Austen Parros, September 2011
On September 2nd, I was honored to have the privilege of conducting a phone interview with the real Austen Parros, for about two hours. I was happy to hear his voice. This time I knew I was interviewing the man who brought South of Nowhere's Sean Miller to life. It was easy to tell that he was happy to have the platform to set the record straight regarding the imposter who gave the original email interview. However, he went above and beyond that to reveal great insight into his career and life.
Austen talked about what it was like growing up and having to take care of his brother and sister. He said that what the imposter said was "pretty relevant". "I grew up having a really sheltered life. So, I didn't get a lot of the opportunities that like, even in South of Nowhere, you see the kids they end up going to pool parties, out late, doing their own thing. I didn't. That wasn't my life. I didn't have a car. I did my chores, I did my home work, and wanted to go play, but I still couldn't go play. I was really sheltered. My Dad tried to keep me from a lot. That part of it was true, having to take care of my little brother and sister.
I think I was about thirteen when my parents had my little sister. So, it started from there. Then, I had my little brother a couple years later. That was the thing, I gave my parents room, or an opportunity to get out while I took care of the kids."
He went on to stress that another part of what the fake Austen said in the interview was not true. "But by no means was it middle class. We didn't have that much money. So, it wasn't middle class, but I was fortunate enough to get into some really nice schools, and grow up in a nice area."
For his freshman and sophomore years Austen went to a school called Gateway High School. "My dad didn't think that was good enough for me. He didn't think I was learning enough and growing enough there. So he pulled me out and had me go to Smokey Hill High School which was in the nicer area of Aurora, Colorado. It was really suburban. Most of the kids there were white. I was a minority at Gateway, but I was even more of a minority at Smokey Hill High School."
As you can probably imagine, fitting in was tough for Austen, because he had to try to fit in with the white kids and the other black kids. Listening to him reminded me of Clay when the Carlin's first moved to California. Austen agreed. "I wasn't accepted by the black kids either, at either school."
Trying to fit in with both sides was challenging, but he found an outlet in Theatre. "I could be somebody completely different than who I really was. "That's why I enjoy acting so much. For me it was an escape, a way for me to do extracurricular things that my dad approved of. For a while, I wanted to play football when I was growing up, but I was too small, according to my dad."
Austen said that one of his inspirations for wanting to play football is that he has an uncle who played for the Bronco's, but he has another uncle he wanted to follow in the footsteps of, named Peter, who is also an actor. "That became my thing." "I want to be like my uncle and act."
Then, I asked what attracted him to the role of Sean. "Sean is a different kind of character. It's really funny, when I started acting I did Theatre, and I was drawn more to comedy, but when I came to Hollywood and started film back in 2004, I was the bad guy. I always played the bad kid, I always played the drug dealer, I always played the thug, that was my role, or I should say the box that I got placed into. Sean has all that edge to him. He has the streetwise, the thug look, he's kind of a hard-up kid, but the thing that made him different from all the other characters that I've played was that he was very sophisticated, he had a very philosophical way to him, he was very educated, wanted to know more, wanted all the knowledge that he could absorb. That was what made him special to me." He went on to make it clear that the relationship between his character and Clay was about more. "It wasn't about how he looked, or where he lived, or how he dressed, the relationship was about him being more intelligent and seeking more knowledge together."
I pointed out that there was a period of time that they were at odds, over those issues, and Austen elaborated , "Sean wanted to bring him home a little bit, pull him out of where he was to be black, show him what the black world looked like." He described parallels between Clay and himself. He recalled not feeling connected to the blacks or the whites, and not having someone whom he could really cling to. In Sean and Clay's relationship, wanting Clay to cling to something, and not necessarily be about your family. It's just about what it means to be black. He talked about having those situations in his life and gave an example of when he was about twelve years old. "I was over at a friend's house, and I went outside with my friend and there were a couple of white kids that were playing in the courtyard. Me and my buddy went up to them and said you guys want to play? They said, our dad said that we can't play with black people." He said that was the first time that he realized what racism was and for him this was their reality.
I told him that I think that South of Nowhere changed people's opinions of things, whether it was racism, being gay, or just being different in any way. The show opened people's eyes, and helped many understand that those differences don't make someone less capable or deserving of loving and being loved. Even if you didn't agree with someone's lifestyle before you watched the show and still don't, chances are you may have come to accept their right to be true to themselves.
