Chris Geere is a British actor who trained at the Guildford School of Acting before landing work at the Royal Shakespeare Company before enjoying success in top TV shows such as Waterloo Road, Trollied and You're the Worst.
Mandy News were lucky enough to listen to Chris share details of how he started out right through to securing his US visa to act in America – and now we're sharing our conversation with you!
Chris, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the industry.
I went to Peter Symonds College in Winchester and then I got into the Guildford School of Acting on a three year acting course. My first job immediately after that was All’s Well That Ends Well with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I had one line in 360 shows. There’s only so many ways you can do that one line. I've had various TV jobs in different children’s shows in the last 12 years and I was in a show in America called You’re The Worst.
When you first got into the industry, was theatre your aim to begin with?
I think it’s important to have goals but be open to different opportunities. If you solely put your energy into one medium, then you’re going to restrict yourself. I think most of your career will come from the connections that you make, the people that you meet quite early on and the impact that you can hopefully have on them. Not just through your ability, but also through the person that you are.
I look back at my CV and I feel very grateful because nearly every job has led to the next job, if not, the one after the next job. I’ve just finished a movie with Iain Morris, The Inbetweeners creator. He was brilliant. Last December we did a show for the BBC called Ill Behaviour. He was producing that, and we just became good pals. He was very supportive of me and I obviously very much admired him and his work. He’s great, he said he aimed to get me on everything that he did from then on, which is brilliant.
I’m never going to say that I’m the best actor in the world but my big aim is to be someone that people enjoy working with. Therefore, in answer to your initial question, I would say, don’t focus on any medium in particular, focus on the kind of person that you want to be when you’re on set or on stage.
How did the leap from working in the UK translate to moving to America and working on US TV shows?
This is a nice story. I did a movie called The Prince & Me, which is a romantic comedy for kids, really. It was the first in a big franchise. In The Prince & Me 3, I was playing the Prince of Denmark. It was an opportunity that came up, where they said, “Do you want to play the prince? It’s not that much money but you will get to go to Bulgaria. You play the lead in the film, it will be great practice, in a way, to play the leading role.” No one was really going to see it, so it was a great opportunity to go and get some practice, really. I’d only ever played supporting roles before, so this was my first big role. This was about seven years ago.
Beth McIntosh, who is my US manager, was representing the girl playing the Queen in the movie. She went to a screening saw me and said “Is that guy with anyone in the States?” I wasn’t at the time and she told my manager that I didn’t have representation. So she got in touch with me via Facebook and sent me a long message saying “I wondered whether you’d ever considered a career in America?”
I wrote back, a little bit overwhelmed by her amazing gesture. I said, “I haven’t, and I feel like it’s a huge lottery out there, I don’t have any money to go stay there or do anything, and to be honest my American accent is not very good.” I was basically trying to find the negatives in everything because that’s what a lot of British people do. A lot of us are glass-half-empty a lot of the time. I was certain I didn’t really have a shot at doing this kind of stuff and she truly believed in me.
She paid for my flight and I stayed on her sofa in LA during pilot season in January 2010. I went to pilot season, had two callbacks and one screen test for Vampire Diaries. I didn’t get it, I came back on the plane, and although I was quite defeated, I actually felt like I had more confidence than I thought I did in that big world. So we talked and talked and I saved up money and did little jobs – I worked in bars and did little bits – and saved up enough for my flight to go back the following year. I went back the following year and got You’re The Worst. I've done five years on that show, which is incredible.
How did you find the differences between working on US TV series to UK productions?
It’s a lot warmer! There’s a thing called craft services over there, which is full tables of food and drink that keep your energy up all day, as opposed to here, where you’re lucky if you get a cup of tea. It’s different. It’s kind of nice, I feel very lucky that I had the grounding experience of quite a few jobs in England.
Everyone kind of gets stuck in together. I remember doing a show for Channel 4 and there wasn’t anywhere to get changed so I got changed in my car, to go onto set to do something for a big network. I think lots of actors would lose perspective in that kind of situation but there’s a real big team element in Britain. As there is in America, but the team is so much bigger in America.
