Five Questions with Christian DeMarais ’11

Posted on April 12th, 2019 by

Gustavus Adolphus College alumnus Christian DeMarais ’11 took a few minutes to sit down and talk with us about acting, his recent appearance on the Netflix show, Maniac, and the influence of his liberal arts background.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in theatre honors from Gustavus and his master’s degree from one of the top acting programs in the country, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, DeMarais has performed in numerous Off-Broadway productions in addition to his latest appearance on Maniac this fall.  

Starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone, Maniac tells the story of two strangers, Annie and Owen, who sign up for a pharmaceutical drug trial to help find a way to address their mental health. DeMarais plays Hill’s younger brother. Set in a retro-futurist world, the drug trial creates controlled hallucinations for each patient on their personal journey to a cure.

Gustavus: How did your time at Gustavus help you get to where you are today?

CD: The great thing about a place like Gustavus, and liberal arts colleges in general, is it gives you the time to figure out what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, and allows you to fail in a safe space. Acting is mostly about failure. You risk so much knowing you will fail, but doing it anyway because there is fulfillment in trying. That’s what I feel like a liberal arts education is all about. A prime example would be all of the business management classes I took, which have proven invaluable both in managing my life as an artist, and also affording me the knowledge and experience to find amazing survival jobs between acting gigs.

Gustavus: What was the most valuable lesson you learned during your time at Gustavus? Were there any professors here at Gustavus that made a significant impact on you?

CD: It may seem a little cliché, but the most valuable lesson I learned during my time at Gustavus was to just go for it. I was a little timid about pursuing a career as an actor mainly because deep down I felt I was good enough to do it, but I relied too heavily on if others thought I was good enough…which is toxic. There were two professors in particular who helped push me beyond this and helped solidify it in my mind as a real possibility that I could get into the top MFA Acting Program in the world. Henry MacCarthy gave me so much confidence as an actor, challenged me, made me demand more of myself than I ever thought possible and really helped shape my sensibilities as an artist and what kind of actor I want to become. Micah Maatman, on the other hand, taught me what it means to be a professional and how to carry myself as such.

Gustavus: What has been the most exciting part of working on a Netflix show?

CD: The great thing about Netflix is they invest so much time, energy, and money into artists they respect and admire, giving them the freedom to explore some incredibly creative avenues you just won’t find anywhere else in the TV (or even film) landscape. Cary Joji Fukunaga has been an all-time favorite of mine since I saw True Detective and getting the opportunity to work with him on such a zainy, epic, and existential project like Maniac was absolutely surreal. I used to dream about being on a set like this, so it’s almost unfathomable when a fantasy like that becomes realized. The moment when you are seen as a peer and not just a fan is indescribable and is the kind of validation I constantly seek.

Gustavus: What was the casting process like?

CD: Usually you are given sides (portions of the script) prior to the audition to work on, but given the confidential nature of the project, no script was given. We were auditioning for fake characters and we were only given the sides 10 minutes prior to the audition. I read three scenes on-camera in a small room with a casting associate. My agent called me about a week later and within a couple of days I was on set with Cary, Jonah Hill, Gabriel Byrne, Jemima Kirke, Billy Magnussen, and Trudie Styler. Pretty crazy.

Gustavus: What is one piece of advice you would give students at Gustavus who want to pursue an acting career?

CD: If you can imagine yourself doing anything else in the world, then do that. Don’t be an actor. But if it’s something you need to do, you cannot imagine not doing it and there is nothing else that will give you joy or fulfillment or happiness…then you’re an actor and you have to try. Acting is hard, but being an actor is even more difficult. I created a podcast called Cure for the Common Actor that discusses this exact struggle. After dreams of winning an Oscar or working with Martin Scorsese fade away, can you love acting even when it doesn’t love you back? If the answer is yes, then good…I’ll see you on set.

 

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