Nathan Austin is an actor who appears in the film The Middle Ground; here is a link to his IMDB Page:
Q: What made you interested in acting?
A: Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in acting or being someone or something else in an existing world outside of my own reality.
I was born in the 1980’s; some of my earliest memories are from being in my parent’s living room acting like the characters I would watch in cartoons. He-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Thundercats were all characters that I would play like I was for hours. I have a sister who is two years younger than me. When she was born even My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, and Barbie became part of my imaginative world. All of the cartoons that I watched during my childhood always seemed more exciting and enticing than the actual world I lived in. When I started kindergarten, I remember that I could not wait for recess just so my friends and I could go outside and enter into the imaginative worlds that we loved.
Throughout my life I have never lost the initial love for portraying a character. As I became older and was allowed to watch television shows and movies outside of cartoons, I became more and more intrigued with characters and storytelling and bringing ideas to life on screen for others to watch.
All of that being said; what interests me more than anything about acting is bringing a character to life that others want to watch. I love giving others the gift of seeing a character that would otherwise be kept secret inside their own imagination.
Q: What kind of training have you had?
My training did not follow the traditional “actor” training.
I grew up in a very strict religious home where there were a lot of expectations put upon a person at a very young age. Not only did I come from a strict religious background, but I also grew up in a financially struggling family. I was homeschooled, my mother made my clothes or I wore hand me downs, eating out was a rarity, and toys were bought only for birthdays and Christmas. As I became older and wanted to know more about the world I lived in and what mysteries there were, I was reminded time and again not only by parents but by church leaders that a wandering mind is wrong. Questions were wrong and learning different methods of expressing ones self was wrong. In everything that I was told was wrong I felt that there had to be a reason, a reason why everyone around me warned against trying new and radical things. There was a point in my life where I wanted to “experience” what I was told was wrong but also appease my parents and religious leaders. I began living different lives. I was a saint when I had to be and a sinner when I could be. I was the most respectable and honest person when I needed to be and the most dishonest disrespectful person when I could be. I was playing to whoever was the audience. I feel that a lot of people do this at some point in their life, but for me I felt like it could be used for far more than just making the people around me happy. I realized that I could change my personality and demeanor to convince people of anything. This realization did not make me want to use that ability for anything other than performing.
I did not attend college after high school. Instead, I formed my first punk band called 2Weaktonotice. I had the privilege of recording two cd’s and playing numerous shows from the age of 20 to 25. The band was the first setting that I was able to put my acting skills to practical use. I was punk on and off stage until the band ended. I dove into my role of portraying a punk rocker to the point of getting numerous piercings and a few tattoos. To me if I was going to sell an image, then I was going to be that image. Afterwards, it was time to find a new character.
Before college I studied the techniques taught by Konstantin Stanislavski, Lee Stasberg, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Michael Chekhov, and Tadashi Suzuki. This was through my own intrigue and research.
I did attend Murray State University in Kentucky at the age of 29 where I received a degree in theater; this is not where I consider that I received my training.
Acting is not the only artistic endeavor that I have pursued. As I said before I was in a band for several years, and I continue to play music now. I also write and direct when the opportunity arises. I have knowledge both on and off stage, in front and behind the camera. Everything that I have done artistically has come from learning on my own in some fashion or another. With music, I had friends that would show me a few things but for the most part, as with film and acting, when I had an interest in something, I sought out the knowledge of how to do it on my own. I attribute that to being homeschooled. I don’t remember exactly when but during my years homeschooling there came a point where my mother would give me my assignments, and I would basically teach myself. In my mind it was simple, read the directions then do what they said. It is basically the same way with anything. What I have not been able to read instructions for in life, I have watched others do. Paying attention to detail is one of the biggest things with art; the small things make up the big picture.
Q: What is The Middle Ground about?
A: The Middle Ground is a film about two brothers during the civil war era, Charles (the older brother) and Nathaniel (the younger brother), that grew up in Kentucky. They had the same father but different mothers. At about the age of 12 their mothers moving separated the brothers. Charles’s mother moved him South and Nathaniel’s mother moved him North. They both joined the war, their designated sides. They found each other on the battlefield. Charles was injured when Nathaniel found him. Instead of killing his own brother, Nathaniel chose to rescue him. They became war deserters and returned to Kentucky where they had grown up. Charles had a cousin named Lassalle that had stayed in Kentucky because she had inherited her family’s land. Charles and Nathaniel hid out on Lassalle’s land where trouble found them. I would say more about the film, but I much rather people watch it for themselves.
