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Hero Magazine 22: Jack Dylan Grazer

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A yellow, Aston Martin goes by and the excitement in Jack Dylan Garzer’s voice writhes and bubbles, “whoa that’s like the coolest car I’ve seen, it looked like it was from the 50s but it was sexy,” he says jubilantly before quickly apologizing, “sorry! I’m so bad at this!” It’s endearing really, the 15-year old rising star who has graced the big screen in blockbusters such as Stephen King’s It, Shazam! and Beautiful Boy, exudes a genuineness that mirrors maturity but winks coyly at pubescence. As a high-schooler with ADHD and a strong distaste for arithmetic along with a 5.3 million follower fan base on Instagram alone, Jack manages to coolly straddle two worlds without swindling his innocence, all thanks to his burgeoning self-awareness. 

Since his first appearance on stage at six years old during which he adopted a British accent and warbled out an opera ballad, Jack has known that acting — and ultimately storytelling would be his life’s pursuit. His voice quickens as passion arises and as he puts it, “art is whatever you apply your full potential to.” Laughter washes over him easily. He cites comedy to be “instinctual,” “second nature” almost, hence why he’s hoping to take on a dramatic period piece next to continue to cultivate his practice, to hone his art, chiseling into vulnerability with empathy as his axis. The process is as much of a homecoming as it is Jack’s becoming. The wind at his back are his own hands as he tests the limits of his creativity but he never leaves home without a notepad. Tread lightly, jot heavily. Here we catch up with Jack over the phone from his home in Los Angeles before he jets off to Europe for the first time. 

Lindsey: Jack! Hey! First of all can we start off by talking about all the on-set chemistry between you, Zach and Asher in Shazam! It was amazing to watch and I imagine that while you’re still coming of age, the influences you have on set end up playing a large role in your life. How has your understanding of yourself been influenced by the roles that you’ve played and impacted you as a person? Especially because the roles you’ve played have ranged from the fantastical to reality. 

Jack: Oh for sure, I think that if I wasn’t living in and through the opportunity that I have with acting, --oh my god -- I would be a mess. I would be all over the place. This is my outlet. This is my world. I tried doing sports when I was little and it just didn’t work for me and then I started doing theater and I was like this is my tribe, this is where I belong, this is my niche. Without doing this I’d be lost. To also live in these fantasy worlds has been so cool because when I was growing up, I used to dress up and in the mirror as Captain Hook or Batman and do little scenes in the mirror. It wasn’t even that there was someone in the audience, but I just enjoyed living through these characters. 

Lindsey: Right and acting is interesting because there’s this certain level of freedom that you must feel as you disassociate from who you are and are forced to then understand yourself through these other characters and vice versa  

Jack: Yeah, it’s so liberating. Some people choose to bottle things up but for me, being on a stage or in front of the camera, is just like the wind beneath my wings [laughs] It’s freedom for me because being someone else is kind of just me being me in a weird way, it’s who I am, it’s living out loud which I’ve been doing my whole life even before becoming a star or whatever. 

Lindsey: Yeah and growing up nowadays as well, we really do have larger platforms to express ourselves, to live out loud and actually be heard compared to like our parent’s generation. 

Jack: It’s definitely easier to speak your truth, be your real self, choose your destiny and not have a pre-orchestrated future. It’s easier to carve your own path because people are more understanding – or more empathetic.

Lindsey: Are there ever any moments where you do feel vulnerable in those instances especially if you are putting so much of yourself out there? With acting in general, you do really have to open yourself up and be in tune with your emotions in a way that most people aren’t or aren’t forced to be, it’s your livelihood.

Jack: Totally, totally. But yeah sometimes when you surpass that wall of being afraid of being vulnerable, you’ll find there’s comfortability in vulnerability. With acting, you’re also this other character and you get to speak your so called “truth” through this character who may or may not be similar to you. 

Lindsey: Right but and how do you then fend off moments of doubt when you’re stretching your understanding of yourself? It’s the thought process of like, I know who I am but how do I become someone else? 

Jack: Good question. Of course there’s going to be doubt but when you know that you have the capability then it’s easier. The method is first of all having empathy for your character, meaning understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing. I watched this interview a long time ago with actor, Steve Railsback, who is this super nice, hippie dude but he played Charles Manson in Helter Skelter in 1976. Charles was a sickening human being but Steve was like, “I can understand why my character does what he does. I can convince myself of his motives.” That’s a tough thing to do but it’s kind of just that, it’s convincing yourself of your characters motives and that they’re real instead of holding onto your own. 

Lindsey: I like the word you used, “empathy.” Going back to what you were saying earlier about our generation really being able to empathize to a greater extent, I’m wondering how you differentiate between understanding and empathizing? 

Jack: Totally. Empathy is putting yourself in the person’s shoes and comprehending the outcomes and understanding is like, okay, I get where you’re coming from but I’m not going to fully go there. Empathy  is understanding why and understanding is knowing what’s going on but not putting yourself in that instance. 

Lindsey: That even applies to the self and how we identify and your understanding of such must be shaped by these two worlds you live in. Obviously you’re shooting all summer but you’re also in high school at the same time. Do you ever feel suffocated by the fame while still figuring out who you are?

