Interview By: Steve Moreau
Some actors would be a little bit nervous about their first starring role in a major motion picture. What about if your first leading role was opposite Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman? Well, Bryan Greenberg was anything but nervous when this One Tree Hill veteran got the chance to act amongst some of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the new romantic comedy, Prime from writer / director Ben Younger (Boiler Room). Not only did he manage to play pranks on his cast, but this small town boy who grew up in the Midwest explains how he learned a bit about his craft from Streep, and even managed to teach the legendary actress a thing or two himself.
Greenberg was essentially a rookie in a field of greats. This Omaha, Nebraska native acted in various regional theaters and even scored a natural gas industrial commercial as his first paid gig. His upbringing was pretty normal and his life was anything but glamorous. “I grew up in the Midwest around grounded normal people,” Greenberg explains, “My parents are still together. I have good parents, and you can’t really pick your parents, so I guess I just got lucky.” He attended NYU, and acted in various staged productions while getting his B.F.A. there. Greenberg made his small screen debut with a 1997 guest appearance on Law and Order. “Yeah, I got shot. I had about 30 seconds of fame. I was a chicken delivery guy, and some kids shot me and left me for dead. It’s a cruel world out there.” The job may have been short lived, but his luck was just beginning. He got the chance to work with Jerry Orbach before he passed and it was a tad stressful for the college student. “He took me out to dinner, and I was an 18 year old kid like ‘Wow’. I’m doing all this stuff that I learned in acting school
He didn’t have to try that hard for his next gig. He made his big screen debut the following year in “A Civil Action” (1998), starring Thurman’s former dancing partner John Travolta. In 2000, Greenberg’s career began to heat up with guest appearances on The Sopranos and Third Watch, which led to a recurring role as Jake on the WB series One Tree Hill, playing a high school basketball player leading a double life as a single father. Although on the series, everything wasn’t as it seemed. He actually wasn’t that good at basketball. “I am not that athletic, but that is the beauty of film and television, they can make you look good. I’m just good enough to get the job done, but in reality, I get served all the time. I am a white Jewish guy from the Midwest, I can’t ball that much, but I can hold my own.”
Greenberg had yet the chance to get out of the bullpen and onto the big field of a leading role in films. Although after rigorous auditions for Prime he got to meet his match. “It took me a while to get this part, auditioning and stuff. I screen tested with Sandra Bullock, and she actually signed off on me.”
About two weeks before filming began, Younger got a disappointing phone call. “I am having dinner with Ben and I am so excited. He gets this phone call and he’s like Sandra Bullock just dropped out of the movie. I was like ‘Ha ha that’s funny. My first big job and you’re fucking with me.’” But Younger wasn’t kidding. With no star and a start date looming ahead, the weather seemed stormy and the outlook seemed bleak. Thurman quickly attached herself to this solid script, and like that, the game was back on. “Production only got pushed back a week. I never found out why Sandra
The film is a romantic comedy set in New York City about Rafi (Thurman), a recently divorced 37-year-old career woman from Manhattan who falls in love with Dave (Greenberg), a talented 23-year-old painter from Brooklyn. Older woman and a younger man, sound familiar? The film sounds ordinary, until you realize that Rafi’s therapist is Dave’s mother, Lisa (Streep), and Rafi has been spilling the beans on her interesting sex life of the uneven pairing. “There are a lot of good themes in this film that Ben had the courage to tackle. In an ideal world, age, religion and race shouldn’t matter, but we don’t live in that world.” You have to wonder, does art imitate life for Greenberg? “I have dated woman older, not 14 years older, but I am not discriminating.”
The thrill of working with these two legends was a bit much for any rookie so new to the medium. “Nobody knows who I am, so I had nothing to lose really. When you got Uma and Meryl, the pressures off me. It’s my first leading role in a major film, so I have nowhere to go really but up.” Greenberg didn’t let fear get the best of him in the end. “I was nervous to meet Meryl, but when I met her she was so disarming and cool. Very generous about taking me under her wing, and she wasn’t on her high horse at all. She’s just a normal person, as interested in me as I was with her. Willing to learn just as much from me, as I was from her. So that was kinda refreshing and leveled the playing field a bit.”
He actually had so much fun pulling tricks on his co-stars; you would have thought he was a comedian rather than a recent college grad. “I like to mess around with Uma; I like to push her buttons. Before
The refreshing part about Greenberg is that he doesn’t let Hollywood get the best of him. He is very much grounded. While other actors are complaining about getting naked for a sex scene, he is jumping at the chance. “A lot of actors are like, it’s not glamorous. There are all these people standing around. It’s just a job.” Fortunately for Greenberg he didn’t get just anyone, he got Uma. “Yeah that’s all true, but when you get the chance to make out with Uma Thurman you take that! I enjoyed those scenes.”
Don’t get him wrong. Greenberg still had his fare share of great things to share about his Pulp Fiction costar. “I think Uma added a whole other level to the role than what I read on the page.” Greenberg clarifies, “She adds that kind of emotional depth to the character. When you are working with an actress like that you better strap your seatbelt on and bring your A game.”
During filming Greenberg wasn’t scared of holding his own. It wasn’t until afterwards that he realized he had been a part of something really big. “Nervousness and fear are a natural emotion, but a useless emotion because it will just get in the way of you doing your job. I got really nervous after we wrapped because I didn’t have time to think about [the film] until after. It was a little bit of a delayed reaction. Actually, it still hasn’t even
What is on the horizon for this budding actor? “I’m about to start a film next week called The Nobel Son. It’s an independent and has a great cast. Alan Rickman, Danny Devito, and Eliza Dushku, and I play the title role of the son of a Nobel Prize winning chemist. It’s in the vein of Fargo and American Beauty.” Greenberg manages to spill a tad on the plot, but even that doesn’t quite explain the dark subject matter. “It’s very dysfunctional and twisted. I am getting my PHD degree in cannibalism. It’s a little different from Prime, but that is what is fun about it.”
The refreshing part about Greenberg is that he doesn’t let Hollywood get the best of him. He is very much grounded, and I am sure he doesn’t forget about where he came from. “I’m not really concerned about fame, or all the things that come along with being an actor. It’s all just a side product of the work and that is the important thing. What it’s all about. I think that has gotten me thus far and hopefully will sustain me throughout my life is just concentrating on the work, because that is what is important to me. The actors that I respect, that is what they value.” Well spoken for a Jewish guy from the Midwest who can’t play basketball very well.