Interview With Actor Dustin Lewis, “Killing Reagan”

By Ruth on October 16, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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In this household, we are Bill O’Reilly fans, and we follow his activities on all kinds of media fairly closely. It was in my pursuit to keep up with O’Reilly that I happened upon the actor, Dustin Lewis. He had been cast in one of the supporting roles in Killing Reagan, and I was ecstatic that he agreed to an interview this past summer.  We chatted about many facets of his career and his work, and since the film will premiere tonight, I am quite pleased to finally share our interview!

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RH: Now, where are you located?

DL: I’m in the Atlanta {Georgia} area.

When I was doing some research on you, I found it interesting that you are originally from the Peoria, Illinois area.

Yes, I grew up in Illinois.

I was actually married to a guy for many years who was from Bloomington, Illinois, which is not too far from there.{pause} So, why did you become an actor?

Oh my gosh, well, it all started way back when I was nine. I kinda dabbled in a lot of things, especially ’cause my dad was really into sports and things like that. I was good at it. I had fun with it. Like I always say, I just didn’t think that in sports I had found my tribe. You know when you find a group of people that you mesh with, and my local community theater–I’m originally from Canton, Illinois, which is a very small town. It’s like fifty thousand people. But our community theater had our very first children’s theater workshop or camp-type thing. And my mom was like, “Do you wanna try this?” And I did, and I was hooked ever since. I just got the bug. They painted my face like a cat, and I was like, “All right! This is awesome!” {laughs}

Did you go on to study acting in school? 

You know, when I say I got hooked, I got hooked bad. So from the age of nine till I graduated from high school, I did everything I could. I did music. The biggest bulk of my career has been in musical theater. I did that for over twenty years all over the world. I couldn’t get enough of theater and the arts. I would usher. I would do spotlight. I would do everything. And when I graduated, I went to Butler University to study musical theater performance for a short time. {laughs} And then I actually left school and began working at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. So that was my first ever job.

I was a music teacher, and so although I’ve never actually been in a musical, I’ve directed them and worked with lots of different ages on various programs.

Oh yeah, it’s so fun to see all the different ages and what they do. I’ve worked with all different ages of kids through Camp Broadway out of New York, and then locally here. And then just over the years wherever I’ve been. It’s so funny to see what they soak up and what the different age groups attach themselves to.

image1.jpgHow did you end up getting involved in television? 

It’s interesting. You talk about starting later. Even though I have this performance background, TV and film was something that I think some theater people think, “Oh, it’s TV and film. All these takes and it’s this and that.” I kind of did come from that mindset a little bit. Then when I moved to Atlanta, and this market is growing. It’s beyond incredible how much we have here. And as of this month, I have been here for a decade. So I moved here to do theater.

About five or six years ago, I knew it was booming here. I was interested, and I just did some extra work. And so I got myself on set, and I thought, “How does all this work?” And then I started seeing how amazingly complicated and what an interesting thing it was to do TV and film. And I knew I would try it at some point. I had an agent for a short time. I booked Joyful Noise during that time years ago. I hadn’t taken any classes on film or camera. And so the casting director on Joyful Noise, Mark Fincannon, one of the biggest in the southeast, started calling me in for co-stars and guest star stuff for Drop Dead Diva that he was casting at the time. I kinda took a step back and I went, “Before I screw something up, I better figure out what the heck I’m doing.” {laughs}

I left my agency, and I had been booked for a year and a half in the future to do theater stuff. And so I thought, “You know what? When I have a certain birthday, I’m going to throw myself into on-camera work.” And that’s only been just over a year and a half ago. And so I’ve been doing it steadily and consistently in that part of the world of the entertainment industry. Classes, and you know, you’re always learning anyway. That’s true for any art. But I’ve fallen in love with it. I didn’t think I’d like it as much as I did. I tried to plot it out a little. I just wanted to make sure it was the right choice for me at the age I was. And just in my heart, in my gut, you know. A lot of this business is about gut. It really is–the gut feeling. And it’s been working out, so it’s cool. {laughs}

fullsizerender-2.jpgWhen I was looking at the list of shows you have been on, you’ve been on some well-known shows. You were on two episodes of Sleepy Hollow, right?

Yes, I played Paul Revere on two episodes.

And then you were on the Originals and Swamp Murders?

Swamp Murders was my first job with my new agency. It was my new thing. It’s a non-union show, but it’s a great, great learning experience. I was the lead on the show. Six days on set. For a first job, it was really great. The cast and crew were great. It was a huge learning experience. And it turned out to be a great episode, which is always good for us.

