New wave

Griffin Gluck in conversation with Milo Manheim: chatting and cheersing mimosas
By Alex James Taylor | Film+TV | 19 July 2023

Griffin Gluck is at a pivotal stage in his career – walls are being tested, chipped at, then pulled down. With this comes a vulnerability that is difficult to nail: to be totally present, in the moment, in the scene. But Gluck is embracing it, finding the nuances not only in his performance, but in himself. The sophomore season of teen thriller anthology, Cruel Summer, has been a trigger for this evolution – as part of a whole new cast exploring difficult topics, dynamics and emotions. Fellow actor and friend Milo Manheim doesn’t fear scratching away that same surface; on their first meeting as two LA-ers in Toronto, he got straight down to it with a conversation about trauma, and has been a positive sounding board since. The two actors sip on mimosas – cheersing to their friendship and adventures yet to come. 

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Milo Manheim: What have you got going on right now?
Griffin Gluck: I have a very important job right now, I’m cat-sitting for my friend Toni.

MM: Well, that is huge.
GG: I know. Butters is in the other room I gave him some cuddles this morning. Other than that, I’m in New York doing publicity for Cruel Summer. What are you up to nowadays?

MM: I’ve been doing a lot of projects this year which I’m super hyped about and grateful for.
GG: You won’t stop working, dude.

MM: I know, I feel like this is a good opportunity to take a little break. I’ve been finishing this last project in Spain, Journey to Bethlehem, coming out in November.
GG: That’s such a quick turnaround.

MM: It’s so quick. I feel like everything I do is such a quick turnaround – I’m happy because I want the world to see it. Once I finished filming that and came back home, I was like, “I just want at least a month off.” Then the writer strike happened, and the industry is going to slow down whether we like it or not, so I may as well take this time to breathe. Something I think we’re both pretty good at is a work-personal-life balance. When I was starting in this industry and I wasn’t booking stuff, I was getting so freaked out. I didn’t have a purpose in my life if it wasn’t for having roles, but now I want to take the time to chill and get my life how I want it to be.
GG: Finding the balance is key, that’s something I struggle with a lot, but I think I’m doing pretty good right now. It’s really nerve-wracking for the reasons you said, most actors I know finish a job and go, “Alright that’s it, I might never work again.” [laughs] I was fortunate enough to be working basically all through Covid, I did Tall Girl, Locke & Key, Tall Girl 2, Locke & Key season two, all in the span of those Covid years. It was really nice but I haven’t had a moment to be a person in a while, I don’t know if you feel the same way but I know who I am when I’m acting and when I’m on set because that’s been so consistent for me. Then when I’m off set I’m like, “OK, what am I going to do day-to-day when I’m not working?” It’s been interesting to figure that out: who am I if I’m not acting?

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MM: That’s my biggest life question right now. What’s so weird about this is we don’t really get to choose, things come our way and whichever one they think we’re right for is the one we end up doing.
GG: We do have some degree of choice – we can say no.

MM: For sure, but most of the time when I’m auditioning for something, if I get it I’m taking it, that’s just me at this stage in my career! Dude, we met in Toronto.
GG: We did meet in Toronto. You slid in my DMs, actually.

MM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. [laughs]
GG: You said, “Hey man, you’re from LA. I’m from LA. We have a bunch of mutuals, I’m in Toronto shooting for the next couple of months and I noticed you were here, do you want to hang out?” And I was like, “Yeah, I would love to meet up!” So we met up, we kicked it in your apartment.

MM: That sounds about right.
GG: We talked for hours. One of the reasons I felt close to you when we first met was because we were talking and you went, “So man, tell me about you. What happened in your family? Where are you from? Did you have a difficult childhood?” You started getting into deeper stuff, which I was kind of taken aback by because I was like, “Oh, this is the first time I’ve met this person and they’re asking me all these serious questions.” But I actually found it really enticing, I think that was a cool thing for me because I was like, “He actually wants to know who I am as a person.”

MM: We ain’t got time for bullshit. We got to get straight to it, man.
GG: You didn’t ask me this, but it was along the lines of, “Hey man, what are your traumas?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a very vulnerable person and that’s something I struggle with, it’s easier for me to do on-screen than in-person.”

