When we featured Bryan Greenberg as our Mantras subject back in February, his HBO show How To Make It In America was a few days away from premiering. Fast forward to late 2010, and the NYU-trained actor has a second season as Ben Epstein coming next year, Friends With Benefits alongside Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis on the horizon, a song with Kid Cudi, and a new endorsement with Casio's Edifice watch brand. The outlook is promising, but the St. Louis native hasn't gone completely Hollywood. Yet. Complex caught up with Bryan at last week's Edifice Black Label Collection launch and sat down to talk about where his show is going, working with hotties on set, and why he still has a long way to go.
Interview by Ernest Baker
Complex: I saw you repping for Edifice at G-Shock's "Shock The World" event a couple months ago. How long have you been one of their brand ambassadors?
Bryan Greenberg: Just since then, that's when I started. I like it though. It kind of fits with my style. I get to dress how I want, but sometimes I gotta wear different hats. I just needed something that was versatile.
Complex: How much does the fact that it's an endorsement affect the way you feel about the watches?
Bryan Greenberg: There's no doubt about it. It's business. But I would never attach myself to a brand that doesn't represent me. This is a watch that I would wear, so I don't feel like I'm selling out by talking about it.
Complex: Outside of this, you have How To Make It In America and Friends With Benefits is in post-production.
Bryan Greenberg: Yeah, Friends With Benefits is in post. We just wrapped that. It's a great romantic comedy with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis.
Complex: How was that experience?
Bryan Greenberg: Oh, so smooth. So easy. It was great to work with them. Most of my stuff is with Mila though, and she's awesome. She's like the most adorable girl you'll ever meet. Then I just finished this other movie called the The Normals.
Complex: I saw that on Twitter, but I didn't see it on IMDB.
Bryan Greenberg: Yeah, they were holding back. It's like, super low-budget. They didn't want anyone to know where we were shooting, but now they're gonna release that to the press. Hopefully go to South By Southwest. do the festival thing. That's definitely one you do for the passion, and I got the music too, which is another passion.
Complex: What's your role in Friends With Benefits? It's a romantic comedy, so I figure you're involved with Mila?
Bryan Greenberg: It's their movie, I don't have a huge role in it. But basically, I play a love interest that kind of threatens what they have going on. It's fun. It's an interesting part of the movie. All of my scenes are with her.
Complex: Have you done that in real life?
Bryan Greenberg: [Laughs.] Not knowingly! Hey, man that's—I'm not responsible! I'm not a home wrecker.
Complex: What's it like working with a girl like Mila Kunis? I know you have to be professional, but in your head you're a guy, she's super hot. Do you ever snap out of the "I'm acting" mind state and think about that?
Bryan Greenberg: Man, I try to not go there because I don't wanna be a guy that, when you worked with Bryan you worked with a douche bag who's trying to sleep with every actress he works with. I try to keep it professional. There are so many girls out there that I don't have to work with and who aren't married or have boyfriends. There's plenty of people out there, so you don't have to mix work and pleasure. It gets muddy.
Complex: No part of you that wants to be the Hollywood bad boy?
Bryan Greenberg: No. But maybe it'd be good for my career if I got caught with some stuff and knocked up some porn stars. [Laughs.]
Complex: It seems like that's just fundamentally not your style.
Bryan Greenberg: No, I'm low key, man. I'm so low key. I love going to work, doing acting. I love when I'm done with a movie or a TV show. I love hitting the road or being in the studio or going on tour. That's what I get off on. I don't need to have my business in the press and all that stuff. I'm pretty low key. It's all about the work for me.
Complex: Yeah, you've been working for the past 10 years or so. You always wanted to do this?
Bryan Greenberg: Oh, I always wanted to do it. I went to NYU and I studied acting. That's why I moved to New York. I got little jobs, but it's so funny, I never feel like I know what my break was. Every time I do another job, it's like, that's a new break.
Complex: Yeah, it seems like it was How To Make It, but Friends With Benefits could be another level.
Bryan Greenberg: Yeah, it's all new audiences. You're breaking through a different demographic each time. I can't pinpoint it to one job. But yeah, back in the day I was struggling, man. I was just trying to keep the dream alive. I was taking odd jobs and everything just came into place.
