Saturday, February 1, 2020

Interview with Actor/Director Trent Dawson: From Soaps to Mrs. Maisel to Shakespeare, He's Now Pursuing his Dreams and Building a Theater Company

By Suzanne Ordas Curry

If you are a fan of daytime, you might recognize Trent Dawson from his role as  Henry Coleman on  As The World Turns as or more recently as Huxely Lynch on General Hospital. Or perhaps you saw him on a nightime drama. And as the new season picks up even more fans on Amazon Prime, you'll also get to see him in his latest role The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. He plays Scott the Producer, a man who wants to mold the lovely Mrs. Maisel into something she doesn't want to be - you'll have to watch to see if he succeeds.

Aside from his role in front of the lens, Trent takes pride in his role behind the camera. He recently completed his first short, called The Six, with Alejandro Hernandez (New Amsterdam.) It's a short film that will be seen at festivals in 2020. He wrote it and directed it. It's about a couple with a lot to say to each other on a subway platform. Thought he is from Louisiana, Trent considers himself a New Yorker and drew his inspiration for it from real life. Trent also recently directed a few plays in Brooklyn.

Another fact that most people don't know about Trent is that he loves Shakespeare and classical theater. Last year, I was able to see him rock the role of King Henry off-Broadway in A Man for All Seasons. Trent believes there are more fans out there like him, and he's putting his money where his mouth is. He's starting his own classcial theater in the town he lives in, a suburb of New York City called Ketonah. With the help of a  supportive group of theater fans, professionals and local experts, he is launching the Ketonah Classic Stage. This is his passion project that he somehow fits in with being a dad, an actor and filmmaker.

Find about more about this busy man and what gets him going each day as he talks about Maisel, being a dad and his new ventures.

What have you been up to since your last sting on daytime?

Trent Dawson: ATWT ended almost 10 years ago. Since then I’ve done a lot of episodics like NCIS and Homeland, some more daytime at GH, and a lot of theatre. The biggest thing I've been doing is raising my kids, Jack (4) and Emma (2). I seem to be one of the last regulars from ATWT to become a parent, and looking back on it, I'm amazed at how well some of my colleagues who already had children managed the work/life balance. It's incredible and it's exhausting, and I can only imagine what it would have been like on those days when I had to be up before dawn to the studio and faced a long day of shooting.

How did you end up on the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?

Trent Dawson: I've been really fortunate with #TheMarvelousMrs.Maisel. The Casting Director, Cindy Tolan, has brought me in for multiple roles, and this is the one that fit right. I play Scott, a kind of radio commercial producer/director, and I’m trying to mold Midge into a good product endorser. Obviously, Midge sees things in her own quirky way, and I have to contend with her in-your-face pushback.  I've had good luck with characters from this period, mid-20th century, on stage and screen. My wife and I love this show - especially its terrific writing. 

But on set, the most intriguing part was the camera work. The Palladinos have really put their mark on the visual style of the show, and watching how they choreograph the moving pieces to create a flow was exciting. They're into their third season now so they seem to have developed a rhythm and technique that every one on set is locked in too, and I like watching that level of teamwork. Also, Amazon clearly loves MMM, and that gives everyone a sense of support. And of course, the fact that it shoots in NYC makes things easy for me and my family.

A scene from The Six by Trent Dawson
So you've crossed over into behind the camera now. Tell me about The Six.

Trent Dawson: The Six started as a play. I mounted in NYC in late 2017 and got some great feedback, including the suggestion that I make into a film. I had a learning curve on this, but fortunately I had a lot of friends in the business with knowledge and experience that they were happy to share. 

I’m especially indebted to the wisdom of Jon Lindstrom and Cady McCain, both ATWT vets and good friends. They gave me some great advice. I also lucked out that my new next door neighbor, Owen Strock,  is a very accomplished cinematographer and he agreed to shoot it. 

Austin Peck, Terri Peck,  Trent Dawson, Anne Sayre  and Eric Scheffer Stevens.     Photo by Suzanne Ordas Curry

ATWT fans played a HUGE role in financing the film, and I couldn’t have made it without them. We had a fan event fundraiser that brought together myself, Martha Byrne, Eric Scheffer Stevens, Austin Peck and Terri Peck for an evening and it was a great. We hadn’t all been together like that in 8 or 9 years and it was a special reunion. 

Filming was a trip. We had to shoot overnight in a Bronx subway in August....without official permission. God bless NYPD - they gave us some warnings but didn’t shut us down. It was a difficult shoot, but we got it. I’m very proud of the result. 

Note: Fans can visit his GoFundMe site for some cool perks here:

Interview with Trent about The Six:

Many people may not know that you love classical theater and especially Shakespeare. At what point in your life did you realize this was your passion?

Trent Dawson: My mom was an English teacher when I was a kid, and every Spring she would sneak into the teachers’ supply closet and smuggle home a projector and the film reel of Zefferelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” from the late 60s. I’d put it up on my bedroom wall and fall in love with the sword fights and Olivia Hussey and of course, the language. 

My early exposure to Shakespeare took away the fear and intimidation that some people have about his work, so when I got to training in it drama school I was ready and uninhibited. I had an alacrity for those words and that lead to work in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare was such a big part of my life that when I made it to Broadway the play I did was about.....Shakespeare’s daughter lol. 

King Henry he is.
I understand you are starting your own theater company?

The theatre company, Katonah Classic Stage, has been a dream for nearly 30 years. I hoped that one day I would settle down into a town that would support live theatre, and my family definitely found it here in Katonah. There’s a reason people keep doing these classic plays decades and centuries after they were written - they’re really good. 

Unfortunately, they’re not always executed that well, so sometimes people’s first exposure to them is a bad one. I’m lucky in that I’ve made friendships with so many great actors over my career who know how to do this stuff, and I plan to coerce some of them to come up and play at KCS. That way, I know that the experience that our audiences have will be as rich and engaging as possible. 

Just the Facts on Trent

Perfect Day 
I'm thinking of a time when my kids are a little older, like 10ish, and we all go traveling. An adventure, like a safari or Patagonia or hiking in Alaska. We roll out of our tents at dawn, make some breakfast and I put on some super strong, army-grade coffee. We break camp and hike up to an elevation with a terrific view, where we have lunch. That evening we descend into a valley with a pristine stream running through it, build a large fire and tell ghost stories.

Top 5 Fave Movies
    His Girl Friday
    The Third Man
    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn

Top 5 Plays 
    Othello (Shakespeare)
    The Homecoming (Pinter)
    The Glass Menagerie (Williams)
    Uncle Vanya (Chekhov)
    Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare)

What He Binges On
If I had a free afternoon I'd pick one year, probably in the 70's or 40's, line up all the best picture nominees from that year in my Netflix cue, grab some ice cream, put a cat on my lap, and press play.
To Connect with Trent: