Jake Weary can vividly recall his first formative acting experience. At 12 years old, the New Jersey-raised actor played Mercutio in a school production of Romeo and Juliet. “I was a little bummed because I didn’t get the part of Romeo, but Mercutio is the best part anyway,” he tells us during a recent visit to New York City. The director let Weary perform the Queen Mab speech, in spite of his youth. “That monologue made me realize how much I love to take texts and make them my own,” the 27-year-old concludes.
Things took a slightly Addams Family turn when Weary’s father, a professional stunt choreographer and former actor, offered to lend his expertise to the production. “No one really asked him, but my dad brought all of his swords and we had three days of just sword fight rehearsal,” Weary says. “He wanted to do this opening scene with 20 kids on stage and these elaborate, choreographed fights. It ended up being the coolest six-day production you’ve ever seen. We had blood packs. When Tybalt died, his blood pack didn’t go off like it was supposed to and instead exploded all over the people in the front row. It was outrageous,” he continues with a laugh. “That’s going to be the story of my dad that I will take to the grave—his elaborate Romeo and Juliet fight choreography.”
If you watch Animal Kingdom, TNT’s drama inspired by David Michôd‘s 2010 film of the same name, you’ll know Weary as Deran, the youngest of the Cody brothers. In the first season, Deran was volatile and childish—using aggression as a means of fitting in with his heterosexual brothers. Five episodes into the second season, and things have changed. Deran is trying to turn his life around and find his own calling. When you’re part of the Cody crime family, however, living by the law is not as easy as it sounds.
During his hiatus this summer, Weary hopes to start production on a short film that he has written. The project, which features Julia Garner alongside Weary, will mark his debut as a writer and director.
EMMA BROWN: What brings you to New York?
JAKE WEARY: We all came up for Upfronts last week, but I’m from New Jersey originally, and we just wrapped the whole season [of Animal Kingdom], so I figured I’d stay for as long as I can until someone beckons me back to Los Angeles.
BROWN: Does your family still live in New Jersey?
WEARY: Both of my parents do and then my brother lives in Astoria, so I bob back and forth from Manhattan to Queens. I have friends in Brooklyn, too, so it’s all over the place—anywhere I can get a couch to crash on.
BROWN: I know that both of your parents are involved in the film and television industry, and you started acting when you were quite young. Do you remember your first time on set?
WEARY: The first time, I was probably an infant because my mom liked to have us as babies around set. I actually think my brother, when he was an infant, got screen time and played a little girl in my mom’s soap opera [Guiding Light]. We always joked about that. But the first time that I actually remember, I was probably seven or eight, and my mom was gearing up for a big Emmy run with her storyline, so she was pretty busy on set. I usually hung out with the PAs. My favorite guy was Butch, who was one of the boom operators. He looked like a California surfer dude, but he had this big voice and was always so warm. He loved showing me and my brother around set—showing us how everything worked and what everybody’s job was. I benefit from that to this day.
BROWN: When did you decide that you wanted to act professionally? Were you sort of experimenting when you were young, or did you already know that you wanted to be an actor when you grew up?
WEARY: There was definitely a feeling about it from a very young age, just because both of my parents did it and I liked to perform. I don’t even know if it was acting necessarily, so much as performing and entertaining people. When I was five and we were living in Valencia, California, we had this little plastic guitar that I used to pick up. I would pretend I was performing songs for hundreds of people, but it was really just my parents and my brother and sister. I’d jump on the coffee table and kick my seat and channel Prince or something. [laughs] I think it was just the appeal of entertaining people and making people laugh—that’s what drew me towards that career path.
BROWN: You’re a musician as well now. When did you graduate to real instruments?
WEARY: We had this bass guitar that my godfather passed down to me—this old Rickenbacker bass—and I started playing that. We also had his keyboard in our living room that I started banging around on until I sounded somewhat decent. Piano and bass were probably my first instruments, and then a drum set. I started playing drums, and played in some bands in middle school. I always had an instrument in my hand and tried to figure out how to use them properly, but I never took lessons or learned how to read music. It was always by ear, figuring out on my own how to use these things.
BROWN: What was your first onscreen role?
WEARY: The following fall [after Romeo and Juliet], I had a little part on my mom’s show. I had a scene with my mom, which was kind of meta, but it was really cool. I got to test the waters and see if it was something I was capable of doing under pressure. It went well… I think.
BROWN: Were your parents keen for you to go into the industry?
WEARY: They never forced me to do anything. They were just grinning at how excited I was about everything. I think they were just happy for me, happy that I was so ready to start the journey at a young age. They made me go through school before I could get an agent. They wanted me—and I did too—to be a normal high school kid before I dove into anything else. I was on a soap opera for a year, I was on As the World Turns, and then the workload increased and I was basically flunking out of high school. I was like, “I can’t do this right now. I’ve got three more years left of high school, I want to play sports and hang out with my friends.” So I left the show and finished school. That was a little break in my career, which was nice. It definitely needed to happen.
BROWN: I saw you got the requisite Law & Order appearance out of the way early on.
WEARY: That was a second thing I ever did after Guiding Light. That was surreal. It was a pretty big part with some intense scenes. It was pretty overwhelming being a 13-year-old kid, especially the material and the context of what was going on in that episode. I was thrown at the wolves a bit at a pretty young age. It was cool. I only freaked out once or twice when I couldn’t remember my lines. I remember Mariska Hargitay brought me to the side and said, “You’re okay. This is totally fine. We can make this whole crew wait for 30 minutes if we need to. This scene is about you and not about them.” I’ll always remember her saying that to me. That was just the best word of advice, to not freak out during a scene and know that they don’t have an episode if you don’t get the scene right.
BROWN: Did you ever study acting formally?
WEARY: I went to CalArts and did the conservatory BFA program there for a semester and a half. That was a crazy experience. That school is wonderful.
BROWN: I want to talk about Animal Kingdom as well. Deran goes through a lot in Season One, but by the beginning of Season Two, he’s starting to seem like the most levelheaded Cody brother, which I wasn’t expecting.
WEARY: It’s definitely a big shift from season one to season two for sure. He’s finally coming into his own and realizing that he has greater potential other than robbing banks.
BROWN: He needs to stop hanging out with Craig. He’s better than Craig.
WEARY: Craig is a bad influence on him. Throughout the season, there’s a lot of Craig-Deran stuff happening. Deran is trying to help him out, steer him on the right path. He keeps on fucking up and making it very difficult for Deran.
BROWN: I saw that Emmy Rossum directed some of Season Two.
WEARY: She directed episode four I believe. We had heard that she was coming and we all were very excited. I’m a huge fan of her work—I was a big Shameless fan and it was definitely nerve-wracking. Word on the street is that she’s a tough cookie; she’s a really powerful woman—very intelligent—and knows what she wants. It was exciting to get the opportunity to work with someone of that caliber. I think it was even more so for me, because episode four is a big Deran episode. Some really serious shit happens. We worked together a lot on that episode and got to know each other really well and developed a friendship. That’s the most important part, especially in television where you have directors coming in and out for episodes, and it’s such a short amount of time to build a trusting relationship. When you really get to know someone on and off set, it just helps. I feel like the material comes across a lot more.
BROWN: Do you find it easier when the director is an actor too, and they’ve experienced the challenges of having different directors for different episodes?
WEARY: I think that was what was so special about it. Not only is Emmy an actress, but she has also worked with the same crew. We were all in the same boat. Also just getting her input on everything, it made it a lot more comfortable. Seeing alternate perspective on your character is definitely useful.
ANIMAL KINGDOM AIRS TUESDAY NIGHTS ON TNT.