Over the course of his career, AJ Buckley has played a wide range of characters but perhaps none more complex than his current role as Sonny Quinn on CBS’ SEAL Team. He has a tough bravado and no-nonsense attitude, but on the inside is suffering from PTSD. I got the chance to talk with AJ about this character, what his audition process was like for the show, his high-end diaper bag company and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting.
It hasn’t been an easy road by any sense. I lived out of my car for over a year, but to be honest, I wouldn’t trade any of those moments for they have defined who I am today as an artist, a husband, a father, and a man.
Was there a specific person or experience that you would credit with helping you decide that acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
There’s many times that I look back on my journey and I know how hard the struggle was for me. I had so much self-belief and had a dream that was such a burning fire inside of me that none of it intimidated me. I also had an incredible support system from my mom and dad that encouraged me to dig deep, conquer my dreams. If it wasn’t for their love and emotional support I would not be where I am today. My first big acting break was on The X-Files. At that time, it was one of the biggest shows in the world. The late Kim Manners was the director at the time, whom 15 years later I reconnected with on the set of Supernatural playing Ed Zeddmore. The movie that got me to Los Angeles was Disturbing Behavior, directed by David Nutter. It was David’s advice to my parents to move to LA and find an agent as my character was testing really high. When I got to LA, I landed a lead role in a Showtime original movie called In a Class of His Own with Lou Diamond Phillips, written and directed by Robert Munic. I feel very lucky to have had people like Robert and David in my life as they have always gone above and beyond for me.
Do you have an acting “bucket list” of things you still want to accomplish in your career? If so, what are some of the things on it?
I want to play a John McClane from Die Hard type of character. I would also like to play a Maximus from Gladiator type of character. Last but not least, on my actor’s bucket list would be to play a character of the Marvel or DC franchise.
Let’s talk about SEAL Team. What did you initially think of the project when you first heard about it? What was your audition process like?
This is a dream role for me as an actor for so many reasons. The show itself follows the tier-one operators, these elite group of Navy SEALS that exist over here. They are the best of the best. What I loved about the show when I first read the pilot is that there’s this real human element to these guys that have to go do this as a job. What they choose to go and do and sacrifice.
It really goes deep into the home life of how families are affected, how these guys are affected coming home, the PTSD, and the support that they need, combined with the lack of support that’s there. It really opens up. We’re the first military drama that has gone into that side of it – I fell in love with it.
The journey of SEAL Team was literally a 5-year journey. After finishing up CSI:NY and Supernatural, I was tired of playing these types of characters. Although I am a dork at heart, it’s not exactly where I wanted my career to go. I committed to training extremely hard and hired a nutritionist and a trainer. I knew I was working towards something, but I didn’t know when it would present itself. 5 years later, I got the audition for SEAL Team and when I walked through that door, the same casting director from CSI:NY had said, “Holy crap, what happened to you?” I completed the audition and got a call about a week or two later that they wanted me to test and they were going to use the tape. A week after that, I found out that I got the role and, little did I know, this was going to be the greatest job of my life.
Tell me a little bit about Sonny. What is he like? Do you think Sonny is similar or different, and in what ways, to the person that AJ is?
Sonny Quinn is a cowboy. All he cares about is his country, freedom, women, and whiskey. I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy and I loved western movies growing up. I love that Sonny sort of has this playfulness about him but is also someone who always has your back; we can relate in that sense.
I can only imagine what it’s like to play a Navy SEAL on screen. What kind of training do you have to do behind the scenes to prepare for this, both physically and mentally?
The preparation is incredibly intense. With this role, in particular, I wanted to have a mindset of being the hardest working person in the room, whether it means training at 3 am before my 5 am call time or really going deep into the technical side of the job. I started working with an amazing team of people – Kevin Libby, Rehan Jalali, and Eric the Trainer.
Ultimately, unless you’re willing to put in the work, and work when everyone else is sleeping, it doesn’t matter who you hire. I’ve learned that if you want to see change and success you have to put in the work.
SEAL Team, at its core, is about this band of brothers who would do anything for each other. What’s it been like building the chemistry with the rest of the cast?
It truly is about the brotherhood that these guys share with one other that can only be formed on the battlefield. What I’ve acquired working alongside the veterans is the unbreakable bond that you guys have once you’ve shared bloodshed in the same arena of war.
SEAL Team was also 6 Certified, meaning the committee at Got Your 6, an organization that works to empower veterans, found the show was a representative and balanced depiction of veterans. What does it mean to you personally to know the show is so well received by the military community?
It’s an honor to receive the acknowledgment from the military community. It truly means the world to me, along with the rest of the cast, to receive the blessing from the military community to represent our country.
What can you tease about what’s coming up for Sonny?
We go a lot deeper into the psychology of the invisible wounds of war and also cover his relationships with his brothers and other relationships aside from the team. We really push the envelope on Sonny’s PTSD and other effects that might show up from being at war.
I have to ask you about your high-end diaper bag company, Paperclip. How did this start? Where did this idea come from?
The bag’s inception happened when I went to change my daughter in the men’s restroom and there was no changing table there. I had to take off my shirt and change my daughter on the floor. When I went home, I thought I failed as a father and started to look online for bags that had a built-in changing station. I realized then that there was a gap in the market for this invention and wanted to create something fashionable and functional. The bag design is not just for a dad but one that moms would also buy knowing their husbands would enjoy it as much as they do. My business partner, Artie Baxter, and I started this company 3 years ago, not having any clue about diaper bags, and now we cannot keep them on the shelves. We’ve grown to be one of the top diaper bag companies today. Paperclip is now expanding into more of a travel lifestyle brand competing alongside the likes of Tumi, etc.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something you nerd out about?
I am currently nerding out about virtual reality!
Photo Credit: James Dimmock