A lot of young people tend to think, “Oh well, I’ll get an agent, and I’ll start working all the time.” No, it takes a lot of work. It took me six months to book this first job. {laughs} It doesn’t usually happen fast. And even I am fortunate that it happened that quickly.

I think I might have heard of Swamp Murders, but I’ve never seen the show. And I honestly don’t think I’ve heard of The Originals. But you’ve gotten to be on some pretty cool shows, even if they were only small roles. When you’re on some of those big shows, that’s a good way to begin. 

Yeah, and what it does for you is–you know, The Originals is a spin-off of Vampire Diaries,  one of the biggest shows of that genre. They are right now in their eighth season and will be premiering very soon. So what that does for my career, and what I found out that it does do is…right after Swamp Murders, I was lucky enough to do House of Cards. Like one of the biggest ones now. But what that does in the eyes of casting and all that is it kind of legitimizes you a little bit. They know that you can go and do three or four lines in front of award-winning people and not freak out. {laughs}

fullsizerender.jpgExactly. You’re paying your dues so you can get into bigger parts hopefully. 

And that’s what they say too. It’s definitely a marathon in this business. It’s not a sprint. Like steady goes. There’s ups and downs, and that’s from the people I work with in the industry who have been in it for twenty or thirty years. It’s like, “We know you’re doing a lot right now. We want you to be prepared for when there’s a dip ’cause it happens in everybody’s career in the industry. It just does.”  It’s just the way it is.

I know the one thing I will be watching–which is how I found you–is you were cast in a part for Killing Reagan

Yeah, I am so excited about that!

This family is a Fox News family. And with O’Reilly, we could miss any other show, but we do not miss that show! And once he started writing the Killing books, my mom has read every one of those books. I’ve only read one of them, but she has read every single one {except Killing the Rising Sun which she will be reading soon}. And we have seen every movie when it comes out. 

Yes, and they’ve done pretty well so far, too. I think the movies have done really well at keeping close to his vision of the books. I didn’t read the book Killing Reagan ’cause honestly, it’s really long. {laughs} And there was a time frame before I actually shot. And sometimes you don’t want to with some certain things when you’re contained to a certain area of a project. Sometimes too much information is literally too much information. It’s really cool. I wasn’t there, but Bill {O’Reilly} came the last day of shooting and hung out which was cool.

What can you tell us about your role of Ted Graber?

It’s a fascinating story when it comes to this character. If you look him up in the White House, Ted Graber and Nancy Reagan, there’s some really cool articles written about him. Nancy decided to remodel the White House. He was the interior designer who was very close with the Reagans. He did some remodeling for their Palisades home and things like that. He was very well-connected in Hollywood. He lived in the White House for nine months at the very beginning of the Reagan presidency while he redid the White House. So my stuff is all with Tim Matheson and Cynthia Nixon talking about remodels. It was kind of a huge scandal too ’cause she spent so much money. I think at the time it was right close to a million dollars.  He and Nancy were very close friends, and some articles talk about how much of a confidant he was too because he wasn’t one of those people in Hollywood who would spread your dirt. He was good at keeping his mouth shut. It was really interesting.

img_2935.jpgSo how did you get cast in this role?

Craig Fincannon and Lisa Mae Fincannon called me in–I actually went in for another role. I sent in a self tape. We do that a lot in this business. Sometimes they have callbacks, sometimes they don’t.  In this particular project, they were casting a lot of roles locally. I went in for a completely different role in person. The director liked me. He asked me to come back the next day for a different role. I did that, and two weeks later, they asked me to come back for a different role, which was Ted Graber, and I booked that role. Which was kind of cool, you know. They were like, “Well, he might not fit this role too well but…” It was an interesting process.

I figure with this film coming out, that should be a big boost for your career. 

It’s always great when you get to be seen on screen with an Emmy-award winning actress. {laughs}

Right. And you almost have a guaranteed audience because there are a lot of people like us who think, “Well, it’s Bill O’Reilly. We’re going to make sure we watch it.” It airs on National Geographic, but eventually they bring it to Fox News. 

Yeah, and the Reagan story is fascinating. That particular couple and his presidency is just interesting. It will definitely bring a different audience, and that’s what you always want. It is a business, right? Once you realize this is a business and you can take hold of that–just like twitter. We met on twitter. How cool is that? I was talking with somebody about that the other day. You know, I didn’t necessarily set out to do that. It’s just that I’m my business, and I want to have an honest, fun, interesting presence to not only market myself, but to let people know who I am as an artist and a person. And that’s part of my business.

I have connected with so many people on social media. It’s unreal.

