“Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, German Philosopher
You may not know his name yet, but if passion truly does lead to greatness then Gentry White won’t remain undiscovered for long. This thoughtful, southern gentleman spoke to Talk Nerdy about his initial reluctance about auditioning for UnREAL, his love for historical film projects, including his upcoming appearance on Aquarius, and his absolute passion for widening diversity in film, especially in neglected genres like—his personal favorite—fantasy. Listen in and be charmed by this ardent and encouraging talent.
We know you play Romeo, Darius’ cousin. What else can you tell us about the character?
Yes, I am Darius’ cousin and I am his sport manager. Romeo is very business savvy, he’s young, but he’s also very smart. He loves his cousin. He and his cousin have been through a lot of things together in their upbringing that have gotten them to where they both are today, being the successful football player, as well as the successful sports manager and business man. And for Romeo…Romeo is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that his cousin is taken care of and that their legacy and the brand they’ve created for themselves continues, so Romeo’s willing to talk to whoever, speak to whoever, do whoever (laughs)… whatever needs to be done, you know. Romeo’s willing to do whatever it takes for his cousin’s career to flourish.
It sounds like he will go to great lengths. Maybe there’s some drama surrounding him because of that. Fair to say?
(laughs) I think that’s fair to say.
What was your audition process like?
My audition was so crazy. I originally got the audition in December, right before Christmas and it was my last audition of 2015. Originally, I really didn’t want to audition for the show because the character was supposed to be older than the bachelor, so he was supposed to be in his 30’s. Immediately I told my agent and manager, I don’t think this makes sense, I don’t think my essence is really that old. And then I was thinking it’s also on Lifetime? I don’t really want to be on Lifetime. ‘Cause in my mind, you know—
The Lifetime movies?
Right. Yeah, more so I tried not to go in, and my agents and managers being the fantastic people that they are, convinced me that I should go in for this role. Now, what I will say, that I want to make sure is on record, is that I did love the dialogue of the character. Despite the fact that I didn’t want to audition for it, my only reason behind that was because I thought that I was going to come across too young for the character.
They said specifically they wanted a Kid Cudi type. I kind of knew the way they probably wanted him to dress and his overall essence, but I still didn’t think I was going to be able to pull off being like 30, or you know 35, or whatever and a sports manager.
In my head, I didn’t really see that working, but I did love the dialogue for my audition. I was like, well, even if I don’t get the part, it will just be fun to say these words to somebody. It was so quick, he was quick on his feet, and kind of sharp, and I like those kinds of characters. I was like, well, I’m just going to go in there and do it. I did it.
I went home for Christmas, back to North Carolina. I came back and they were like, “Gentry, you’re going to be testing for the role.” I was like, “Wait, what?” I was like, “That’s crazy.” I was like, “All right.”
I think what really got me confident, this is interesting and I don’t think this happens to a lot of actors, is that Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the co-creator of UnREAL, she started following me on Twitter two days before I went into test. In my mind, I was like, why would this woman follow me on Twitter if she didn’t want to continue to keep up with my career in some way? I was like, why would she do that? We never met. We have no way of actually meeting, unless it’s planned on her behalf. I’m not going to reach out to her and just be like, “Hey would you like to have lunch, even though I didn’t get the part?” You know, so that gave me a lot of confidence when I went in for the test and she was sitting right there.
I remember I looked at her and it was one of these shared moments like…we’re following each other on Twitter. I could feel it. I can still see myself walking in the room, and I greeted all the other women that were there. Then when I looked at her it was kind of like, “You know what I know, and what I know is that we’re following each other on Twitter and that means something.”
I love that. That’s awesome. I take it you probably didn’t watch Season 1 then, initially?
Yeah, I didn’t watch Season 1 initially. I had gone for the test, and I was excited to just test for it because, like I said, I did love the dialogue for the character and in my mind I was like, well, maybe they’ll just not really establish his age, or maybe it won’t matter as much. Maybe his age doesn’t really matter as much to them as I originally thought. All in all, it really didn’t. His age isn’t really spoken about in the show. It just worked. I was really grateful that my reps convinced me to do that. That was one of those examples of seeing the bigger picture and also just going in and just doing the work.