Austen added, "Its definitely groundbreaking man, for a show to be on a youth channel exposing that kind of stuff was really groundbreaking!" "For people to see that, hey, these teenagers are struggling with their identities, and who they are. One wants to be completely free in being gay, and one's unsure of, which way do I go, where do I fit in? You didn't see teens dealing with homosexuality. It was a completely new thing in young television."
At that point, I began thinking about something many other fans and I express frequently which is, how could a groundbreaking show, with such important messages, that had such a profound impact on its viewers, be cancelled after three seasons? Austen, certainly agrees with all of those things. It has been my experience that everyone from Tom, to Nancylee, to every cast member I've had the privilege of interviewing or interacting with has such a deep affection for the show. I have no doubt that if they could, they'd be back on set, tomorrow, ready to shoot another episode. However, some things are out of our control. As Austen illustrated, when sharing his perception of why the show was cancelled, he said he thought it had to do with the Writer's strike. "That was my impression. This is a Writer's strike. This is what they have many for; this is what they don't have money for, so, a lot of shows left around the same time that South of Nowhere, left. "
Still, there's no denying that there hasn't been another show like South since, and may not even be possible, but Austen and I did discuss how shows have seem to emulating aspects of it. I couldn't remember the quote, but I told Austen that when I interviewed Tom (in November, 2009) he said, something like, "That's how it is. If they think you've got a good idea, they might build off of it." Austen replied, "I think that's definitely true, especially in acting. It's always good to see what's out there. Why go in a different direction? If you find something that works, something that people are drawn to, you build off of that. That's a very good statement that Tom said, I think."
Most shows before and after South that cover those kinds of topics seem to cover it real quick and then drop it, in my opinion. Austen said "Exactly!" He laughed and then continued with his thought. "It makes people uncomfortable because people have to deal with that whether they like it or not. Some people say I love this lifestyle and some people say this isn't right even though I feel this way. Some people don't want to deal with it. It's interesting because I think a lot of our culture is changing into having that be more acceptable verses staying away from it, not talking about it, or whatever. You look at TV now, there's a lot more cursing. PG-13 today is not the PG-13, when I was growing up. It's a completely different thing. There's more of an acceptance to certain things, certain sayings, certain attitudes. Even music today, When Elvis was doing his thing, the way he danced, the way he moved his hips, that was unheard of, that was unspoken, that was like you don't do that kind of stuff, but it was groundbreaking. Then, you look at music today, and that seems like all it is. It's evolution. It's always evolving. Acting, is evolving,"
Next, I asked him when he started to notice the impact South was making on viewers. "I was driving down the street one day, it was after the first season, and I had a guy pull up to me. He's like, "Hey you're that guy on South of Nowhere, aren't you?" I didn't really think that I was, or that South of Nowhere was reaching people. This guy was probably, I would say, in his late 20's, and he's watching the show!"
He went on to talk about the fact that The N (Teen Nick) at the time, was known as a "child's station." "It was just like; wow this is a lot bigger than I really thought it was. Then, getting on Myspace and having fans kind of pour themselves out, and say, "This is how I feel, I love watching your character, this is somebody that I can relate to. Sean reminds me of me five years ago" "All that was the eye opening experience for me saying you know what? This show is bigger than I even thought it would be."
Then, I told him that the imposter claimed that someone told him that the show had convinced them to tear up their suicide note. I don't know if that is actually true or not since the person lied to us all for a long time, but it is possible that a fan did say that to them if they thought they were really talking to Austen. While those claims are questionable, Austen did say that he knows of other cast mates receiving comments to that effect. "I saw other letters that people wrote to Mandy or Gaby, and it was that message, that massage that after seeing your show, I decided not to kill myself." That's deep!"
The next topic we discussed was Austen's favorite scene. He said, "One of my favorite scenes is the very first episode when I'm riding with Clay in the car and my cousin is in the back seat. We're just talking, going back and forth talking about the black experience. That was my favorite scenes, only because I'd never done anything like that. I'm sitting their riding in a car on a trailer, going down Hollywood Boulevard. It was intense! So, it was really fun." He credited things like that on South of Nowhere for getting him out of his shell. "It was my beginning. Up to that point, I did two shows. I guess I starred on a show called, What Should You Do, and then I did something with, Judging Amy. So, that scene was like, I've finally arrived!"
