A trippy soundtrack thru the city.
director, edit: R. Anthony Harris
additional camera: Joey Wharton
production: Major Major
A trippy soundtrack thru the city.
director, edit: R. Anthony Harris
additional camera: Joey Wharton
production: Major Major
I met Justin Dray in Richmond way back when I was still in the VCU Arts Program. Back then, he ran a small production studio called Yellow House. It became a meeting place for a pocket of creative folks and I fell right in. Never afraid to jump into doing something fun, Justin and his motley crew just made stuff up and took chances.
Since then Justin moved on to Los Angeles to be an actor. He has over 75 film+ credits on IMDB from Always Sunny in Philadelphia, to Ad Astra, to popular shows on cable and television, he continues to be an inspiration to his friends and family.
We got a chance to catch up over a few drinks and here is our conversation. Maybe it will motivate another actor(s) in town to strive for their dreams.
Justin Dray: My name is Justin Dray actor, slash pizza enthusiast, slash Triscuit lover. (laughs)
R. Anthony Harris: You got your start here and been in LA ever since — how long have you been in Los Angeles?
JD: I moved to Los Angeles August of 2008.
RAH: How difficult was it get to get started as an actor in Los Angeles?
JD: The show business is just that — it’s a business, it’s not “show friendship”. I was lucky that I had opportunities in Richmond but one of the biggest hurdles was getting into the union. Luckily, that was one of those hurdles that I was grateful wasn’t terribly difficult.
Then through connections and people that were generous with their time, getting representation to get you into the offices you need to legitimize your work. What I was told is that nobody really gives a care what you had done before you got to LA, so you need representation.
I am very grateful to the people that had come before me that were willing to extend their contacts and their knowledge. I’ve always tried to do that for everybody that comes out and says, “Yo Justin, what can you do? Or can you give me a guide?” Because I really had no idea. I thought I knew that I had an idea, but just the volume and the business side of it, whereas in Richmond, you didn’t have that side at all really.
But even with all that stuff, it was difficult, and then it remains to be difficult.
RAH: What do you like about acting?
JD: Acting is literally just being able to play as an adult. I don’t think we get to play enough as adults. We are supposed to fit who we are told to be and an actor gets to basically pretend. In theory, my job is pretending and the better I pretend the more jobs I get. And so, I’ve always liked that.
Also, it’s about communication and being honest. Things that are not said are just as important as the things that are said — actions speak louder than words. What’s the subtext? There’s a difference between knowing your lines and owning your text. Ken Campbell at Theatre VCU, always said there’s difference between knowing your lines and owning the text. And that was just something wonderful. That extends to the metaphor of the actor is basically just the person living their life. That’s why I’ve always been attracted to acting, living the fullest life you can. Cherish the tears, as well as laughs, because they all make you who you are.
RAH: You do comedic stuff, you do some serious stuff — what roles do you look for?
JD: That’s tough and unfortunately just leads to more questions. The kind of work that I’ve had the opportunity to do has probably been less “juicy” because of the way it’s structured. You have to get a bunch of co-stars credits, and then you can get up to guest star, then you can get to supporting character, and then if you’re lucky enough you can get to be a recurring character, or like a series regular and then on from there.
Obviously you are striving to do the longer roles but I’ve had roles that I’ve worked for a week or two weeks that have been very — you struggle because you’re grateful to have the work — but the work is pretty benign, it’s just not very fulfilling. My joke is the roles that I was going for was the valet and I’d say, “Here are your keys, sir.” And that’s it! That’s the job, and you’re like, hell yeah, I got it — that’s gonna go to my insurance or something. That work isn’t necessarily fulfilling so it’s a constant striving.
I did have a chance to work on a season of Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous on MTV with Bo Burnham and Still The King with Billy Ray Cyrus, that was a real fun role. Getting to work in Nashville, on a few episodes and actually having like an arc of the character. Anything where you actually get, and I call it “juice”, you have a little bit of juice, and you are not just a day player. Where you don’t have any history and there isn’t a lot of homework to do, you just show up say the line kind of stuff. Anything where you get to have a character that goes through something or has a change or has growth, I’m always grateful for.
The reality is most of the things that I audition for in Los Angeles are not that. However, it’s the donkey with the carrot, you’re always hoping that work begets work and that whatever the next kick up will then lead you to that next thing.
RAH: Any advice for actors just starting out?
JD: Here’s the deal. The best thing I would tell anyone that’s interested in acting, best thing you can do is take an improv class, not that you want to become an improv thing but that it gets you in touch with your body. It gets you thinking outside yourself. Often we get to fall in love with the idea of ourselves versus who we really are, and the actor really needs to really work on their own beliefs in that and allow themselves to become someone else other than themselves, without judging that character whatever your beliefs are. You have to admit that your character might not have your same beliefs and be willing to really act. It just begins to work those muscles that you probably don’t think about.
You have to be willing to release control and release that search for validation. You have to find self validation, instead of finding validation from somebody else. And that’s a struggle, working on being okay with failure.
