Actor Christopher Gorham On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in TV and Film
Don’t ALWAYS trust your instincts. — The first show I headlined was “Jake 2.0” and I had a few strong opinions about a recurring role the writers had introduced. I was…vocal about my opinions and may have (definitely did) made my feelings clear on set as well. When the episode came out, it was clear that I’d been wrong all along. To my credit, I did apologize to the writers for my behavior, but I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. Or at least only politely open. That writer, Emmy-winner Javier Grillo-Marxuach still remembers the entire affair. Thankfully we’re friends and he’s forgiven my youthful messiness.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in TV and Film, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Christopher Gorham. Christopher Gorham circles back to Netflix for which he starred in two season of the original dark comedy series “Insatiable” for their anticipated legal drama, “The Lincoln Lawyer” series with Neve Campbell based upon Michael Connnelly’s best-selling novels (May 13th Series Premiere). He next transitions in the CBS comedy pilot, “Unplanned in Akron.”
Gorham previously starred as fan-favorite blind CIA operative, Auggie Anderson, in USA’s hit original series “Covert Affairs,” for which he was awarded the Seeing Beyond Vision Loss: Special Achievement Award from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. His “Covert Affairs” presence extended off camera as well. He directed episode 313, “Man in the Middle,” as well as the Auggie centered season four episode “Covert Affairs: Sights Unseen” which he also produced. Additional directorial episodes include 414, “River Euphrates,“ and 512, “Starlings of the Slipstream,” during the final season.
Additionally, Gorham starred in Audience Network’s limited series, “Full Circle,” as secret service agent Rick D’Andres, opposite Dougray Scott, Kim Raver and Harold Perrineau, as well as more recent memorable arcs on SyFy’s “The Magicians” and “2 Broke Girls.”
Gorham’s feature film directorial debut, the comedy “We Love You, Sally Carmichael!,” in which he also starred alongside Jack McBrayer, Bitsie Tulloch, and Paula Marshall.
Gorham made his feature film acting debut in acclaimed director Danny Boyle’s “A Life Less Ordinary,” with Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz. In direct contrast, he starred opposite Anne Hathaway as a missionary to Tonga in the film “The Other Side of Heaven” for producer Gerald Molen, and more recently reprised his role in the long-anticipated sequel.
Previously, Gorham starred alongside Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard in “The Ledge” which competed in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. He was featured in starring roles in three other independent films in 2011; “Answer This!” with Arielle Kebbel and Chris Parnell, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” opposite Alyssa Milano, and “Somebody’s Hero.”
On the stage, Gorham guest starred in the off-Broadway production “Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell” at the Minetta Lane Theatre and performed in the play “The Water Children” at The Matrix Theatre.
Gorham is a Fresno native who, while attending UCLA, met his wife actress Anel Lopez Gorham. They now have two sons and a daughter and live in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Christopher! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Fresno, CA with loving parents, a younger brother, a couple of dogs through the years, and a cat. My dad was an accountant and my mom was a nurse, so I wasn’t one of the rich kids, but I didn’t want for much. I was privileged, without a doubt. I worked hard in school, got good grades, participated in sports, choir, band, theater, I even tried out for cheerleading (didn’t make the cut). I spent seventh through ninth grades at a math and science magnet school, and then transferred to an arts magnet school for my last three years of high school, majored in Theatre, Film, and Television at UCLA and then started working my way towards a career as a professional actor as I got married and started a family.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, I think I got very lucky in a lot of ways. I was at an elementary school with faculty that loved the arts and encouraged me to participate in them. I was good enough at it to get some positive attention and supported enough at home to eventually believe I could perform for a living. I had talent, I worked hard, and continue to, but without the support of so many people at the beginning I very well could have gone a different direction
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve been fortunate to work with some really wonderful people but playing the son of Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing was a highlight. We worked on a sitcom for CBS called “Out of Practice” with Ty Burrell, Paula Marshall, and Jennifer Tilly.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once refused to read for the lead in a film opposite Kirsten Dunst because I thought I might get typecast as an awkward high school kid. Pro tip — don’t do that. LOL
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m excited for folks to finally see “The Lincoln Lawyer” on Netflix. We filmed it last year and it’s a great legal drama. Manuel Garcia Rulfo plays Mickey Haller and really captures the charm of that character from the Michael Connelly books. Bonus points if you catch the “Ugly Betty” reunion. It’s Becki Newton!
