Doing interviews for this blog has been an interesting experience for me. Sometimes I set out very purposefully to “snag” a specific someone to interview…and sometimes I just happen to stumble upon someone and amazing things happen. The later was the case with Will Bowes. I first became aware of Will due to my avid addiction to BBC America’s Copper. Will’s character, Phinbar Byrnes, or more affectionately nicknamed Little Byrnes, adds a sort of naivety mixed with humor to the often times dark story line, which in turn has endeared him to the audience. Running across him by chance on Twitter (where I have been able to network the majority of my interviews!) and exchanging niceties about his recent episode, it rather randomly occurred to me to approach him about a Q and A. To my delight he agreed to take me on and what has resulted is an interesting interview with a guy who is so much more than I had any knowledge of at the onset. I found a gold mine and am now here to share the claim with all of you!
At 23, this Toronto Canada based guy seems to be finding his way. Aside from acting, I realized he was also a musician. Multi-talented, Will’s IMDB page is an impressive list of credits. So, when I sat down to figure out what to chat with him about, it quickly became apparent there were a number of topics to cover. I hope you will enjoy our discussion and check out his work…all aspects of it! Also, there are Season 2 spoilers for Copper discussed, so be aware.
Hey Will! Thanks so much for agreeing to visit with us! You are credited as an actor/filmmaker/musician. You composed and recorded music at age 11 and began acting at age 14…when did you first realize your interest, and when did others start taking it seriously?
I wish I could pinpoint a specific, epic moment of realization, but from an early age I was always happiest entertaining people, whether it was with humour or Acting, Singing, Songwriting etc… My parents were working at the Stratford Festival of Canada at the time so I spent many years growing up around people involved in the theatre. I remember I used to step outside the house and knock on the door as a different character, forcing my parents to play along with whoever they welcomed inside. What an obnoxious brat I must sound like but I truly just always knew I wanted to be a part of this industry. I guess others started taking it seriously when I began recording original music, making films and acting in a more professional context.
You are a credited writer/director. Was this something that evolved from your experience working in front of the camera or did you always have a basic curiosity and interest for this field?
I always had a curiosity about filmmaking, but it wasn’t until I picked up the home video camera that I began to develop a skill set for it. I made my first film when I was nine, a ridiculous short about a killer pineapple called Piney on the Loose. I would force my sister Annie to act for me and over the next couple of years we actually made four films in the Piney series. The story got better and better as the films progressed and I think you can see the progression of my directing and editing in each one.
With all of these various hats, can you share a little about your education and what training you’ve undertaken?
I feel so fortunate to have been educated in the arts. I’ve never had any formal acting or singing training but I went to Claude Watson and the Etobicoke School for the Arts in Toronto, then completed the Radio and Television Program at Ryerson University.
So, let’s break it down a bit and chat about the various projects…as for acting, you’ve got quite a list of credits! Most notably in film you’ve done Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with Michael Cera and House at the End of the Street with Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Was there anything significant you took away from working with these well-established actors who are basically your age, as opposed to other well established actors you’ve worked with who are older?
Those were amazing experiences. It’s always great to see people with “celebrity status” stay so grounded and humble despite experiencing a whirlwind of success at such a young age. I find at times older actors feel a need to assert themselves and establish an authority over everyone else on set, possibly to protect themselves from the ruthless business they’ve traversed. But Jennifer’s effortless talent and intelligence was magnetic to be around. She has such an eye for believability, logic and story that I don’t think many actresses headlining a film at 21 would bring to a set – let alone a horror/thriller like House at the End of the Street.
In the arena of film, you have also become a filmmaker in the truest sense of the word. Writing, directing, editing, producing, etc. You have written and directed two shorts, as well as an award winning Feature Film titled Hunting Season. Is filmmaking something you see yourself doing more of and where your interests in the industry lie?
Filmmaking is definitely my biggest passion in life. Not because I don’t enjoy acting but because I love storytelling. It’s so rewarding to have your own creative vision brought to life and hopefully have people take something away from it. Hunting Season is a dramatic thriller I wrote and directed about a local hunter who mistakenly shoots a young girl with her friends in the wilderness (you can watch the full movie free on my Vimeo page). We shot it in about 14 days up in deep Canadian woods in late November. It was freezing cold, everybody worked for free, I got pneumonia, but it was such a beautiful example of everyone just coming together for the love of it. The actors did a fantastic job, the crew worked tirelessly and it remains the most creatively rewarding experience of my life.
How difficult did you find it to be both director and actor in the same film? Do you feel that it benefits a director to have acting experience and vice versa?
