Stephen Graybill is on fire with his new breakout role on HBO’s addicting series Big Little Lies. Based on the novel written by Liane Moriarty the hit series directed by Jean-Marc Vallée unraveling the lives of three ideally perfect mothers exposing the complications of motherhood, the desire of being more than just a mother and the fine line between sex and relationships.
Multi-talented actor and musician is a British American Drama Academy graduate and a veteran of the New York theater scene. His role in the series as Saxon Baker causes a bit of a stir up directly with one of the mothers. As his career continues to expand and rise to new heights, Graybill took the time to discuss his role in the addicting series, vulnerability and authenticity being the key to an artist overall beauty.
For those who are not familiar with Big Little Lies’ what can you tell them about the dark comedy?
It’s a story about a young mother, Jane, finding her way through the social landscape of a new town, as her son is accused of hurting a child in his new classroom. Two women, Madeline and Celeste, befriend and inspire Jane to confront her past demons, as she in turn inspires them to face theirs. It’s an honest look at being a woman in today’s society, the struggles of wanting to be more than just a mother, and the grey area of sex and relationships.
How does Liane Moriarty’s book compare to the actual show? Would viewers appreciate reading before hand?
It’s really hard to compare them. A book can easily explore the internal conflict of a character for a few pages, giving the reader an emotional connection to a character they wouldn’t be able to come close to in the series from which is spawns. With that in mind, David E. Kelly, Jean-Marc Vallée, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and all are very talented storytellers, so the series has expanded on characters that were merely mentioned as background in the book. I assume this was intended to allow the audience to have that same kind of deeper emotional connection to these characters in the series. Like my character, for example, isn’t really in the book. I think they made the right choice to involve my character more intimately and immediately with Jane, in order for the audience to have an emotional reaction to Jane’s past. Without some tangible person to direct one’s emotions towards whether they be hatred, love, lust, or otherwise, it would feel like a pointless story over drinks with Celeste and Madeline about a difficult past we never got to see. And I think we would feel like we’re missing out on something. So to answer your question, both stories are different enough that if you really enjoy the world of the book or the series, I think people would find joy in consuming both of them. And then maybe, rinse and repeat.
What can you tell us about your character Saxon Baker and his significance to the show?
I can’t tell you much at this very moment, as I’m really not one for spoilers. Saxon’s significance in the show has to do quite directly with Jane (Shailene Woodley) facing a past one-night stand she had with a mystery man who is the father of her son. She only knows him as Saxon Banks. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) being nosey and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) inspire Jane to face her sordid past of being potentially raped and abused by this man. The only person they find in their searching is a man in San Luis Obispo named Saxon Baker. He inspires her to go face her demons.
As an actor/producer you’re always learning, what are some of the things you’ve picked up on set with amazing actors and A- listers?
Don’t waste your time doing something you hate. We only have one life to live, one chance to experience this world, so why not live it the way that brings you the most joy. You only get from something what you’re willing to put into it, and it doesn’t matter how successful I become, experiencing joy in what you do is most important thing.
When did you first perform?
I went to see a local production of “Oliver” in 5th grade and said “I want to do that.” And so the next year I did. And I just kept doing it two to three times a year all the way into High School, through College, studied abroad twice in London to do it, and now I’m getting paid for it.
What is the best advice someone has ever given you?
During a summer program at Oxford University with the British American Drama Academy, Alan Rickman said to me, “dare to be ridiculous.” That has always stuck with me, and has been something I’ve relearned in many forms. As an artist, performer, writer, and producer being willing to take risks, face ones fears, stay open to change and opportunity, and live outside my comfort zone is the most exciting place to discover the unexpected. And it’s most often the most difficult place allow myself to go.
What are some of the things you do to get into character? Any particular rituals?
I don’t have any particular rituals to be honest. It’s all a process of building blocks to me, starting with reading the script multiple times, formulating my opinion of the characters perspective, and working with everyone else to find the best ways to achieve that.
What other roles would you want to dive into and how would this help stray away from your comfort zone?
If I were choosing, I would love to step out of my own comfort zone to explore vulnerability. Perhaps also more largely as a man in today’s society. Men aren’t conditioned very well to be terribly vulnerable. There’s a real strength and tenderness in vulnerability that is very scary for some reason. I’m already working on exploring that more in my personal life, and bringing that in to my work might be really invigorating.
As an artist overall, how do you define beauty?
Authenticity. I think having the bravery and strength to confront the authenticity of a story, a character, a painting, or even personal pursuits in life is absolutely stunning and beautiful. And it’s what captivates audiences in any medium. It’s a willingness to confront one’s insecurities and fears, in order to serve the story rather than serve one’s own ego. And that’s really scary to do because it means admitting to failure, which is frowned upon, and sometimes laughed at, in our current cultural climate. I think a willingness to take risks and explore authenticity is what makes me admire and champion artists like Steve McQueen, Amy Schumer, Chris Pratt, Meryl Streep, David Lynch, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, The Coen Brothers, Tom Hanks, and Jennifer Lawrence, among others.