Jack: Originally I felt, yeah, kind of suffocated but what really grounded me was school and the fact that it’s super important to me. I plan on going to college and if I start thinking of school as a necessity, like an essential, like brushing my teeth, or taking shower then it’s not as big of a thing. I do my final take on set and then it’s like okay, go to school. I never want to neglect it. 

Lindsey: Right. And that’s funny because I feel like now more than ever, people are kind of like now we don’t need school. You know what I mean? You kind of just like making your own path and do this and that and our generation is like whatever. But like, so where does school become important for you or what value do you see in it now?

Jack: Education in any field informs you of your art because there are always so many references to draw from, it’s so, so, so useful and I find applications for it when it comes to acting or anything creative in general. Subject wise, I’m super into English, History and World Civ but it doesn’t need to be drawing from school directly, it can just be life experiences because I like to know a bit about the character and what that kind of person is. 

Lindsey: Right but there’s also something to be said about the people we are learning from. What makes a good teacher to you? 

Jack: I think it’s important when a teacher focuses on each student individually. Instead of teaching to students as whole, it’s important to understand that everyone has a different learning capabilities, learns at a different pace and there’s something to be said for those who understand that you need to learn a student’s process to teach them thoroughly.

Lindsey: Yeah and taking that a step further and applying it to your own career where you’re talking about wanting to direct and write, can kind of talk about the natural progression of your career and how all these areas of influence inform one another?

Jack: Yeah I definitely want to extend into other creative factions. I definitely want to stay in this environment and industry because it’s what I love. The cool thing about my experiences on set is that I’ve always been able to apply my own creative input. Like on It, me and Finn were always coming up with stuff. The majority of the dialogue between him and I was improvised and Andy, our director, was super fantastic about that.

Lindsey: What do you think is the inherent power of story-telling? 

Jack: I think it’s the ultimate entertainment because it’s so vast, there’s a multitude of conduits that go into telling a story and ways in which to be a storyteller. Being a producer, you’re a storyteller, being a director, you’re a story-teller of course, and being an actor, you’re there in the moment and I think that’s the coolest part. I’m equally interested in both telling the story and being a character in the story. On set, we’re all building the story as one, it’s all a uniform team and ensemble. That being said, I think the key to being a good director is being flexible and doing away with the formalities, to allow for free reign.

Lindsey: Yeah. And it’s also like having trust in the people that you’re working with as well. I feel like that’s also something that’s really hard. So many of us also have walls up and how do you begin to break walls down through storytelling with self awareness? 

Jack: I’ve worked with actors before and I’ll be in a scene with them and they’ll be trying to flex their jaw line when it’s a serious scene to look good for the camera. That’s great but if you’re there in that body of that character, in that moment he wouldn’t be flexing his jawline [laughs] but it’s that self-aware thing where it’s like wow, how good does my jawline look right now? There are levels to it. For instance on social media, I’m a pretty open book but there are things I won’t share because it’s not other people’s business. I keep it lighthearted, I keep it easy, not because I want to make it seem like the life of Jack Dylan Grazer is all fun and games but it’s like what’s the point in sharing if that’s not my purpose? My purpose I think is to entertain, that’s just me and that’s what I want to do. My goal is to be funny, to be moving, to be a storyteller

Lindsey: Does entertaining ever get tiresome for you to the point where you feel like you’re always performing instead of just being? 

Jack: I guess sometimes but I think I’m just born to be an entertainer. I was born to be on that stage. I remember the first time I ever went on stage and did a play. I was six, doing a British accent, singing opera and I found myself. I was like I can’t do anything but this, I won’t allow myself to do anything but this. Now I’m here and have realized that I want to stretch myself and become a director and sometimes it does get tiring to entertain. When I’m with my close friends I’m not that funny, I’m just myself but myself is funny. Humor is my number one trait, I like making people laugh and that’s my favorite thing ever. It’s the most tiresome when I’m tired and I don’t feel funny but I still feel the need to be funny.

Lindsey: Would you say that’s like your superpower essentially? Making people laugh. 

Jack: Yeah it’s one of my superpowers. 

Lindsey: What’s your other superpower?

Jack: Maybe creativity? I don’t want it to toot my own horn or anything but yeah maybe creativity and will power. 

Lindsey: Do you feel like you have to share your creativity and to what extent is it for the self?

Jack: If you’re a creative person, and you’re confident in your creativity, then it’s better to be open about it and express it to people who you feel that you can share it with. I’m not saying to show it off to the world if you don’t want to, but if you’re creative be proud of yourself for sure and you have assurance in yourself. There's always flaw in creativity but it’s all part of the art I think. It’s different for everbody but for me I love showing off what I do.

Lindsey: Does it have anything to do with needing validation at the same time or are you past that point?

Jack: Good question, I don’t know if it’s validation, maybe it’s assurance? I guess the simplest way to put it is that I’m just proud of what I did and if someone’s like oh, it’s shitty, I’m like oh, okay, cool, I don’t care. Unless it’s intelligent criticism, I’m not changing when I don’t agree with the critique but I’m I’m always, always open to constructive criticism. That’s how people grow and that’s how I grow and evolve. 

Lindsey: How do you know when you’ve evolved and how do you define personal growth? 

Jack: You’re never done evolving until you’re dead, that’s the final stage. It’s pretty hard to detect when you’ve reached your full potential. Potential is like the blood of everything we do, it’s how we operate. By having dedication, commitment and discipline you’re then able to access your greatest potential and that’s my ultimate goal, as a human being and as an artist.