Brent Bailey has steadily built an impressive list of credits and in so doing, established himself as a formidable on-screen talent. He has starred on the Emmy Award winning web series, Emma Approved, and guest starred on such shows as Criminal Minds and Californication.
Brent’s talents are diverse and vast. He recently just wrapped filming on his latest role as famed JFK and LBJ speechwriter, Ted Sorenson. The film is directed by Rob Reiner and stars Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bill Pullman.
Read about Brent’s experience with this film and others in the interview below.
Ted Sorenson, huh?
“Yeah, Ted Sorenson.”
What drew you to the role?
“Well, I guess just the job offer. Literally, working with Rob Reiner and Woody Harrelson, I think I would have taken any role in that movie. So, just the fact that I get to be Ted Sorenson and such an important part of the movie was just icing on the cake.”
Is that the role you auditioned for?
“Yeah. I have a very good friend named Jeremy Gordon and he was actually the casting assistant on this one for Jay Jenkins. Jeremy has actually cast me in eight or nine different projects now. So when the Ted Sorenson role came across the table, he was like, ‘Yeah, I think Brent would be great for this.’ So I put my name in the mix and then I went to the audition and the call backs and met with Rob Reiner and booked it from there.”
“Right? (Laughs) Yeah! Well, you know, it’s an interesting thing, because, you know, I’m not a speechwriter myself, so…I mean, I think the only speeches I’ve written are best man speeches at a couple of my buddies’ weddings. (Laughs). And then, other than that, usually people write for me since I’m the actor.”
Right. Well, at least you’re good at giving speeches, then, right?
“Yeah, yeah. Giving speeches, as long as somebody else writes it, is great. But it’s interesting to now be the guy writing for someone else to talk.”
Yeah. What is that like? I mean, not that you’re writing it yourself at this point but you’re pretending!
“Everyone’s like, ‘So are you brushing up on your speechwriting skills?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I guess so.’ Um, yeah. It’s definitely interesting to be writing for other people. Especially as Ted Sorenson. I mean, you have to be writing in a believable way that this is a conversation and these are things a president would actually be saying, so…you have to know that person so well and also know the audience so well that you can talk as him and still get across the points that other people want to hear.”
Yeah. I mean, he wrote some pretty famous speeches.
“He wrote quite a few different speeches that were or are very well-known. I know he was the guy – well, that’s the weird thing about Ted, too. You never know exactly what was his and then what was JFK’s and what was LBJ’s because he was very modest. So, you know, sometimes when people would be like, ‘Hey, did you write this or did Kennedy come up with it?’ He’d always say Kennedy, so you never really knew exactly what was his and what wasn’t. I think they kind of insinuated that he was the one that had written the famous, ‘Ask not what your country can do…Ask not what you can do for your country, but…’ No, whichever way it is. Oh man! That was great, Ted Sorenson. ‘Ask not what…your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ But apparently that was something that he had come up with but he wouldn’t officially say that he had come up with it. And I almost wonder if that’s just one of those things where, as a speech writer, you kind of have to step back and be like, you know, ‘I’m writing this, but this is all you.’ So I think it’s a combination of his modesty as well as, yeah, just part of the job.”
It would kind of have to be part of the job, but it’s gotta be a part of the job that sucks, because then you don’t get to take credit for your own work.
“It takes a unique type of person that can be doing something so amazing, so influential and then having to back off and literally not take any of the credit. Yeah, that would be really interesting to have to go through that.”
Yeah. How’s filming going?
“We wrapped right before Halloween. It was really good, though. I was in New Orleans for five weeks and New Orleans is just an amazing place with way too much good food and incredible music. I had to try to pace myself so I didn’t have an overload of sensations. (Laughs). But it was so much fun. Working with Woody. Everybody on that set was just like the most wonderful person. And then, I think it was because we were all kind of pulled from different places – some people from New York, and some people from Los Angeles – but the majority of the people weren’t from New Orleans, so everyone kind of like just came together. On the days that we would finish early, we’d all go out and grab food and go listen to music together, so it was like a little family that was created overnight. It was a lot of fun.”
Rob Reiner, Woody Harrelson…were those some of your ‘career goal’ people that you wanted to work with?
