Anyone who has worked retail has encountered the creepy older guy who works in their store and will probably stay there until the day he dies. On Chuck, that creepy older guy is Jeff, who is played brilliantly by Scott Krinsky, a standup comic and character actor who had a reoccurring role on Josh Schwartz previous hit show, The O.C. We recently talked to Krinsky about his role on Chuck, the writers’ strike and how to deal with hecklers.
We know you are you originally from the Washington, D.C. area. What was it like growing up there and where do you call home now?
I call Los Angeles home. I grew up there basically until I moved out here in my early 20s, so this is basically my home base now. And most of my family has moved out of Maryland, my parents live down in Florida now and I have family in New York, so I don’t get back to Maryland that often.
How exactly did you get into acting, and when did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?
When I was younger, it was always what I dreamed of doing, you know, watching TV shows as a kid. It was always my passion. I didn’t know that I would actually pursue it, but in high school and middle school I was always the class clown, so I think naturally I wanted to perform. And I did perform a lot as a kid, but I got in trouble for it. Got sent to the principal’s office a lot. I used to have periods even as far back as elementary school where I was always kind of acting up – I would have to bring notes home to my parents every day.
So I think it was like a natural instinct of mine to perform and have fun. As I got older, in college, I kind of decided on what do I really, really want to do with my life and I decided that doing something behind a desk was not going to be fulfilling to me and this was sort of a make or break in my early 20s where I just decided to go for it.
How tough is it to break into the business? How many auditions did you go to before you landed a role?
The first few years I came out to Los Angeles – what you hear from a lot from people of my category, I mean I couldn’t get arrested. I don’t want to sound cliché, but I really felt like I was doing everything. I feel like the first two years are an adjustment, you’re sort of getting used to a new place, you’re meeting new people, the scenery was a lot different on the West Coast, but soon enough I got really serious studying and trying to contact agents, trying to get seen and just could not get anything to happen.
But as the years went on too, as I was studying a lot too and meeting with people, a lot of them would tell me, “You’re a real character actor, that’s your type. You just have to be patient, when you get into your 30s, that’s when you’re going to work.” And, sure enough, those people, almost all of them were correct. It was a matter of just being patient, I guess. So many people set a deadline of 30, when they come out here young, as this milestone age where you have to achieve certain things. And, I guess some of the people too, if it’s their true passion, they just really hang in there. I just try to keep believing in myself and trust what so many people have told me and sure enough, things did start to fall in place.
On television, you have played roles such as Blurry Man, Grocery Bagger and Potential Buyer. When you play unnamed characters, do you find yourself coming up with a name and a background story for them?
I think the more specific that you can be coming to any character, whether it’s the smallest part, I think it helps. And I think the more specific you can be, the more prepared you show up, the more professional you appear to everyone around you. Doing those small roles, I was so happy in those early days just to be working or doing anything that I wanted to be there and take everything in and know that one day there’s going to be a bigger role. So I think the more you condition yourself to prepare for the small roles helps you when you get an opportunity to do a lot more.
You had a reoccurring role playing Darryl on The O.C. How did you land that role and what was it like working on the popular teen drama?
That came about from auditioning. It was just another audition and actually that role was meant to be one episode. It was a Thanksgiving episode of The O.C. at the Cohen family house and I just went in there and auditioned and got the job. Then, surprisingly enough, maybe like two weeks later, they called me up to let me know they were going to be using me again.
Were they just really impressed with you and wanted to bring you back or did they decide that there was more to do with the character?
I think that Josh Schwartz apparently took a liking to the character and he thought that I was funny and thought that the character could have some interesting moments with the other characters, I guess and decided to keep having him pop up in their lives over the next few episodes. That’s what I heard from some of the people on the cast. The show was a soap opera, but it had a lot of campy humor in it too. So I think this was a character that could help provide some humor.
Did your work on The O.C. lead to you being cast as on Chuck?
Yeah. I guess you know Josh Schwartz is one of the creators of Chuck and that was a dream come true. I got a call from my agent. It’s funny enough that Josh was offering me the role, it was the same casting director too, and they were offering me the role of Jeff on Chuck.
Did you have to come in and read for the role?
I did end up having to go in and read, just for the approval of the network and studio people. I think that as long as I didn’t fall on my face or something – it was like, “We want to see this guy again on camera.” So I was still like a little nervous. I was like, “Oh my god, I hope I don’t ruin this.” When I got the role, I had seen the breakdowns for a lot of the pilots and it’s funny enough, I had seen this role and I thought, “God, you know, I’ve worked with Josh and this role seems kind of right for me, I hope I can come in and read for it.” Then when I got the call that they were offering it to me, I was really, really elated.
What was the original breakdown for the character?
He was just a little creepy, a little inappropriate with the customers. A little bit on the creepy side. You know, kind of the lifer older guy at work. He’s kind of worked there the longest and he’s probably going to continue to work there long after the other characters. For them, it’s probably a stepping stone or sort of where they’re at in their lives, but for Jeff, this is it. But even when we shot the pilot, this role, it said, “May recur.” Again, I had no idea I would be in every episode.
Do you have any experience working in a retail outlet that you were able to use when preparing for this role?
Well, I had waited tables for many years, so I definitely had the experience of working at restaurants and working at places for a long time and sort of feeling sometimes a little older. Coming to a place where you’re the younger guy, then also feeling later on that you’re kind of like the older guy. And all the different things that come up putting all these different personalities into that kind of work environment. There’s a lot of immature sides of you that come out in those jobs because they’re there to pay the bills.
Many people really enjoyed Jeff’s role on the Thanksgiving episode of Chuck, but we were wondering if you have a favorite episode so far? If so, why is it your favorite?