You don’t know what the outcome will be sometimes, but I did at least enjoy the character so that’s why it was worth the audition. I was really grateful to do that, one other point that I will say is that B.J., who plays Darius, the suitor this season, B.J. had already been cast in it.
I was shooting another show and I saw B.J. come up on Variety, that he had gotten the part and so I immediately texted him. I was excited. I didn’t even tell him that I had auditioned for the show because me and B.J. have known each other … I’ve known B.J. since I was about 20 years old. I had been in L.A. for about two weeks and my uncle and B.J. are frat brothers (laughs), they’re in the same fraternity and everything. My uncle gave me his phone number, so I just texted him and I was like, “Hey, my name is Gentry. I just moved to L.A. from North Carolina. My uncle gave me your number.” It literally was that kind of conversation when I first talked to him and that was almost six years ago now.
Six years later for us to be cousins…that’s pretty cool. In the audition, B.J. actually read his part opposite me so it was more of a chemistry read and when I knew that he was going to be in the room, I immediately felt like this was … a lot of things were pointing to a yes. Because me and B.J. had already known each other, we already had like a certain Southern back-and-forthery between the two of us, because we were both from North Carolina, he grew up maybe an hour or so away from my house and stuff. When we went into the audition, they all looked at us when we shook each other’s hand, because we shook each other’s hand, but we have our own little handshake too and so when they saw it they were like, “You guys already know each other and we were like “Yeah, we do.” I was like, “I’ve known B.J. since I was 20 years old.”
I’m sure that shared connection really plays out on camera!
Off and on-screen. I think everybody in the make-up and hair department, everybody in the crew…we have heard it multiple times…they were like, “You need guys need your own television show,” and I was like, “What would we do?” and they’re just like, “Oh, you guys could, I don’t know, talk about the stuff that you’re talking about now,” and I was like, “Would people watch it?” and they all say, “I would watch it.” That’s a little running joke on set, but yeah we act up a lot … a whole lot on set, but it’s fun, though. I think it keeps us light and it keeps us available for transitioning into our characters’ relationship with each other, so it’s nice.
How would you describe this season of UnREAL in five words?
Oh, man! In five words? It’s gonna be a doozy? … I don’t know, I’m such a long-winded person, five words seems like such prison to me.
I like the word doozy that works.
Ok, yeah it’s gonna be a doozy…it’s gonna be a real, I don’t know, humdinger … I don’t know five words seems like such a challenge for me (laughs).
Doozy and humdinger, those are two very good words. Who were you most excited to have a scene with?
I was most excited to work with Shiri. Shiri is a lot of fun. You also know when Shiri is on screen that we will probably be wrapping up the scene quickly because she’s like, “Yes! Let’s do it, we’re getting this, we’re in here, let’s scrap that and here we go, we’re going for it.” It’s very light.
I learned a lot from Shiri just in the sense of being a younger actor, a newer actor … it was cool watching Shiri who has been on TV forever, you know, the majority of her life. It was cool watching the ease that she has with acting. It was a nice little learning experience for me, because she wasn’t necessarily always on. She wasn’t necessarily always saying exactly what was written on the paper, but that was the beauty of this show. It’s one of the freedoms that we do have with a show like this… with time you blend in your natural understanding of the character with the dialogue and you can pretty much say … not say whatever you want, but you can ad-lib a lot more and watching Shiri do that gave us a certain level of ease.
She’s always prepared and always very professional, but if something is too much of a run-on sentence she asks the question, “Why do we have all of this?” If she wants to add something she’s like, “But what if he says this and then the response could be that.” It’s very interesting watching somebody working that way and we can trust her, because Shiri is one of the faces of the show. She has already been doing this for a while so we can trust that that is okay to do as well, as the actor. It takes a certain level of pressure off of us.
Working with Shiri and Constance both, who have like mad crazy dialogue. They have chunks of dialogue to say at one point. Anytime you’re doing a role that requires you to be a business person or behind the camera of something; there’s always such quick back-and-forth conversation happening all the time. And Shiri and Constance have so much work to do in every episode, so often that…they’re ad-libbing makes plenty of sense, if they couldn’t remember all the dialogue simply because they have so much of it. But it’s also the fact that they know what they’re saying and they know the purpose of why they’re saying it. And that kind of is a nice little education for a lot of us on set.
