has a tremendous cast. What have you taken away from your experiences working with this talented group of people?
Graciousness. I will be honest, they are really fine human beings. Tony Goldwyn was one of the first guys I met, as my first scene was with him. He was just so welcome and generous. I mean, I had probably done two dozen guest leads up until that point on a bunch of different shows. It isn’t always as friendly. Sometimes it is much more business. In many cases, as a guest star, you have your job to do as a guest star, you are there for the week and then you go home. You don’t need the welcoming necessarily but it helps. Tony was really welcoming. Then I was able to watch Kerry Washington. What I see from her is huge talent, a great presence but also just a generosity of spirit. She is so genuinely friendly and really wants to do a great job and have everyone around her put their best forward for the sake of the show. Even to this day in Season 4, she wants that for the show. I find that really inspiring because sometimes that changes for people over time. Everyone I have worked with on the show has been really terrific but I have been fortunate to work with Jeff Perry, who plays Cyrus on the show. I don’t know if you know Jeff’s story but he was part of founding the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and has a huge, amazingly resume. To watch him work on set is so cool! He is so engaged, no matter what time of day or night, and is doing whatever he needs to do to get himself ready for the scene. He is so present, fresh and committed! I have definitely learned watching him work. In television, there are long days and you can get a little tired! At the end of the day, if you are shooting an important scene and are tired, not everyone always gets the juice going to make it the best scene it can absolutely be and, by watching Jeff perform, I have really learned that is essential and you can see it in his performance.
“Grimm” is another great show. How did you get involved and what have been the highlights?
I am not quite sure how I got in for the audition. Obviously, I had worked a lot and it was a two-episode role, so it is not unusual for me to go in for those but there was an executive producer on “Grimm,” a guy named Norberto Barba. He was an executive producer on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and I had done an episode of that years ago when I was still in New York. They were really pleased with my work and brought me back the next season for a different guest starring spot after I had moved to LA. Norberto is now on “Grimm” and he directed the first episode I was in, so that may have played a part in it. It certainly made me feel comfortable right away when I walked onto the set because, again, it can range from very inclusive to very collaborative. Sometimes, as a guest star, you don’t necessarily have input on wardrobe, hair and makeup and things like that. They very much wanted to craft this character together. It is an important character in the first couple of episodes and I got a chance to really collaborate with every department on it. That was a tremendous amount of fun. “Grimm” is a cool, funky, supernatural kind of show, which is something I have never really done before, so I had a blast doing it!
What did you bring to the character that might not have been in the original script to make it jump from the page?
God, I hope I did that, Jason! [laughs] I haven’t seen the final cut yet, so I don’t know if that actually happens! [laughs] I’m going to hope it did! [laughs] You know, it just like playing Tom on “Scandal,” as a recurring guest star, you are typically playing a bad guy of some sort. I think with “Grimm,” in particular, this is a guy who does some bad things. His job is to extract knowledge and memories from people’s brains and sell it to the highest bidder. That is a bad thing to do! The key is to really and truly not judge that and find a way to make them human even though I am not entirely human on the show but lend those elements to it where you see that maybe this isn’t exactly what he wants to be doing with his life. One of the main things I believe as an actor is that if one thing is strongly true, the opposite must be equally as strong. If it is strongly true that I need to get these secrets and sell them for my survival, it is equally true that I don’t want to do it. To me, that is where characters become interesting and you begin to see a little bit of depth in them. With television, you really have to do your work there because it isn’t like film or a play where you have more time to prepare and rehearse.
When you join a series, what do you typically do in preparation for a role?
God bless Netflix and iTunes because I try to watch as much of a show as I can, which is what I did with “Grimm.” It helps me get a sense of the tone, the look, the feel and the style of the show. I also read the script over and over again. For the role of Lawrence Anderson, Aquaman on “Grimm,” I did a little bit of research on National Defense, defense secrets, corporate secrets and corporate espionage, so that I could get a sense of the world I lived in, the people I would be around and the stakes involved. You always want to get a certain sense of the stakes involved with what you are doing to make them as dramatic as possible. That helped cement some of that for me. After that, it is just reading the script and reading the script, so when you get to set you can let all of that go and be as relaxed as possible and trust that all the work you did will show up! Which is why I am saying to you I hope it did! [laughs]
You have been collaborating on a project with your brothers. What can you tell us about that?