Complex: Are you glad it's been a slow burn? You're in your early 30s and now things are starting to get going.
Bryan Greenberg: I'm afraid if it happened to me at a young age, I would've been a major asshole. [Laughs.] Just because it becomes all about you. You think it becomes all about you. When everybody is catering to you, what else could happen? That's why people start buying into their own images. But after you've been told "no" so many times, then you realize it's not about you, it's about work. I'm just thankful to be here.
Complex: The music stuff is going to be looked at as a side thing, but you go on tour and you put out music. What are you working towards with that?
Bryan Greenberg: I don't know. I'm not trying. It's not like I'm going to a major label like, "Take a look at it." I do it for the pure enjoyment and love. I got Cudi on a record on the new album that's coming out. I love to write music. I love melodies, I love playing guitar. I just do it for fun.
Complex: How is it hanging out with Cudi?
Bryan Greenberg: He's an awesome guy. He's very talented. He's got a lot of room to grow as an actor and I think he's going to segue that into the next season of the show. His new record is sick. I love it. I just think he's really talented. I really respect him. He's a funny guy. He's got a lot of sadness to his personality, but I see the funny side. With my record he was like, "Let me hear the track. I'm not going to just jump on the track."
Complex: You had one in mind for him?
Bryan Greenberg: Yeah, I did have one in mind for him and he did it live. He came to my show like a year ago in New York, when I was on tour. He jumped on stage for a little freestyle. When he heard the song he was like, "I really like it and that's why I'm going to do it." I was really honored by that. I thought he was going to rap, but he sang. It was cool. He's really a true artist.
Complex: Do you credit NYU and studying acting to your success and how you view everything? There's so many ways to get into movies, and the traditional route seems less common.
Bryan Greenberg: I'm thankful for it. It gave me a lot of confidence when I moved to L.A. I had this degree under my belt and I was like, "I earned my right to be here." I learned a lot there. I can't give them all the credit because there's not direct booking just because you get an NYU degree. But I did learn a lot and just being in New York and being able to audition while I was in college helped a lot.
Complex: What are the main differences between working on movies and television?
Bryan Greenberg: Right now I think TV is really pushing the envelope, telling character-driven stories, and changing the game. When the economy dried, all these really good indie filmmakers switched over to TV. The best writing right now is on TV. I can honestly say that I bounced back and forth between both for years. It's great being on a network like HBO where they take serious risks and they don't have to answer to anyone at all. When you're shooting a movie, there's 20 cooks in the kitchen. HBO does what they think is good. That's who you want to work with.
Complex: What do you make of the criticism of How To Make It In America?
Bryan Greenberg: Oh, yeah. Haters gonna hate. It hasn't reached the tipping point at all. I'm going back to L.A. next week and we're going to do read-throughs of the first four episodes. I'm super excited. It's going forward a couple of months and the business is growing—
Complex: You're not going to be scrubs forever.
Bryan Greenberg: Yeah, it's like, how does this guy become Ralph Lauren? How does it happen? We take if from the street, like early, early shit to like... that's the goal, you know? It's going to take years to develop.
Complex: Yeah, it always gets the "Entourage in New York" tag.
Bryan Greenberg: Ours is like a struggle. That's true in theory, but this is a little different. I think that a lot of people can relate because a lot of people are struggling out there. The economy sucks and you have to do all these different jobs to hustle and we don't know what we're doing. Our characters literally don't know what they're doing. They're just learning along the way.
Complex: What are your goals in this business? You're 32, you have a hit show, a few movies coming up. How content are you?
Bryan Greenberg: Hmm. That's a good question.
Complex: I mean, of course you want to win awards, and make more money, and star in bigger movies, but you also seem so relaxed.
Bryan Greenberg: I think things are going in the directions I would like them to go. I definitely want to do more. I'm an ambitious person. There are other things I want to achieve. I want to produce. I want to develop scripts with people. I want to play challenging characters. You should never be satisfied. I'm happy. I'm not content. I knew this one basketball player who got all this money his rookie season. He came from the ghetto, he had a top rookie contract, endorsement deal. Once he got to the NBA, he was like, "I did it. I don't need to play. I already made it." I don't have that mentality. It's not about money. It's about the work. It's not like I'm going to stop, so I'm not there yet.