Category: Interviews

Vanity Fair: The Best Stuff (and Beyoncé Songs) on Earth, According to Finn Wittrock

Though Wittrock checks his Twitter feed, he prefers to get his news the old-fashioned way. “I have not been a good millennial and have actually been going to a deli to buy the physical New York Times,” he says. “I’ll read it all day and all the next day.”


Wittrock lives in Los Feliz, in Los Angeles, and cites the Thai restaurant Night + Market Song (“The spiciest food I’ve ever had in my life”) and the “high-end taco place” Petty Cash as his favorite spots. In New York City, his go-to bar is Spring Lounge: “It’s a great old dive.”


The Crown is the most recent series Wittrock binge-watched. “It was so improbable that I would like that show, because I just thought, Oh, this is going to be very English and very . . . royal—but it was a page-turner!” (Another recent “obsession” of his: HBO’s High Maintenance.)


“I’m kind of an old man in my taste,” the 32-year-old jokes. He says he has been a “Bob Dylan head since [being] a teenager.” He’s also a fan of Arcade Fire, the National, Radiohead, and Beirut. “I have a bit of an eclectic mix of bands that I love.”


Wittrock likes to read two books at once and prefers pocket-size ones, so that he can carry them with him wherever he goes. Currently, he’s working his way through Tennessee Williams’s short fiction (“lush, very poetic, and incredibly sad”) and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (“also very sad”).


Though he himself had a supporting role in La La Land, Wittrock mentions a different awards favorite as a recent cinematic standout: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. “It is a very personal, quiet, sad drama, but it’s also very, I thought, beautifully filmed. I really felt like I was in that New England winter.”


Wittrock’s favorite is “Love on Top,” and he remembers well the first time he heard it. “When I was younger, I thought I was too cool for Beyoncé: like, ‘She’s so pop-y.’ [But then] that song came on, and I was like, ‘Oh, I get it.’ ” He’s since become something of a ‘Yoncé disciple. “I went with my wife to a Beyoncé concert and thought I would just kind of observe. [Then] I found myself at one point screaming, ‘I slay, I slay.’ ”


Finn Wittrock on Tackling Othello, Not Singing in La La Land, His ‘Magical’ Glass Menagerie Cast & More

• This interview is featured on

Since holding his own as a newcomer opposite powerhouses like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Linda Emond and Andrew Garfield in Mike Nichols’ Death of a Salesman on Broadway in 2012, Finn Wittrock has enjoyed many well-deserved big moments in Hollywood: an Emmy-nominated turn on American Horror Story: Freak Show (and showy roles on each subsequent season of the FX hit), a part in the SAG Award-nominated ensemble of the indie hit The Big Short and high-profile turns in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the acclaimed HBO film version of The Normal Heart and more. Now, he’s back on the theater scene doing back to back productions of Othello at New York Theater Workshop, which opens December 12 with David Oyelowo as Othello and Daniel Craig as Iago, and the hotly-anticipated The Glass Menagerie with Sally Field and Joe Mantello on Broadway in February. recently caught up with the stage and screen talent to talk about his golden year.

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Finn Wittrock’s interview for LACHSA Alumni Network of the Los Angeles County High school

We’ve found an old interview of Finn Wittrock for the LACHSA Alumni Network of the Los Angeles County High school. He talked about his career, his time at LACHSA and personal life. Enjoy!

Professional Life
What ignited your passion for acting and why did you decide to make it your career?

I was introduced to acting through my dad, who worked at Shakespeare and Company, a summer theatre company in Massachusetts. I played lots of messenger boys [and] pages as a kid and when I wasn’t on I would watch and listen to every show. Just listening to those words every night kind of educated me through osmosis, I think, so by the time I got to LACHSA I was pretty sure this was what I wanted to do. I still went to public school during the year and did normal kid stuff, but the summers were full of theatre for me and that’s where I caught the bug.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

It’s always nice to be congratulated, but every now and then you get someone who you can tell was genuinely moved by your performance, and/or inspired in some way. True inspiration, especially from a younger person, nothing really beats that.

