Actor Taylor Gray (who played Ezra Bridger in Star Wars Rebels) chatted to Courageous Nerd about his new film Night Night.
California native Taylor Gray played the lead role of ‘Bucket’ in the Nickelodeon series Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures. He is perhaps best known for voicing Ezra Bridger on the Disney XD series Star Wars Rebels.
Read on below for Taylor’s full interview with Courageous Nerd.
Welcome Taylor and thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
Taylor Gray (TG): Thank you so much for having me on.
We’ll be mainly chatting today about your new film Night Night. Before we get into that, however, could you discuss how you first started acting and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?
TG: I’ve been acting for a bit of time now. I think the very first thing I did, I was about 13 years old. I grew up in Orange County, so the proximity to Los Angeles… Los Angeles, New York, London are big hubs of entertainment. Just by living close, it was possible and I don’t think as many other people have that possibility so close to them. I had a friend that had been working in it a little bit. I went along to a commercial shoot with him, as they needed a handful of younger kids.
There was an amusement park and they were keeping it open for us. We went to it… the director kind of pulled me aside during the shoot and was like, “Hey, I see some potential here. Would you want to meet with some agents?” I didn’t have an agent at the time or anything. I met with some agents and from there, I just jumped into some acting classes.
Once I saw that this was a potential job… you could go to work and play pretend. You could use that tool of curiosity and observation for a job. I think I never turned back. That was something I fell in love with and have been in love with ever since.
Without giving too much away, how would you describe the premise of Night, Night, for anyone who is unfamiliar?
TG: Night Night is a psychological thriller based around this protagonist, April Davis (Breanna D’Amico). There’s a romance that kind of dovetails with the thriller aspect of it. There are some twists and turns, which I won’t give away. It follows the misdirect of what is happening through this budding romance in the film.
I play Jax Davis, who is April’s brother. We had a kind of difficult family life so we’re all each other has. Jax is a bit of a hedonist, epicurean figure who indulges in the finer parts of life. For him, I think his biggest concern is who he’s going to be with that night and what fun stimulants he can get his hands on.
The thriller genre has just gotten bigger and bigger as time has gone on. Right now, it’s at the biggest it’s ever been. There’s so many great films in that genre. But, some sort of transcend into a psychological place where there will be such big themes and motifs that sometimes are very heady. Whereas, this film is a bit more grounded. There still are the psychological aspects of what is going on, the objectives and the reasons behind some of the antics of these characters. At the same time, it definitely is more grounded than some of these other thrillers.
Who do you play in the film and how was this character different/similar to what you’ve done in the past?
TG: I think that was part of what drew me to the character as well. It was a little different to some of the other characters I’ve played. Speaking to what we were talking about earlier, I started acting fairly young. Looking at different characters I’ve played, it’s sort of run the gamut. Like, I was on a Nickelodeon show so that was kind of a straight-laced, straight man, right? I played a professional athlete in a film recently. Then, I was a Jedi on Star Wars.
All the characters are a bit different so I think Jax in Night Night is fun. I’m wearing big furs often, there’s a little less empathy in the character. The task with a character like that is to get people to see why he’s that way and actually care for them even though he might not be the most, let’s say, likable character.
Was there anything in particular about the film – perhaps the script or who you’d be working with that made you excited to do it?
TG: I think everything from who was involved. I was really excited to work with Niki, a younger female director who I know is very artistic and was going to take some creative liberties, which was going to be fun. The role was very cool to me. Shooting in Texas – I’d been to Texas before but only to the major cities, I’d never been to where we shot which was Corsicana. A very, very small town in Texas. It was fun to kind of dive into that world.
I think I’d only really done one thriller before this. I hadn’t jumped into this genre too much. So, I was also excited to kind of explore that whole world.
Night, Night was directed by Niki Koss – who has been interviewed by Courageous Nerd in the past. How was Niki as a director on the project? Would you say there’s a difference when being directed by a fellow actor?
TG: It was great, it was great. Like you said, she’s an actress as well. We didn’t know this at the time, but we had mutual friends. When we go on set, we played that game of “Who do we know?” One of my good buddies was on a show that he was on. Somehow, we’d been passing like ships in the night. It was nice to go in and have… I have been directed by an actor before and there’s something nice about it. There’s a shorthand and an understanding of what you’re attempting in different scenes.
She understood how an actor would be approaching a scene. I think that direction became very clear and concise. There was a funny little story… my first scene. Nick Marini (“Robert”) and I were on the same flight into Texas. So, we arrived there together. I remember he came up to me in the airport like, “Hey man, I think I saw that we’re both in this film.” We just hit it off and were fast friends from then on. We both went to set the next day and his first scene was probably in the afternoon. I think mine was that evening.
They were wrapping up their scene and Niki at lunch that day, she got some sort of food poisoning [gluten intolerance]. Luckily and almost serendipitously, we were shooting at a hospital. She was actually taken to another wing of the hospital while she was directing. They brought a monitor in so when I got to set… normally, the first thing you do is meet the director. You kind of have a conversation about what your vision is with the role, how you want to go forward.
