Actor Dustin Lewis has been very busy lately, appearing in several hit television, as well as film productions and took time out of his schedule to chat one on one about his incredible experiences working with some of today’s biggest stars.
Lewis is a veteran of theater, having mostly worked as a singer/dancer for the last 20 years before deciding to make the leap onto television. He describes his progression as fairly quick, winning roles on such shows as The Originals, House of Cards, Feud and Sleepy Hollow. “I just started doing TV and film two and half years ago, so it’s been a quick progression.”
Several Sleepy Hollow have done theatre work, including Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane) and John Noble (Henry Parrish), so Lewis was in great company as he made the transition. Of course theater production is different than television in several ways. Lewis explains that while there is a certain excitement working on television, theatre allows for more preparation time and having a live audience, “the audience is like another character in the room. It’s like a family because you’re working months or weeks together”. In filming television Lewis describes he might get to run through a scene once or twice, then it’s action! . “You have be on, you have to be ready all the time. There’s times you’re waiting around two hrs, then sometimes half hour so it’s like just depends what’s going on that particular day.”
Fans of Sleepy Hollow fell in love with Lewis when he began playing the famous Revolutionary War patriot Paul Revere, whose famous “Midnight Ride” still echoes the streets of Boston, reminding us of his ominous warning, “the British are coming! The British are coming! One if by land, two if by sea.”
Lewis guest starred in two episodes of season three, “The Sisters Mills” and “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” in which Revere’s variety of occupations including dentistry and blacksmith, are used as “twistory” (writers term for an historical twist fused with fiction). How did he end up with such a cool role?
Lewis explains being a fan of the series already definitely helped him land the role, “I was a fan of the show. [When I auditioned] it was actually Ichabod and a different character, not Paul Revere.” He had no idea he got that particular role until he received the news he landed it. Interestingly he auditioned for several different roles on the series, including the father of the little girl in that same episode, “The Sister’s Mills.”
Having the important role of such a high profile American hero, Lewis did his homework. “I did a lot of research on him because I don’t don’t know much about Paul Revere. He’s a very interesting fellow.” In learning about Revere, Lewis found some unexpected tragedy in his life. “What I thought was fascinating about Paul Revere, he had a ton of loss like many people in that era. His first wife died and then he had a couple of kids die, then his second wife.” What some may not know is how involved Revere was as our forefathers were moving towards the Revolutionary War. Lewis adds, “What’s cool about him too, not only was he extremely smart, but he was a very hands on man and knew how he could make a difference. I think they touched on that [in Sleepy Hollow].” He jokes that he looks a lot like the Patriot, what do you think?
Of course he has nothing but praise for co-star Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane), who he says is the best actor he’s ever worked with. “Tom is the kindest, most caring guy you’ll ever meet in the world. There’s no surprise that people fall in love with Ichabod because every character we bring to life it’s 50, 80 if not 90% you, incorporated into the character. The way he and Nikki worked together, the camaraderie between them was great.”
As a fan of the series, I would be thrilled to get the chance to be on set, see all the characters come to life in front of my eyes. For Lewis, it was a surreal experience filming his second appearance, “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” seeing a set built specifically for his character. “What was so great about that episode, I was on set longer for Novus and had that scene in the my work shop. For me as an actor, on my third job, it was like my set. Working with metal and it was just me and him (Ichabod, Tom Mison).” Lewis explains that he got a little down time in between takes to spend time with Mison the day the scene was shot. “We did a rehearsal and then I got to hang out with Tom a lot and got to talk to him. He’s the most giving wonderful human being I’ve worked with. We just talked about our lives, kids, etc…like when you’re working you want to save it for the set. It was cool and that scene with Ichabod was my first really big scene. It made me emotional and he’s like “are you alright” and I explained it was my first big moment on a network show.”
Season four brought another reboot of the series, after the death of biblical witness Abigail Grace Mills (Nicole Beharie) in the season three finale. How can a series based on the two witnesses foretold in the Book of Revelations go on, when half of the team has left?
