In the Hulu limited series Looking for Alaska, there is a character that serves as the guide for the action, letting the viewer experience sort of first hand what is happening in the world of Culver Creek Preparatory High School. This character is Chip Martin, but everybody knows him at The Colonel, and he’s played by the incredible Denny Love. Our phone interview with Love was pretty special (and make a great companion piece to our interview with Charlie Plummer), and in addition, the charismatic actor revealed something to Brief Take exclusively, so be sure to read on!
The following is a condensed and edited version of our very memorable interview with Looking For Alaska‘s Denny Love.
*This interview was originally published on October 18, 2019*
Brief Take: We absolutely loved the John Green book on which this is based, and our love affair continued with this series. What drew you to this project?
Denny Love: What drew me to the project? I would say that the project drew me. I honestly didn’t know about Looking for Alaska before I got the audition. I know that prior to booking the role I had been really, really excited about pilot season, in fact, I’m a big fan of manifesting. I was writing down every day in my little notebook that I was going to book a pilot that was perfect for me. I was writing in my notebook every single day for three months. I was working a normal day job, so I was really hoping and praying for something that was perfect for me. I remember when February came along, I had got the audition, I had got the first episode, and I read the first episode and I knew it was incredible. I remember telling a friend of mine that I think I found the project that is perfect for me, and she said: “What is it called?” And I said: “it’s something like ‘Trying to Find Alaska’ or something like that”. She said: “Oh, Looking for Alaska. I love that book!”. And I was like” “Oh my God, it’s a book?” and I remember running to Barnes & Noble, I got the book, I think that I read it in a day and a half, I was excited about it. And at that point I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was going to book this role. The story was something that is so special for me, I had never read anything like it. I thought I understood the character better than anybody and I knew at that time, like: “I’m booking this role”. No matter what it takes, I knew it was meant for me.
BT: How did you become close to Charlie Plummer, mirroring your close friendship in the series?
DL: It was actually pretty crazy, because I had been a fan of Charlie before I met him. I watched a couple of his movies and I was such a big fan. He’s so talented and I think that he’s going to be one of the best actors of our generation—I truly believe that. When we had our chemistry read together, it was genuine and cool and I liked his swag. He had on some Gucci shoes and I remember that because I commented on it and we laughed together. We had a pretty immediate connection with each other, before we even read the story as Pudge and The Colonel, me and Charlie, I call him CP. We had similar tastes. The reason that I really knew that CP and I were going to be good friends is because of his taste in music. He was playing some old school R&B songs, and I was shocked! I’m like: “How do you know these songs?” I grew up on a lot of music that he was playing, and I was like…we immediately connected on music, and he’s a genuine guy.
He must have been one of the first people that I called when I found out that I booked the role. I remember my agents calling me and my manager, and one of the first things I said was: “Can you get me Charlie’s number? I need to call him.” I got his number and he was the first person I called, and we talked and he was so excited. [laughs] One of the things that he said was: “If you hadn’t booked the role as The Colonel, it would have been a crime”. He was like: “I knew that you were perfect for the role”. He and the director Sarah (Adina Smith), who directed episode 1, he said they talked. He was like “Me and her went to lunch after your audition and we talked about you”, and I was like: “Man, that’s crazy!”. And after that, we became brothers on set. We lived in the same apartment complex, we hung out all the time, I was in his trailer more than I was in my own trailer. And that’s the same with Kristine (Froseth) and Jay (Lee), we all built a dynamic on set that was really true to life because it was almost like we had known each other in a past lifetime. We were all really close immediately and I think that reads really well on screen.
BT: Was it your idea to recreate the picture from Step Brothers?
DL: [laughs] Charlie thought of that. That was like, bro, that was hilarious! That’s really how it is, though. His Mom and Dad, we were in New York, we’re kind of like family. Man, we still keep in touch to this day, and I love his parents, we all text and send each other memes and stuff. I love the Plummer family, as a whole.
BT: What about you and Kristine, what was something that the two of you had in common?
