It’s mid-spring and we’re standing on the corner of High Street and Chittenden Avenue, patiently awaiting Sam Jaeger. Normally, we wouldn’t hang out on street corners for our cover men, but in this case, it was necessary. See, we gave him a High Street address for our shooting location, which was right, but the salon is actually located on Chittenden. We’ll blame that on city zoning, but given the fact that we drove around for a few minutes ourselves, we hoped he didn’t have to do the same. Whether or not we would actually spot him as he cruised up and down the street was questionable, but we took the chance anyway and just stood in front of the doorless brick wall with the High Street address we provided.
We knew what he looked like, of course, having recently watched him in the Jennifer Garner flick Catch & Release, but given that we were on campus in the middle of session, his boyish face might just blend into the crowd. Just when panic was ready to set in, we look to our right and see him walking casually down High with his hands in his pockets. As he approaches us, it’s obvious he’s checking addresses and we see his eyebrows furrow as he looks at the brick wall. We call out his name and he looks up and greets us with a warm smile. Although we were concerned he might have been a bit lost, it turns out Jaeger is a Columbus-pro, having moved here from Perrysburg, Ohio to attend Otterbein College awhile back. We would later find out that he not only returns on a regular basis to shoot his own films here (with another one, Take Me Home scheduled to shoot next year), but lately he’s here planning something a little bigger – his own wedding.
Between those plans and his upcoming ABC drama series Eli Stone premiering later this fall, things are a little busy these days. Luckily, Jaeger was more then happy to not only fill us in on his upcoming projects, but he even allowed us to stick him (and our entire photo crew) in the middle of on-coming High Street traffic with a golf club in order to fulfill our quest for the perfect shot, something he could more than understand.
So you’re in town to plan your wedding?
Yes, I’m getting married in August to my fiancée Amber. She’s from Westerville.
So you both met at Otterbein College then?
It was one of those rare situations where we were actually friends first and didn’t have different feelings beyond friendship until much further on. The one thing that we never question in our relationship is that we’re best friends. Everything else has been turmoil, (laughs) but that’s always held steady.
Is she an actress as well?
She is a wonderful actress. We both got a BFA in theatre at Otterbein and had a great experience there. Moved up to New York for awhile and we’ve been in L.A. for about seven years. I like to tell people we’ve been together for seven years, but the last four have been really enjoyable. (laughs) She’s corrected from saying that. The first three were enjoyable, but I think we were in that phase where we weren’t quite sure what we wanted or who we were. It takes a lot of work to get through that, especially when you are with someone. Somehow, we managed to get through that.
One can imagine it would be hard trying to build a career and work on a relationship at the same time.
The one thing is, we respect one another as actors and that’s never been a question. It would be hard in our relationship if she was jealous of me or I was jealous of her, or we didn’t believe in the other’s artistic merits. But, we’ve had nothing but support.
Have you acted together at all yet?
No, we haven’t. We did one thing together in class, but that’s it. I’ve directed her just briefly. I shot a short film out here called Untold and shot it in Columbus. I actually used the talent that I had with Ed Vaughan, one of my college professors who works with CATCO.
He’s a wonderful talent.
Who gave you your first big break?
It’s funny. There are small breaks and then there are big breaks. I guess you could say Susannah Grant was the first person to take a chance and put me as a lead in a film. She was the director of Catch & Release.
What about the one that made you realize you were on the right path?
I don’t know how it is in other careers, ‘cause all I’ve had is an acting career, but when I get to that point when I’m really low I’ll get home and I’ll find I got a role or something. That happens quite often. Just when I’m about to give up, something lands with me. But back to the person who gave me my first start... After I graduated from Otterbein, I moved to New York and worked in a casting office. One of the benefits was that I got to see all these wonderful Broadway actors come in, audition and then see how they weren’t right for the roles, yet they were all phenomenal. These were the best actors in the country. It put things in perspective for me. Then one of the ladies sent me out to meet with some agents and that’s how I got my first small break. I think you always have to have someone lie for you, too (laughs). Have someone tell someone else that you’ve done something you really haven’t. It’s such a ridiculous industry to get involved with. You need credits to get a start, and you can’t get a start until you have credits. I really feel blessed that I was able to get an agent pretty quickly. Some people struggle to get an agent and get work. That never goes away. We all as actors are looking for that promised land when we don’t have to audition anymore.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the role as long as you’re working, right?
There are huge spans of time when I’m not working--when I don’t get paid to work, that is. I got paid to work three weeks out of the entire year last year. I auditioned and I’ve been trying to make this film I’m directing, Take Me Home, happen next summer. I was going to do it this summer, but I was cast in a pilot for ABC, Eli Stone.
Are you planning on shooting here in Columbus?
I’d love to shoot it here. I was going to shoot it last summer. I had the Columbus Film Commission helping me out and it was just amazing support I was getting. The thing I realized about Ohio is that it’s such a great spot for filming. There are a large group of people who would be fascinated to have it in the town and willing to work on something that’s not a Proctor and Gamble commercial. It’s also a road trip movie that goes from New York to Los Angeles and the great thing about Columbus is that you can go east of town and it looks like the rolling hills of upstate New York. You can go west and it’s pretty much like driving all the way through Kansas. I realized we could shoot the bulk of the middle of the film right here in town.