So friggin take an improv class then audition, audition, audition, because auditioning is a weird muscle. It is a muscle that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Auditioning has nothing to do with being an actor. And I didn’t really understand that until I got to Los Angeles. Audition, audition, audition, audition while taking improv classes and get with your friends and make content.
Also, there used to be the triple threat of the actor, singer, dancer, and now really you have to be the actor, writer, director, producer sound guy, social media, and your own manager.
RAH: Thank you Justin.
JD: Well, thank you Tony. It’s wonderful to see you.
See all of Justin Drays credits HERE
Photos by Kimberly Frost
‘The Day The Nationalists Came’ is off The Hustle Season Vol. 1
written by Gabriel Santamaria and performed by Reggie Pace, Kelli Strawbridge, Gabriel Santamaria and James Seretis of the The Hustle Season Podcast.
direct/edit: R. Anthony Harris
assist: Paul Tyler Matthews
production: Major Major
It’s Halloween, and to get into the proper mood for the season, RVA’s own John Reinhold is binging on horror movies. Here, he presents some horror recommendations, from classics to some good ones you might not have seen.
Happy Halloween, horror fans. With the scariest holiday of the year just one day away, we’re here to go over some of the best horror movies you you might want to see again, and hopefully find some that you still need to see for the first time. Or maybe this is just a way-too-deep dive into the world of horror movies. You decide.
Horror movies are amazing and run the gamut from fun to spooky, creepy, gory, terrifying, and all the verbs together, drenched in blood. Honestly, I grade them very differently than other movies. The horror genre is unique in what I’ll let it get by with. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece every time. It can be made cheaply with shoddy cinematography, and even have bad acting, and I’m down for it. I can enjoy it on another level. And there is so much out there — a ton of movies. So when you find a good one, it’s like getting a really good cookie. You like cookies in general, but a good one really hits the spot.
Repeat after me: a horror movie does not have to actually scare me to be enjoyable or good. There, we’ve said it. As viewers, we often get caught in a cycle of grading horror movies based on whether they are “actually scary” or “not scary.” But honestly, just like comedy, each of us is affected differently, and we all have a preference for what kind of effect we want a movie to generate. I mean, most of us are grownups here, right? (Well, maybe.) Look — it’s a freaking movie. It’s not real, and a lot of us will never again experience the terror horror movies put into us when we were young. It just won’t happen.
But still, all too often, we get caught up In the old conversation. “Hey man, can you recommend a horror movie that’s actually scary?” Here’s how I handle that: I immediately ask, “What’s a movie that actually scared you?” And as soon as they answer, say, “That didn’t scare me at all.” This saves a lot of time, and puts you in control of the situation. Once we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can follow up with some recommendations that should be serviceable, whether they’re scary or not. How about a movie that’s a decently made horror story with maybe some depth — we can all agree on that, right?
Of course not. Therefore, we’ll just do our best and list some favorites. Here are some horror movies you might enjoy, and might actually be scary:
Prince of Darkness
Part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy, from 1987. This movie terrified me as a kid. I believe it’s very undervalued as a horror classic. It’s not perfect, and has some cheesy parts. However, it also has some very chilling moments, and some great cinematography. It has Donald Pleasence, who is horror movie royalty. It’s a bit dated, but I still really enjoy this one.
Another John Carpenter Apocalypse Trilogy classic here, that sits close to the top of my favorite horror films ever. This one is solid from beginning to end. The performances are fun, especially that of a bearded Kurt Russell, who I always love. The creature design and effects by Rob Bottin really stand out as well. They are so much more believable than much of the CGI that followed in the years since. You should look him up and read about his work on this film and others. I really like the pacing and sound work — it makes you feel a part it. Trust no one, and at all costs, don’t let it get to the mainland.
This is one my favorite Christmas presents I have ever given someone. “Merry Christmas! Here, enjoy Audition, a Christmas Classic!” This began my deep dive into Takashi Miike films, a weird and wonderful ride. There are some very disturbing scenes in this one. It has a certain beauty in its colors and camera work, which are often overshadowed in discussions of the movie by the shock value. Miike flips the script in Audition by taking the usual victim in Japanese horror, a woman, and giving her the power in the story. If you can get past the shock value, this film has multiple layers to it. Eli Roth was so inspired by it that he created Hostel; many other movies considered “torture porn” were also spawned from Audition, for better or worse. In my opinion, though, none really have the depth or weird beauty of this film.
I saw this one in the theatre; the trailer and available information made it seem like it would be a sci-fi film. Going in expecting that certainly set it up well to scare the shit out of me. However, it wasn’t popular upon its release, though fortunately it gained popularity thereafter. I really enjoy the actors in this one, with Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne leading the cast. I never have really understood the low ratings this gets on Rotten Tomatoes. I believe for a deep space flick it’s quite solid, and has some great jump scares.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
A 1974 classic right here that’s still very disturbing. It of course created the popular horror character, Leatherface. Many times in my car going down a dusty country road I find mysef saying, “It’s feeling a bit Chainsaw Massacre out here.” This film is gritty and feels like we shouldn’t be watching it. It was banned for some time in various countries. It is an assault on you, and feels like a nightmare you might have, involving the country hillbilly family you’ve always feared. Sheer terror, really, and one of the most influential horror films ever made. I do find it hard to watch and enjoy, to be perfectly honest. It’s the first of its kind, and it’s the reason why we want to run when we hear a chainsaw.