To this day I don’t know why I thought I could easily pull that off when shooting Hunting Season. It was insanely difficult to multitask like that and I truly don’t think I would do it again, at least not until I gain much more experience in both fields. I think it is almost essential for a director to have knowledge and/or training as an actor. At times, directors can almost create a fourth wall between themselves and their actors, making you feel like a puppet. It’s tricky when this happens, because despite the illusion of extreme self confidence that many actors project, it is so vulnerable and daunting to put yourself out there like that (at least I feel that way…) so you want to know that someone is on your side, trusting you and guiding you if and when you need it. If your director doesn’t recognize and understand that, it can be detrimental to both your performance and the entire project.
Financing film projects can be daunting, have you ever used or considered using crowd funding and what are your thoughts on that process?
I have never used crowd funding but I really hope to. I think it’s a fascinating process that will only continue to develop and become popularized. With the recent success of the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff Kickstarters, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of them. Crowd funding helps create more original stories and lets independent artists establish their own creative control, which is a wonderful and unfortunately rare occurrence.
Stepping into Five Points was unlike any studio set I have ever experienced – and it was really intimidating at first. When I shot my first scene, I remember feeling like I had absolutely no right to be on such a professional set with such skilled actors. But everyone on Copper is so friendly and welcoming, I felt at home by the end of the first day. My character, Phinbar, joins the force in Season 1 as a rookie cop who doesn’t have a lot of experience compared to the other older officers, and that kind of mirrored the way I was feeling as an actor starting out on Copper so I think it worked well for the character.
Were you surprised by your Copper character’s storyline this season? (spoiler alert!)
Haha! Surprised is a good way to put it! You’d think that if writers are going to kill you off a show, that you’d receive some diplomatic phone call from a producer explaining the creative choice and why it made sense and thanking you for all of your work blah, blah blah… But I got the script for Episode 3 and turned to the page where I get brutally stabbed and my jaw dropped. I remember tearing through the rest of the script hoping for some kind of hospital scene where I survive at the end, but no. In all honesty though, I completely understand the decision to kill Phinbar and watching it air, I think it works well as an incident that drives the rest of Season 2 forward.
It was a shocking moment, to be sure, but truly a catalyst for the entire season, and a very crucial one at that! Little Byrnes fans are mourning the world over, and as a fan myself I can say you are missed.
Moving on to music…you have a composer credit on your short Split Focus, and have recorded an original composition and vocals for an earlier single release. Seems just like everything else, music has been a part of you since the beginning. So do you play any instruments and have you always wanted to pursue music as well?
It must be so boring for me to be answering everything with “…it’s always been a passion of mine” but as a kid I really first wanted to be a singer! I started writing and recording original music, releasing a single in Canada called September Cry (a reaction to 9/11) when I was 11 years old. I play piano and guitar and have continued to write music. Split Focus was a short film I made about a lonely racist landlord (played by my father) who has a loud student living above him. It was really fun to compose the music for that film, I would sit at the keyboard in my apartment and record it while propping up the movie on my iPhone to match the film footage. (Split Focus on Viemo)
Among your credits, you have also directed a music video. Do you feel being a musician yourself gives you a better feel for the direction of this type of project?
I directed a music video for Juno nominated Canadian band, Jets Overhead. I think that coming from a musical background helps me better understand the vibe and feel of the video and how best to edit it, but I can’t say whether or not it really makes a difference. It’s a good question.
You are now performing in a duo with Adrian Morningstar. How would you classify your sound?
Yes! Adrian is a good buddy of mine and we’ve always made music together but are only now starting to take it seriously. We’re called Bowes/Morningstar and I think our sound is just really fun. I would say it’s a mixture of acoustic pop and soul. We’re going to record an album soon and hope to share it sometime this fall.
What specific influences musically may have impacted your sound or in the way you’d like to pursue performing?
A lot of local Canadian artists actually, Justin Nozuka being one in particular (check him out he’s awesome), Our Lady Peace and Kuba Oms. Otherwise Michael Jackson (obviously), John Mayer, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles and The Stones (typical I know…) and Neil Young. I dressed as Neil Young for Halloween when I was 6.
Can you share a little about the songwriting process? Where do you gather songwriting inspiration? Do you and Adrian share in the composing, both lyrics and score, or each of you taking one separately?
When I was younger, I remember songs would just kinda come to me fully formed – both the music and lyrics. As I got older, bits and pieces would come here and there. Now when I hear a potential song in my head, I have to take out my phone and record it right away or I’ll forget it instantly. If I’m on the bus or something I’ll just take out my phone and quietly record snippets of songs, pretending to be speaking with someone. Adrian is such a great guitar player. Normally, he’ll come up with a chord progression and I’ll come up with lyrics and a melody, but that’s not always the case. He’s good with words too.