I think it’s important to take each job as it is rather than trying to compare it to the previous job. I’m working on quite a popular comedy series in America at the moment and going back and forth to the States is amazing because it works so much quicker than it does on You’re The Worst. I’m having to adapt to that.
We’ve noticed that a lot of American series tend to go for a different director almost every single episode. How does it work on You're the Worst?
Yes, we’re quite lucky on You’re The Worst that it’s block shooting, so we do 13 episodes. We normally have three or four directors over that period, so there’s a bit of consistency. But it just seems like there’s so much going on. The show runner, Stephen Falk, had so many hats to wear. I don’t see how one director could do the whole thing, because they have to prep for the next block, and time is always of the essence so you can’t be expected to direct something whilst writing and prepping for the next block. It’s just not possible. That’s why they have alternate directors in the US. It works differently. You adapt.
Would you be able to run us through what a usual day on set for something like You’re The Worst would be like?
I normally leave my house at about 6:30A. You drive there, which is different. In England, you get a driver to take you, a unit driver would pick you and a couple of other people up. In LA, everything is so close that you drive yourself to work, have a bit of breakfast, go through your lines and get into costume. Then we would go to set, rehearse the scene all together, discuss it and then the entire crew would come in and watch the blocking of the scene, and then they’d light it. While they light it, they finish costume and makeup checks, then we start the first setup of the day.
A two page scene would normally take an hour or two to complete. Then we go on to the next one, and either new cast members come in or we change location – every single day is very different depending on where we are, who we’re working with and the conditions of the day.
Going back to your question earlier, there’s a big difference in the weather: there’s no such thing as weather cover in LA because it’s always warm. It’s always dry. In the UK, I remember working on Waterloo Road and there was a scene in the playground and it started raining so it didn’t match continuity-wise. They had to move everything inside, which caused quite a lot of disruption. In the States, if you say: “Exterior. Someone’s garden” there’s a 100% chance that you’ll be able to do it there, which is great for a production.
Other problems arise, though. There’s always going to be hurdles to jump and I think it’s important as a company that you can get over each one as professionally as possible.
What’s next for you that you are allowed to talk about? You mentioned you just finished a film with Iain Morris…
It’s called The Festival. Basically, the Inbetweeners go to a music festival. It’s brilliant. Not all of the boys from The Inbetweeners are in it. The lead is Joe Thomas, who is just a delight. Such a lovely guy. They all go to a music festival and I play a druid, who’s also the music manager of Noel Fielding. It’s just so much fun. It was a brilliant script. So funny. That’s out in August this year.
Ill Behaviour is currently on Showtime in the US. The show that I’m doing at the moment, which I can’t tell you unfortunately, that’s a recurring role that should be airing in the Spring. Then I go back and do season five of You're the Worst in May. That’ll be the last season, which is quite sad, but the story will hopefully come to a pleasing finale.
That sounds very busy!
Like with anything, it’s a feast or famine situation. Not financially, just in terms of things that you do in your day. I remember waking up and writing “Make your bed” on my to-do list, because I didn’t have anything to do. The main focus of every single day was to make sure that I didn’t go on Amazon too much and buy things that I didn’t need. I was really looking at what I needed to live off and living within my means constantly. Saving up for flights, going back and forth to America.
There’s a famous phrase that Will Ferrell said in a speech to some of his ex-students, he said: “You’ve got to keep chucking darts at the dart board and hoping that one of them sticks.” And that’s it. For many years, that’s what I tried doing. I think it’s important now to enjoy being in a good position career-wise, but never lose sight of how lucky this is and that it may change at any point. I feel very lucky that I’m doing what I’m doing now, at 36, rather than 21. I think if I was 21, I would be in a lot of trouble.
Working in the US isn’t as easy as just jumping on a plane and heading over there. There are a lot of visa issues and work permit issues involved. Could you tell us a little bit about that process?
The first thing to know is that it’s not a quick procedure. Of course, there’s a lot of background checks that need to happen security-wise. There’s a lot of information that you’ll have to put forward to the US Government to prove that you’re applying off the back of something. I needed to send magazine cuttings and reviews, I had to get five letters of recommendation from directors that I’d worked with, or producers that I’d met with before, or just casting directors who’d seen me in an audition.
