Starring in one of the most progressive and interesting new sitcoms on television, The New Normal star Jayson Blair has caught everyone’s eye. Moving from modeling to acting, the 28-year-old actor has been working his way up the Hollywood ladder from commercials, guest spots on shows like CSI: New York, supporting television roles, and independent film. Perhaps best known for his role as Max Owens on The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Blair’s character Clay Clemmons on The New Normal isn’t the aggressive bully you’d come to love/hate him as. From the mind of the indefatigable Ryan Murphy, The New Normal is pushing boundaries and making a statement, but with a voice that speaks to all people with bias.
It’s a show about the desire to protect your family and fight for those you love. Following a gay couple (played by Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) who decide to have a child, the two become connected with a struggling young woman, Goldie, and her daughter. Goldie becomes their surrogate, and eventually, a part of their family—but no one comes without baggage. Goldie’s young grandmother (played by Ellen Barkin) is a tough as nails conservative Republican who has decent intentions but is usually on the wrong side of the argument, known for her politically incorrect outbursts and staunch ideals. And then there’s Blair’s character, Clay, Goldie’s philandering ex-husband. “Clay’s a lover,” says Blair, “he may have some issues when it comes to monogamy, but you’ll see he really does care about his family.” We met up with Blair to see his road to Hollywood, working with Ellen Barkin, and what the show means to an audience.
So how did you get into acting?
I started off modeling in Los Angeles and taking acting classes during that. I quit modeling pretty shortly after moving out there. I really enjoy acting and think it’s much more individual in sense of what you can do and what you can have people perceive you as, whereas with modeling you’re advertising something.Three years in I started to get really serious about my acting and that’s when it all started to change. I started doing commercials and then in 2006 I got my first guest star on CSI: New York and then in 2009 I got The Hard Times of RJ Berger. So I was a regular on that for two seasons and then The New Normal now; I’ve just been working my butt off.
Were you working a lot when you got out there?
Oh, I struggled. I was living off the dollar menu at McDonalds and oatmeal for like my first three years. I was a server the whole time and after a few years I started working at really good restaurants so I was doing pretty okay. But it was definitely a serious struggle for a while. I was like, you know, you’re always a day away from your life changing. The crazy thing about this business is that you can not work for two years, go on audition, and the next day you get a phone call and your life’s completely different. RJ Berger was my first bigger role.
Did that open up a lot of doors for you?
It did! And also it was the first scripted thing that MTV had really done and paved the way for a lot of their other shows. At first people didn’t really take it seriously, but after it came out people saw it and thought it was really funny. But now that The New Normal happened, it’s really helped me out in terms of getting auditions for films.
Do you have a preference of where you’d like to continue working: television or film?
I feel like so many great roles are on television nowadays with so many amazing characters that you’re so interested to see what happens week after week. I think the best stories are in TV right now; with the exception of some films, TV is definitely where it’s at. If you used to do TV you could never really cross over and if you did film, no way you’d do television but now everything’s really interesting and the writers are great.
Are there any other TV shows you’d love to be on?
Homeland. I would love to be on Homeland. Or if they need an American on Downton Abbey, I’m all for it. Game of Thrones would be awesome. Something super involved, really intense drama, I would love to play something fun like that.
And you’ve completed a film recently?
I’ve done a few independents. It’s called Detention of the Dead, it’s like Shaun of the Dead meets The Breakfast Club. It’s five random delinquents in detention a la The Breakfast Club. I play the asshole jock guy. We just had so much fun together. We shot in 25 days and it was really cool.
So do you really enjoy the challenge of comedy?
I do love comedy, I think it’s harder in certain ways than drama and more fun. But then again, I love dark dramas. I would love to do some challenging roles.
Are there any directors you’d really love to work with?
I would love to work with Ben Affleck. He was always a good actor and then he started making these films and it’s just unbelievable. He can tell a story really well but also the way he directs himself; he’s become a much better actor also and he’s so subtle. But of course, all the greats like Scorsese, Almodovar, etc. I would love to work with Ryan Murphy on a film. As a director he’s brilliant and on set, more than any director I’ve ever worked with, he’s so cool to work with because he gives you so many choices. A lot of directors are very specific with the way that they see roles so they want you to do it their way but Ryan will let you do it your way and then give you five different ways in a row to do it, so when you cut it together, you have so many different colors going on. I’d love to work with him on a larger scale. I worked with Steve Gagen on a pilot and I think that guy’s brilliant.
With Ryan, everything he does is so different but his aesthetic translates throughout all of them. I see similarities between Nip/Tuck and Glee, which seems pretty odd.
Yeah, and even on our show the way that sometimes they’ll cut away to people talking in camera, it’s also very obscure references and thought processes that’s nothing like you’ve seen on network television. It almost has that FX sort of vibe to it and it’s so Ryan—something is so off and unique. He’s got three shows, he’s developing a couple more, he’s doing a film right now. I don’t know how he does it, he has like nine lives at once.
How did you get connected with The New Normal?
The initial audition was the pilot and it was just one page and it was a guest star possibility to reoccur, so I took it and I spent like four and a half hours working on it and then I went in. You know, all the guys are going to come in and read it the same way, so I spent a lot of time making up some weird character and doing something super unique that at least they’d remember. I went in and got it and we shot the pilot and it was really fun and then they asked me back for the second episode. At that point they offered me five out of thirteen episodes but while I was shooting the second episode, they offered me the regular position. I was like, Wow, because I was such a fan of the show and the writing was brilliant and the cast. And it just keeps getting better and better and more weird and more amazing.
In your first scene on the show Ellen Barkin points a gun on you while you’re in bed after you’re caught having sex. How was that?
The sex scene was funny because Jessica Lu, the girl that I worked with in it, she’s a friend of mine so it was fun and funny and we had a really good time with it because it can be really uncomfortable and awkward when somebody is, you know, just sitting on your body. But Ellen, she’s great, she’s so tough.
What’s interesting about her character is that she can be so awful but still cares so much about her family that you can’t hate her.
And she believes it. Something that gives this show so much credit is, it’s not trying to push the left wing down your throat, because it’s very sympathetic to conservatives. So Ellen’s point of view on things, so many people feel that way. People really believe that. So it’s good to have both opinions and both points of view so people aren’t just, oh this is just another show trying to spread their beliefs on it. The political episode, “Obama Mama”, how they showed both sides and everything’s very valid that she says and everything on the other way, you totally understand.
I feel like a lot of shows touch on having these strong opinions, whether it’s politics or religion, etc but this show really always makes it into a discussion.
It’s true and it shows you both ways. A lot of shows are like okay this is what we believe so we’re going to cram it down your throat because we want you to believe it too. I think if it didn’t have that the show would just be another show.
Has there been a lot of people that are in opposition to the show?
A Mormon company that owns one of the NBC affiliates in Utah pulled it, they wouldn’t show it. One Million Moms, they’re trying to pull out our advertising. I mean that’s pretty difficult and it’s sad that people think that’s okay. Don’t watch the show, tell your friends how ridiculous it is, do what you’ve got to do but you can’t speak for people that you don’t know. People don’t have to watch it but you should be able to have the option. This is America, it’s a progressive society and it’s dealing with people’s lives. You’d think that One Million Moms would want to help something that stops bullying and helps these kids who are afraid to be themselves because people chastise them for it. We’re not going to just shove this same sex thing down your throat, this is about all kinds of families, and I think that Ryan is the perfect person for a show like this.
What do you look for in a role?
I look for realness in characters. So many things people try to push the envelope just for the sake of doing it and if people wouldn’t do that, if it doesn’t justify what they’ve done for the rest of the story, it just doesn’t make sense.