[I second this recommendation. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is without a doubt the scariest movie I have ever seen, and one of my all-time favorites. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and fix that. –Drew]
I usually recommended this film to people that want to know about a horror film they have not already seen. It caught me off guard on my first watch. At that time, I hadn’t had a horror film really effect me in quite a while. It takes a very psychological film to get into my headspace — many horror films with gore or jump-scares just seem like repeats of the same old formula. But this one made sense. The setting, the pacing, the actors, and the creepy vibes got me good. I could actually imagine this happening. The recordings of the tapes they find in the old mental ward were super creepy to me, and the use of them with the rest of the plot is just very effective. This is a mood setting psychological film, and a really good small-budget horror flick. Some might find it slow paced, but I actually enjoy that about it.
I have to include this 1960 horror classic by Hitchcock. This is the original slasher film, and a work of film art. So many of the cinematic themes, camera angles, pacing, and plot from Psycho have been studied and recreated in later horror movies. It broke a lot of barriers; Hitchcock had to fight the production code of the time to get it released as he wanted it. Take the time to see it and look up information about the film. It’s a great film to revisit, and has a giant cultural impact that resonates to this day.
This is my favorite horror film, and one of my favorite films ever. To me it’s a masterpiece, starting right away with the famous opening as the family travels up the winding road — a scene that has been recreated in so many films. Kubrick makes the hotel itself into a labyrinth of terror, both in your mind and onscreen for the actors. You have Jack being Jack, and Shelly Duvall losing her hair and her mind, live, for you to witness. The scene with the twin girls is one of the scariest use of ghosts I have ever seen; it stuck in my mind as a teen, and still gives me chills. It’s so deep on so many levels. There have been years of discussions and reviews of this film, and not all of them have been positive. Stephen King himself has voiced his displeasure with this interpretation by Kubrick, which he felt was too far from his original novel. He even made his own adaptation of it to be more true to his version. He has at least softened his stance over the years, but in the end, I disagree with his assessment. A film that makes me talk about it over and over has done something special. I highly recommend watching Room 237, a documentary about the film and various interpretations of it. It will open your eyes to some of the depths of The Shining. I can go on and on about this one — I have watched it so many times, and still enjoy it every time. It continues to haunt me, and I continue to find new things in it with every watch.
Cabin in the Woods
This is a fun one you have probably seen. On the comedy-horror tip, it has the makings of a classic. It also has produced some famous memes that you definitely have seen. Certainly during these times, the scene where the killers place bets on which monsters will get into the action has been making the rounds. Cabin In The Woods is a horror movie film for horror movie lovers; an homage to the classics of the genre. So much witty banter and classic horror movie situations. You’re also in on the joke, so it plays out from a very unusual angle for you as a watcher. Its classic cliches get very meta, so it’s a blast for the horror movie nerds, and a joy to watch with friends. For more in the comedy-horror vein, check out Tucker and Dale Vs Evil for some decent laughs.
Horror films in the 70s often had a hard time with critical response. However, this film was one of the few that was praised by major critics, including Roger Ebert. This 1977 film birthed Michael Myers one of the most famous slashers in history. I was terrified of him as a teenager. Something about the constant stalking, the building of fear and terror. Halloween — another John Carpenter film — shows real restraint; it does not go for the the straight gore that we have seen in many later slasher films. It takes a lot from Hitchcock, and has a real mood to it, which is boosted by the theme song. This film received a lot more praise as a film than that other pioneering slasher film, Friday the 13th, which was panned at the time of its release. It’s worth noting that both these films were highly grossing films on low budgets, and spawned so much of the horror genre as we know it today.
Tim Curry’s Pennywise really got me when I was younger. I really loved it. Honestly though, the 1990 version of It didn’t scare me as much as interested me in the story and Pennywise as an entity itself. It had its moments, but overall kinda dragged as a movie. But Curry certainly set us up with a unforgettable clown. A remake of that three-hour landmark is a big undertaking, and comes with a need to directly focus on the characters, especially Pennywise. The 2017 film pulled this off; I thought it was so good. The portrayal of the kids and their relationships had a real Stand By Me feel; I felt like one of the group. The actors who played the kids were all so amazing. Sofie Lillis really blew me away as Beverly; in some ways, she steals the show. But then there’s Bill Skarsgard, whose take on Pennywise is just amazing. It’s hard to step into that clown’s shoes and make it something new and scary, but I think Skarsgard’s performance works quite well. I tell ya, my kids wont even look at him. The movie’s cinematography is also a big standout for me. Its very Shining at points, and of course I like that. I think this first part and the follow-up are both good, but the kids in this first part really make it stand out as a movie. And if you’re scared of clowns, then this is that movie for you.
Other movies that should be on your list if you’re a horror fanatic:
Hope you find something you like. Happy Halloween!