How do you think you can encourage other filmmakers, whether they are from Ohio or not, to come here and shoot?
I really don’t think it’s going to happen until filmmakers from here show it can happen. That’s one of the things that Robert Rodriguez did with Austin, Texas. It happened to be because he loved the city so much. I think it would also help if there was some kind of incentive to have outsiders come in. The way technology is right now, if you have a good story and know how to tell it well, you can make it. It’s always easier said then done, but the cost of making a film is reasonably cheap, especially compared to the old days. Now, getting it seen is another question entirely. I think there are stories in Ohio that people can tell. There are so many wonderful stories and so many people. I feel like Hollywood can tell one story sometimes, it’s often about itself. It’s either L.A. or New York, that’s pretty much every movie you see. I think the rest of the country would like to see a romantic comedy set in Columbus, Ohio. There is more storytelling then what is being told right now.
How did Take Me Home come about?
I wrote it about four years ago. I was writing something beforehand and I realized I could do it here. It came out of necessity. I’d go to an audition and walk into a room for a sitcom that I read the night before and didn’t laugh at. I had to go into the room and prove to these guys that their material was funny. There is very little say that an actor can have until they get to a certain status. At the time I wasn’t but I realized I had the capacity to make my own films and there were enough stories to be told. The concept of Take Me Home came originally from driving across the United States when I moved from New York to Los Angeles. The countryside was so beautiful. During the stroke of traveling from east to west, the story just came. If you ever get in a car and travel, the excitement almost is a story in itself. It’s amazing, the breadth of this country. I didn’t see much as a child. Growing up near Toledo, Ohio, I thought that all of Ohio was flat and to grow up and discovering the rest of the world has been one of the best parts of being an actor. I’ve been able to travel to Canada, Prague and the Czech Republic, a lot of wonderful places. I’ve been to a lot of wonderful places, but at the same time, I still come back to Ohio. I love the people here.
Do you think actors make the best directors?
Hmmmm. I don’t know. I think in the sense that what they have is an ease. I’ve worked with Clint Eastwood and I think it has to do more with his personality then that he’s an actor, but there is such an ease with Clint, the way he works with his actors.
Tell us a little bit more about Eli Stone and your role in that.
It’s on ABC and it’s created by Greg Berlanti, the same guy who is behind Brother & Sisters. Eli is about a young lawyer who discovers that he may be some kind of prophet and he starts having these visions that he thinks are signs from God. He literally ends up turning his life around and becomes a lawyer for the people. It’s a really wonderful show and I’m really proud of it. It’s one of those shows that’s unapologetically spiritual, without being heavy handed. I think there is a niche for people who want to watch something that has some kind of reward in it instead of the norm. It’s a really great cast. Victor Garber, the dad from Alias, is in it and Natasha Henstridge. I get to play the jerk, which is wonderful. It’s a great role. Who wants to be the good guy? It’s so much more fun to play the jerk. I actually think because in my real life I was raised very proper to be a good boy. To play a jerk is a real thrill. This way I don’t take it out on my fiancée. I get to be a jerk at work.
When you do make it back to Columbus, what is the one place you always have to hit?
We hit Jeni’s Ice Cream, habitually. We are actually going to have Jeni’s at our wedding.
Any particular flavor?
Salty Carmel. But I love Gravel Road, which is Salty Carmel with toasted almonds. My fiancée is a dessert connoisseur. We cannot go anywhere without having dessert. But it’s by far the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Do you find yourself calling Ohio, New York, or L.A. home?
I do them simultaneously. When I’m in L.A., I call Ohio home, and when I’m in Ohio, I call L.A. home. This will always be my home. It’s taken awhile to adjust to L.A. A lot of people come to L.A. and always feel like it’s a temporary stop. I have so many people who I love there. I have my fiancée and my best friend, who actually grew up in Gahanna. I’m able to have the good life in Los Angeles because I’m surrounded by good people. My two best friends from high school are there as well.
What made you choose Otterbein for college?
It was between Otterbein and a couple of conservatories. I think sometimes when you go to a conservatory you can get trapped in a habit of being around artists all the time. In essence, losing touch with reality. I always wanted to hold on to the real aspects of life. I went to visit these conservatories and it was a bunch of artists talking about art amongst themselves. It was a gated-in community. Otterbein has a basketball team and a football team and I wanted to be around people who had something more to talk about other then acting. My job as an actor is to tell stories and there are very few stories to tell about young art school kids. There are wonderful stories to be told about all these great joys in Ohio that I feel should be told.
In true C style, we couldn’t let Jaeger off the hook without playing a little word association with us. Sometimes, we learn more about a person with just one word questions then we might in an entire interview. So we said, “Sam, tell us the first thing that comes to mind when we say”:
(laughs) Ohio! It’s almost too big for me. No, I’d say good folk.
- Bad TV.
Anything involving Paris Hilton.
- Oscar winner you’d like to meet...
Daniel Day Lewis cause you know it’s going to be some strange adventure. That guy is the cream of the crop when it comes to acting.
- Jennifer Garner.
- She went to Dennison, so she’s another Ohio alum.
Yeah, we got along really well. She grew up in a very Methodist background. We sang a lot of Christian music together. A lot of Michael W. Smith.
- Lifetime Television.
Real tears (he says with a sly smile).
- Pop Artist.