What are some of the challenges that come along with your profession?

Everything’s a challenge. Getting a job in the first place is a challenge, and then once you start working you realize the challenge has just begun. There’s a lot of rejection in this job, which is something they don’t always tell you in school, and it takes some time before you can let the jobs you don’t get roll off and not take every “they went in a different direction” personally. Still, every now and then there is one that stings. I still audition for the vast majority of roles I get and I don’t get 90% of them, which is actually a good ratio.

What was your first reaction when you heard about your Emmy nomination?

I honestly felt like I won – I still do. I know people say “it’s an honor just to be nominated” but in this case I really mean that. It wasn’t something I was expecting or gunning for, so I’m just really humbled to be in that group of nominees. Hell, I’m up against bill Murray – I’m fine.

How has your life changed from the day before you were nominated for an Emmy to now?

Not that much, honestly. There’s a lot more fancy champagne in my fridge that people have sent me. But I’m still just trying to focus on the work – finding the best people to work with, and making sure in the job I do have I’m pushing myself to my limits, every day. 

Describe your best or favorite moment in your professional career.

I’ve had a few memorable ones. Meeting Daniel Day Lewis backstage of Death of a Salesman was one of the highlights. That show in general was a once in a lifetime experience. I remember people joking, saying “it doesn’t get better than this, you might as well stop now.” Working with Phil Hoffman and Mike Nichols in some of their last endeavors was very inspiring, and extremely educational.

What would you say to current LACHSA students who dream of doing what you’re doing? How should they pursue their goals?

Patience, persistence, and a focus on the fundamentals. I know that sounds so boring but really the stuff you learn in first year acting is some of the most valuable stuff you will take with you throughout your life. Keep doing theatre. Go to plays, and listen to the ones you’re in when you’re not onstage. Also, be flexible. I know a lot of LACHSA alumni who are in the business but have found other creative outlets besides acting – writers, producers, editors, musicians. This is a multi-faceted industry and there are many roads to take.

How would you characterize your time at LACHSA?

I had an amazing time. I was always busy, always working on something or other. I had a car and a license before any of my friends so I was always driving people home all over the place. I learned so much at school that my first year of Juilliard was like, “this is redundant.”

Describe your journey after LACHSA. Was it what you expected? Were there any unexpected turns?

Because it was such a conservatory on its own, I took a year off after LACHSA before going to college. I got some guest roles on TV, but also experienced what it was like not to work. I worked in a frozen yogurt place in Pasadena and a few random coffee shops. Even after college I was surprised at how long and slow the road sometimes seemed. Waiting tables and living on 157th street, scraping the bottom of my checking account to pay rent. But those experiences are important – they toughen you and enhance your perspective out of the narrow world of acting. And you’re supposed to have life experiences as an actor – what else are you going to draw from? Living life to the fullest doesn’t mean that life is always pleasant!

What do you think is the best thing you learned from LACHSA?

I learned a lot, more than I realized at the time. I guess all-in-all the most important thing is the importance of community. I made some of the best friends of my life there, who I still am extremely close to. A play, or any work of art, needs collaboration, teamwork, trust; the ability to be messy and wrong in front of other people who won’t judge you, and are just as willing to be messy and wrong in front of you. You are creating a company in your class, or in your cast or band, which is a cohesive whole. Visual art is perhaps the most solitary but I think even there, the best work comes out of a give-and-take with the audience, or a teacher or mentor, a conversation that happens between the work itself, its audience, and its creator(s).

Do you work professionally with other LACHSA alumni?

Yes – I wrote a film with my friend Eric Bilitch, which he directed and I was in, called the Submarine Kid. Zakk Eginton, also an alum[nus], was our Director of Photography and Harlan Silverman was our composer. And Deborah Del Prete, our Executive Prodcucer, was the mom of an alum[nus]. A real LACHSA party!  Also I’m still good friends with Alex Anfanger, who is killing it in the comedy world.

