The former model talks about the new OWN series.
Aaron O’Connell plays Wyatt on The Haves And The Have Nots
It’s soap-drama heaven on Tyler Perry’s new hour-long series on OWN, The Haves and the Have Nots, which focuses on the intertwined lives of the wealthy Cryer and Harrington families (“The Haves”) and the working class Young family (“The Have Nots”). The series, based on Perry’s 2011 play of the same name, premiered last month and set ratings records for Oprah Winfrey’s network.
One of the main stories in the first season of episodes is fresh-out-of-rehab Cryer son, Wyatt (Aaron O’Connell) who, while trying to stay sober, is also trying to figure out which side of the gay/straight fence his sober buddy, Jeffrey (Gavin Houston) is on.
In a clip from a recent episode, Wyatt goes to great lengths to find out whether or not Jeffrey is gay and while we wait for that definitive declaration, O’Connell recently told me there’s definitely more to come.
I checked in with the former model on what he makes of the storyline between Wyatt and Jeffrey, his transition from model to actor and what snack food he has a hard time refusing.
TBL: You and I are both Indiana natives! In terms of navigating Hollywood, do you think it helped growing up in the Midwest?
AO: Absolutely. Without a doubt and I think it really helped me realize what’s important. I grew up with a close family and great group of friends. I’ve always turned to them for some love and support especially in this industry which can be kind of crazy at times. I find myself going to and from New York and going across the country but I always make an effort on those trips to make a stop in Indiana to see my family and friends.
TBL: Did modeling turn into acting or was acting always on the back burner for you?
AO: When I was at Purdue I first started at Ford Models and I started traveling and ended up getting some bigger jobs and I enjoyed it but I always looking for something a little more fulfilling where I could be more creative and put more of my personality into things and it just turned to the acting side.
Essentially I ended up fortunate to live anywhere and still do the modeling. I decided to come out here to Los Angeles and have the opportunity to do more acting and I ended up booking a few commercials and really enjoyed that and got into some acting classes…I shot a Liquid Plumber commercial and that’s actually where Tyler Perry saw me from…and he gave me a call and said ‘I’d love for you to read for this role that I’ve written for a show’ and I did the audition on Skype, which I’d never done before, went to LA and met him the following week and ended up being the first one they cast into the show. I’m still pinching myself.
Gavin Houston (l) and Aaron O’Connell (r) on The Haves And The Have Nots
TBL: Tell me a little bit about Wyatt. He definitely has some issues, doesn’t he?
AO: Well, if I could explain Wyatt in one word it would be broken. Wyatt is somebody that really has no one to look to for support. He surely can’t look to his dad and surely can’t look to his mom and his sister’s got plenty of issues of her own but Wyatt is somebody that doesn’t care about his image. He’s just kind of the hurt, broken child in the Cryer family and he turns to these drugs and alcohol to get some kind of relief and he knows that it’s not the greatest thing for him but he just doesn’t care. He just isn’t somebody who really cares about his image. He doesn’t care about the Cryer last name. In fact, he’s ashamed of it because he knows what his family is really like.
He’s got kind of mischievous side too and he preys on the weaknesses of other people and that will be seen throughout the course of the show but he’s just one of those guys that says things that most people keep to themselves. He’s not one of those boys where you take him out in public and hope that he behaves. What a fun character to play.
TBL: A few episodes back, Wyatt set a trap with his laptop to see if Jeffrey might be gay. The scene was so soapy and fun but what did you think when you first read it?
AO: I thought ‘how clever!’ I read that and immediately knew the filming process was going to bring about a lot of laughs and be fun! It was nice to play the clever side of Wyatt. Could Wyatt’s trap be the start of something more? I am telling ya, Tyler Perry wrote a heck of a first season. Hang on to your seats.
TBL: Wyatt has been more edgy around Jeffrey, even snapping at him for sitting too close or touching him. Is it the fact that Wyatt thinks he’s gay that bothers him or that Jeffrey hasn’t told him?