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MM: I wanted to see if we could trauma bond or something. [both laugh] That’s why I feel like we’re going so strong, we keep it real with each other. You were doing Locke & Key when we met and I was shooting Zombies 2, so I was still pretty new to the scene and I didn’t have that many friends in the industry. I want to ask all the questions I wish I was asked in interviews.
GG: Dude, hit me. By the way, we never said cheers. [holds mimosa up to camera]

MM: Cheers! [both laugh] This is my question for you, as an actor what are you looking for in a director? What is important to you so you feel safe with this person being the captain of your ship?
GG: Good question. I’ve worked with my fair share of directors and they’re all very different. I think the key difference for me is a sense of leadership. I’ve noticed the best directors are great leaders and a great leader doesn’t need to tell you what to do, they nudge you in the right direction and help guide everyone towards the common goal. Directors who spend their time yelling at crew or cast members don’t help anyone, we’re all trying to do the same thing. Directors who take the time to individually go up to every single person to let them know what they’re doing well and what they could be doing better… I love being given notes.

MM: Me too.
GG: One of my favourite directors I’ve worked with was Mark Tonderai on Locke & Key. He did two episodes for season one and four episodes for season two – he was so great they brought him back. He always came to set with a great attitude and was incredibly well- prepared. He would say he wasn’t an ‘actor’s director’, his job is to make sure the ship runs smoothly, then when it comes to performance, that’s our job. As an actor, we should be coming to set prepared and with a vision of how we want to do the scene. He was like, “It’s not my job as a director to change your performance. I’m giving you that liberty.” I thought that was really great. I think a great director is someone who has a vision, sticks to it and is very confident in their ways. Someone who keeps a positive attitude and pushes us forward.

MM: Coming from Disney, it’s pretty cookie-cutter when you read the script – a lot of the time it’s a little over the top because it’s a performance.
GG: I was going to mention your performance on Prom Pact, I feel like you didn’t go cookie-cutter there. That was very much you, you killed that shit.

MM: I appreciate that. OK, maybe it’s less Disney and more just me near the beginning of my career. I was getting all these notes because Disney knows how to make movies better than a newcomer does, of course. I needed their hand-holding through that experience. But when I started doing things like School Spirits, and even the heavier Disney shows like Doogie [Kameāloha, M.D.], I realised I wasn’t really getting notes because this was my turn as an actor to really make decisions for myself. I guess when I’m doing Zombies the choices are more obvious, but for School Spirits I can go wherever with it.
GG: It’s more nuanced.

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MM: Right, that was like jumping into cold water for the first time. I remember the first episode of School Spirits, not getting any notes and realising, “Oh shit, whatever I choose is going to end up being what’s in this show, so this is where my job as an actor is important and I have to really do my day’s work before I come in. I’m not just figuring it out as I go.”
GG: You and I have a very similar method. I feel like my preparation work is very much about getting to know the character, that’s 95 percent of it. Once you have a firm grasp of who the character is, all the other preparation work becomes a lot easier. I like getting in the rehearsal space, that’s where my preparation really begins. I can feed off the other actors and see what they’re doing, see how my character would react in certain situations.

MM: Similarly, I never really like to plan how I’m going to read a scene, I only like to plan how my character is feeling going into that scene, because it’s a response. The most important thing is that you know your character. For Wally in School Spirits I had been listening to so much 80s music, watching 80s movies, and looking up 80s sports rosters – who was on the Green Bay Packers in 1984. I felt like it really helped me, especially during improv moments because I could make random references to Kevin Costner. Things maybe Milo wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing, but it would make sense with Wally. When you do your preparation like that, you have a lot more to explore.
GG: I’m curious, I actually don’t know which of my projects you’ve seen and I’d like to know if you have one you associate with me more than the others.

MM: I always think about you in Big Time Adolescence. I’ve seen other things but that is such a standout piece, I hadn’t seen a performance like that from a young actor in a long time, your performance was so moving and the movie was sick.
GG: It was one of my favourite projects.

MM: It had such a cool vibe to it, I just loved the relationship between you and Pete [Davidson] – it was so real. You could tell you guys had a true bond, which always shines through. When I first watched it I was just getting to know you, we weren’t as tight as we are now and I was like, “Oh, damn, this kid’s so cool. What a sick movie.” I had a man crush on you.
GG: Ah dude.

