Cameron Gellman chatted with Courageous Nerd about playing Rick Tyler/Hourman on DC’s Stargirl, reprising the role for Season 2, his acting beginnings and much more.
Prior to landing this major role, Cameron had appeared in a number of other television series including The Middle, The Good Doctor, The Fosters and Heathers.
Read on below for Cameron’s interview with Courageous Nerd, which has been edited for length and clarity. Or, if you prefer, you can listen to the full conversation on our YouTube channel, linked and shared below.
First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
Cameron Gellman (CG): Yeah, absolutely, thanks for having me.
How did your journey in acting first start? When did you decide to pursue it professionally?
CG: I’m still deciding to pursue it professionally. As the job changes, as the roles change, and as my relationship to the arc changes… just kind of taking it one thing at a time, you know? I find myself enjoying it more and more as my career has progressed. When I first got into it, I just didn’t quite know what it was, if that makes sense? You have ideas about the lifestyle, the art and what all those things are. You get into it, start auditioning a ton.
Auditioning can be fun, but it’s also a lot of work. You’re really throwing yourself at sometimes a lot of different characters and projects at the same time. There were a lot of months where I was auditioning for what felt like every day. Think about that versus working every day on the same character. It’s the level of focus you can put towards one of these things versus all of them. It was awesome to have that variety and then it was also challenging to balance that.
When you’re on a show, you get a schedule. You know when you’re working. When auditions come up, “Hey! We need you in an hour or at this time tomorrow.” I always found it a little difficult because whatever plans you had at any given time, they were secondary to auditioning. If there were a lot of auditions which is what you wanted, you kind of could never plan anything. I was really fortunate, I got to audition a lot, get a lot of runs in, try a lot of things out in the first couple years of my career. You start working more and more… now we’re on Stargirl. It’s amazing, you know?
Although you are playing the first live action Rick Tyler, it’s not the first live action Hourman. To what extent did that knowledge influence your performance?
CG: There’s been a Rex [played by Patrick J. Adams on Legends of Tomorrow], as I understand it. I didn’t watch that, my understanding was that it wasn’t really a focal point in that show. So, there’s not necessarily much education you can gain from that. It’s not like there was an original movie. I’m so fortunate, I have access to [Stargirl showrunner] Geoff Johns, who’s just an encyclopedia for the history of these comics and knows them so well.
I also have friends that are really, really into comics… thank God we have the internet. I was able to kind of go, “Okay, who is this guy?” How many different places has he appeared? Okay, in this version he had these powers and he was good. In this version, he had these powers and he was evil. I got all the information I could, went to Geoff and went, “Hey, of all of this stuff, what of it are you using?” Once I got his info on it, there was a jump-off point where you can go, “Okay, I know what I need to know about what you see for this.
Now, I’m going to build something that I think is fun.” I’m still finding out who this guy is, 2-3 years in. Like everybody, he is complicated and growing up just like I am. The circumstances are changing. I was excited to be playing a legacy, I thought that was neat. I think it’s very compelling, the way that a lot of heroes come from heartache, parental issues and loss. The idea of coming into these amazing powers, gifts, and responsibilities… it’s a really time-tested and still interesting story. We love to root for that person who’s doing the best they can with limited resources, but there’s greatness in them. So yeah dude, playing a superhero is absolutely so much fun and at the end of the day, he’s just a person, too.
One key aspect of Stargirl is the fact that the heroes are in high school. It’s like a classic teen drama within a superhero show. Are there any characters you might have hung out with socially when you were in high school?
CG: Oh, interesting… I think I’d have been friends with Courtney. I think that’d have been someone that I really enjoyed and knew through athletics. I think that level of spirit and kindness is attractive, you know? I could totally see Courtney and I being friends – I adore Brec [Bassinger] and Brec’s the same energy as Courtney. She’s really the right person to play that character because she does represent and embody so much of that goodness and sincerity. She brings our cast and crew of this show together in the way that Courtney brings the team together. It’s pretty parallel, you know?
When you were in the audition stages, did you read opposite anyone else that was cast? Was Rick always the role that you were going for?