AO: The fact that Jeffrey is gay doesn’t bother Wyatt. Let’s just say, Wyatt likes to be ‘in the know.’ Feeling or being left out has never been something Wyatt Cryer has liked. And – a big AND – there might just be a good reason for that.
TBL: How long will it be before Wyatt finally confronts Jeffrey about whether he’s gay or not?
AO: As much as I want to give it all away, I can’t! Stay tuned! There is a lot to come out of these two characters and there are moments between the two that will leave you picking your jaw up off the floor….this story line isn’t going to let any of the viewers down. Trust me.
Kindred Spirits? Jeffrey also seems to have issues with his social climbing family.
TBL: Wyatt has been sneaking booze and trying to get pills. Do you think Jeffrey is right that it was too soon for him to leave rehab or does his family just push his buttons?
AO: The atmosphere Wyatt’s in when he goes home is toxic. He doesn’t have much of a role model in Mom (Renee Lawless) and Dad (John Schneider). His sister (Jaclyn Betham), she has problems of her own. Wyatt seems to do better when he is away from them unfortunately. As far as going home to soon, I don’t think it is necessarily that he went home to soon but the environment he finds himself surrounded in when he does go home. When he is away, he seems to be fine… or does he..?.
TBL: What would you say that Wyatt wants most of all?
AO: Love and to be accepted for who he is. Growing up, he was always the guy that let everyone down, didn’t necessarily mean to do but it just became the common reoccurrence that he had and it just started to wear on him and his family is broken in so many other ways as well, there has just never been a positive direction for this character and it’s definitely going to be evident each episode here on out. It’s going to be whirl wind but it’s definitely a show that viewers are going to want to keep tuning in to.
TBL: Scandal is a big show right now. Do you think viewers should compare that show with this one?
AO: I think parts of Scandal can compared to our show but I think the way Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey operate, they always want somebody to take away something from the show. I think that’s the difference, the difference in Scandal and The Haves and The Have Nots is that there are life lessons and messages to be learned in every single episode and in every single character.
TBL: Talk to me about staying in shape for the show. You do have your shirt off often!
AO: I don’t work out hard for no reason! [laughs] You can definitely see some of that and those scenes are fun. They’re hot. We’ve had some great scenes that are going to make viewers want to watch, definitely.
What is O’Connell squirting in his mouth that doesn’t stop him looking like this?
TBL: Is there a self-consciousness to that for you?
AO: Fortunately, I’ve been modeling for seven years, so I’m used to it. I think most people back home ask, ‘How can you get used to that?’ You just do. It’s been part of my life for so long. It’s not something that I’m very shy about. It’s something that I am modest about, though. I’m not a big show-off kind of guy but I do expect myself to be in the best shape that I can be and be prepared for whatever job comes about…if I can add anything to the show that I possibly can then I’m going to do that and if my looks and me being in shape can help that then I’m going to do the best I can.
TBL: Do you ever feel like your looks might work against you as far as acting just because people might think you’re just this pretty package and not much more?
AO: That’s not something I typically try and worry about too much because I know at the end of the day I’m going to do the best possible job that I can do and if looks can help me open up the door, if I look the right part for a certain character, then that’s great. That means that I get the opportunity to get another audition or another episode where I can truly use my personality and use the actions to put even more into the character than just looks…out here in Los Angeles, it seems like everybody is an actor and so anything that I could possibly do to give myself an advantage to be the best that I can be in this industry then I feel like it’s more appealing to writers, directors, producers, anybody that’s producing TV or movies.
TBL: We all have a food guilty pleasure. What’s yours?
AO: I absolutely love chocolate chip cookies. I’ve got a huge sweet tooth. Chocolate chip cookie ice cream but when I have to cut up where I have to get in shape for a shoot or a show or whatever, I take whipped cream and I just squirt it into my mouth and that’s pretty much how I get past that sweet tooth. I just put a couple squirts there and I’m in good shape but it’s only 15 calories. It’s not the end of the world.
The Haves And The Have Nots airs Tuesdays at 9pm on OWN.