He also has a love for the kind of movement in fight scenes on television and in film. So, he enjoyed every time he got to fight. One example he gave was the gunshot scene at prom. "I always liked all that action, suspenseful kind of stuff where there's noise everywhere, commotion, and shouting. That's my thing. So, I love all that stuff."
Since his character got to intern with Spike Lee, I asked him if he'd rather Direct a movie, knowing it would be a giant, iconic, blockbuster, like Spike makes, or be in one of his films. "Man! I'm not there yet. I have a passion for directing. I'm actually in the middle of co-writing a couple short films. Eventually, I'll be directing one of them, I believe. I definitely have a passion for directing, but my true love right now is acting. So, to be in one of his films, would be amazing. Some of the stuff that Spike Lee puts out is just ridiculous." He mentioned that one of his favorites, from a Directing standpoint, is a film of Lee's called, Inside Man which starred Denzel Washington and Clive Owen, largely because of Lee's signature camera shots. "There's always a shot that he does where the person is just standing there and he's focusing on them. He's pulling the actor on a trailer and it's focused on them. They look like they're walking, but they're actually just riding on a trailer in front of the camera. I actually did the scene where, Clive Owen is talking to one of the lady detectives (Jodie Foster) that Denzel Washington was working with. I actually had the opportunity to do that scene in one of my acting classes. Man, I love it! It's just so powerful!"
Throughout the interview, Austen had essentially answered my next question, but I wanted to give him a chance to elaborate. I wanted to know if he feels that South of Nowhere changed who he is, in anyway. "Yeah, I think it did. I started acting for the passion, just really loving to act. A lot of times actors get caught up in the hype, the notoriety, people regularly telling them how good they are, being catered to, all that stuff. You get in that mode where you feel like you deserve it, and that could hurt you. It could either hurt you or it can make you better. So, for the time that I was working on South of Nowhere, I really got into that kind of vain where I had to check myself, and say this is reality, it's not all about the hype. You really have to find the balance in your life, and really know who you are, and be grounded." He said he found that balance through recalling his past personal experiences, such as living a sheltered life, as a gage in his life, in order to make sure he doesn't go over the top, and getting a big ego. "There were times where I really had to check myself, but not going over the top, and saying, Hey you know what? I'm the stuff. I'm really not, I'm just doing something that I love to do, and people appreciate it. It's a good feeling to know that I'm affecting somebody's life. Having that balance, and knowing that it can be here today, but it can be gone tomorrow, understanding that, really appreciating every moment that I get to spend doing what I love. That's what changed me in South of Nowhere."
Next, I told him that when I interviewed Aasha, I asked her what it was like when Chelsea was torn between Glen and Sean, and that she said, "It was a weird time because we weren't really sure what was going to happen." Here's what Austen said. "They were still toying with the idea of really making some kind of big relationship with Glen and her, versus with Sean and her. We didn't know what direction they were going to go in. So, when it came, it came pretty abruptly."
Did that storyline play out the way Austen wanted it to? "I thought that their relationship would grow. Sean really poured his heart out to her, and let her know where he was coming from. He let her go to be with Clay, and the whole time she was with Clay, it was lingering in him, like why didn't I ever kind of thing. I really wanted to see that relationship develop into something more. Sean wasn't the type of guy that just bared everything. He, I think, was pretty conservative in his relationships with females. Thus, his relationship with Chelsea was just like, I'm giving you my all here. This is what I want, this is what I want it to be, and having that moment grow into something else verses her going with Glen."
Then, I remembered that when I asked Aasha if she thought it was weird going from one Carlin brother to the other, and she jokingly said that it happens to her all the time in her real life. Austen said "She's funny, man! She's a great girl! In California, you've got people that don't open up, you've got people that are to themselves, and then you have those people that are just so genuine about life, that really care, that really take the time to hear you, that really take the time to listen to you, really take the time to embrace your experience in life. She is definitely one of those people!"
Then, Austen took the time to tell me about another fellow cast mate that he views in a similar light. "Rob is the same way, he's interesting. He was managed by my manager, so, we talked on and off of the show I talked with him about marriage and stuff, and he really made himself available to me. I really appreciate that."
Those are two specific examples he offered during our discussion of my getting to meet and interview the amazing people that brought the characters we love, to life. I still can't believe how wonderful everyone is. Austen agreed saying, "They're all great!"