MM: If I were to present a piece of work of yours to someone, that’s the one I would choose.
GG: That answer makes me happy.

“When I’m off set I’m like, “OK, what am I going to do day-to-day when I’m not working?” It’s been interesting to figure that out: who am I if I’m not acting?”

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MM: I might get another mimosa.
GG: I have a second lined up. People are going to read this and be like, “Who are these delinquents getting drunk at 11am?” [laughs] I’m kidding, we’re not drunk.

MM: We touched on this earlier but we didn’t really get into it, I want to talk about the power of saying no in this industry. Being able to pass up opportunities you may think are cool is something I find really hard but I feel like it’s important.
GG: That’s actually something I’ve become more comfortable with recently. I love working, there are so many positive things about it, but I find acting to be an intensely vulnerable thing to do. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a very vulnerable person and that’s something I struggle with, it’s easier for me to do on-screen than in person. I’ll work on a project, watch it and then go, “Oh man, a bunch of people are going to see this.” It’s different when I’m on set, it feels like I’m having fun, and then I see the final product and I forget people are actually going to watch it and it’ll have an effect on my career. That’s why I’ve had to become more comfortable with saying no. Sometimes I get projects, and I go, “I really want to work, but do I think I will do well in something like this? Do I think this shows me in the light I want to be shown?” It’s tough to tell sometimes. I only want to do things I’m incredibly proud of. I constantly want to be challenged by what I’m doing and sometimes I have the opportunity to take the safe route and do something I’ve done many times, which I just don’t find exciting. I’m going to say this but then let me explain it, I find it a bit embarrassing sometimes. I say embarrassing because acting is so vulnerable.

MM: [Vulnerability] is a huge part of acting. I feel the reason it’s so prominent in acting versus some other art forms is because not only is it self-expression but it’s just you. It’s your face, it’s your voice, it’s your body, it’s everything – not just a piece of you, like a piece of music or a painting. To present it as a performance to the world can be very scary. You feel like you’re being judged and it’s impossible to accurately judge your own performance as an actor because you know exactly what you were thinking at that moment. I was watching this roundtable with Andrew Garfield and the question was, “If you were to teach an acting class, what would you do on the first day?” Andrew Garfield said he would humiliate everyone or he would have them fail on the first day so they know it’s OK to fail. I learned a lot at NYU, I was only there for one year, but one of the biggest lessons I learned was that the magic and the good stuff comes when you let all your walls down – you let loose and take risks.
GG: When you’re willing to embarrass yourself and willing to have no shame or feel judgement.

MM: Yes. I want to be able to try something weird and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but the fact I tried is great.
GG: For Cruel Summer I really had to tap into my vulnerable side. It was a tough character to play and I did leave the set a bunch of times feeling like, “Oh man, I really made a fool out of myself today.” I’d often forget the tone of the show because my background is dry comedy.

MM: You want it to be funny because that’s what’s more comfortable, right?
GG: It’s so comfortable to me. There were so many times when we’d be doing these really intense scenes, and a natural instinct of mine would kick in to try and make a fool out of myself or be funny in a self-deprecating way. I find that type of humour really funny, but maybe it’s a defence mechanism too. Whenever I get embarrassed I make fun of myself before other people get the chance so I’m in on the joke. I’d have to be really vulnerable on set in these dramatic scenes, so then I would start being almost comedically dramatic.

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MM: When I was doing Thanksgiving with Eli Roth, something he made very clear was horror and comedy are actually closer linked than you think. The difference between a horrific scene and a comedic scene could simply be the score. If you watch School Spirits there’s a scene where we’re outside the bus stop and Maddie leaves and all the ghosts yell at each other. When we were shooting, I thought it was so funny, I’m screaming over the top, yelling at Rhonda [played by Sarah Yarkin]. Then I watched the show and the score is so soft and Twilight-like. The scene completely changes, it was so intense and heart-wrenching, it’s crazy how the music can completely change the vibe of the project.
GG: There’s a scene in Cruel Summer I want to mention so when people watch it they can spot it. My character loses their virginity and it’s supposed to be a really sweet moment but he is kind of a goofball and a nerd. He loses his virginity and then about five minutes later he’s like, “Have you ever seen The Matrix?” [laughs] In my mind, that is hilarious. But I was watching it back with the score and it’s so intense. It was hilarious to me that the comedic idea of it I felt in the moment was completely not there.

