Bryan Greenberg is undoubtedly best known for his starring role as struggling entrepreneur Ben Epstein of HBO's How to Make It in America. It was a short-lived series remembered with the same kind of fondness received by Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life—both excellent, but prematurely cancelled shows with cult followings. However, fans take note: the 35-year-old actor has moved past his break-out role.
In the first project he filmed after HTMIIA, director Michael Maren's A Short History of Decay, Greenberg plays Nathan Fisher, an uninspired novelist who slowly watches his life fall apart in front of him. He gets dumped by his girlfriend, his mother is losing her memory, and his dad just suffered a stroke. Partially because of his father's illness, but mostly because he wants to run away from his frustrating life in New York, Nathan heads to his parents' house in Florida. There, he not only mends his relationship with his folks, but he slowly comes to terms with who he is.
Complex got the chance to reconnect with Greenberg to talk about A Short History of Decay (which hits theaters today), the idea of a HTMIIA Kickstarter campaign, and working with his fiancé Jamie Chung on the upcoming film It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
How connected are you to Nathan's story in A Short History of Decay?
Pretty close. I mean, my mother doesn't have Alzheimer's nor are my parents at that age where they're starting to fall a part, but it's a story that everyone can relate to because it's about that time in someone’s life where they start to change and they become their parents' caretaker. It's just something that we all have to go through, so that's one part of it.
The other part I related to was that—well, this was the first job I took after How to Make It in America. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with my life nor my career and I was a little lost, just like my character Nathan is really lost. His girlfriend breaks up with him and then his mom has Alzheimer’s and his dad has a stroke and he has to go down to Florida to take care of them. So the trip for him is more like, “I’ll just go down there and deal with my life later.” That's how I was feeling—“I’ll just do this movie and then I’ll deal with what I am going to do big-time career-wise later.” But while Nathan's down there, he realizes who he is, and while I was shooting this movie I was like, “Wait this is what I'm supposed to be doing.”
This is a great film and I worked with great actors. It's all about the decay of expectations of who you should be dating and what career you should be pursuing. It's about the re-examination of all that.
Did you have a plan B in mind career-wise?
I never had a plan B. Acting is so hard and the target you're trying to hit is so small that if you give yourself an out, or another career to pursue on the side, you'll never hit your mark because you always follow the path with the least resistance. It's super easy to give up on being a working actor because all you hear is, “No." That's why I enjoy the successes and I'm really thankful for all of the jobs that I get. I grinded it out before—I was bartending and catering and shit—so I’m just so thankful for having this job. It's just always what I wanted to do.
On the side I play music, but I never thought of that as a career. I always just did that because I loved it.
Purely by coincidence, I watched the pilot of One Tree Hill last night. Do you ever think back to those days?
I did when I was working on this job. We shot this in Wilmington, North Carolina and that's where One Tree Hill was shot. It's funny because there are a lot of similarities between me and my character at this point in life. A Short History of Decay is about a character going home and One Tree Hill was something I did when I first started out. It was like the beginning to my career, before all of this craziness happened and before I got all of these awesome jobs. So to go back 11 to 12 years later to the place where I was just starting out, it gave me some perspective on my own life.
I had some fond memories working on that show and there was even some of the crew that worked on this job that worked on One Tree Hill. But I was coming back as a man now instead of being a fresh-out-of-college working actor.
Have you ever thought about writing or directing your own film?
I would like to direct, eventually. Right now, I'm working on the producing end. I just produced my first film A Year and Change, which we filmed in December in the Baltimore, Maryland area. We're editing that now and trying to get it into some festivals. I'm producing and starring in a film called It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, and I'm leaving for China tomorrow to get started on that.
In It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, you're co-starring with your fiancé Jamie Chung. How excited are you about that?
Yeah! I'm pretty excited. This just came to us. There are lot of similarities between the way that these characters talk and the conversations that we have in our personal life. I was like, "Let’s just do it. This is an important moment in our lives and it might be an interesting experiment. If the timing works where we have this month off, then let’s just try it." So we worked with the writer/director Emily Ting on it and we got it to a place that we feel pretty comfortable with it.
It sounds like a dream to do these kinds of things with people who are really close to you.
I mean, isn’t that the dream? The people that you would want to work with are the people that you love and trust. That's the dream, right? I don’t think we can do every movie together, but the timing is right for this one.
How would you feel about a How to Make It in America Kickstarter campaign?
I’m not holding my breath, but with that being said, if the money was raised and there's a good script, I would one-hundred percent jump in again. I just loved my character in it and his whole story. I think we really captured a moment in time with that show. Fifteen times a day people come up to me and tell me how much they feel robbed and that they miss How to Make It in America. Maybe if the fans galvanized, I’d be down.
Fifteen times a day people come up to me and tell me how much they feel robbed and that they miss How to Make It in America.
Of course, at the same time, as an artist you don’t want to look back. You want to keep moving forward. Hanging onto the past won't get you anywhere. But again, if something good was to come my way, then I'd love to revive that role. Being on the show was one of the best experiences of my life.
I'm sure fans would go crazy.
There has been talk of making it a movie or moving to another network. But I don’t know, I don’t really know how real it is. I’m not going to pioneer the revolution, but I would be down for the cause.
You've performed with Kid Cudi a couple times. But what's your favorite memory of playing with him and how often do you get to jam with him nowadays?
When he was playing Roseland Ballroom in New York, he brought me on stage. That was crazy. That was in front of like 5,000 people. So yeah, sometimes when we hang out we play a little, whether it be in the studio or his house. I am such a big fan of his music.
It's weird because our music styles are very different, and he even told me that he wouldn’t do my album just because we're friends, you know? He was like, “I have to like it. This is my job, this is what I do.” So I was really honored that he even wanted to be on a track with me. I think he respects that I do it from a place of passion and that I'm not trying to get on. I just do it because I love music and he loves music. It's in him and it's in me. That common ground is a good hook.
I saw that you're from Nebraska. It's one of those states that people talk about like it's Siberia. So, to clear up the mystery, what's it like over there?
[Laughs.] I don’t know man because I moved away from there when I was 12. But I just remember Nebraska as like building forts and running around in the creek and stuff. I was very young and innocent, but I've been back. Omaha is one of those places that's really isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the world. Like when the recession hits, it doesn’t really get affected. But in the same sense, it has its own culture and its own counter-culture and it's really kind of cool. Like the punk rockers there are real punk rockers; they live it. It just feels like everything about it is a little more authentic, which I really enjoy.
Also, people are nicer. I don't know why, but they just are. There's something simple about the Midwest that's hard to explain. I’ve lived on the west coast and I’ve lived on the east coast, I've been in New York and in L.A., and there's just something about the Midwest people that sets them apart.