Not many people can say they literally broke their back acting, but Sean Faris can. During the filming of his recent mixed martial arts movie Never Back Down, the Parma, Ohio native cracked a small bone in his spine during one of the fight sequences. While most people would have taken weeks off of work, Faris continued through shooting and just saved that fight for another day.
It’s that kind of perseverance and hard work that has allowed Faris to slowly and steadily move up the Hollywood “It List” ladder over the past few years. After moving to Hollywood from Ohio shortly after his high school graduation, Faris found himself in a small yet significant role in the blockbuster Pearl Harbor and since then has worked his way up from “Danny’s Gunner” to leading man status. Recently during one of Faris’ rare visits home, C Magazine caught up with him for an exclusive interview and photo shoot and learned that Faris may have broken his back, but his fighting spirit is still as strong as ever.
Before you got into the acting you were entertaining the idea of getting into the Air Force. Is that correct?
Yeah, when I was growing up I always wanted to fly jets in the Air Force. As I got older, I noticed I had astigmatism in my left eye.
Did you sustain any injuries during training or filming?
The main injury was during a sequence we shot for the film between my character and Djimon Hounsou’s character. We did several takes of a body slam and by the end of it, my L3 minus transverse process (which is a small bone on the spinal cord) cracked in half. I went to a surgeon and they gave me a bunch of painkillers and they had to push the entire fight scene to the end of the movie so I had recovery time. We just got nominated for best fight for the MTV Movie Awards.
Do you train in anything yourself?
No, I have not been able to train since the film because I have been wrapped up in other work. When the stunt trainers get back, I am going to start it up.
You’re currently working on The Glass Eye, in which you have starring and producing roles. Is this your first shot at a producing gig?
This is my first try at producing. It’s more of a learning experience for me. I get some great input on it; it’s something I’ve always wanted.
How are you tackling both roles? Is it challenging from an artist standpoint when you have to make decisions from a budget perspective?
For me, it’s all about the creative aspect. I don’t mess with the money.
In this day and age, with everyone trying to catch events on their cell phones and cameras, the premise of the The Glass Eye is quite poignant. Do you agree/disagree and why?
Absolutely. Look at TMZ in everyday life now. Anyone can record anybody in any situation and post it. It’s developing its own sub-culture of people who want to go on the Internet and find stuff. It’s got its own buzz and own target audience.
We heard that the same people who coordinated the stunts for 300 also did your stuff for Never Back Down. How much training did you have to go through for the role?
Oh man, it was ridiculous! We trained for two months in L.A., for another couple weeks in Florida before we filmed, and also trained during filming. The pre-training regiment was six hours a day, six days a week. We trained in Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu and Taekwondo with lots of stretching and an hour and half with a weight trainer. We were also doing a lot of the fight choreography. I put on anywhere between 10 and 15 pounds.
How did that role change you – both mentally and physically?
It was a lot of pressure on film and my first lead in a big feature. I had to do a lot of work ahead of time to rehearse. I had already rehearsed and went through everything in the script before we even starting shooting it. We had to do a lot of prep work because of my injury and lack of time. I had to step up to the plate to overcome the pressure of a big feature. I was fortunate that I had a great actor (Djimon Hounsou) on set with me. I got to step back and learn from him, and really appreciate what I had.
What was the most rewarding aspect of that film?
Overcoming the obstacles and finishing strong. I broke my back and I never took a day off. I did the best I could to be in every moment of every fight scene that I could maintain. Working with Djimon Hounsou and leading the film was a great platform to launch my career as a feature film actor.
You were already a pretty fit guy. Is it true you were a competitive diver?
I dove in high school; I also played football…basketball, soccer, and baseball growing up. I’ve played pretty much every regulated sport offered.
For your upcoming movie Forever Strong, you had to learn the ins and outs of rugby. Tell us more about training for that role.
It was a different kind of training because we had a whole team of people. We had anywhere from 20 to 30 guys on the field at one time. Never Back Down was very one-on-one and concentrated in a particular part of time. We only had two weeks to learn how to play rugby for the movie. Luckily, I played soccer and other sports that had similar backgrounds, so I could put them together and then look like a decent rugby player at the end
of the day.
You also went through ice hockey training for the lead role in the show Life As We Know It. Do you enjoy taking roles that require strenuous physical training?
It’s the characters within those roles that I’ve gone to. At the age, I did those projects; I was the age of the kids I was playing. They were kids in high school playing their sports. Now that I’m 26, I’m not doing high school roles anymore. It’s a different ballgame.
Are you happiest when you are constantly working—jumping from project to project—or do you like to have breaks in between to kind of regroup before you have to start another character?
I like to take a small break, maybe have a couple weeks off at most, and then get back to the next project. When we are working, we are on a very intense schedule. The roles I usually play are leading roles, which include my character being in each scene. It can be quite demanding on you and taxing with the scheduling changes from day to night. In a perfect world, I would love months between roles…but at the same time I love working. You take it as it comes.
How do you decompress?
I go to Texas to visit my grandma for about a week or two after every project. I like to hang out in the country and fish [for catfish].
Three weeks after graduating high school, you and your best friend moved to California to pursue acting. Did you have any training at that point?
He was only with me for the drive. He stayed out for a week and then flew home.
Were you in acting during high school?
Not at all. I got cast in an independent film during my junior year, and that’s when I decided to pursue acting.
How did you survive during those first few months? Did you eat your dinner out of a can?
When I first got out here, I booked a small part in the movie Pearl Harbor and I worked for the first couple months. I thought everything was going to be easy… but when that project ended, I ran out of money in about a month and a half and that’s when I started to eat canned tuna mixed with rice, peas and corn. I would get my protein, fiber and carbs.