A couple of other more general questions…
Who was your favorite character/role played to date and why?
Ok. I’m not kidding here… I played a transsexual cheerleader on the prank show called Scare Tactics hosted by Tracy Morgan. We filmed the same segment with three young girls who all thought they were auditioning for a dance show, with no idea they were being filmed or that everybody around them was acting. So I come in with fake tits on and shaved arms and legs in a full cheer costume and wig, pretending to be a wild, disgruntled transsexual who is bitter about being rejected as a dancer in the company. When I’m “told to leave” by the choreographer (also an actress) I whip out an ice pick from beneath one of my pom poms and slash her throat, she bursts a fake blood ball on her neck and it goes everywhere… I think this was my favourite experience because it was the most challenging by far. I mean the whole thing is live, there’s a director in your ear telling you what to do and where to stand, all the while I’m dressed as a woman and the entire bit relies on me to scare the hell out of these girls. I don’t think my heart has ever pounded that hard or fast, I could feel it in my face.
Ok then!! So you win the prize hands down! You will now always be the standard to which I will compare answers for that question. haha!
So, moving on…what would be your dream role?
It keeps you energized to feel challenged as an Actor…to feel challenged with anything in life really… So I think my dream role would be to play a villain or someone deeply disturbed or psychotic. It’s out of my comfort zone so it would be satisfying to accomplish something like that.
For some reason, I think I would categorize a transsexual dressed as a cheerleader with an ice pick as deeply disturbed or psychotic, but that’s just me. Seriously though, taking on a role like that would be demanding and rewarding in the craft, I’m sure.
Have you ever considered theater?
Yeah, I used to do theatre at school when I was younger. I did Stephano in The Tempest and Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oh and I was in an Opera called Turn of the Screw when I could still hit high notes… I haven’t done any theatre since I started screen acting but I would love to explore it again in the future. It is such a different experience than TV or film.
What is the most favorite thing about what you do…and the least?
I promise I’m not trying to sound indulgent here, but I think my favourite thing about this whole endeavour is the way that I have become more curious about human existence and what shapes and drives people. I love discovering new characters and hearing other peoples stories because they keep me inspired. My least favourite thing about this is the self-doubt and constant analyzation you put yourself through as an actor. You never know when the next job is going to come around and you feel a sense of rejection on an almost weekly basis as you go from audition to audition. It’s difficult to keep your stamina alive but at the same time it’s what drives you forward.
Any advice to share for someone starting out in any of these fields?
Well you often hear people complaining that they haven’t been “discovered” yet, or “noticed” by the right people or asked to sign with an agency. I think the truth is that you can’t sit around waiting for it to happen anymore – you have to be proactive. If you wanna make films, pick up a camera or your iPhone and just do it. If you wanna act, join community theatre groups or put an ad online. If you want to be a singer, put yourself on YouTube! Everything is so much more accessible for people now there’s no excuse not to do everything you can to make it happen for yourself. You also never know until you try, right?
Any upcoming projects/events you can share? Feature film Pride of Lions is in post-production and sounds interesting..
Yeah! This week I am guest starring as accused killer Tom Walton on The Listener – Wednesday at 10 pm ET on CTV in Canada, episode 409. Pride of Lions is in post-production yes, I play a U.S Soldier who gets kidnapped and it was a riot to shoot with legends like Margot Kidder and Lou Gossett Jr. It is tentatively scheduled for release this fall but you never know really… And I just worked on the pilot of a new horror series called Darknet from the guys that made Ginger Snaps and Splice.
You have been very busy! I will keep an eye out for Pride of Lions as I enjoy that type of subject matter. It also seems the horror genera holds an interest for you and those type of shows seem to be currently very popular. Good luck with the pilot!
One more question…tell us something about you that might surprise us to know!
My favourite toy as a kid was a dust buster – I liked the sound he made and called him ‘Buster’
Well! That about rounds it up! Thanks again Will, and I hope that we can touch base and do an updated feature to celebrate your album release when that happens! Readers can connect with you via your website, Twitter, and Vimeo, as well as your music Facebook page! Now before we head out, we’d better have a go at our reader favorite, Fast Five!
Fast Five – Questions for Fun
Favorite food indulgence? Fries/Poutine/Some kind of deep fried potato situation
Favorite downtime activity? Watching movies…
Define happiness in one word? Self-Love (Does it count if there’s a hyphen?)