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Well, I think it’s true what they say…If you can do anything else, go do anything else. If not, work your ass off and take the wins where you find them. It’s a rough business, emotionally, so take care of yourself and be available to take care of the people close to you. And keep your passport up to date. When I started my career I had no idea how much I’d be travelling.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Only three? We learn through the stories we tell each other over the dinner table, at church, in school, and on the big and small screens. So, the types of stories we tell matter. The overwhelmingly white focus of American storytelling is well documented and it’s no coincidence, in my opinion, that this “golden age” of television we’re experiencing now has coincided with an increasingly diverse offering of stories, and storytellers. “America has lied to her white children for centuries, offering them songs about freedom instead of the liberation of truth.” Heather McGhee wrote this in her incredible book, “The Sum of Us,” and it applies to the entertainment industry as well as American culture broadly. We have been robbed of the stories of black people in this country, of the native people of this country, of immigrants to this country like my wife’s parents and extended family. It’s important to have diversity in our storytelling, not only because it is just, but because it makes us stronger, wiser, richer, and more empathetic. All of us.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- You will have to travel a lot for work. — My first big job, the series “Popular,” filmed at the Disney lot, ten minutes from my house. My wife, Anel, and I had our first kid and then “Popular” was cancelled and my next job was in Toronto. It was…a transition.
- You will get to travel a lot for work. — During “Covert Affairs” we filmed literally around the world. I was able to see cities like Istanbul, Hong Kong, Berlin, and Buenos Aires that I may never have made it to otherwise.
- You can’t get typecast because you’ll keep getting older. — See earlier story about skipping an audition on purpose. I was 26-years-old. If I had been typecast as a nerdy high school kid, it wouldn’t have lasted long.
- Don’t ALWAYS trust your instincts. — The first show I headlined was “Jake 2.0” and I had a few strong opinions about a recurring role the writers had introduced. I was…vocal about my opinions and may have (definitely did) made my feelings clear on set as well. When the episode came out, it was clear that I’d been wrong all along. To my credit, I did apologize to the writers for my behavior, but I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. Or at least only politely open. That writer, Emmy-winner Javier Grillo-Marxuach still remembers the entire affair. Thankfully we’re friends and he’s forgiven my youthful messiness.
- Learn the ropes. — The more you know about how a film set works, and the sooner you learn it, the better teammate you will be. Film sets are filled with brilliant, skilled, creative people and most of them work behind the camera. Get to know them.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’m not sure what you mean by “burn out,” but I’ve always found that the happiest folks in this business are the people who have lives and interests outside of this business. Whether it’s family, friends, hobbies, investments, activism or even other careers. Having something you’re passionate about outside of waiting for the next gig will not only make you a better actor, it’ll make you a better person.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, that’s a gross overstatement, but right now I think the conversation about race in this country is incredibly important. I really recommend you pick up Heather McGhee’s book because she makes the case far better than I. If we look at our past with honesty, tell the stories that make us weep as well as the ones that make us cheer, then we can truly do the work of healing that will make us all stronger.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Well, it’s a long list. My wife helps me now in a million different ways. My parents certainly paved the way for me when I was young. I do remember two teachers from elementary school, Mrs. Hollenbeck and Ms. Dibble, who encouraged me at the very beginning. They never talked about a career in acting. I grew up in Fresno so that wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, but they encouraged me to be in the school plays, and to enter the city monologue competition. They helped me pick my first monologue, “Jill the Pill,” and I still remember…well, some of it. Teachers can truly shape the lives of kids, especially when they’re supported by their school and community. This one’s for Mrs. Hollenbeck and Ms. Dibble.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Some days, particularly on the days when not much has gone right, I’ll say to myself, “Your family is safe and fed and they know you love them. That’s a win.” Life can be hard. Take the wins where you can find them.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Heather McGhee, next time you’re in LA, I’d love to talk to you about your book over coffee.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @chrisgorham, on facebook at chrisgorhamfan, and online at www.realchrisgorham.com
Thank you Christopher for these fantastic insights.
Actor Christopher Gorham On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in TV and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.