“Definitely. Yeah. There are still quite a few other people I’d like to work with, but yeah, even if I could just check it off right now and be like, ‘Yeah, well, you know. Worked with Rob Reiner and Woody Harrelson. Kind of wouldn’t be a bad way to go out. Career goals, good.’ “
Who else is on that list?
“Oh man, you know, I would love to work with Tom Hanks, and Will Smith. I would actually love to work in a movie with Ashton Kutcher, play his brother or something like that. If I had to pick, like, girls to work with… Amy Adams I think would be amazing, Meryl Streep, umm…there’s a bunch of different people who I’d like to – I mean, I really want to work with Paul Rudd.”
Yes. That would be fun.
“Paul Rudd. I feel like working with Paul Rudd would be so hard to actually finish a scene because he’s just so hilarious. He comes up with the most amazing little improv moments that I don’t know how you don’t break every time you work with him.
Every time I watch the behind the scenes on movies he does, I die. Like when he was in that movie Wanderlust with Jennifer Aniston and there’s like that scene where he’s trying to pep himself up to sleep with Malin Akerman? And he’s in the mirror? (Laughs) I was watching the outtakes of that and it is just hilarious. Yeah. I’d love to work with any of those people. People who are just really good at creating things in the moment. They just catch you off-guard and I think that would be really, really fun.”
Absolutely. What made you decide to become an actor?
“You know, it was kinda just one of those things. Originally, I was a computer programmer. I got my bachelor’s in computer information systems and I got my master’s in business and I had just like a little quarter life crisis where I had a good job and I had a nice life set up but I just wasn’t completely happy. And one of my buddies lived in California and he was an actor and I just needed a change so I moved out to California. I got some jobs doing like background work and as soon as I got on set, I was like, ‘Oh man, this is amazing. This is so much fun and everybody seems like they’re having such a good time and the creativity’s just flowing. This is what I want to do.’ And then once I booked my first actual job, I was like, ‘Yup. This is what I’m gonna do.’ And I just kept going from there.”
That’s awesome. Not everybody can do that. Just up and switch careers, do something different.
“Yeah. It’s absolutely terrifying. And by no means is it not a lot of hard work and dedication, but at the same time – I was talking to somebody yesterday and they were like, ‘Well, what advice would you give?’ and I just said, ‘Make sure that whatever you do, you enjoy doing.’ Like with acting, don’t get into it for the wrong reasons. Don’t get into it to become famous or become rich. You gotta do what you love because work takes up so much of your life that it just seems silly to me to stay in a job where you’re not happy.
Once I figured out that it made me happy, it was…it makes it – That’s the funny thing, because a lot of times people will ask like, ‘Do you have a day job? Or do you work other jobs to try to make ends meet?’ and I usually forget to even say that acting is a job because for me, acting is just so much fun and that’s what everybody strives to have – a job that they don’t even consider a job. Something where they feel lucky when they get to do it.
It makes it a lot easier to work hard at it. You don’t get so resentful or angry when you’re putting in ten hours of work a day. You’re like, ‘No. I’m super happy to be here.’ So that’s what I feel like the magic key is. To stay happy in life. To make sure you’re not at a place where you’re counting down the seconds till you walk out the door.”
Yeah. Oh yeah. That’s awful. Been there, done that.
“Yeah. Exactly. I remember I would know exactly how late I could show up. I would know exactly how long I could, like, go and use the restroom and take a nap, exactly how early I could clock out without getting in trouble…(Laughs). Yeah, the desk job, it just wasn’t for me. I like to talk too much. Actually, they banned AOL Instant Messaging from our little computer room and so, when that happened, I wrote my own instant messaging program so that I could talk to people still and I got in so much trouble. But, like, I’d get yelled at for peeking out of my cubicle to say ‘hi’ to my neighbor. That’s how I knew that was not the right place for me.”
Oh man. That sounds like me when I had a cubicle job!
“Those cubes are just begging you to talk to other people. Because as soon as they tell you that you can’t do something, it makes you want to do it.”
“It’s just human nature.”
Yep. You’ve had a lot of interesting guest roles that have been pretty diverse. I mean, from Criminal Minds to Hart of Dixie to Bella and the Bulldogs? What’s the most fun for you?