I really liked that episode because of the physical comedy involved in it. I think that would be my favorite, where he gets the box dropped on his head and then the megaphone that Morgan’s talking out of comes flying into his face. I really liked doing the physical comedy, that was the first time that we’d had an opportunity to do anything like that and I hear that there could be more of that in the future.
Have the writers given you any indication that we might be seeing more screen time for Jeff in future episodes?
Yeah, there’s the likelihood that the Nerd Herd is going to be further explored. They’ve kind of told us ideas and that they have the seasons sort of outlined. But, of course with the strike, we’re all sort of in a holding pattern right now.
What is it like finding yourself in that holding pattern? Are you trying to find other things to fill your time?
Well, there’s not a whole lot of work going on right now. I do stand-up comedy, so I’m kind of keeping busy, focusing on just being out there, performing and writing. But there’s not, as far as acting, there’s not a lot going on.
But, of course, as an actor I’m in total support of the writers because we’re going to be facing the same battle that they’re facing right now. So I want the writers to get everything that they want.
Why do you think the two sides have been unable to work out a deal?
The whole business model is changing. People are going to be watching TV, everything is going to be delivered though your computer. Even if you watch it through your TV, it’s going to be coming through your computer. It’s the future at stake.
If Chuck‘s playing 20 years from now, as you watch Nickelodeon or TV Land and you see shows like The Brady Bunch, and whole new audiences are discovering them and people want to be able to get paid for their work down the road and even now, in the present, but definitely down the road. It will be so easy to access any kind of entertainment from any era in 15 – 20 years, or even farther after that. They just want to make sure that they’re compensated for it.
You mentioned that you also do stand-up comedy. Which do you think is the harder medium?
They’re so different. I guess stand-up is a little scarier. They are both sort of challenging in their own way, but I guess there is such an immediacy to stand-up that you’re right there with a live audience and they’re hanging by your every word and of course they want to laugh and be entertained. I try not to look at things as scaring me as much as I’m excited by the challenge and I try not to feel like I’m nervous, but it’s more of like an anxious energy.
Have you had any rough stand-up experiences with hecklers or anything like that?
Definitely I’ve had some hecklers. My comedy’s a little more on the dry, observational side, so it’s not like an angry ranting kind of comedy, so I guess I don’t provoke that kind of heckling as much as other comics might. It’s definitely uncomfortable. But I feel like the comic seems to always win because he’s on stage, so even if it’s just with silence, the comedian always seems to win and the heckler looks like an idiot.
People aren’t there to hear the heckler, which is another advantage for the comedian.
The heckler is ruining the show for everyone else. People are there to listen to the comedian and if someone keeps heckling, then it ruins the flow of the show. The best thing is just to tell a heckler to come on stage and if he gets on stage, then he’ll really embarrass himself usually.
Though there is that one chance in a million that he could get on stage and do a killer set.
I haven’t seen it yet.
According to your bio, you interned and briefly worked for CNN. What exactly did that job entail and what did you learn during your time there?
In college, I was a journalism major. I worked there during the time when the Berlin Wall was coming down, so it was really exciting. I worked for their show called The Capital Gang, a show that is was similar to in format was The McLaughlin Group. It was really exciting to be working there and I kind of helped the producer producing the show and researching whatever was in the news that day, reading all the papers. And I got to meet a lot of senators and Washington elite. I used to have to go down to the main lobby and escort them up.
And I also got to go with reporters to the Capital, to the White House, and help them write stories, which is sort of how you would learn. They would let you take a crack at a story and then they’d kind of proof it. So it was really exciting being a part of that whole live TV experience. And also, with everything that was going on with the Berlin Wall in Europe. It was really an exciting time because there was so much news breaking all the time. It kind of reminded me of the movie Broadcast News.
What made you decide to leave CNN?
That was during that period that I had taken classes in college in acting and it had always sort of been a dream in the back of my mind to pursue it and during college and after college, I was just at that point where I decided – I realized I was in a job where, if I stayed there, I could do really well and this would be my life, but at the same time, it just kept coming back to me – what do I really, really want to do? And I thought, “If I don’t go do it now, then I’ll just keep getting more settled in to where I’m at right now and I might not really ever go pursue those dreams.” So I decided to go pack up the car and I drove out west.
It was a little scary at the time, but at the same time it was exciting. Plus, I’d always loved California and watching all the TV shows as a kid, so many shows were set in California and Los Angeles. And I liked the warm weather. I just had this thing in me and I was just like let’s go for it.
What goals do you have set for yourself? Where would you like to see your career go?
I hope that I’ll be working on Chuck for the next few years. I’d love to start working on some bigger feature films. Some of my dream people to work with would be like Woody Allen, Wes Anderson or Christopher Guest. I’m a big fan of all three of them. So I would love hopefully with the success of Chuck, to sort of be able to have those opportunities come up.
What do you do to unwind when you are not working?
I paint and I do yoga. I like to cook.
What would you do for a living if you never got into acting? Would you have stuck with the journalism?
I think if I hadn’t pursued acting, what I actually would have done is become a chef. Even when I was out here having some tough times and I had already kind of explored the journalism a little bit, I loved to cook. There was a period for six months I went to a small little culinary school and started taking up a baking program for pastries and baking.
And right when I finished that, I started working a little bit part-time for some chefs, sort of assisting them in catering and some different jobs that they had. It was kind of interesting because right at about that time is when I started getting a lot more acting work. But I probably would have, if I didn’t act and if I sort of lost my drive for it, that’s the only thing I would probably want to do.
What is the best dish you can make?
I think I can make a mean chocolate cake. I’m a chocaholic.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
In contrast to all of the roles I have played, like a homeless guy I’ve played a few times, I’m actually a very neat person. I’m kind of a neat freak.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, December 2007. For more information on Scott Krinsky, visit his MySpace profile.