DL: With Kristine, we both did a lot of studying. I felt like with Kristine, even though she felt like she was still building who this person Alaska was, I felt like Kristine was undoubtedly Alaska. I couldn’t think of another actress in the world that could have played the role. When I showed up to set, I had also felt the same about the Colonel, I felt like I could understood that character more than anybody else. When we got on screen, it was something that was kind of unspoken, which we didn’t even talk about, we let our characters bleed through us. Yet Sarah was incredible about the rehearsal period. We got lucky in that we had a couple weeks before we started shooting to come in and hang out with each other and to do activities and little exercises. Sarah was really great about helping us understand our on screen dynamic—especially episode 1, it’s important that we all understand that these characters have known each other for a long time and we really wanted these characters to feel lived in, we wanted this world to feel lived in. It was important that we all built a strong friendship which was pretty immediate. Kristine and I would text each other all the time, before we started…before we even met, I felt like I knew her because we texted so much. We watched a lot of Rick & Morty, that was our show that we watched together, and it was important to build a strong friendship and trust that as actors, we both understood our characters. But it all started off-set, with a genuine friendship that bled off that very easily.
BT: Tell me about filming the Thanksgiving episode. What did it feel like for you?
DL: So exactly like that, it felt like Thanksgiving. It felt like we were a part of this family. I think it’s going to be incredible for the fans to meet my Mom on the show, you don’t get a whole lot of my Mom in the book. I know that you know this, but I’m excited for the fans to see how she is incredible and she was kind of our anchor while we were shooting that. She’s (Deneen Tyler) such an incredible actress, she’s been doing it for such a long time, that she was like our guiding force. Watching her, how authentic she was in the moment, it all felt very real to me. Obviously Alaska and I have our differences in that episode, but I can’t tell you how much fun it was to do the scene in which we’re dancing in the kitchen. We were actually dancing in the kitchen and it almost felt like the cameras were off, and for a little bit we all got lost in the music and lost in that world. It felt really magical, man. It was magical and really easy to get lost in that world.
BT: Your scene with Timothy Simons’ The Eagle in the second last episode was so powerful. Tell me about filming that scene.
DL: I’m so glad that you say that, because a lot of people who have seen the show bring up that particular moment and for me to shoot that was honestly one of the hardest scenes. I actually messed up my hands [chuckles] I’ve never told anybody that—messed up my hands because I was doing a take of it. I had messed up the words and I got frustrated that I kind of hit the wall, that was a bad actor thing to do, actors out there – you don’t need to do this – but I hit the wall, because I was frustrated and immediately I was like: “Let’s go again”.
The scene that they used, was the scene that I did directly after hitting my hand, because I was frustrated. My pacing was a little more increased, I was talking a lot faster, and it felt real because I was frustrated at myself. The scene was difficult to do emotionally, I was just so… out of my element. It was frustrating to do this scene in so many different ways, that it ended up reading really beautifully on screen. This was such a tough conversation for me to have and I was so stressed out, I was emotionally distraught. It all really worked in that day – that take came out of a huge amount of frustration with myself and it ended up being really beautiful. It’s funny that you bring that up because people bring up that scene in particular. That scene was really hard to do, I imagine that it was really hard to watch.
BT: Without giving too much away, what about the scene in which you get very, very drunk. What was it like to film that one?
DL: That was just…that was hard to shoot because we couldn’t stop laughing. We would mess up so many good takes because me, Charlie and Jay would bust up laughing. It got to the point that I know that some of the people in production were getting a little, “that costs a lot of money”. The more you mess up, that screen time is expensive. I know that they were like: “Okay, guys, please, can you get this take?” It’s funny, man, because we were acting a fool, it’s fun to play drunk, especially if you’re a happy drunk like I was in that scene. I played drunk a few times in that episode, but if you’re talking about the breathalyzer scene, that one was really hilarious.
BT: What did working on the scene with Ron Cephas Jones bring to the experience?