“Oh man, that’s tough! Uhh, uhhh…I just have to tell you, Hart of Dixie was just such a ridiculous person. He was just so insanely blissfully happy and then, at the same time, such a mama’s boy that it was just such a small, little, fun bit role that I think that was probably the most entertaining day I’ve had on set, but then at the same time, you know, working on – and you’re right, they are so different – Criminal Minds as a marine on leave and so they shaved my head…on Bella and the Bulldogs I play Bella’s dad who actually had died so I’m only in the flashback scenes when they come in…and so, yeah, it’s a little bit weird to be playing someone who doesn’t even exist anymore.
I guess they’re all unique in their own. I mean, Whitney was fun because it was filmed in front of a live audience. At the end you come out and everybody does the applause and everything. So, yeah, each job has had its own reasons for being amazing.”
Yeah, sounds like it!
“Yeah, but as you pointed out, they’re also all very, very different. I’m super fortunate that, for whatever reason, casting directors can see me in a lot of different roles and I haven’t quite gotten pigeonholed in a certain area.”
Yeah. That’s good, ’cause that’s kind of the most dreaded thing, isn’t it? To get pigeonholed and not have those opportunities?
“Heck yeah! Though I guess I can see it going both ways. You know, somebody like Jim Carrey, when he was beginning his career, he was known as the really funny, kinda goofy guy and so he made an entire career out of that which, in a weird way, almost seems like that would be less stressful because I think you’d have more people coming to you like, ‘Hey, here’s fifteen different scripts that we know you could play because you’re this guy.’ Whereas if you don’t have a specific ‘home’ I think it might actually be more difficult because nobody really sees you on a consistent basis. Like, ‘Oh! I know you did it in this one thing, but do you think you could do it again here?’ I don’t know which way it would be. I think if you want to keep doing things that are different, keep growing, and not get into a place where you are playing the same character over and over and over again, obviously you want people to be able to see you in multiple roles. So I guess it just depends on what your career goals are.”
True. I hadn’t thought of it in that way.
“Yeah. I mean, there are a lot of – well, if you think about it, as far as a general public goes, most of the people who are the most famous are the people who keep doing the same thing over and over again. Because, as an audience, you recognize them. Like, ‘Oh yeah! It’s Jim Carrey’ or Jennifer Aniston was the same way for a while. She was always doing romantic comedy movies.
It almost seems like the really, really diverse actors that are doing things all over the place, people are like, ‘I recognize you, but I don’t know where I recognize you from.’ “
Right, and usually it turns out that they’re kind of recognized from all over because they’re here and there and pretty much everywhere.
“Exactly. And that’s why it’s hard to pinpoint it. Because they don’t know what it is but they know it’s something.”
Yeah, yeah. Talk to me about Emma Approved.
“Emma Approved is a web show that I did. We shot for one year. I don’t exactly know how they call it in seasons. I guess technically we did one complete season, but had four technical breaks throughout it. So it’s a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and I play Mr. Knightley. And then Joanna Sotomura plays Emma. It’s basically just Jane Austen’s story set in the modern-day with Emma being a businesswoman who runs a match-making company and I am her business partner. And then, obviously – well, I guess it’s a spoiler if you haven’t read the book – but, uh, Knightley and Emma are like the love story that everybody hopes happens throughout the series.
So it was a lot of fun. The shooting style was set up a little bit more like a soap. So we’d shoot two days a month and we’d shoot between 60 and 95 pages in those two days. And then it would be super fast-paced and we’d kinda be shooting as the show was coming out so we didn’t have to wait very long to see it. And it was great! We got a huge fanbase from it. It was really successful. It ended up winning the interactive Emmy, which was incredible. And we got to go to a lot of really fun conventions like GeekyCon and VidCon and, uh, there was one other one that we got to go to, but they kinda just flew us around, we got to go meet the fans. It was a really awesome experience.”
That sounds amazing!
“Yeah! It was great!”
Were you surprised when it won the award?
