Austin Basis is a busy man these days, pulling double duty as Math, the lovable yet sensible roommate to Baze on Life Unexpected, as well as reprising his role as Spruce, the lovable yet sensible sidekick to the Ghostfacers on Supernatural in their new web-based spin off. Seeing as how those are my two favorite hour-long programs currently on television, I consider Austin to have the best spot in Hollywood right now. Needless to say, I was psyched when he was able to take time out of his busy shooting schedule to chat with me and "My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture" earlier this week.
First I just have to say congratulations on the success of Life Unexpected. It seems like a great time to be you!
- Oh thanks! [Laughs]
But I have to ask: Math can't possibly be your character's real name! Do you know what his name actually is and where he got this nickname??
- Well, it comes out later. It's not like a big, crazy mystery, but when I first saw it I thought it was because he's a nerd. I mean, he kind of reads like the [typical] nerdy sidekick, so I was like "Is he really good at Math?" 'Cause Baze has the nickname because of his last name.
- I didn't think it was like a name nickname, like Matt being short for Matthew. But apparently Liz Tigelaar, the executive producer who wrote the pilot and created the show, she worked on Brothers & Sisters and said in trying to think of unique names for characters, she had obviously worked with Matthews Rhys on that show. People sometimes refer to him as Math instead of Matt, short for Matthew. So she said to me that was kind of the reasoning. And then she came up with a last name in like episode five or six. "Rogers" because I'm a teacher and kids make fun of me that I'm "Mr. Rogers."
So these days you're living and working part time in Vancouver and part time in Los Angeles, right? It's a far cry from the streets of Brooklyn, isn't it?
- [Laughs] Since we did the episode back in I guess 2008 now-- it's been almost two years since we did the [Ghostfacers] episode-- but we've been bouncing around ideas and doing these web videos and working on our character bios and stuff. I guess the web series has been a year coming because they pitched it just over a year ago to Warner Brothers, and it looked like it was going to happen, but I think they got put on the back burner because of the economy. The schedule had to work out where we could all do it, and I think Brittany [Ishibashi] had a movie or two, and I obviously was on Life Unexpected, but we shoot seven days, and out of those seven, I average like two to four days. So it's usually three days plus weekends that I'm free so the producers worked out a little pocket of time in which I was able to come down to LA and shoot the four days this past week actually.
It's hard because for the two years we weren't really getting paid to do the Ghostfacers stuff; it's just really fun to do, and we were having a good time doing it, so it was always something we'd do when we all had the opportunity and weren't working on other projects. Obviously AJ [Buckley] has CSI: NY so he's constantly busy and he knows his schedule a little better than most of us who audition for something and then all of a sudden are gone for two weeks. It was always a back burner priority for all of us that we'd make time and be available if something like this came up.
I grew up in Bay Ridge, and I ended up in a math/science magnet high school. You went from the artistic Mark Twain JHS to a medical science program at Midwood; what made you decide to seemingly switch gears like that when you were still a kid? Did you have second thoughts about making acting-- or the arts in general-- into a long-term career?
- Those are the programs that were called, like, Talent, and I auditioned for Phys Ed-- the athletic department-- and the drama department, and [Mark Twain] was two years of just having so much fun. I had more fun in junior high than I had in high school...And then [for high school] I had to take a train or a bus, and it was like an hour and a half just to and from my house, so that was a factor, and they didn't have any sports teams. I wanted to play baseball, and I wanted to play sports, so that was kind of the biggest factor of not going [to an arts high school].
But when I went to college, I was dead set on being pre-med and being a theatre major, but when it came down to the decision-making, I decided that I had taken the first semester in every science, and I just hated it, and if I'm going to not like things and be rejected...I made the choice of taking this journey and trying my hand at acting.
I was always taking the classes, but in junior year, I said this is it and this is what I want to do; if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out, but I have to full commit to it before I know if it was worth it.