CG: I just went for Rick, whose name at the time was “Ryan Bash”, obviously an alias. I didn’t know what I was auditioning for. That’s the joke of the whole thing now. I was the last one to get cast and the whole thing was totally disorienting. I didn’t know what I had booked or how long we were shooting. I didn’t know I was playing a superhero… I caught up later. I know a lot of people, all my friends, had auditioned for these roles on the show. They definitely cast a wide net.
Coming into Season 2, having had a full season of playing Rick under your belt, did you have any input into his Season 2 storyline? Or, did you feel ingrained into the character enough to offer input?
CG: I felt a lot closer to him. I had new questions… Season 1 answered some stuff and brought up other stuff. Obviously, the way Season 1 ended, we were all on a cliffhanger. What is the fallout for these kinds gonna be like after this massive fight and the decisions we’ve all made? I was really curious about how it would all land for Rick. I think where Geoff took it is really beautiful. This idea that he’s healing through befriending Grundy, right? He’s not talking to the group about it, keeps it to himself and doesn’t even maybe know why he’s doing it.
Weirdly, it’s like Grundy’s very connected to this family who’s gone, but he’s still around. Ultimately, I didn’t have much input. It was written really well, we had some good conversations and I agreed with all of it.
Along with Yvette Monreal, you probably had the trickiest job of making Rick likable due to his hostility towards Courtney in the early episodes. Were you worried about how Rick would be perceived before he joined the JSA and whether fans would warm to him?
CG: That had to be where we started. Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but that was… we started from a rough place because we wanted to, for Rick, deal with how alone he was feeling. How rough he had to become to deal with his circumstances. There was always, I think in my mind, this sense that no matter how stand-offish or callous Rick or Yolanda was, Courtney was strong enough to penetrate through that because that’s her superpower.
Ultimately, they’re just kids. They haven’t had 40 years of being this set in their ways. It’s recent stuff that really hurt them. Even though it was a lot at first, I think [Yvette] was pretty excited to go on that journey, I know I was.
As we obviously cannot read Rick’s mind and find out what he’s thinking, what do you think he has most appreciated or taken away from his experience so far working alongside the JSA?
CG: Oh man, a sense of family, 100%. I think he feels less alone in the world. I think he feels cared about. I think it’s really important that the decisions we may aren’t just for us. Make choices for the people we love and maybe it makes us more careful, more thoughtful. He’s thinking about more than just himself. I think belonging changes a person.
Of the “adult” actors in the cast, you mainly work with Luke Wilson. Have lines ever blurred between Pat mentoring the JSA and Luke mentoring the actors in real life?
CG: It’s a good question. I would say that Pat is someone that leads in a very hands-on way. He’s always kind of talking us through what he knows and what we should do, based on what he’s seen. He’s had all of this experience with the old ISA, JSA and wants us to be patient and thoughtful about how we proceed in dangerous situations and not get hurt.
Luke is such a veteran in this industry and he really shows that in a sort of lead-by-example way. Whereas Pat is more of a halftime speech with you, Luke just does it. You get to watch him. He handles himself in a way that there’s a lot to learn from it, on set. By way of his professionalism, the way that he improvises, the efficiency that he moves through filming coverage. It’s like, “Oh, I get why you’ve been able to do this for so long.”
The first season especially, I studied him really closely and tried to take little notes. He’s super receptive to questions you might have about any of it, but definitely feel like he just embodies it. If you pay attention, it’s really obvious why, amongst other reasons namely his talent, he’s done so well.
Hunter Sansone mentioned that he decided that Cameron didn’t know the other major characters before Courtney arrived. To what extent do you think Rick knew the other characters before Courtney arrived?
CG: My instinct is to say pretty well. I always saw myself as having had a lot of issues with Henry, Jake’s character. If you’re an athletic guy growing up in a small town, chances are you’re gonna play football. By the time we landed on all of us in Season 1, he was kind of the “IT” guy and the quarterback. I always imagined that at one point we were friends and some really icky things happened. Right around the time where kids started really deciding who was cool, it was clearly not cool to be friends with the ‘poor kid’. That’s when he kind of dropped me. I mean, who knows?