Austen previously mentioned how actors and actresses tend to be stuck in "boxes". Meaning for example, that the way you look or speak can often dictate the roles you are casted for. He feels that he's currently stuck in the, "bad guy" role. He says he's not the leading man, the friendly guy, or the hero because of the kind of work that he has done. "Now, I'm in this whole position, where I'm trying to flip into being the hero guy, trying to be that love interest, trying to be that other person. So that I'm not doing just what I'm doing, as far as the bad guy roles. I'm stuck in that box, so, I'm really selective about what I take."
He brought the example of his Uncle Peter Parros, "He was a Soap star, and for a lot of Soap stars, it's hard for them to get other roles because that's how people see them. A lot of times, people won't take them seriously, or don't think they can do other work."
The next question came from MsFaithMichele by way of Twitter. She asked "What was the most challenging part of filming Camouflage?" For those who don't know, according to imdb.com, Camouflage is about "A troubled teen-aged boy is sent to a boot camp in a secluded forest where he must survive the horrifying disciplinary tactics of a demented camp counselor."
"Being out in the middle of nowhere, I filmed in Tennessee, so you're away from home, I was out there probably a good month and it was difficult. Great people out there, of course, but definitely a different experience with the way that everything ran too. So, it wasn't the best and it wasn't the worst. I definitely learned a lot. I worked with really great actors, C. Thomas Howell, excellent, Adam Rose, a buddy of mine, and Bug Hall. He's really good, and so being out there with them, made that experience the best experience that it could be. It was definitely difficult, it was very hot. It was mid-summer and the humidity was crazy, and we actually didn't have a trailer until the end of the shoot.
Then, I asked him if he was involved with any charities. He told me that at the time of the show his main cause was the American Heart Association because, one of the things in his family history is heart disease. So naturally that is important to him. Now, he's working with, and has been working with, for the last couple of years, a non-profit group called Love Our Children, (www.lveourchildren.com) that speaks to children, and young adults that are foster children, and help them become successful instead of being left by the wayside. "There're a lot of foster children that don't have parents that are really pushing them in the direction that they should be going into."
He's working with his friend, Nedra Jamerson (C.E.O. of Love Our Children). One of the ways he has committed himself to the cause is by offering acting classes for kids and young adults who are interested in acting.
Despite the imposter's claims that he would be appearing in Men in Black 3, Austen does not have any upcoming appearances in television or movies, but he hopes that will change soon. "It's a very interesting time in the business right now. A lot of people are encouraging you to put your own stuff out there. Right now, I'm working on a couple short films more behind the scenes than on the camera."
It is important to both Austen and I that you know all the ways you can interact with him. So, to clear up any confusion, Austen's real Twitter account is @AustenParros1. "I really want to pull those people that were talking to the fake Austen, into my world."
He wants you to see who he is, not just general information. He wants to be able to reach out to you and let you know that he cares. You might be surprised to know that after he found out what was going on in regard to the fake, Austen said he was actually moved. He said he was touched to see that people are still interested in not only South of Nowhere, but also interested in his character and his work. He appreciates that!
Austen, wants to do what ever he can to let you know the real him. "I know its kind of discouraging too, because people were sitting there, sending messages, pouring themselves out, then to find out its not the real person, its kind of like a awe, forget it attitude. I don't want that." What he does want is to connect with as many people as he can, "Because, Acting is my love. It's my life, but the people that I'm connected to is what makes it so great."
If you'd like to contact him through fan mail and or request an autograph, you can do so by sending a self addressed, stamped envelope to: Austen Parros Impact Artists Group 244 North California St. 1st Floor Burbank, CA 91505. He said he will definitely respond!
We talked for a while longer then Austen had to go, but before that he had one final message for you. "I just really want to say how much I appreciate, how much I adore each and every one of you, and appreciate every word of encouragement, every uplifting word. I will do my best to respond to each and every one of you because it matters to me. It really does! Some people are just in it for the money, or some are just in it for the fame, but I really appreciate the kind of connections that I make."
When Danso Gordon first informed me that the person I interviewed wasn't the real Austen Parros, I didn't want to believe it, not only because that meant that I had been fooled, but that many fans and even Austen's fellow South of Nowhere cast mates, were duped as well. However, I am now glad because it led to this amazing opportunity. After speaking with Mr. Parros for about two hours, I can say without a doubt, that there is only one!
Travis and SouthofNowhereOnline.com would like to thank Danso Gordon for his help setting up this interview!