Actor Sebastian Stan is one of the most fearless and versatile actors in the business today. He’s already been to Broadway in Talk Radio, stirred up trouble on Gossip Girl, shown up in features like Black Swan and Captain America, and he goes mad – literally – in his recurring role as the Mad Hatter on Once Upon A Time.
The 28-year old young actor is currently drawing our rapt attention on USA’s Political Animals, where he plays the gay, drug-loving, spiraling out-of-control son to Sigourney Weaver’s Former First Lady, and we got a chance to speak with him about the show.
AfterElton: What did you know about TJ going into the show? Did you have a background for him in your mind even if the viewers don’t?
Sebastian Stan: We’re lucky because we had rehearsals beforehand and we were able to really talk with Greg [Berlanti] and really create a backstory for what was going to be going on, which is great because then we were able to insert things into the characters from the beginning. I think once you watch the episodes you can go back and you’ll go, ‘Oh, there was a sign that that was coming. We just didn’t see it.”
AE: What drives TJ’s addiction? Are we to assume it’s simply the pressure from the family, or is it something hidden that we don’t know about (yet)?
SS: My research about what happens with people who end up in addiction, I think it varies per person, but often it’s a traumatic childhood experience. I think the main thing that makes sense in my opinion in terms of what could have caused it with TJ is a sense of abandonment… and also this rift that happened between him and his Dad. Plus, the tremendous pressure of having to grow up in this family and being constantly monitored and watched, having everything dictated to you, having to be a certain way.
So I think that it was the environment that he was born in along with the feeling of being sort of abandoned by his father. And so having no one really to go to, per se, kind of put him in an isolated prison cell. I think that might have been the main reason for him having to find other methods of escape. Unfortunately that’s what people tend to do when they go to substance abuse. There’s some self-medicating that happens, and we all know and have seen time and time again that that doesn’t lead to anything. It becomes a psychological addiction and a physical addiction.
AE: TJ is already out when the series starts, but the fact that that is a news story for the whole world to see, that’s a lot of pressure for everybody.
SS: That’s another reason why the show relevant to the world that we’re in. I can’t personally say I know exactly what that is, but when you look at these magazines and these stories that are coming out. I mean, look at Katie Holmes and her daughter. Her daughter is going through all this. I don’t know how that’s going to affect her as she gets older and hopefully everything will be fine, obviously. But that kind of spotlight where people are just obsessed with it. I don’t know what that can do to an individual, but I’m assuming that it’s sort of a very protective behavior that develops. It has to affect somebody in some way.
Stealing Nana’s checks? Coke snorted off his chest? Just another day for TJ.
AE: I think what we’ve seen so far with TJ on the show is that he has his nightclub idea and his brother is bailing him out of situations. Where are things going in the coming episodes?
SS: I think what’s really good is that you’re going to see some of the good things that were present about this family. You’re going to see, for example with him, why he was ultimately a very happy, happy kid. He wasn’t sitting in the closet being a bizarre kind of pouting heir, you know what I mean? You’ll see that he had a real relationship with his brother, and also his Grandmother, and also his Mom. So I think there’s going to be other clues as to why these things sort of ended up happening to him. Unfortunately, whether he’s going to spiral or not, you don’t know that with an unstable person.
AE: One thing I like with the show is that we get to see TJ be with men, whether it’s having someone snort cocaine off his bare chest or just hooking up. Is that something you and Greg talked about? Showing the real side of TJ’s sex life?
SS: That to me is what I discovered when the scripts kept coming. I trusted Greg from his previous work and from what I’d read in the pilot. When I first signed up, I always thought he will know what to do and what the right thing to say is. So I think every little detail about all these characters, it shows the message that Greg really thought about and what he wants to do.
Obviously, cable is a very different world than it used to be. What you’re allowed to show on cable doesn’t compare to what you could do a few years ago. As far as Greg and the rest of us in the show is concerned, I’m glad he was allowing us to be as authentic as possible.
Stan at the Political Animals premiere with Sigourney Weaver and James Wolk.
AE: As a viewer, I’m still wow’d by seeing the cast. You’re working with Sigourney Weaver, Ellen Burstyn, Vanessa Redgrave is coming up….did you pinch yourself as an actor a little bit?
SS: Yes! I believe Vanessa Redgrave had just come in and Ellen Burstyn was coming out of her trailer and Sigourney was coming out of makeup and I literally looked like somebody in a triangular center…but, yeah, it was one of the more appealing things about it. It’s just being able to show up and watch actors of that caliber work and their process. It was a learning lesson, for sure.
There’s more to come with The Mad Hatter this fall on Once Upon A Time
AE: Shifting gears to Once Upon A Time, as an actor how do you approach the fantasy element of it? How do you maintain a realness when the world is not necessarily real?
SS: I think whether the character exists on the moon or, I don’t know, you just try to play the truth of it and the authenticity of it. What I try to do and use as a guide or a map is what is very clear in the script. The man wanted to be reunited with his daughter, that was very clear, and he would do anything that he could to do that, and he thought the Emma Swan character [played by Jennifer Morrison, who Stan reportedly is dating] was going to be the person to bring him back to do that. Whether it was magic or any of the other words, that’s what comes out of his mouth. What he’s saying over and over again…you just pay attention to what these characters want and not the green screen.
AE: You’re shooting more for season 2, can we expect the next chapter of the Mad Hatter’s story, especially now that Storybrooke has changed?
SS: There will be. I think he’ll be just as much affected by everything, but the desire for him has not changed. He still wants that reunion with the daughter. Also, you have to remember, he’s known all along before everybody else that this was going to happen, so this is not a big surprise to him. From where he comes from, it’s like ‘Oh, good. Now everybody is going to see what I’ve been talking about over and over again, but no one was listening to me.” He’s seen all this coming.
Political Animals airs Sundays at 10pm on USA. Once Upon A Time returns for its second season on September 30th on ABC.