You have to collect all this stuff, which takes a while, but when it does get done you send it all off and you get a simple yes or no. Luckily, I got a yes. This is for the O-1 visa.
Then you go for an interview at the US Embassy in London, which takes a couple of hours – not for the interview but for the queueing up and the going in. There’s an awful lot of queuing up. You’re sat in this room and you’re like, I totally recognise so many of these people, which is brilliant because you know that whether you’re some actor who’s trying to go to America or you’re Harry Styles and you need to re-do your visa for a tour, you still have to go sit in that room.
Embassies and motorway stations: the great levellers…
Exactly. I’m not going to lie and say, “It’s really easy, get it done.” It’s one of those things that you just have to do. Filling out forms is probably my least favourite activity, but you do it and then once it arrives, you’ve opened up your opportunities tenfold.
I remember being down to the last two for a new lead role on Vampire Diaries about six years ago, and I genuinely think that the fact that I didn’t have a visa worked against me. Because it’s just having something in your back pocket, it’s like going to a bar and saying, “I’ve got this loyalty card.” Your loyalty card is just going to get you that little bit further.
It’s like a VIP membership to the acting world, really. If it’s between you and someone else and that other person has working papers and you don’t, then unfortunately it makes more financial sense for them to book the other guy.
How long do the visas last for?
About three years. I’ve now nearly finished my process to get a green card. For the same reasons, in that it opens up more opportunities. But the green card is a longer process, it’s taken us months to get all the stuff together for this and it’s still not completed fully. I still haven’t got the card. But that will last forever, so I don’t have to re-do that every three years. You have to be 100% sure that you’re going to be in America for a specific amount of time, if not living there.
So is this something you didn’t really start the process on until you’d been on You’re The Worst, for example, for a few seasons?
Originally I got the O-1 for three years, and then at the end of three years we thought about getting a green card at that point, and it didn’t make sense to me and my family at that point. So we renewed the visa for another three years, and then it did make sense to get the green card this time. So that’s what we’ve had to do. It’s quite expensive, you’re going to have to save up and think of it as a huge investment. That’s what it is. I’m investing in my… I don’t want to say passion, but I suppose it is – my hope to continue working in America.
I’m always wanting to speak to anyone who’s thinking about going. A lot of my cast that I used to work with in Waterloo Road are older now, the ones that were playing the kids, they’re thinking of moving to America and things and to know if I’ve got any suggestions. I love it, I love being honest and saying, “It does take a while and it will cost a bit of money but the opportunities are just so much greater, so if you’re 100% passionate about doing it, then you have to do it.”
It’s like saying you want to have a six-pack but not doing any of the work – you’ve got to stop eating chocolate and you’ve got to go down to the gym, otherwise it’s not going to happen. It’s exactly the same with this, if you’re willing to put in the hard work and the patience, then it’s really great. I feel very, very lucky, but also proud of me and my family, that we bothered to do it.
Absolutely. It sounds like you’ve worked really hard to get where you are now, and it all sounds very deserved.
There's a huge amount of luck involved as with any job. But I think your attitude towards the profession and also yourself is more important. Then you just recognise that luck is a thing. Sometimes, you’re not going to get roles, and sometimes you’re going to get roles that you didn’t think you were going to get. That’s what’s exciting. I have no idea what’s happening after I finish You’re The Worst next year. I used to be terrified of that, and now I’m kind of excited. It could be anything!
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming actors trying to get into the industry?
There’s one thing that someone told me once – I’ve never forgotten it – which is: every time you get a job, you have to weigh up whether it’s for financial gain, career development or fun times. Each job is at least one of those things. What you’re striving for is to get a job where it’s all three. You can do that by having some brilliant connections.
And just be a good person. Don’t be a d***. There are so many d***s in this industry and I can’t be bothered with them. It’s a nightmare. No one wants to work with a d***. There’s my advice.
Lovely article! Very helpful and inspiring! Would be a dream to work in America. Hard work pays off.
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