Yeah! It’s called “One and Done” and the full pilot will be out very soon! We have all been interested, as individuals and jointly, in creating our own content for years. Matt and I are produced playwrights and we have written pilots and screenplays together. I wrote and shot my own pilot last spring. Matt wrote and shot “One and Done” himself. It is such a cool show. It is a show about getting to the age where you have family, kids and certain things in place and you look around and think, “Is this it? Where is the game?” That was what Matt was really looking at. You first kind of peek into the abyss and look at something like, “Is this what life really is?” And trying to recapture some sense of aliveness that maybe you have lost. Maybe it is right in front of you but you aren’t seeing it anymore. These guys reform their old high school 3-on-3 basketball team in order to try to get back in the game, so to speak. In the process of doing that, they learn about themselves, their family and their friendships. He really did a phenomenal job! It is really funny. I play an aging athlete. Which I am not unfamiliar with! [laughs]
When you look back on your career, how have you evolved as an actor?
That is a really good question. I think the biggest thing I have learned is to relax and have fun. I think when you are younger you want to play every single role in the book. The bottom line is, even if you can do that, the business isn’t going to take you as that at first. You have to learn what you are and play to that strength to build your career. You want to take your craft extremely seriously but you don’t want to take yourself too seriously. That is the key. Do all the work, relax and have a good time doing what you love to do. Don’t make it that big of an angsty deal. I think that is the big difference in growing up a little bit that I would point to. I think you do better work that way.
You seem to have plenty of irons in the fire. What other projects are on the horizon?
I have a few things in the works. I am finishing a screenplay that we are going to try and produce in this co-op of my brother Aaron, possibly Matt and another producer. It is a genre picture that I think has really strong characters and I am very excited about that. It isn’t a screenplay I would have ever seen myself writing before but I think it is going to be a ton of fun. Then I am shooting a movie in May, which came from a play I did. Some people came to see the play and asked the playwright to write a film. He did and they loved the screenplay, it’s called “Loners,” so they are going to produce it. Then I’ve got another play I want to write for Purple Rose in Michigan about technology meeting humanity and the trouble that arises when that happens on a grand scale.
Obviously, I don’t get the chance to speak with someone who is an accomplished football coach in addition to being a successful actor. Are there any parallels between those two worlds?
That is another really good question. This business takes a lot of resolve and there are many, many times when you will want to give up. I think the disciple and belief that I learned being an athlete going from high school to playing at The University of Michigan and competing as well as I could there really helped. The same thing goes for when I was a coach and the preparation involved. One of the things we talked about when I was a football player was to prepare during the week. I remember I had a coach who would always say before the game, “The hay is in the barn.” That is such a great football saying! What it means is that you have done all your work, now just go out and play. I think that very much applies. You have to be in the moment. When you are a young person, it is hard to realize that because you kind of are in the moment but as you get older you realize your mind is on the past or the future and it can be hard to be completely present. Training yourself to be really present so you can get the most out of the moment is definitely something that goes from athletics to being an artist. Focusing on that moment, blocking out distractions and allowing yourself to be really present is definitely a challenge. Also, moving on can be a challenge. Ya know, if you drop the ball as a football player, you don’t have time to dwell on it and you need to move on. As an actor, I have to say that was a harder thing to learn because it feels more personal when you don’t get a job or your performance isn’t well received. You have to learn to forget about it, move on, trust yourself and find the next thing.
Thank you so much for your time today, Brian! It has been a pleasure!
Awesome! Thank you, Jason! It was a pleasure, man! I look forward to talking with you again!
To get a glimpse into the world of Brian Letscher and interact with this star on the rise, be sure to follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bletscher. “Grimm” airs Friday night at 9 PM on NBC and “Scandal” airs Thursday nights on ABC.