Word is that season one Executive Producers Len Wiseman and Roberto Orci pitched this season’s storyline to FOX, who decided to run with it, though the show was only given 13 episodes. I was surprised but ecstatic, to learn the network had green-lighted another season. Lewis was too and credits the fans, “That’s the only reason the show exists and continues on. I honestly feel, in my heart, I believe that if it wasn’t for the fans and everybody pulling for the show it wouldn’t have gotten another season.” He adds, “Ratings are a factor in it but social media is so big now, studios can’t deny fans anymore. The whole cast, especially that cast, is so grateful and so aware they have a job because of the fans.”
The only returning players were Tom Mison and Lyndie Greenwood (Jenny Mills). With new cast members aboard, the series moved from Sleepy Hollow, New York to Washington D.C. Not only that, but it was revealed that the second Witness (who has Abbie’s Witness soul) is an 11-year-old (Molly Thomas, Oona Yaffe). What does Lewis think of the show now set in D.C. and one of the Witnesses is a kid? “I think it reinvigorated the show and is exactly what it needed after the loss of so many characters.” He adds having Molly as the second Witness allows for a whole bunch of new challenges for the writers and cast.
As a Sleepyhead himself, how did Lewis feel as he watched Abbie Mills die last season? “I was watching along with everyone else when Abbie died and was like “OMG what did they do?” He was as shocked as the rest of us and watched as Sleepyheads mourned the loss, but also lashed out on social media. There was a wide range of speculation as to why a lead actress as popular as Nicole Beharie would leave the show. Lewis feels that Beharie probably wanted do something else. “I think what people don’t realize too is sometimes the actors themselves are, like it’s time to move on.” He was floored by the love, as well as hate that rippled throughout the fandom. “It’s so amazing to see the outpouring of love and sometimes rage. It just goes to show what a brilliant job they’ve done, to have people care for these characters and what the actors are bringing to them. Some people got really nasty. Like I mentioned before, we don’t know all the circumstances, especially with Nicole leaving. I can definitely tell you it was not ever an ounce racially motivated. For all I know or you know or any other fan knows, it was her choice to leave. I don’t think it’s ever been 100% said one way or another. There’s a huge push for diversity on every network, and I understand some of the passion because she’s a huge character and that’s cool.” He adds that some of the stuff he’s read about Beharie’s departure from the series is sad, however there are sites that seem to just want to keep stirring the pot.
Being such a fan of the series, has Lewis ever read the full story, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? He explained that he’s seen many different versions over the years, of course one that sticks out in his mind is Disney’s cartoon version.
Lewis seems to have a knack for getting roles in shows involving true stories and iconic American figures. One of the biggest new shows currently airing on FX is Feud, created by the award-winning Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story). Lewis is set to appear in episode 4 on March 26, opposite Jessica Lange who portrays academy award winning actress, icon Joan Crawford.
The series chronicles the strife and tribulations surrounding the filming of 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Lange stars opposite Susan Sarandon, who is superb as falling star Bette Davis. Both Lange and Sarandon are outstanding in their roles and are both worthy of an Emmy.
Lewis was thrilled getting the role of an agent and describes the series, “As back-stabbingly fun as it is, he (Murphy) really cracks open the personal lives of all the actresses in Hollywood at that time.” Lewis mentions a couple of stand out performances from the all star cast, “Jackie Hoffman (Manacita) who’s a wonderful character actor is in it, she’s phenomenal. And another actress Allison Wright (Pauline Anderson) is killer in it, she kills it every time she’s on screen.” Other top cast members include Catherine Zeta Jones (Olivia de Havilland), Kathy Bates (Joan Blondell), Judy Day (Hedda Hopper), Alfred Molina (Robert Aldrich) and Sara Paulson (Geraldine Page).