Here, it was different. They were talking about pushing the scene but we were like, “We’ve gotta get it!” So, we go to shoot the scene and the first thing I hear from Niki is over the radio, which was really funny. She was a real trooper, I remember she came in a wheelchair – she started to gain some momentum as the night went on. I think whatever they gave her helped with the gluten intolerance.
You’re also well-known for your role as Ezra Bridger on Star Wars Rebels. As an actor, how impactful is it to have been part of the expansive Star Wars universe? More specifically, having played a Jedi?
TG: I mean, it was unbelievable and I’m forever grateful for that opportunity. It was so fun and the show was… I didn’t realise, maybe in my own naivete, how expansive Star Wars is. How international and global the audience is, basically. It was the first animated show that I had ever done. Jumping in, I think there was a learning curve, for sure. You don’t have all the faculties that you have on-set or on stage. You’re just using your voice, so it was really great training just for funneling all the emotion, everything you had, into one specific tool.
Playing a Jedi… that’s every kid’s dream, as well. It was such a cool development of a character to go from this young, cavalier street kid who had this innate ability to a formidable Jedi. I just had such a fun time with that. That show brought me to a lot of places, such as the UK, for conventions and different countries. The show was so global and it was really cool to see the impact it had and the waves it created.
Considering Ezra was a voiceover role, how often are you recognised by fans for having played that character?
TG: Obviously on the street walking by, you would have no idea. Unless you were a devout, devout Star Wars fan where you’ve been watching interviews and Rebels Recon. On StarWars.com, you would obviously see a lot of the different press that we would do. There were people, just not nearly as much as people whose face was on the character. When you go to a convention, people at the convention… that’s a sort of captive audience that definitely has seen it. They know, walking around.
I would say, day-to-day on the street, people would recognise me from other characters that I’d played before Ezra.
Do you have a preference between playing a role for a single movie or staying with the character for multiple seasons, as was the case with Star Wars Rebels?
TG: I think the development of any character is what you’re hoping for. You bring that backstory and level of depth to every character. So while Night Night may just be an hour and a half film and we only see each character for ‘x’ amount of time, there still is that amount of preparation that you would do for a character that you’re going to play for five seasons. That development is really cool.
The live-action TV shows I’d done aside from Rebels, they all had been canceled before Season 3. I’ve been able to develop it a bit but you know where that character’s going. Then, the show’s ended. So you’re like, “Oh, I guess that happened.” The one fun thing about Rebels was I’d never done 100 episodes of a show before. It was cool to track the development of a character. Ezra definitely went through a sort of rollercoaster of character development and growth.
Acting is a competitive industry to get into. In your opinion, what’s something more people should be aware of before pursuing a career in this field?
TG: I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. It’s so competitive, but so many different occupations are competitive now. I think that’s a by-product of the world that we’re in. At the same time, I think the best advice is probably not taking no for an answer. Or, at least not taking no personally. The amount of rejection I faced in my teenage years, I know we see stories all the time… those are devastating. When you look at it from the perspective of a young actor, it doesn’t even compare. I remember thinking at school when something negative happened, I would be like: “Well, I’ve heard no four times this week” – about jobs that I really wanted.
It’s hard not to take those no’s personally. They can kind of weigh on you. When you believe, “Oh, they don’t like me”, “They don’t want me”, “I’m not good enough for this.” Oftentimes, it’s just you didn’t fit that character yet there will be another character that you fit so well. You just have to be able to be ready for when the opportunity comes – that your preparation is there and you can knock it out of the park.
I would say the biggest thing is just never turning it down. You take someone like Harrison Ford, he really didn’t pop off until in his career until much, much later. He had a decade of no’s and rejection, but just kept going. I mean, now he’s one of the most iconic actors ever.
To wrap this up – what do you hope to accomplish in the coming months and heading into 2022?
TG: That’s a great question. It’s something I try to ask myself often enough. For me, personally, I think we’re all feeling the effects of the last year and a half. The state of affairs of the world where it really helps you take a step back and separate job from self. Your identity is… we’re all just hoping to be able to go out and be around other people. Not have to worry in the back of our minds who it might be affecting if we got sick or whatever that might be.
That’s really weighed on a lot of people… the different ways we’ve had to change our lives, in the last year and a half. I think we’re focused on maintaining stable mental health, happiness and wellbeing. Seeing my friends and supporting everyone around me.
In a career sense, weirdly, I worked on 3 films during 2020. It was a strange time with the world but also I was busy working for a bit of it. They’re starting to come out… I was just in Toronto this last month for a film that premiered at TIFF. That one will be coming out. Then, this film’s coming out and another film coming out at the top of the year. It’s revisiting different times of our lives in these little capsules that we shot. My main objective is to continue to enjoy and find the perspective in each day.
Thanks again for taking the time, Taylor – take care and stay safe!
TG: Thank you so much, it was so great talking to you, Conor.