Were you directed by Shiri in any of your episodes?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Shiri only directed episode 6 and I wasn’t able to be there. I saw her direct, but she didn’t direct me individually. I did have the opportunity to watch her direct a little bit. It was funny, Constance said this as well, she was in the episode herself, but she was also directing the episode and she would call cut on herself. That’s interesting to me. As an actor, you don’t call cut. (laughs). You don’t have that right, you don’t have that privilege. You keep holding the moment out or keep making up something until the director calls cut; but when you’re the director and the actor in the scene, it’s a very unique thing to watch and a very hilarious situation to see. Hearing somebody that’s in the actual scene, a very emotional scene, and then you just hear them say, “Cut!” it’s like, oh, okay … I got it …
It looks like you’ve got a really busy summer because you’re also doing an upcoming episode of Aquarius, aren’t you?
I am. Me and good old David Duchovny.
What was that like, what can you tell us about your episode?
Yeah, it’s funny UnREAL has been one of the first shows that I’ve been a part of that hasn’t been a period piece, because I recur on a show called TURN and then also Aquarius is set in the 60’s so that was really awesome. I love, love, love doing period work. I’m so fascinated by different times. I love the clothing. I love the way of speaking in different time periods and stuff. To jump on Aquarius was really cool. They did a lot of cool … I love people doing stuff to my hair. (laughs). I usually have a lot of pins in my hair on TURN or even on Aquarius, all of it.
Aquarius was a great experience to work with David Duchovny because he’s somebody that…as a child, as an actual grade school child, I remember seeing him on television. I didn’t even watch the X-Files, I just knew it was on. It was kind of creepy. So to grow up, to figure out how to become an actor, to make it here to Los Angeles, to audition for hundreds of projects and to book things with actors that, at one point you just watched on television, in Small Town, North Carolina … it was very humbling. It was very exciting. I was super grateful. It brought things full circle. It showed me that you really can make this happen for yourself if you work hard. David was so easy to work with. It was very …”Come in. We’re going to get it done. It’s going to be fun. You look great kid,” kind of thing.
I think one of the coolest things is that Maria Howell … I have a mother in the episode and Maria Howell plays my mom. She was in The Color Purple and I think, for my family, they thought that was the coolest thing in the world because that’s a very special movie in my family. For her to play my mom it was just another one of those … What? I get to work with David Duchovny and then Maria Howell from The Color Purple is playing my mom! I get to have a parent! (laughs). That’s cool because when you get to a certain age as an actor the likelihood of you having a parent and being a parent are like, pretty high. I’m more likely to be someone’s parent than having a parent, at this point. It’s cool to have those experiences and to wear that clothing, to see the set, to work downtown L.A. All the experiences of booking jobs are always really special. Aquarius was definitely added to the list, for me.
That’s awesome. I love hearing you talk about dreams come true.
Yeah, it really is a dream come true. I’m super passionate about it because that’s something … People have to be able to see that with hard work and dedication and asking the right questions to the right people and just being patient, things really can happen for you. I think it’s important to keep positive people around you and people that continually lift you up because you’ll need that some days, a lot of the days, you’ll need somebody to tell you that you are good enough. That you can do this. At the end of the day, nobody can want this more than you want it for yourself. I feel that way about any dream that somebody has. You can’t allow anybody to want this more than you want it for yourself, even if you get discouraged you still have to want this overall.
I’m so glad you shared that with us. Thank you. I was interested to hear that you write science fiction. Who was your influence? Tell us about your writing.
It’s interesting; I don’t have too much experience writing. I have a lot of ideas and I have a lot of producer and writer friends and they’re always like, “You should write that down.” I’m like, “I don’t know how to write, though, I’m an actor.” I don’t necessarily know how to write something good. I just know I’m passionate about this particular story being told that I haven’t seen. I guess the way I even came about writing …it’s more fantasy than it is science fiction, but the way I even came about starting to write in that way…was that for me, I love fantasy movies—more so than I like superhero movies— and there’s a difference, there’s a difference between Harry Potter and Thor. Know what I’m saying? And I’m more into the Harry Potter world, I am more into I Am Number Four. There was an older movie called The Covenant that I used to watch….