“You know, I was, but I thought we were gonna win the Emmy the year before. ‘Cause our show…we actually hadn’t worked on the show for like a year when we ended up winning the Emmy, so I really thought we were gonna win the year before but we didn’t. And then when we won this year, I actually didn’t even know that they had submitted for it. It had been so long since we had talked about the show itself so when they called and sat Joanna and I down for lunch one day – and he [Bernie Su, Creator of Emma Approved] kinda had a sneaky way of telling us – he was like, ‘Hey, we submitted again, just like last year. We’ve got a really good shot at it,’ – I felt like it was very misleading and by the end, he was like, ‘And we won.’ I was like, ‘I’m sorry. Wait, what?’ And he didn’t tell us that was why we were meeting. He just said, ‘I just want to have a general meeting to see what you guys are doing and we’ll talk a little bit about whether we’re gonna do another season’ and then he just kind of dropped the ‘We won an Emmy’ bomb at lunch. (Laughs) So yeah, surprising in that aspect. But, yeah, it’s pretty incredible.”
It has to be nice to be able to say that you were a part of an Emmy Award winning show, right?
“Yeah. I mean, definitely. Out of all the projects I’ve done, I didn’t expect it to be from a web series, to be able to say that I’m the lead of an Emmy Award winning show. It’s just a testament to how YouTube and web series’ are growing at such a rapid pace and known as legitimate projects, which is amazing.”
Yeah. I’ve checked it out, watched the first couple episodes – not because of the Emmy, but because Julie and Shawna [Benson] wrote for it and now they write for The 100 and that’s my current favorite show.
By the way, they say ‘Hi.’
“They say ‘Hi’? Yeah, I adore them. We actually were chatting at our – we had a little Emmy party after we won and they came – and it was funny because they were like, ‘Well, you should – I know you just booked LBJ for New Orleans for five weeks – but when you get back, would you be interested in working on The 100?’ and I was like, ‘Uh, yes. I would LOVE to work on The 100.’ So hopefully that works out and, uh, they get a role on there that I’d be right for.”
Yeah! That would be awesome!
“That would be fantastic.”
Do you watch The 100? Or just kind of know about it?
“I’ve watched a little bit of it, and then I had a friend – I always forget what role she was – but she was in my acting class and she was on it. And then, obviously, since now I know the writers of it, too…I want to get in the loop with it and see what breakdowns are coming out and my agent and manager are definitely watching, like, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we’re on top of this particular show.’ It’s so hard to watch everything on TV now. So you have to be selective with your time and The 100 is definitely a show I want to get into. I know I started to and then, um…I forget what it was. Some other show grabbed my attention and I kind of went through a marathon of that. But now that I’ve – I just started a new show, Casual? And so I’m gonna pick that one up and then also I want to go back and watch all of The 100 episodes. We’ll see how it goes. I wish there was just more time in the day to watch TV.”
Yeah. Well, it’s hard to watch when you’re on it and trying to balance things and, you know, have a life…
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Exactly.”
Is there anything else that you have coming up that you’re aware of right now?
“Um, actually, no. I mean, I’ve got a bunch of commercials airing, which is always good. But yeah, other than LBJ, we’re kind of using that as a platform to figure out what the next job’s gonna be. And I’ve got some time because, obviously, movies take time to come out. The goal is that by the time LBJ comes out, I’ll hopefully have a couple other projects. I did have a director reach out to me who is doing a Christmas movie and he did offer me a role in that but we haven’t finalized the deal or anything, so I can’t really say what it is, but thankfully there is more work coming. It’s just not 100% sure what it is or when it’ll happen.”
Is that hard? To not know what’s coming next? Or is that part of the excitement?
“I think – it’s definitely a combination. It’s – well, it also depends on how you view life. That’s why I’m very grateful that I did get my masters in business, because I do know a lot of people who jump on a job, they get a lot of money, and then they spend all that money because they think that the jobs are just gonna keep flowing in and then if the jobs do keep flowing in, that’s fantastic, but if they don’t, that’s when people go into panic-mode ’cause they’re running out of money. I’ve always been a saver, so I’ve always got lots of money put aside just in case jobs don’t come for a year. So for me, I don’t get too nervous thinking about the next job, because I know I’m doing ok financially for a while and then when the jobs do come up, I can choose the jobs that I want to do instead of choosing jobs that I have to do.