What I will say about The Middle Ground is that it was filmed entirely in the beautiful countryside of Kentucky. All of the actors are from Kentucky, and the music is even by Kentucky musicians. It is a film that was made by the hard work and participation of none other than people who love art and believe in a beautiful idea that should be brought to life.
The Middle Ground is the end result of a group of people who put all of their time, money, and passion into completing a vision.
The Middle Ground is a work by unknown artists who were able to create a piece of art that can now be remembered for years to come. It is about the history of a state that many know nothing about. It is a piece of my life that will always be there for others to view.
Q: What role do you play?
A: I played many roles in The Middle Ground.
As an actor I was Nathaniel, the younger of the two brothers, and I also played Michael, Nathaniel’s son who shows up at the end of the film.
Since this was my first independent film I also worked as a producer, crew, promoter, caterer, casting director, assistant director, gaffer, sound engineer, set designer, and any other job that you can think of that is associated with a film.
Q: What did you do to prepare for the role?
A: Since I grew up in Kentucky, and I was from a poor family most of my preparation had been done throughout my childhood and teenage years. My character was the type that did not read too much into a situation but just went with things. He made the best of his circumstances. The director Dallas Lee Blanton did a very good job of using my own personal journey through life as the cornerstone of my character’s life.
I did add more of a southern accent to my speech for the role of Nathaniel, and I quit wearing shoes of any type during the whole filming of The Middle Ground. There were days that we would be working for 16 hours and when I finally had a chance to sit down I would look at my feet and see nothing but crimson and black form the dirt and blood.
In the film, there is a journal that a doctor is keeping of old Charles’s stories while Charles is on his death bed. I spent quite a bit of time writing actual stories from the perspective of both characters. There is also a whole segment about the necklaces that Nathaniel and Charles have. I came up with the idea one day while laying on the beach in Long Beach, California. As soon as I thought of the brothers having necklaces in the film, I made one for myself and one for Dallas. I put mine on and did not take it off until The Middle Ground was finished being filmed. I still have both of the necklaces.
Q: What are the elements of a good war film?
A: This depends on what a filmmaker wants their audience to feel. If it is sympathy, then the director has to create a reason why the viewer would be sympathetic to the winning or losing side. If the director wants someone to feel excited about a war film there needs to be lots of action shots, explosions, blood, and constant high intense scenes. If the director wants to persuade an audience to believe that a cause is worth fighting for, then the director has to give the audience a reason to back the cause. Basically, a good war film is like anything else. It is in the presentation and who your target audience is. Not everyone is going to consider the same things as good. That is the beauty of independent filmmaking; films can be made for a smaller target audience. It’s like making films for your friends instead of having to please the entire world.
My own personal opinion of a good war film is one that makes me relate to the characters and makes me feel like I am there.
Q: What kind of day job do you have and how does it affect your work?
A: I am basically a freelance actor/entertainer/writer/musician/stand-up comedian. I am fortunate enough to get principal roles in independent films and the occasional background work on bigger budget television shows and movies to not only pay my bills but also make my own films. At this point in my career, I do not have an agent or manager, every gig that I get is from my own perseverance and hard work.
To be successful in the entertainment industry is no different than being successful in any other industry. You have to work 24/7 or someone else will.
Q: What is your oddest Los Angeles Story?