Love it! I have it. I own it
Yeah, you know what I mean, Terri! Those kinds of movies, I would watch those movies because I just love sorcery and magic and the type of villains that come out of those kinds of stories usually draw me to it. The only issue that I would see is that over the years, I was seeing all these movies … I was going, watching The Hunger Games, which isn’t necessarily fantasy, but I guess it is fantasy, whatever, but I would see these movies … I just never saw anybody that looked like me, that I could play, that was the lead. It was like I don’t want to be Lenny Kravitz’s character in The Hunger Games I want to be Katniss Everdeen.
I would watch these movies and I was like I want for Harry Potter to be a little Indian boy. I want the lead guy, the main guy we’re focusing on, to be ethnic. I don’t see that and I feel like I can speak for the entertainment industry and the African-American community …we have hit a lot of different aspects of the entertainment industry: drama, comedy, rom-com, the independent world … all of this stuff, but the one thing we haven’t really seen is fantasy.
Now I’m not saying that there are no ethnic people, or specifically black people, in fantasy projects. They’re just not the face of the project. It’s how we see Idris Elba in Thor … I want to see the whole movie about his world. We don’t see enough of that. Now we have Black Panther, which is coming out, which is cool. But I want to be in …what’s the Harry Potter project that’s coming out?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?
Yeah, imagine a movie like that, but what if they had a black woman as Eddie Redmayne’s character or something. And why not? It’s a completely made-up world, you know. So that is where it stems from. I came home from the movies and I was really frustrated. I think I had seen Beautiful Creatures. And I love that movie …but I don’t understand why in a made-up world…why somebody can’t be ethnic, like the main dude or girl could be ethnic, that has powers and they’re really cool and all this kind of stuff.
I just went home and I wrote ten pages of an idea that just came to my mind and I was just like, “See! I told you! Look at this!” And I handed it to one of my producer friends and he was like, “Gentry this is actually kind of good. You should expand this.” And I was like, “What? I can’t write. I was just doing this to make a point. I was just going to show y’all that clearly anybody can do it.” And he was like, “No, I think you should keep going.”
So I wrote a pilot episode of an idea that I had, which at the time I wanted to play the main character. Then I got too old for it as the years went on, so then I just tied it into an alternate story which expanded his story line. It was just a lot of fun. I cast Viola Davis to play my mom, or to play the parent in it. The boy … his mother is deaf, and so he uses sign language because sign language is something else I am very passionate about.
That’s a really cool aspect to have. It’s a lot of stuff … there’s no limit when it comes to fantasy, so for there to not be an ethnic lead in these sort of things, and I was like, that is what confuses me at this point, and I think that is what we are going to start coming up on. That’s the kind of stuff that whenever I start producing projects, that is where I want to put my money. When those kinds of things come along.
Those kinds of things, like little black, Hispanic, Indian kids, those are the kinds of characters that they want to dress up as for Halloween. You don’t even have that many options. It’s like, not every little girl wants to be Princess and the Frog, not every little girl wants to be princess Jasmine. That isn’t white. It’s like, those are the things. Not every little boy is going to want to be the Black Panther, and that movie hasn’t even come out.
What were you supposed to be before? I was Star Lord for Halloween last year, and people were still asking me who I was supposed to be, and I was literally wearing the jacket that Chris Pratt wore as one of the options. I got it from a movie store that resells things from the set. It was like, people were still asking me who I was, and I was like “Well, I don’t want to say it’s because I’m not white, but… I’m literally wearing exactly what he had on so….”
I get very passionate about those things, because for me one of my goals is to play a villain in a fantasy series, or a fantasy movie or something, and I would love to do that. I would love to be very cunning and very sharp, and seductive, but scary in that way. I want to see more projects that open up that world to more variety, and more diversity.
Well, I hope you get the opportunity to play that kind of character, and I hope you keep writing, because as an author, one thing I was always told is, “write what you want to read.” Write what you are not seeing out there. That’s exactly what you’re doing. When you don’t see something, and it’s a need that you want filled, maybe you’re the person to fill it.
So keep writing.
I love that you are passionate about so many things. Being a writer for Talk Nerdy With Us, I have to ask: what do you really nerd out about the most?