Okay so, so far LUX seems to be known for kids who are mature before their time and adults who still need to grow the hell up. Math might be the one exception; he seems to be the sensible one-- almost Baze's moral compass-- at least with what we've seen so far. Will you be utilizing any of that "dad" attitude toward dealing with Ed and Harry in the new Ghostfacers web series?
- Well, I feel like the two characters are separate but they're still extensions of who I am-- or who I think the characters are translated through me-- but to answer the moral compass question, I feel like the whole pitch of the Ghostfacers series and what we bring, while we have the bumbling idiots running around not knowing what they're doing, there's real horror and terror in it. In the first episode that we did for Supernatural, you know, one of our interns [played by Dustin Milligan] gets brutally murdered with a rebar shoved through his throat. We wanted to keep that. We wanted to keep the dynamic between the members of the team. There's comical elements to everything that we do, but there's also the drama of the life or death situations or the horror of facing ghosts and dealing with this other world of spirits. It's a constant balance of not going too far over the top but going committedly so that when we come back and have a poignant moment, it's believable.
They're very different characters-- Math and Spruce!
- Yeah, definitely different. But it's fun! I was nervous shooting the web series in between Life Unexpected. Not that I'm doing anything crazy with my physical appearance or character choices and stuff, but there is a definite personality shift. Math is a little more emotional and reactionary than Spruce! Spruce is a delayed reaction and pretty much all dead-pan.
How is shooting a short form series for the internet different, if at all, from shooting for the slightly larger screen?
- The main difference is just the arc of the story in each webisode. It's smaller; it's kind of like an incubated episode of TV...We have to make sure there's a beginning middle and end to each of the three minutes. The whole series is ten three-minute webisodes, that's a total of thirty minutes, and there's one overall arc to the whole thing. Obviously there's less time to shoot it, and the budgets are lower. It's kind of a little more guerilla style whereas in the TV episode two years ago, we had professional cameramen...In this one, we shot everything.
Also, one of the other things is that we just shot so much footage! There's so many different cameras going at once because we had little time. Almost every take there's three to five cameras going, so every take they have to look through all of that footage.
I know your first episode of this spin off will feature an alleged haunting by a one-time starlet who was killed in her dressing room. In the first season, will you ever stumble upon something that is nothing more than a prank or a misunderstanding, or will each episode feature some sort of mythology ala the original series Supernatural?
- First of all, I like how you say the first season of the web series. [Laughs] It implies there will be more.
I think there should be! I've worked on some that have had multiple seasons, and if there ever is a web series where they should come back, I think it's this one!
- [Laughs] Well, the point of it is it is a spoof. It's Reno 911! meets Ghostbusters or Paranormal State. Not to say those shows aren't valid or truthful or reality, but most of the time you don't see spirits on the show. The contrast is that we don't know what the hell we're doing but we always seem to run into ghosts. If you switched it up and put ghosts on their shows and [none] on ours, it might not work. The show where they're like "Oh my God, something moved!" or the wind blew or something happened where they try to validate the experience, whereas with us, it's like we'll see the ghost but for some reason we won't get it on videotape or be able to prove it.
Well that being said, any chance you will "encounter" your Dead Gay Intern in this web series? After all, now he is a spirit!
- I think there's always a possibility with the web series because with the [ones] we did before that we posted on YouTube and stuff, we seem to always encounter Corbett. He's a part of the web series, but I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to explain it. Let me just put it this way: "it's not out of the realm of possibility."
I sense a "wink, wink, nudge nudge" punctuating that! And it always helps to have some help from the other side, I guess.
- A major premise of the web series is trying to find an intern that will replace Corbett here on Earth. We're not necessarily interviewing people, but there are a few candidates that are used as interns while Corbett is, you know...on the other side.
A lot of fans are already buzzing about Creation Entertainment's LA Salute to Supernatural convention. Will you be joining your fellow Ghostfacer guys there?
- I'm not sure. I'm still up in Vancouver shooting the [Life Unexpected] finale. We start on Friday (today), and I get back to LA for good on the tenth of February, so after that I'll kind of come back down to Earth [Laughs] and try to figure out what's next.