MM: I came from theatre and noticed the biggest difference is that I don’t get to decide what is presented to the audience. The director, the editors and the producers ultimately get to decide. You put so much trust in the vision of the director and that’s why it’s so important to be on the same page. You guys had come back one night after doing a really intense scene for Cruel Summer and I remember thinking, “What if one person is off? What if one person just cracks and starts laughing? What if one person forgets their lines?” That is a really intense thing to be a part of, one slip and you lose the gravity of it all, how do you make sure you’re present and comfortable in a situation which is maybe uncomfortable?
GG: I have to say, Lexi [Underwood] and Sadie [Stanley] were powerhouses, they are such strong women and took the lead so often. I never saw either of them crack, I was usually the one cracking. There were a lot of times I told them specifically, “I lean on you guys a lot and really appreciate that.” If I was feeling uncomfortable, I would just take a moment, watch, feed off their energy and try to emulate it. It was tough when I was the one who had to set the energy because they were so powerful in scenes, they are phenomenal actors.

MM: I can’t wait for that show to drop.
GG: I’m so nervous, man.

MM: Just to add one more thing to stress you out a little bit – you’re doing a show that has a whole other cast in the first season. So people will be missing the characters they’ve grown to love, but they’re going to grow to love new characters on your season.
GG: There is an expectation to either match season one or do better, you never want to do worse. But for me, it’s an entirely new show. Going into season two I had to go through this process of recognising this is an entirely new journey.

MM: They’re going to appreciate a new story told by new people, especially because you guys are so great. I have a question I’d love to ask.
GG: Hit me.

“I think my impact on this industry, aside from the work I’ve put out, is the friendships I’ve made.”

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MM: Who do you admire and respect?
GG: I thoroughly love Riz Ahmed’s entire body of work. That guy’s performance [is always] so good, so natural, so funny without trying to be but also so real and dramatic. I would love to emulate his career.

MM: What do you think makes him so good?
GG: It’s his natural energy. The energy he brings to every project is so profound.

MM: Who’s somebody you’ve worked with you admire?
GG: I’ve been lucky enough to work with some awesome people. Bryan Cranston was great, he spoke to me about his method and got me an Uta Hagen book as a wrap gift, I really respect him. Octavia Spencer was phenomenal when I worked with her on Red Band Society.

MM: She’s so incredible. Have you seen Dinner for Schmucks? She’s so funny in that movie.
GG: Of course, she’s the ghost whisperer. She’s super funny. Pete [Davidson] obviously, and Jason Orley, who was the director of Big Time Adolescence and became a mentor for me for a while. There are a lot of people I really respect in this industry and love.

MM: It’s such a small industry.
GG: As friends in the same industry, how do we help and support each other? I think that’s becoming a more important theme in our lives. I’d also like to know how you perceive success?

MM: Those questions are hard to combine.
GG: What I was thinking is that I’d consider success not just being financially successful or having a really big résumé behind you. It’s more about how you’ve implemented yourself into this industry. Friendships like ours and the relationships we have between actors are so important to me, that’s what I see as successful. I think my impact on this industry, aside from the work I’ve put out, is the friendships I’ve made. [This industry is] lonely at times.

MM: It totally is lonely sometimes. We chose this and have a great time, but one of the things that comes with it is spending a lot of time away from the people you love. I think success in my life is being able to do what I want day-to-day, hanging out with my friends, spending time with my dog and being able to care for myself. It’s a matter of balance. The more experiences I can collect, the more people I meet, and the more places I see, the more successful I am in this industry. Having each other is so important, there’s been so many things I can talk to you about that I just can’t talk to my other friends about.
GG: I love my friends in the industry because it’s a weird space to be in, so to know you have allies and people supporting you in ways that are very specific as actors is a great thing.

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Interview originally published in The HERO Summer Zine 7. 

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photography assistant RYAN ANTHONY MENGE;
fashion assistant TOMMY LAURENCE

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