Doing the Acting Hustle with Cuyle Carvin
As a clumsy, hefty middle-aged writer, I can tell you this: Cuyle Carvin is the one dude I’d want to be reincarnated as. Frankly, this could happen as Cuyle is a proponent of the supernatural and is drawn to Salem, Massachusetts where he’s been told by many psychics he was involved in the witch trials (allegedly hanged for trying to intervene on the behalf of accused witches). In fact, he’s part of my upcoming documentary – AFRAID OF NOTHING – where we go back to Salem to talk to mediums, mystics, witches and past-life regressionists to sort his past out.
Cuyle also has an affinity for horror, which is the one thing we have in common. A product of upstate NY, Cuyle excelled in sports and theater — and choose the latter. Before growing two inches in high school, Cuyle stood only 5’7” but was able to dunk a basketball.
Cuyle has over 80 IMDB credits and has guest starred and appeared in more than a dozen network television shows and films, and had a recurring role as Dr. Ryan Jones on The Bold and The Beautiful (2012-2015). Most recently he’s appeared on Grimm, the recent Sundance film selection Burning Sands, and the critically acclaimed television series Underground.
But acting hasn’t always been Golden Globes and glamor. In fact, Cuyle had an inauspicious introduction to his acting career when he landed a role as a “dead guy” out of college. Little did he know he’d be required to lay naked on the pavement in downtown Manhattan – face up.
Undeterred, Cuyle has moved ahead to make his mark. He’s also an indie horror filmmaker, animal rights and environmental activist, avid hiker, adventure enthusiast and an anti-bullying comic and coloring book co-creator.
I recently caught up with him to find out what makes a working actor tick, and what he’s up to now.
1) What attracts you to a project?
CUYLE CARVIN: Simple answer is, if I’m getting paid then it attracts me. I’m a fortunate actor. I’ve been working pretty consistently on television since the end of 2013. That said, I’m still not at a level where I can pick and choose which shows I work on. If I get an audition for one, I take it. Exceptions being if it’s too small of a part on a show or my schedule conflicts. Depending on the show, I still might take a one or two liner, but usually, I’ll pass on those as I no longer need to fill my resume. I’d rather hold out for a larger opportunity on that show.
2) What about indie projects?
CUYLE CARVIN: I have a little more leverage in the indie film world. The majority of indie films have very small budgets and can’t pay actors or pay them anywhere from $50 – $150/day. So the money wouldn’t attract me to these projects. Not because I wouldn’t appreciate the money or I’m “Richie Rich” over here, but rather because if I tie my schedule up for two weeks making $100/day, that means I can’t audition or do other work which starts just under a minimum of $1000/day.
Before everyone reading this thinks they want to become an actor and get paid $1000/day, they have to understand how few and far between jobs are. It is a lot of money for one day, but that might be the only job you work for the entire year. So in order for me to be attracted to an indie project that doesn’t really pay much, it would have to be a really fantastic story. Or, possibly, a horror film, as I love the genre. Or if it’s with a director, writer or group of people that I respect the work of and/or that I’m friends with.
3) Why the fetish with horror?
CUYLE CARVIN: Ha-ha. That’s one way of putting it. I’ve always loved the genre, not just horror films. A lot of it stems from my childhood and good ol’ VHS tapes. Back in the day, there was a local rental store where it was a weekend special of rent four movies and get the fifth free. My mom and I would go on down every Friday. The rules were that we had to get three family-friendly movies and the other two could be movies that were more violent or horror — stuff that only my dad and I would like. Watching horror movies every weekend became a thing and seeing how much my dad enjoyed them inspired me to get into them. Then, later in life, I became fascinated with the paranormal world. I read, researched and devoted so much time to all things ghosts. That led me to a deeper love and appreciation for not only horror films but also the ideas of what happens when we die and even what life really is. The macabre is endlessly intriguing to me.
4) What’s the difference between doing an indie film and a studio project?
CUYLE CARVIN: My experience has been very different on these different kinds of films. The larger budget indie films and studio films are made in the name of business. Profit is always a top priority. Of course, people are still having fun and being creative, but money is what matters most on these kinds of films. If they don’t stay within budget and if the film doesn’t make money, that’s how careers are affected.
True indie films operate differently. Most of the time you have a creative team of friends that decide to make a film together. They don’t have much money, they may not have the best equipment, and they may not have access to a large pool of actors or locations. But they do have a story they want to tell, regardless of how much money they have or without worrying (too much) about the return on their investment.
For me, as an actor, I enjoy both of course; each for different reasons. But I generally enjoy working on true indies the most. There’s a feeling on set that everyone there is working because they authentically love it. Sometimes in bigger budget projects, you have people there who only work for the paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a different set experience. Also on indie films, there is a sense of “community”; you get to meet everyone involved. On a studio film, you might only get to meet a very small percentage of the hundreds of people working on the film.
5) Which would you prefer — being a regular on a TV series or starring in a horror franchise?
CUYLE CARVIN: If you’d asked me this at different times throughout my career, you’d get a different answer every time. There are pros and cons when comparing them directly. I’d make way more money being a regular on a TV series. But I’d also have to work more hours; often 12-14 hour days for months on end, plus any contractual marketing events, traveling … meaning much more time on set and less time enjoying regular life. In a horror franchise, the money could still be great, and the time required could still be intense; but overall less. Either way, it’s a win-win compared to many other jobs. If the TV series is The Walking Dead, I’ll take the series. Otherwise, I’ll take the franchise.
6) Best set you’ve worked on?