Lewis’s scenes were with Jessica Lange, who is legendary in her own right, an incredible actress with such screen presence. I wondered what was it like working with her? “What was so great was that our scene was at the end of the day, she hadn’t worked all day and just came in to do this one. They talked about how she drives herself in.”
So what is Lange like in person? He first saw her in the make up trailer and that kind of relaxed him a little bit. “Like I said we always bring in some ourselves [to characters], she’s pretty cool. It was pretty short, we didn’t talk a lot.” He adds they went through the scene and then got the work done. He describes she is very down to earth, nice to work with.
As a huge fan of Sex and the City, of course I had to ask Lewis about working with Tony Award winning actress Cynthia Nixon on National Geographic’s Killing Reagan, based on the New York bestselling novel by Journalist Bill O’Reilly.
Lewis plays White House Interior Designer Ted Graber, who was Nancy Reagan’s closest confident. “The character I played was the Interior Designer who redid the living quarters. There was scandal about it because they were spending so much money, but it had to be done. He actually lived in the White House, in the quarters, as it was being done for nine months and was actually a confidant to Nancy Reagan. He (Graber) actually did a lot of work for Joan Crawford in old Hollywood days. It was really interesting because he had a huge history [to play on]. Cynthia was so lovely, all my stuff was with her. The the director Rod Lurie is just phenomenal, he’s so great.” Lewis had the chance to ad lib with Nixon and Tim Matheson (Ronald Reagan), which was a lot of fun.
Lewis’s first red carpet experience was at the premiere in D.C. which he describes was an intimate affair at the Washington Museum. It was overwhelming but luckily his manager went with him to help him get through it. Funny, he describes a bit of an embarrassing moment, “It was one of those things I didn’t have a huge huge part. You’re standing there too waiting to get interviewed and I didn’t realize the person in front of me was one of the writers!” He introduced himself and told him how much he loved the script. Lewis said it was a great experience.
Ironically, Lewis nabbed a role as an agent in an episode on another popular political drama, Netflix’s House of Cards, where he plays an agent opposite the exquisite Robin Wright (Claire Underwood). “Showrunner and writer Beau Willimon was right there, he does everything. Working with Robin was great.” He explains that the series is filmed in Baltimore and he arrived early. He was thrilled when he was invited to the set to watch them shoot, which Lewis says was really cool to see. The set goes all the way around and they shot in the same hallway that leads to the Oval Office quite a bit. Lewis describes filming on House of Cards is much different than working in theatre or other shows he’s done because they do a lot of walk and talk. “I don’t think people realize that’s the big difference than stage. It’s very technical. And there’s a camera in front of your nose.”
With so many incredible roles already under his belt, what else does Lewis have coming down the pipeline? He has one film in post production set to be released sometime this year called Come Sunday. Come Sunday is a true story about Evangelist Carlton Pearson, who Lewis describes “has an epiphany one day while watching television. He believes God speaks to him, and says there is no such place as Hell, that Hell’s on Earth, that Jesus died for our sins and everyone goes to heaven forever and ever. He locks himself away and studies the Bible to justify the epiphany and does. Then he decides to drop the bomb during his sermon.” That’s when all Hell breaks loose (pardon the pun) and things escalate as the preacher continues to maintain his stance. Lewis plays Ron, one of Pearson’s inner circle members.
Whether he’s on stage, working along side award-winning actors, producers or writers, Lewis is enjoying the ride. As his television and film career takes off, Lewis maintains his down-to-earth, positive attitude, which will no doubt continue to serve his talent.
Don’t miss the season four finale of Sleepy Hollow, Friday March 31 at 9:00 p.m. Terrance Mann (30 Rock, All My Children) guest stars as Satan himself! Will Ichabod have to strike a deal with the devil to rid the world of Malcolm Dreyfus? Will his Witness soul be in jeopardy? Join us on twitter as we live tweet with the writers and producers and follow @SleepyAddicts. Want another season? Please sign the S5 “Renew Sleepy Hollow” petition and repost!