Bunkheads: Interview with actor Chris O’Brien

Chris O’Brien
Bunkheads: Interview with actor Chris O’Brien

When he’s not acting, Chris O’Brien likes to host Pub trivia nights around Los Angeles and he’s planning to join an adult hockey league in the fall. The actor, currently appearing in the new series ‘’Bunkheads’’ (available on Amazon Prime), clearly likes to keep busy, and have some fun, between acting gigs! Smart man.

MM: Chris, where do you call home?

Chris O’Brien (CO): I live in Los Angeles, but I grew up in Bristol, Rhode Island!

MM: And growing up, was acting always the goal?

CO: Not at all. I grew up playing ice hockey and my goal was to play through high school and then either go to a college with a good hockey program and then try to go pro, or maybe even see if I could make it in junior hockey or Europe. Eventually, I wanted to try new things and have a little more time with friends and by high school I’d been playing for almost 12 years, so I gave acting a shot.

MM: Was schooling involved?

CO: I took drama in high school and ended up adding Theatre as a second major along with English Lit. in college, but other than that, I didn’t take classes until I started practicing improv comedy at UCB here in LA.

MM: Do you think an actor need necessarily go to acting school?

CO: I think acting school, like the classroom environment for anything you want to learn, provides a safe place to practice skills and take risks and that’s really important for an actor. There are other ways to do that, but schools also help you build relationships with professionals, develop a network of other actors, and hopefully enable you to get your feet wet on some student projects and that sort of stuff.

But different people learn different ways. I’ve always found the process of rehearsing and working on a play to benefit me a lot more than working in a classroom. Maybe it has something to do with growing up playing sports, but I think at a certain point, classroom exercises are limiting. You have to practice at full speed and you have to play real games if you want to learn and grow.

On camera, it’s different. It’s hard and it can be stressful for everyone involved to learn that as you go. I think classrooms can be really valuable for actors there.

MM: What was your first gig?

CO: My first paid gig was at a local theatre back home when I was 18. I played Tod Pomme in Death Comes to us All, Mary Agnes by Christopher Durang. I think I got paid a $600 stipend for a couple months of rehearsals and performances. My first on-camera part was a small background role in Moonrise Kingdom.

MM: Still get residuals from that?

CO: Ah, no, residuals were never on the table for either of those gigs.

MM: What interested you about doing a TV series?

CO: I love acting so much, but acting on stage is so different from movies, which are different from TV series. Every medium really has its own unique advantages and challenges. I think what’s really cool about acting in a series is that you tend to get to explore a character and how they grow over a much longer period of time, not just in the shooting process if it goes on for a few seasons, but in the Universe of the show as well.

MM: How would you describe the tone of ‘’Bunkheads’’?

CO: Bunkheads is a little bit like if Scrubs was about people who weren’t doctors and also there’s zombies. And they’re stuck living in a really tight space together. It’s a little campy, a little goofy, but there’s a very real and human heart at the core of it.

MM: How long does each episode take to shoot?

CO: Oh god I can barely remember. It all blurs together now and I’m not even sure we actually shot the episodes in order. I think we’d skip around as needed, depending on what set we were on. But it took us about two weeks to shoot all of them, so I guess that would be two or three days per episode.

MM: What is Kip like? What makes him tick?

CO: He can be really selfish and pretty annoying. He’s like a little brother that just knows how to push every one of your buttons, except the apocalypse has also happened and no one around is actually related to him, so putting up with him is a lot more exhausting and stressful.

He’s young and he’s thoughtless and he probably voted for Trump, if that gives you any idea. He usually doesn’t think before he speaks and even when he does, he hasn’t developed the empathy to fully understand the implications of the things that he says or how it will impact others.

At least, that’s how he is when we first meet him. I think deep down, he’s insecure and he covers that up with a lot of his less admirable behaviors. Like most people, he wants to be loved. In his case, he’s confused praise, admiration, and above all, attention for love. He needs to unlearn that.

As the series progresses, he gets humbled a bit and we start to see humility from him, but that kind of growth is hard and it can take a long time. It’s not a one and done. Growth requires effort all the time, you always have to keep checking in with yourself and working on it. I think he can get there, but part of that will be realizing how much he owes the people around him for being patient and teaching him.

MM: How would he fare in a battle against the undead, you think?

CO: I think one of the biggest suspensions of disbelief that ‘’Bunkheads’’ asks the audience to make is that this guy has somehow survived years during the zombie apocalypse. In real life, he’d probably be zombie food on day two. Which is probably also true for me, to be honest. I am very out of shape.

MM: What do you hope for with Bunkheads – another season?

CO: Definitely. Five seasons. And a movie! I just hope lots of people watch it and enjoy it. If it can make some people laugh and brighten up their day, that’s really what matters the most to me.

MM: What’s the rest of the year look like for you?

CO: I’m always auditioning, so hopefully plenty more roles to be excited about and with any luck, we’ll have more Bunkheads on the horizon! I’m also working on some scripts I’ve written myself and talking to producers about getting one made, so that could be on the table before the year is out as well!

I’ve also been hosting pub trivia games around LA and I’m planning to join an adult hockey league this fall—any chances of going pro are long, long gone, but I still love the sport so much. Anyway, as far as getting exercise, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than going to the gym.