But once you’ve embraced it and start to enjoy it, I think it’s really cool. It’s certainly not going away. It can help you a great deal if you’re not stupid about it. {laughs}

I understand completely. I am doing the same kind of thing. You have to keep putting yourself out there. Yeah, it’ s a lot of work and you have to keep doing it, but eventually, it does pay off.  I am sure you’ve noticed my twitter following.

Yes, and it’s so cool. And it’s just one of those things that you would have never thought would possibly happen.

Do you have any other upcoming works that you can mention? Also, with House of Cards, what episode were you on?

I was on season four, episode four of House of Cards. I was also recently on What Would You Do?  the John Quiñones show. It’s a reality show where they do a hidden camera thing. So they set up different scenarios to see how people will react. My episode was on earlier this summer. It’s one of those things where you literally just go, they give you a scenario. And then it’s improv in real life which is fun for an actor.

img_2954.jpgWith your theater background, that’s probably pretty fun too because I think that theater people are better able to do improv than some film actors who don’t have a theater background. Sometimes.

Yeah, even on the set of Killing Reagan, he was like, “Let’s throw this line in at some point here.” And Cynthia and I got to play around a bit which was pretty cool. I was like, “Okay, this is awesome.” {laughs}

You have a point there. I understand that in film and TV, they are doing improv more than they used to. 

And that happens more in film, I think, because you usually have a bigger budget, and you have more time. For television, they’re trying to crank that stuff out so fast because of so many episodes. But yeah, it’s fun when you get to do it.

I’m really looking forward to Killing Reagan ’cause I remember very clearly when Reagan was shot. 

A couple days after the filming, they said it was absolutely, eerily incredible that it looks exactly like all the pictures we’ve seen of it. So it was really, really crazy how that happened. So I’m excited to see it too.

Being in the Oval Office too–you walk into the ’80’s Reagan office when you’re on set. We filmed most of my scenes in the Oval Office. I’m like, “I’m in the Oval Office.”

Since you have had a wide variety of experiences, are you considering doing any writing, producing, directing?

Yeah, there’s not a lot of content that is currently being created in Atlanta, and being home grown and doing short films, a few webseries, things like that. A company that has recently put roots in Atlanta, they are starting to do that. And they’re very well-connected in New York and LA–mostly LA. They come from a background of showrunners, creators and writers. I actually do have a couple of ideas in my head that I’m assembling. I’m not a writer; that’s not what I do. But I conceptualized two separate shows. I’ve got one writer on board. I’ve got another writer, and then I’ll work wth them to start creating..we’ve already got a pilot started. We’ll kind of weed everything out. Then I’ve already talked to this company about that. They’re interested in one of them. When we write, we write everything out long form. We have the synopsis and all that good stuff. So it’s an interesting process. I’ve never been interested in doing that until I got the chance to be in this business. This side of the business is fascinating.

That’s great! I know that sometimes it can take several years to get that going. 

You know, there are some film projects that they get up the hill, and they fall right down. And then it takes another five or six years for that person to start climbing up the hill.  I hear there are several hundred who try, fail, and never come back.

I hear this same thing from a lot of actors.  When they’ve been in the business awhile, they start thinking about how they can help others in the business.

As far as directing, I’ve directed some theater. I find it fascinating. Even playing with light and different camera angles even when you’re doing an audition tape for someone, it’s very interesting how you can play with light and things like that. A lot of people who are leads in different TV shows direct. Robin Wright directed my episode of House of Cards. Joseph Morgan, who was the lead in the Originals, actually when they were filming my episode that I was in, he was right next to the director when he was on camera and learning from that director which was really cool. Making the transition from acting to directing is a natural progression for most, I think.

I think we’ve covered everything. I have learned a lot about you which is great. And I think what struck me from the beginning is that you have this great personality. I think I would say you have a rather charismatic personality.

Oh, well thank you. I appreciate that.

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Sometimes, IMDB credits can be deceiving. To look at Dustin’s credits, one might think his career has been abysmally short. Not so! He may be newer to the art of TV and film, but he is definitely no stranger to the art of acting. I was thoroughly impressed with his disposition as we chatted this summer, and I greatly anticipate seeing him on screen very shortly. It is clear that he is a humble sort of guy, and I believe that will serve him well as he continues to meet success after success within his career. While he may only be a regional actor, what some people do not realize is that regional acting is a business that is beginning to take Hollywood by storm. And here’s hoping that Dustin’s career receives a boost from that surge within the industry. Be sure that you check out Killing Reagan tonight on the National Geographic channel if you can. It’s sure to be another hit for O’Reilly. And don’t forget to check out Dustin at the links below as I firmly believe that this is the beginning of a new phase in Dustin’s career, and I wouldn’t want to miss whatever is up next for him.

FOLLOW DUSTIN

Website

Twitter

Facebook

IMDB

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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