CUYLE CARVIN: The best set — there really have been so many. Many of the indie films I’ve done hold a special place. As I mentioned before, the community feel of indie films is really remarkable and makes for a fun and productive set. Alien Opponent, Fog Warning, Victimized, Mineville comes to mind for films. Three of these were horror sets, not a coincidence. Also, these are all sets that I got to travel and stay in different locations and that adds a lot to a great experience.
For TV, Grimm was an absolute blast. That shoots up in Portland, Oregon, and that city is beautiful. Every person on that cast and crew were very welcoming and just great humans. Blood Relatives was a fantastic set — again, everyone was very nice, efficient and the show came out great. Finally, Underground was very special to me. The show is currently airing its second season. I traveled to film this in the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia. The show is absolutely incredible and I was a big fan of it before I booked it. Getting to work on a show that I was already a fan of made it really special. The content of the show is very relevant as well.
7) And the worst?
CUYLE CARVIN: Worst set I’ve ever worked on was a student film in NYC. The student was so unprepared for his project that I ended up quitting after the first day. I’m a really patient guy but this kid tested my limits. I showed up at the filming location a few minutes early. No one else was there yet and no one showed up for about twenty minutes. When the director finally did arrive, he said he didn’t have his equipment and it would be “a couple of hours” to get it. I was just starting out as an actor and the film was a western, so between the credit and cool factor of the project, I wanted to do it. I went to lunch and came back and then waited another hour for him to get the equipment there. Then it was another hour and a half before he was ready to film anything. We filmed for about a half hour and that’s all he was prepped to do. His direction was terrible, only giving notes on which way to turn my head at different times in the scene. After that first day of filming, I told him I wasn’t coming back. Since then, there have been a few other bad experiences.
It’s a choice to be an actor. Despite how desperate it can feel, just remember, you chose this path and it’s out of privilege you can continue to do it. If you don’t have anything other to worry about in a given day than entertainment industry problems, then you’re doing just fine.
8) What advice would you give to an aspiring actor?
CUYLE CARVIN: Some of the most common advice I’ve heard are “don’t become an actor unless you really love it” and “if you like doing anything else … do it” or simply, “don’t”. Pretty negative, right? Now, about twelve years into my career, I actually understand what it really means. It means you have to be willing to sacrifice family time, friendships, money, time, energy, sanity and more. If you’re not willing to live out of your car, eat ramen noodles every meal of the day, lose your personal life and spend more money than you have, then you’ll only make something impossible even more so.
For example, consider there are roughly 160,000 union actors alone, and the number of non-union actors pushes the total to well above 200,000. I read somewhere that less than 1% of all union actors make a living, and without knowing more, I’d say that sounds fairly accurate.
I’ve done over nineteen TV shows, about thirty paid indie films, one studio film and many other random paying jobs over the course of twelve years. I have a total of over eighty credits to my name. I’ve never been able to support myself on acting income alone. My income has never even been on par with the US median income. I don’t even think I made a dime for the majority of my acting years. It’s not a complaint however, it’s just the way it is. On the up side, success in this industry can be found with patience, persistence, and determination. There’s really no reason that any actor can’t be the next “one”.
I’d also really like to mention that in an industry full of rejection, failure, and nonsense that it’s really easy to feel discouraged and pressured. Each time you fail can amplify the importance of the next audition. And when you’re only getting a handful of opportunities in a year, it’s easy to feel desperate. All of that is understandable and valid, and I’m sure that every actor has or does feel that way in their career. It’s hard to get past those feelings and that’s why you have to have a lot of patience and determination.
Something that keeps it all in perspective for me, no matter how dire it feels; I think about my relative fortunes compared to people who have real problems. Problems like the three homeless people who live on my block, military personnel who make extreme sacrifices, the families who can’t afford to feed their kids, and all of the “real” problems that exist in life. I think of them and it takes the self-perceived pressure off my shoulders.
It’s a choice to be an actor. Despite how desperate it can feel, just remember, you chose this path and it’s out of privilege you can continue to do it. If you don’t have anything other to worry about in a given day than entertainment industry problems, then you’re doing just fine. No pressure because the worst that can happen is more rejection, you give up and get a regular job.
9) Speaking of that, what are the next projects you’re working on?
CUYLE CARVIN: I have a bunch of appearances coming up. I’ll be on episode ten of Underground, episode two of the new show, Daytime Divas. I’ll be in a film that comes out in September where I got to work with Tom Cruise. And sometime soon I have four episodes of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots. And I have a small part in a documentary called Afraid of Nothing which I have a feeling you may know a little about. As I mentioned, I’m extremely interested in all things supernatural and so I’m very excited to be a part of this film that examines the life and the after-life through a paranormal lens. Other than that, I’m doing what I can to keep the momentum going.
10) Where can people follow what you’re doing?
They can follow me at www.CuyleCarvin.com. I’m heavily involved in animal and environmental advocacy. You can see more at www.CuyleCarvin.com/RecyCuyle. I’m also an avid “Magic: The Gathering” geek and have a YouTube channel — Casual Wizard MTG.
That’s a wrap! Thanks Cuyle.
About the Author: Bob Heske is a multi-award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic novelist and indie comic creator. By day he churns out compliance marketing content for financial services; by night he is maniacal at his keyboard – creating characters and dramatic conflicts far more interesting than he. Bob is currently working on an experimental documentary called Afraid of Nothing (you can help support it by clicking here). You can watch his first film BLESSID on Amazon Prime and Vimeo on Demand.
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