What is your favorite past time?
I like to hike. Anywhere really but been spending lots of time in Griffith Park.

Have you ever considered or done a profession outside of the arts?

I think I would be a journalist if I had the choice. I write also, which is akin to acting, and I’m trying to direct as well. Besides that honestly, I’m pretty useless outside of this profession.



“AHS: Hotel” Star Finn Wittrock: Lady Gaga is a real workhorse…very, very approachable”.

Finn Wittrock– yes you’ve seen him before. He started on “All My Children,” the soap, then made a big leap to Mike Nichols’ production of “Death of a Salesman.” He was stranded at sea with Louis Zapata in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken.” Right now he’s on TV playing against Lady Gaga in “American Horror Story:Hotel.” He’s also in Angelo Pizzo’s “My All-American,” and is featured in Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” coming in a couple of weeks.

“My All American” is based on the true-life story of Freddie Steinmark, the University of Texas football legend, who died in 1971 at age 22. Aaron Eckhart co-stars as iconic coach Darrell Royal who offered Freddie a scholarship and a spot on the team despite his small size and build.

The movie has made $2.2 million since its release November 13th as an indie feature.

The role of the clean-cut, religious Freddie Steinmark is miles away from Wittrock’s best known role as the hypersexual, psychopathic character, Tristan Duffy, in “American Horror Story: Hotel” seduced by the Countess, played by Lady Gaga. 

At a press conference recently to promote the film, I asked Finn what it was like working with Lady Gaga.  He told me, “Gaga’s awesome! She’s a real workhorse. That’s something many people don’t know. She’ll be in New York accepting some award on the weekends and then on set at 7 am and you would never have known that she’d gone anywhere…I think she did a lot to break the mystique about her, by the way. Like she hangs out with the crew, she talks to them, she sings songs on set. She’s very, very approachable.”

With Tristan Duffy, the demented male model in plays in “Hotel,” Wittrock told me, “I decided to just that he was like even though it’s modern I decided that he was like Sid Vicious. He’s like a punk guy from the 80’s. I just immersed myself in the Sex Pistols and when punk was starting and listened to that music every day so you create you a history if there isn’t one already.”

So what’s going to happen to his twisted model character? “I really don’t what to tell you because you’re going to be really shocked. I can say that I have a cool transformation this year, which is something I’ve never done before.”

I asked Pizzo, the first-time director, who wrote the screenplay for the beloved sports films, “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,” if he cast Wittrock against type in “My All American” after seeing him in the gory and demented FX series? It turns out Pizzo never saw the popular Ryan Murphy show.

“I can’t watch it. It’s too creepy,” said Pizzo. “It’s not my thing. I tried when I learned Finn was in it, what was it? The Freak Show last year, and went, ‘Oh my god!’ I couldn’t get through an episode. It was like, ‘Ooh!’”

Despite Freddie Steinmark’s untimely death, he was so optimistic and goodhearted that the movie remains upbeat and inspirational. Freddie was also religious and went to mass every morning. The film, which is a weepie, should also appeal to school kids and church groups.

(I saw a nun at the press junket, which was a first. She told me she reviews inspirational films for her religious website.)

Playing someone as perfect as Freddie presented its own challenges Wittrock told me. Former team mates of the athlete would tell him, “Yeah, he was the best guy I ever knew. He’s like a perfect person.’ It’s like, oh, good, I’ll just do that. That’s why, whenever people started saying, ‘He’s such a good person,’ I would go, ‘Like, no, stop, please, stop talking,” Wittrock said. “I wanted to find out what’s underneath that.”

To prepare for the role, Wittrock, who never played football before, took an immersive football boot camp and ended up doing many of the stunts himself. 