I do think we would’ve been around each other. I always found it ironic that Yolanda, who was just as much a part of the problem and this perfect little girl who had everything… even though I think absolutely that Rick felt bad for what happened to her, it was also like ‘you were never a very nice person”. Now, you’re kind of a shadow of yourself. When we first got in the JSA, I was definitely thinking about that. [She was] probably someone who never looked at me and now [she’s] here.
Beth… these are people we grew up with, probably gone K through 12 together. I think I’ve been around everybody. Cameron [Mahkent], someone probably Rick never really noticed or thought much about. Part of it is you take clues from the script. In this episode, you’re saying this person and I have a huge problem. Where does that come from? My mind with Henry always jumped to older stuff, same thing with Cindy.
Rick said, in my opinion, one of the most memorable lines in Season 1: “I don’t want justice, Courtney. I want revenge.” Do you think this was Rick’s mindset right up until he showed mercy to Solomon Grundy, or did it shift earlier?
CG: I think it happened right then. You know what I mean? You finally get to live the fantasy that you had of wrapping your hands around the thing that killed your parents. You’ve thought so much about how they died. Did he step on them? Did he squeeze them to death? Did the car go into the tree and metal punctured [Rex Tyler’s] heart? That’s on this person. You finally get to touch that person, look at that person and feel what it is to hurt them, the way they hurt you. There’s an expectation that that’s going to make you feel better, it has to.
If you’re miserable and you assign that the misery is about this thing, do this and I won’t have to feel this way anymore. You get there and it’s not that. He realizes that it’s not going to make him feel better. Either way, his parents aren’t coming back, they’re gone. Either way, he’s going to be in pain from that.
Then, he looks at this thing which he so criminalised and associated as being violent. [He] realises that [Grundy] is kind of a baby, or he’s a dog. He didn’t really know, he was kept in a jail cell and was basically enslaved, right? Sent out to do this stuff for these people (the ISA) and maybe didn’t even understand it. Just the way that a dog fights, if you teach a dog to fight. It’s not that dog’s fault. You put it in a situation where it had to act a certain way to survive. I think Rick realises how much Grundy is like him in that way. Then, it wouldn’t really be fair to kill him. It’s a very human moment.
I think not necessarily all in that moment, but ultimately for Rick, “Oh, he’s just as scared and confused as I am.” Sometimes, you don’t make good decisions or he knows why [Grundy] made those decisions. Rick operates from the same place of fear and anger that Grundy does. It’s just a moment where he feels like they’re the same.
Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish with the rest of 2021?
CG: I think that we go through really pronounced phases in our lives sometimes, often times that have a predominant theme. This summer, I’ve been in a learning phase. It’s been about introducing new strengths and new skills to myself. A lot of fight training that I hope really serves me in the third season of the show. A lot of physical training to get bigger, a lot of acting study. All things I see as skills that will make me better. It will make me better at my job and also just able to do my job with more ease.
I think learning phases are not about ease, you’re consuming a lot, it’s heady, it’s focused, exhausting. Kind of coming off for the summer and going back to the show, I’m really excited to let there be some ease. Let there be even more trust than there was in the second season in my work and the fun of all of this. Kind of let those skills breathe and see where I’m at, enjoy the fact that we get to back for the third season of this show. It’s been such an amazing ride and opportunity and it’s continuing.
What I want to accomplish is more personal than it is professional, it’s all the same. It’s about allowing things to evolve, leaving room to be surprised – creatively, professionally, personally. How to reset the wonder of all this, going into the third time around? All of that just wraps into wanting to be healthy and happy, you know? That’s what all this is for.
A lot of people are still really in a tailspin from the circumstances of the last 18 months of our lives, with this pandemic. It’s a tremendous amount of stress. I want for myself and everybody the opportunity to take a couple of deep breaths and start to feel that this thing, hopefully, is concluding. But, we’ll see. My fingers and crossed. In the meantime, I hope in some small way that the show which is airing right now brings people a little bit of entertainment, fantasy life, a little distraction and that our third season, knowing that’s coming out, does the same.