A: When my girlfriend, Angela Yonts, and I moved to California, we had no idea where we were going. We both knew that we wanted to be close to Hollywood but that was about the extent of what we knew about California. On July 1st 2013 we rented a Penske truck, loaded it up, and headed west. That may not seem like a big thing but there is more. First off when we went to the Penske rental place in Hanson, Kentucky, they did not have the size truck that we had reserved. Instead, they only had the biggest truck that they rented out. We also had to have a trailer hooked to the back of it to move Angela’s car. It was not just Angela and myself that moved to California. Angela’s mother also moved with us. This may not seem like a big deal but her mother suffers from early onset dementia. So we not only moved 2,000 miles from where we grew up, but we also had to move everything we owned and a mentally and physically disabled person. The trip took us 4 days. Every night we stayed in a hotel that did not have a parking space big enough for the truck and trailer. Entering and exiting the truck was also a bit of a conundrum for Angela’s mother due to her disabilities. Even though we were able to make it all the way across the country without any major mishaps we had yet to get to LA. Our first night in downtown LA was less than amusing. We arrived on July 4th. The hotel that we had reservations with had told us that there would be room for the truck and trailer. That was less that the case to say the least. We were told by the hotel clerk to park in a parking lot across from the hotel. Against our better judgment, we did as we were advised. The next day when we went to the parking lot, there was a towing company there trying to tow the moving truck. The lot attendant was furious that such a large truck and trailer was parked in the lot. We eventually got everything straightened out with the lot attendant. We arranged for the truck to be left at a Penske rental lot for three days while we looked for a place to rent. Luckily, I had a cousin that had grown up in California, and he suggested we look for a place in Long Beach. That was the most helpful advice that anyone had given us since our arrival. We were able to find a place and get moved in before we had to start paying extra for the truck rental. The craziest part of the story is that while we spent our time in downtown LA we noticed a lot of people everywhere. The later it got in the day, the more people, it seemed, occupied the streets. I thought that this was due to the holiday season. Not the case. Once we got settled into our place in Long Beach, Angela and I were watching a documentary one night that showed the section of downtown LA that is considered Skid Row. We had booked a hotel that was one block outside of the Skid Row radius. Welcome to LA.
Q: Who are some of your acting influences?
A: I have a big list of acting influences and I have different reasons for each of them.
Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lucille Ball, Bruce Lee, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Christian Bale, Bill Murray, Robin Williams, Heath Ledger, Carroll O’Connor, Kristen Wiig, Sarah Silverman, Pauley Shore, River Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sylvester Stallone, and Jackie Chan to name a few.
Brad Pitt: he is basically the first “hot” guy that I ever came to know through movies. He was always what women wanted but for me he also was not afraid to put time into his character. He has played roles that have made him dedicate time. He is not afraid to transform himself for his role, both mentally and physically. I love his performances in Fight Club, A River Runs Through It, Meet Joe Black, Troy, Kalifornia, and one role that I will never forget him in is The Dark Side of the Sun.
Edward Norton: He is another actor that goes the distance to bring a character to life. His work in Fight Club, American History X, and Primal Fear are unforgettable.
Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Leonardo DiCaprio: I just love how they dedicated their time to a role and how they will spend time becoming the character.
Sarah Silverman, Kristen Wiig, Pauley Shore, Carroll O’Connor, and Lucille Ball: they knew what comedy was and they were not afraid to take the jokes to a new level. Or a level that others were not comfortable with.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Arnold is honestly one of the biggest influences on my whole life. Not just because of film but also because of bodybuilding. He applied the discipline of bodybuilding to his acting career. Arnold has been some of the most remembered action characters ever.
Lucille Ball, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Jackie Chan: I can talk about them all at once because they basically taught me the same thing. Use your props to the fullest. There are things and objects that we co-exist with. Objects are useful. They can make a scene so much more enjoyable.
Bill Murray and Robin Williams: They have/had a diversity that shines. Funny or serious, they did it all.
Bruce Lee: To me, Bruce Lee was not just an influence on me as an actor. Bruce Lee had an affect on my entire life and who I am today. Bruce Lee was such a great man; he had a passion, and he showed everyone that when a person dedicates his or her life to something it can be accomplished. Bruce Lee was as much a motivator as anything. He had a very positive outlook and a drive to accomplish. He accomplished whatever he set his mind to. I saved talking about him until last because according to old sayings that is where he should be. I can never express the appreciation that I have for Bruce Lee and the knowledge that he has bestowed on my life and me.
Q: What is the best advice anyone has ever given you about acting?
A: I have never had any good advice given to me about acting.
I have only found this path because of the people that I have watched and read about. Acting is not a practical application as a life long endeavor where I am from.
The best advice is what I have given myself. If I can think it then I can do it, no matter what happens be true to myself, and I will be able to accomplish anything. Nothing and no one can control my destiny. Only I can.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)