 “I’m like his size, so when you see guys twice your size coming after you full force you realize how daunting it is and how much mind over matter it has to be to know that you’re five ten and can take down a guy that’s 6’5,” 250 pounds, and he did. And that’s what they said. These guys were like, ‘I didn’t even know what hit me and then all of a sudden I was on the ground and this little runt was hopping away.”

Asked about Austin he said he fell in love with the city just being there two months. “There is still a hippie vibe lurking around the corner,” he said. “That’s the difference between me and Freddie. It’s like he was the clean-cut sort who harkens back to the 50’s All American, you know? I probably would have been the long-haired hippie smoking weed in the corner.”


New York Times: Actors of ‘The Big Short’ Talk About the Debt Crisis, in Beverly Hills

Besides starring in “The Big Short” — the forthcoming comic drama about the Wall Street outsiders who anticipated the subprime mortgage collapse and made a mint betting against the American economy — Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Finn Wittrock all have something else in common. Basically, how little they actually understood about the recent housing and credit bubble before researching their roles. “I thought I knew, but I didn’t really know anything at all,” Mr. Gosling said.

To help moviegoers understand, the director Adam McKay, adapting Michael Lewis’s best-selling book of the same title, took a lively kitchen-sink approach. He used such devices as celebrity tutorials on complicated concepts (Margot Robbie plays herself as she explains mortgage-backed securities) and Mr. Gosling’s breaking of the fourth wall. The plot itself is easily digestible: Mr. Carell’s character, Mark Baum, is a blunt-talking hedge fund manager who gets into the credit default swap business with Mr. Gosling’s flashily attired loudmouth, Jared Vennett. Mr. Wittrock’s Jamie Shipley, who is one half of a more bush-league investment team, enlists an ex-banker (Brad Pitt) to help his group capitalize on the impending crisis.

Recently, Mr. Carell, 53; Mr. Gosling, 35; and Mr. Wittrock, 31, got together in a hotel room in Beverly Hills to swap stories about power-learning Wall Street jargon, what they learned from the traders they played and being part of a cast so sprawling — including Christian Bale — that many of its members never laid eyes on one another until the publicity tour. “I still haven’t met Christian yet,” Mr. Wittrock confessed. “We were in totally different worlds.” The film opens Dec. 11. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:

Q. Adam McKay has joked that the man who made “Step Brothers” might not be the first choice to direct a film about the breakdown of Wall Street. Did a comedy guy tackling a serious subject cause any trepidation?

Ryan Gosling His movies, they don’t even feel like movies to me — they’re friends of mine that I check in with. Like, “Hey, ‘Anchorman’! How are you doing?” To read the [script] and be a part of what is a sort of departure for him felt like even more of an opportunity. I did hear Adam liked to do a lot of improvisation, and I was nervous about that. Obviously the language of that world is very dense and specific and complicated. So I tried to have an arsenal of terms to use.

In the end, how much of the dialogue was on the fly?

FINN WITTROCK As much as we wanted. Often you’d do one or two passes as written and then sort of let loose. Then the way it was cut and shot, so many pieces were used. It wasn’t like they used the one take we improvised on or the one take we didn’t. It’s like a collage.

STEVE CARELL It was a different kind of improvisation. No one was searching for a joke, for a laugh. It was all character- and story-based. That’s where the information that we had to bone up on came into play. You have to be on point with this kind of improvisation.

GOSLING Adam really expected you to know the subject matter, too. He’d yell out things like, “Lay into him about your negative carry,” and I’d be like, [timidly] “Now?”

WITTROCK [in a tiny voice] “Can I look at my notes real fast?”

That sounds daunting.

GOSLING But it also bonds all the actors in the scene, because you’re all immediately working without a net.

CARELL It forces you to listen to one another. You’re not anticipating what you have to say or going through your jargon in your head trying to get it right before it comes to you. It was fun, and very similar in certain ways to “Anchorman,” because we had that freedom to explore.

Improvisation may be a holdover from Mr. McKay’s other movies, but not the look of this one. Can you talk about that?