That does make it exciting, because you’re able to be like, ‘Oh, this script looks fun,’ or ‘That scene looks interesting,’ or ‘What DO I want to do next?’ And like you said earlier, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do lots of different types of projects and I like staying in that position. I like it when it’s exciting, not really scary.”
And those connections you make every time you have a part help, too. Like you just said with going from Emma Approved to having that connection to possibly go on to The 100.
“Yeah, exactly. I mean, it seems like Los Angeles would be a really big place, but it’s actually a super small town and it’s really a lot about building relationships and making sure that when you do get hired you’re a good person and you show up on time and you do your job and that people enjoy hanging out with you because if you are that type of person, then people will bring you back and everybody’s working on their own projects at the same time and you might meet a director on a commercial that is now gonna go shoot a movie and because you guys hit it off there, then he might say, ‘Do you want to come do this with me?’ So it’s really all about the networking aspect of it. It’s really important. I mean, if you become friends from doing one project, it could later end up being eight projects. It’s all about everyone helping each other out and everybody looking out and seeing what they can do and it’s a good little community.”
So if you like to talk and hang out with people and make those connections, it seems like a pretty good industry to get into.
“Yeah. The deeper you get into it, the more and more friends you make, and then eventually you’re like, ‘Cool. Which friend do I want to work with today?’ That’s like Seth Rogen and his whole crew. It’s so cool. They just keep making movies together.”
Other than the acting, is there any other part of the entertainment industry – like writing, directing, anything like that – that you’d be interested in doing at some point? Or do you want to stay in front of the camera?
“I would definitely like to direct at some point. I think that’s something that’s very interesting to me. I think it would be a lot of fun. I actually wrote a little show called ‘Kids with Adult Problems’ and I directed it with my buddy, Nate Golon, who I met on a different project. Basically, they’re little short things we put up as a web series and it’s like every day problems that adults have but then doing it with kids, which, actually, they ended up coming out with that with that insurance commercial where it’s like the little kids are throwing temper tantrums…it was actually very similar to that, except that our show came out like a year ago. And so, that was really fun, because not only did I get to direct a little bit but I got to direct kids and so kids are just the best because they are…it’s all play for them. It’s not like they’re coming to work. They’re coming in and their imaginations are endless and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what you’re about to do, but play this and whatever happens, happens.’ And they just do the funniest stuff. So now that I’ve directed kids, it’ll be interesting to go on and direct adults when they’re like, ‘But why am I doing that?’ and I’ll be like, ‘No, no, don’t ask why. Just do it. Be like that 8-year-old kid that I was just directing that was excited and just, don’t ask me why.’ It’s fun [with kids]. They look at it with such open and fresh eyes. Oh, and actually, I love photography, too. So I would like to do – I don’t know if I would want to be like an on-set photographer or if I would want to try to be one of those directors who would also kind of work hand-in-hand with the DP and make sure like, ‘Oh, I like this camera angle’ or ‘Let’s do the lighting this way’ or…I think that would be cool, but at the same time I think it is very easy to try to do too much stuff in one project. So I try to keep it pretty focused. I mean, there are a lot of actors that will end up writing, directing, producing, uh…and starring in it and, I mean, my hat’s off to them. I don’t know how they could possibly do all those things. It sounds like SO much work.”
It boggles my mind when I see that. I mean, cloning humans hasn’t happened yet so how can anyone keep up with that many things at once?
“Right?! (Laughs) You would have to be an amazing multi-tasker. And not only being able to do all that stuff, but to be able to give a true performance and to also be able to watch your performance from a director’s eyes and decide what it is that you are or aren’t doing. And then be able to tell yourself, ‘Ok, I liked that, but now I need to do it this way.’ I think that would be – I mean, that would take a sort of amazing talent.”
Yeah. You’d kind of have to be your own biggest fan and worst critic at the same time.
Ugh. I don’t think that I could do that.
“Yeah. I would love to try to do it at some point but I do think that at the end of the project, I’d probably go sleep for six months.”
Keep an eye out for more information on when and where you’ll be able to see Brent as Ted Sorenson in LBJ or any of his other upcoming projects.