DL: Ron Cephas Jones! I call him Papa Jones, he’s like the grandfather that I never had, or the Dad I never had. That man is really a national treasure and he should be treated as such. He’s such an incredible actor, man, but he’s also just a great guy, genuine and light-hearted and I mean, he’s so wise, too, but not wise in a pretentious way. He’s giving, he drops many gems on me about how to navigate this acting world and how to also always be heard and how to make strong choices. But ultimately, he’s a hilarious guy – he made me laugh so much on set. He’s giving as an actor – he’s always there with you in every moment in a scene, whether the camera is facing him or not, he’s always giving you 110%. Man, I can’t say enough about that man—I love him to death. He’s such a sweet guy, he’s a Jazz aficionado, he loves music. I was always a little starstruck because I remember when I was a working actor working my day job still, I remember watching This is Us and thinking to myself: “This dude is incredible, he’s on another level”. I remember watching some of his scenes with Randall and thinking to myself: “If this dude doesn’t win an Emmy, I don’t know what an Emmy is”, he’s incredible. I remember him winning the Emmy and it was well-deserved. To get to do scenes with an Emmy award-winning actor who’s the most delightful person I have ever met as well, it was incredible, man. It was really a dream come true. And most times, I was in shock to be with him in a scene.
I really wasn’t supposed to have a scene with him, I kind of navigated that. I had a talk with Josh (Schwartz), our showrunner, who’s an incredible writer and all-around giving and collaborative, I remember telling him that it was kind of strange that The Colonel doesn’t have a scene with Dr. Hyde. We’re the two main African-American characters. He’s also one of my favourite teachers, I thought that it didn’t serve the story, that him and I didn’t ever have a moment together. And Josh took that in, he thought about it, and he came back and he was like: “You’re actually right, man. I think that would really serve the story”, and a couple of weeks later, he showed me this scene that was one of the most beautiful scenes I ever read. I got to have that moment with Ron, I mean, it was life-changing, man. I think that when people see it, they’re going to be glad that it made it in somehow, man. By speaking up, and Ron was the person who told me that I should speak up, because I told him about it first, that I thought it was strange that him and I didn’t have a scene together, and he told me, like: “Son, if you believe that, always speak through your character. Nobody can ever get mad at you if you speak through your character. When you talk, make points about The Colonel, why you think The Colonel should have a scene with Dr. Hyde, don’t make it a Denny thing, make it about The Colonel”. That will always stick with me, make sure to speak through your character. Then once I talked to Josh about it, he agreed that The Colonel should have a scene with Dr. Hyde. And we created something beautiful.
BT: When you talk about actualization, do you have role models in the industry who inspire you?
DL: It’s interesting, I have a lot of inspiration and a lot of people that I look up to as actors. But honestly, I think it’s really important that I pave the way for myself, because I always grew up looking up to people like Denzel. That’s my first name—my first name is Denzel, a lot of people don’t know that. But he was somebody who I always looked at, like I want that kind of career, he plays such incredible roles, he’s all-around a great guy. But I’m not Denzel. I had to make that decision for myself to change. My nickname has always been Denny, but also, I wanted to come into the industry and create my own, I didn’t want to be the next Denzel—I want to be the first Denny Love.
I obviously have inspirations. I look up to Will Smith, I look up to Kevin Hart in a lot of ways, Jamie Foxx is somebody I would really like to model my career after what he does—Oscar-winning performances, but he also does comedy, action movies, he’s a multifaceted entertainer. He also does stand-up, that’s somebody to whom I look up, like I would like to emulate in my career. I’m going to have my own journey that I am going to undergo and I want to create my own path. Hopefully one day, young actors will be saying: “I want to be like Denny Love” as a career path.
BT: Your mother on the show keeps The Colonel grounded. What keeps you grounded?
DL: How do I stay grounded? Well I think that I have been blessed in the fact that there is nobody else in my family that is in the industry. I am the first actor in my family, most of this is new to everyone, including myself. Most of my friends don’t really know about this industry kind of stuff. And I’m around the people who I grew up with and my friends and family, they always keep me grounded, because all of this, I’m grateful for it. I’m happy to be along the journey, I’m grateful every single day. I’m loving having people in my life who always remind me that [chuckles] all of this is a blessing. It is, I would have people like Josh Schwartz, who would tell me on set every other day: “Hey man. Be humble.” [laughs] And it would become a running joke. People seem to think that they have this idea that once I get big, I’m going to blow up and forget everybody, and Josh would tell me every day: “Hey man. Be humble”. We got that.
Looking for Alaska premieres exclusively in Canada on CBC Gem today and is available on DVD on April 21 from Paramount Home Entertainment