GOSLING He shot the movie very differently. By basically putting a couple of cameras in the corner of the room with zooms, you never knew who they were shooting or when or how. There were no marks. You weren’t aware of, “This is your moment.” You could be giving it everything you have, and they could actually be shooting someone’s hands writing something on a desk. There were no cameras between you and the actors or between you and the ideas that you were trying to express. The first scene I did was in this Las Vegas showroom where I had one line. I thought I was safe, you know? I’d say, “Here’s your key cards,” and that’s it. It turned out to be a five-minute scene, and they were always on me.

WITTROCK Wasn’t that when you met [Jeffry Griffin, the actor who played] your assistant? Wasn’t he an extra? And Adam just loved you two together and put him wherever you were, right?

GOSLING Yeah, he was just supposed to be in that one scene, but we ended up doing every scene together. [Laughs.]

Each of you spent time with your real-life counterparts. Steve, the brashly eccentric character on whom your character was based, Steve Eisman, even came to the set several times. What was he like?

WITTROCK He has no filter. I remember him going up to Hamish [Linklater] and going [brusquely], “You’re too tall to play Porter.”

GOSLING [Laughs.] On my first day, he came to set. He was standing next to Steve, and I was totally blown away by what a great job Steve was doing — just his look, the nuances, things people won’t really know, because they won’t be familiar with [Mr. Eisman’s] mannerisms. It was really impressive.

CARELL He doesn’t see himself as that brash. He’s a very charming guy, incredibly smart, but he speaks his mind. There’s no fear to him. At all. He’s the type of person that I don’t think is intimidated by any situation. He sees himself as a loner and as someone who was fighting a fight in a very solitary way. Adam asked if I’d put on some weight, because — not that he dressed poorly, but he could wear very expensive clothes and look bad. So I started eating pizza and Chinese food, and we were in New Orleans, which helped as well.

Adam Davidson of NPR’s “Planet Money” [and a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine] was a consultant on the film. What kinds of questions would you ask him?

GOSLING He’d download us with as much information as possible — even down to clothing. He was very specific about how each sect within the financial world dressed and behaved. He explained the different cliques almost like a John Hughes movie would, or maybe “Mean Girls.” What brand you wear meant something in terms of where you’re at and who you are. Zegna versus Canali. There’s a real difference, and which you wore said something about you.

All three of your characters knew when no one else did that the subprime meltdown was on the horizon. What’s it like to be play someone who is either smarter or more observant that everybody else?

WITTROCK My guy, his [real] name is Jamie Mai, said that he still has this sense of frustration that no one paid attention. They were screaming about this as loud as they could, but everyone turned a deaf ear. A lot of our guys didn’t want to use their real names for this movie — we had to change their last names. I think they felt they were burned in the process of trying to get their voices heard.

In the film, Christian Bale plays Dr. Michael Burry, a partly blind stock market investor with a penchant for gratingly loud music, flailing on his drum kit and working alone. Did any of you hear about what he was up to during his nine days of filming his mostly one-man scenes?

CARELL I was in touch with Adam before I came out to New Orleans to talk about the character. You know, “I’m trying this,” and “What about that?” And I asked, “How’s it going with Christian?” And he says, “Unbelievable. He learned to play double-kick drums.” Then I thought, Oh, so I’m up next? That was a little intimidating.

Who wants to explain in a very simple way what a synthetic collateralized debt obligation is?

WITTROCK Is this a test?

GOSLING [Groans.] Oh God.

CARELL [Takes a deep breath.] You have CDO A and CDO B, and you can combine those two and put them into a CDO C, which is then made up of CDO A and B. CDO C is the synthetic CDO. [Smiles.]

GOSLING Nice! [He and Mr. Carell high-five] [Editor’s note: That’s actually the definition of a CDO squared.]

Where do you plan to keep your hard-earned money?

CARELL My mattress.

Source: New York Times

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