The list of major actors cast in Pearl Harbor reads as follows: Ben Affleck, Dan Aykroyd, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Hartnett, Jaime King and Jon Voight. As a 17-year-old kid, certainly you must have been a bit star-struck by the experience.
I was absolutely beside myself. I was in wonder and awe that I was even on set. Some people were cool and every day we got to watch people blow stuff up… and to work on your biggest budgeted film your first time out of the gate was quite the experience.
What was the first thing you bought after your first big paycheck from Pearl Harbor?
Honestly, that was eight years ago and I can’t even remember. I was probably going out to the bar… a bar tab.
Did you ask for or get any advice from the stars of that movie?
Djimon Hounsou pulled me aside on the very last day of filming [Never Back Down]. He told me to never forget to enjoy the process. He said, “If you don’t enjoy the process, it’s not worth it. You have to enjoy the good with the bad because it’s a part of life and you will appreciate it all the more and be more grateful at the end of the day.”
You’ve been noted as a Tom Cruise look-a-like, only taller. What’s your take on that comparison?
If people want to compare me to Tom Cruise, and he gets the top dog pay check in the industry, then I will happily take that comparison and hopefully I’ll get that paycheck one day myself.
When you go home to Parma, what’s the first thing you do?
Drink a beer with the boys and say hi to my momma. I go to Goodman’s Deli and get a hot corn beef sandwich. I make it home a couple times a year; it all depends on how busy I am.
What and who inspires you?
Who—George Clooney. I love his approach and the different choices he makes as an actor. He seems to be very appreciative and grateful for what he’s got. I enjoy seeing someone who is really happy for what he has. What—People who want to do great work and character development. I like to see the art of film change before my eyes and become better and better.
When you were growing up, I’m sure you always looked forward to what you wanted to do in life – acting. Now that you are doing what you dreamed, is it easier or harder to look in the future at what’s next or what you want in life?
I’m constantly changing my goals. Before, I only had one dream: to become an actor. Now, I have many different goals. You have to keep changing your goals to progress and move further, but overall the ultimate goal never changes. That’s to be the best actor I can be.
If you were to look ahead five years from now, what three things would you have liked to accomplish already?
I would love to have a house built on a lake with a lot of land. I want to be happy as an actor and to be on a level where I can really pick and choose where I want to be next. I’d also like to be able to start charities and give back. I really want to give back because I live my dream. I am the luckiest person I know. It’s important to me to maybe help someone else’s dreams come true.
Is Hollywood a matter of chance or design?
A lot of things in Hollywood are a matter of chance, but I also think that being lucky in Hollywood is about being ready at the right time.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
When I see other people in Hollywood who don’t appreciate what they’ve got. People who feel like they deserve to be held in high regard and put on a pedestal.
Besides acting, what other profession do you think you would have done well at?
I probably would have been a great attorney. That’s what my mom wanted me to do.
Women are the best at…?
Getting you to do what they want.
How does Cleveland compare to Houston? Do you consider yourself a Midwesterner or a Texan?
It’s night and day. At the end of the day, I consider myself a Texan.
Do you have a mentor?
My manager Dino May. He’s been a mentor to me for the last seven years. It’s his guidance and my passion that have given me my career.
What were some parts you were in the running for, and that you really wanted, but didn’t get?
I really wanted to do Wolverine. I also wanted to play Gambit, and even died my hair for the audition.
Do you take on-going acting classes or additional training between parts?
I’m not doing that currently. Anytime that something really good comes along, and I feel I need extra work, I will hire a coach. I’m not a method actor by any means.
When a movie you’re in gets panned by critics, or receives negative reviews, what’s your reaction?
You take the bad press with the good press. You can’t please everyone in the world.
Name one thing you love about Hollywood and one thing you hate.
I love the friendships I’ve developed along
the way. I hate it when Hollywood becomesa bit
Do you ever check out your Internet Movie Database entry or your Wikipedia page for accuracy?
Yeah, I check IMDB. I didn’t know I had a Wikipedia page.
You co-starred on an episode of Even Stevens with up-and-coming action star Shia LeBeouf. Did you get the feeling back then he was going to be big?
Yeah, I can’t say I would ever imagine he would be playing young Indiana Jones… but you always knew he had the special star quality within him.
You played one of the leads on the FOX show Reunion, a high-concept series telling the story of six high school friends, one of whom was brutally murdered at their 20-year class reunion. Each episode of the show chronicled a year in the characters’ lives starting with graduation, slowly building to the climactic reunion. What was it like to be part of such a cutting-edge story-telling?
We thought it was an absolutely great concept and idea, but unless you have the entire season written, it’s going to be a disaster. It was really hard for us (the actors) because we were unsure of the relationships we were supposed to have with the other characters.
In 2004, you attended the 7th Annual Young Hollywood Awards with Eva Longoria Parker as your date. What was that like?
Well, that was a great experience. We were friends for quite a while and we had a lot of fun together. We didn’t date; she was like a sister to me.
You’ve been quoted as saying: “I hate junk food. It depresses me.” Does this mean there’s not even one less-than-healthy comfort food you indulge in?
Cheeseburgers. I enjoy comfort food, I just don’t do McDonalds or Burger King. I’ll eat a chili dog any day of the week, but I want to make it.
In the past, you’ve expressed a preference for Armani on the red carpet. Care to add any other designers to the list?
Armani is always my number one. I also rock Hugo Boss.
Gap or True Religion jeans?
What’s the last book you read?
Shantaram. It’s about a guy who escapes prison in Australia and goes to Bombay India to start a whole new life.