Finn Wittrock, Actor

Saturday, Feb 28, 2015
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Tell us what you are up to now! What is a typical day like for you?

Honestly, there isn’t a typical day anymore. If I am working, it’s usually not in L.A., so I’m away from home—these days, it seems everything is shooting in New Orleans. I may have to be at work at 6am or 11am or 11pm, and who knows what the day entails. And if I’m not working, like right now, then I’m pretty domestic—I drive my wife to work in the morning and spend the rest of the day with my puppy, reading scripts, writing, or hiking in Griffith Park. Or fighting the traffic to get to a meeting, or trying to catch up on House of Cards. I like it when every day is different.

What is the most recent project that you’ve been excited about?

I just wrapped The Big Short, which is an amazing script from the Michael Lewis book about the housing bubble and financial crisis. Adam McKay, who’s done mostly brilliant comedies, directed it, so it was incredibly fun but also very intellectually stimulating—basically I had to give myself a crash course in economics and Wall Street. And because it’s Adam we improvised a lot, which can stretch your brain when you are riffing on credit default swaps on collateral debt obligations. It’s a pretty amazing cast.  I’m also excited about a film called My All American coming out in October, which is a true story about a football player at University of Texas who got diagnosed with cancer during playoff season. That too was an education: for my body. 

What is your ritual for auditions?

It really depends on the part. Some things demand a lot of prep, other things are honestly better left pretty raw and unrefined. I used to not care about being off book, but now I almost always am, just because why not? I still hold the pages, though, because when you’re swimming, it’s always safe to wear a lifejacket.

Have you kept in touch with classmates from Juilliard?

I try. There are always a couple people who stick, and you stay more or less in touch as the years go on, and then a good amount that sort of dwindle away from touch as the years go on. Our class was very tight when we were in school, but then a lot of us went separate ways when we graduated. But whenever you reunite with someone from your group, there is a very unique bond that you realize has never, and will never, go away. We were in battle together for four years, and the connection that is formed in that time is incredibly strong and lasts a lifetime. And, of course, I did marry a dancer from my year at school—my wife is Sarah Roberts (BFA ’08) who was down the hall in the dance department. So some relationships you have really are for life!

How would you describe your Juilliard experience? What was your favorite aspect of attending, and also your least favorite?

I had an amazing time. It was hard and grueling and inspiring and fun. I made connections that will last a lifetime and received training that taught me more as the years went on—sometimes you don’t realize just how much you’ve learned until you get out. The schedule is probably the biggest bane of your existence when you’re there, but once you get out, you’re so prepared that an 8 hour rehearsal seems like not enough, and a 13 hour day of filming is like, “eh.”

Who were your most influential teachers?

They were legion. A lot of things in first-year acting surprisingly become very relevant when you get out into the world—so much of the work is all about the basics (another thing they say in school that you never really believe until you get out). I saw the changing of the guards between the late great John Stix and the still great Richard Feldman. He was probably the most influential to me personally, but of course my life was also changed by Becky Guy and Carolyn Serota and Darryl Quinton and Kate Wilson and Moni Yakim and Mina Yakim and Ralph Zito and Wendy Waterman and we'd better not forget Michael Kahn.

If you could design the perfect day back at Juilliard, what would that involve?

It would have to be the longest day ever. Wake up, work out with Darryl, do a little mask work with your coffee, hit up some first-year acting with Richard, do some trust exercises with Moni, then eat lunch while doing some Pinter with Becky, and think you know what the scene is and then have her totally blow your mind with making you realize what the scene actually is, and then I’d probably want to rehearse some Shakespeare in the evening. Dealer’s choice.

What advice would you offer to our graduating class of actors?

It’s so much easier to give advice than to take it. I think the thing that’s so hard, but so important, is to have patience. I think a lot of us leave school with the feeling that we are going to immediately take the world by storm and never stop working, which is a great energy to have. But so much of this business is about persistence and tenacity, about accepting rejection and the absence of work with grace and courage, and having the inner peace to persevere despite frustration and heartbreak. I don’t want to sound morose, but I think that is something we never really talked about at school, maybe for good reason, but it’s a hard lesson to learn when you get out. Just remember that your training is irreplaceable, that you are capable of immense wonders, and that you get the parts you are supposed to get.

What are some words of advice you'd like to share with our current students?

They told me this when I was there and I never believed them, but it’s true: it flies by. Soak it up and write it down and remember that your teachers and directors are the best of the best—you will most likely never be in one building with that much genius under its roof again.

What were the most important performance experiences that you had after graduating from Juilliard?

Death of a Salesman has to take the cake—working with both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mike Nichols before they passed. I knew it was special then, but now that experience leaves me speechless. I had an amazing time in Chicago with David Cromer and Diane Lane doing Sweet Bird of Youth—that nearly impossible, beautiful play. I had an intense experience with Unbroken, which was a very physical and emotional challenge, and a film I did with my friend called Submarine Kid, which hopefully will get distribution someday, was immensely fulfilling, because it was our baby and we saw it become an actuality. I also got a great gift with American Horror Story—playing a character so wildly outside the box, which is (I’m realizing) where I thrive.

If you had a month off, what would you do?

I guess I’d make it half altruistic and half luxurious—two weeks volunteering with an outreach program like ASTEP (Artists Striving To End Poverty) [which was founded by Juilliard students and which has its Artists as Citizen conference at Juilliard in June 2015] and then two weeks drinking wine on a Tuscan vineyard. Yeah, that sounds about right.