I think that’s an interesting question. I’m such an actor, I’m such a fan of actors. I’m very passionate about the progress of the industry. I look at this, I look at things in the industry as this isn’t a job of mine. I know about all the other TV shows, and how people have been cast, and I look at patterns of things. I guess something that I am really passionate/nerdy about is things like UnREAL, and seeing projects that come along and diversify things, and that is why I am so passionate on UnREAL. There’s another TV show that I am very verbal about right now. I’ve been telling everybody that they have to watch it when it comes out. Shonda Rhimes has a new show called Still Star-Crossed.
That’s the Romeo and Juliet project, right?
Exactly. It’s like post-Romeo and Juliet, what happens. But the interesting thing is that they have black characters in it, but they’re not slaves. I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is …” I really just never thought that, not never thought, but I just didn’t know that we were there yet. I didn’t know that we were already at that point, to where … you know, me being on TURN, and playing a slave, but not playing a slave that picks cotton, was already such a magical experience to me, but I just wanted to not play a slave at all, but still wear period clothes.
Nobody even shares those kinds of stories, about any sort of Kings and Queens, or anything like that. Even to have a fantasy, a made-up story that would allow us to be that. Then all of a sudden, Still Star-Crossed came on, and I just watched that trailer over and over again. I just can’t believe this. This is what I want to do. This is so cool. I remember I watched Downton Abbey religiously. That was my show right there, and I remember I was like, “I would love to be on Downton Abbey,” but I just knew historically there just really wouldn’t be much of a place. They cast one black guy on there; I think he’s in maybe 2-3 episodes of the show. I remember just thinking, “Man, if I could have done that.”
The fact that I had to be like, “Man, I wish I could have had that one black character role,” or whatever, as much as I love Downton Abbey, there are so many other stories that can be told, that people of color can be a part of.
To see a show like Still Star-Crossed come about, it’s like, oh my God, think about the family members that these characters are going to have to have, and I could be one of them. You know what I mean? It’s like having that image in my head, just makes me so excited. Even if that show doesn’t do well, somebody else will be like, “Oh, that was a really great idea, but I probably could do it better, I could do it differently.” And all this kind of stuff.
As long as those things are being created, and people are talking about it, and making it, we’re moving in a really nice direction, you know what I mean?
That’s the kind of stuff that I am most passionate about. I want for everybody, and I don’t just mean just Black people, African-American people, whatever, I want for everybody to get a piece of the pie. I want for us to be able to hit all genres of the industry. I feel as though, whenever the entertainment industry changes, that is whenever the world changes. People care so much about what they see on television, they almost abide by the rules of the characters that they see on television. If we can have more of a oneness in that look onscreen, I think it will reflect onto our everyday lives as well. If we show the beauty of an Asian man or a woman, or if we show the beauty of an Indian boy and the relationship with his mom, I feel like it closes the gap in real life, whenever we interact with these people.
It’s like, oh, okay, your lifestyle isn’t as strange as I thought, because I’ve watched this show, and I have a better understanding of this now. I don’t know, it’s just like closing the gap. I think we are getting there, and I just want to be a part of helping that. Of all the things that I am passionate about, I am passionate about diversity in the talent industry, in the entertainment industry.
I think that’s beautiful, and I think you are right, in that we are making strides, but we still have a long ways to go. Do you think that you are seeing more diversity opening up in television, as opposed to say movies, or do you think it’s pretty equal? Where do you think you are seeing the best forward movement?
Definitely television. 100% television. I think that with television, there is so much TV that is being made; there are so many different episodes, so many different actors and stuff. With movies, it’s only a handful that come out. At least the movies that we even know about. There are so many indie movies that they don’t even make it to the light of day that are amazing movies. There’s an amazing movie called Mississippi Damned on Netflix. I think that movie is one of the best depictions of a southern family that I have seen in a really long time, but that movie didn’t get nearly the amount of shine that I felt like it should have gotten. I mean, I could go into detail about dozens of different movies that didn’t get the shine that I felt like they deserve.
It’s simply because the space for it isn’t … in the industry, I guess the space for it isn’t really there, but with television, it’s like, you have multiple TV shows on a single network, and then you have multiple networks, that all have different shows on. The likelihood is higher, simply because there are more options. There’s more space for it, so on and so forth.
I absolutely agree and I could very easily talk to you all day. It’s been a complete pleasure and I thank you so much. I cannot wait to watch you on season 2 of UnREAL and on Aquarius. I wish you the best.
*Featured image photo credit: Andrew Kluger Photography