Having acted since he was eight – and now in his early twenties – Taylor Handley has been a regular fixture on prime-time TV. How’s this for an impressive list? CSI, Cold Case, Numb3rs, The OC, Dawson’s Creek, Law & Order, Becker, Frasier… the list goes on. But the actor balances film as well as he does TV.
Currently starring in popular period-drama Vegas, Handley also features in new surfing movie Chasing Mavericks and has just wrapped a sci-fi thriller for celluloid – opposite Danny Glover in Mentryville, and has featured in indie drama Skateland while next on the horizon is another indie flick, Channeling.
Despite his boy-next-door looks, Handley is playing parts that demand far more than pretty-boy quips and gestures. Indeed, this is one actor to watch out for.
Antonino Tati chats with Taylor about being hung upside down and hosed for art in the middle of winter, blockbuster films versus the indies, and the insane state of television today.
I believe you’re a keen surfer and of course you’ve appeared in the surf film, Chasing Mavericks. Would you like to feature in more sports-related movies?
Absolutely. I like to do everything from golf to snowboarding. I’m pretty good in the athletic department. If I practice anything I could probably get a hold of it – or at least look like I know what I’m doing.
That’s important in acting. When you first started studying the craft, did you have to pick up and learn the strangest skills you never thought you’d be doing?
Not necessarily. It just kind of happened movie per movie. My first film was Jack Frost (opposite Michael Keaton) and I had to be able to play ice-hockey. So they would train us for six or seven weeks. I had to play a military guy in Battle: Los Angeles so they put us in bootcamp for a month to learn different maneouvres. Usually if I get attached to a project there’s some kind of training involved.
You began acting at such a young age – 8. Who starts that young?
I actually started out on stage, and did two commercial auditions. And then my third audition ever was for Jack Frost and I was 13 when I nailed that movie down. The ball just started to roll after that.
You’ve done an immense amount of television. From teen-angst dramas like The OC and Dawson’s Creek, to legal series like Law & Order, Cold Case, and virtually the entire CSI franchise! Do you ever confused as to what set you’re on?
A set is a set, but obviously the story changes. But I do my preparation; I break down every script; pretty much piece by piece. It’s not always shot in linear time so I study it carefully. I break the script down for each show and I’ve pretty much got my ‘bible’ for that particular gig, and I just skip around and hit whatever I need to hit that day. I certainly know where I’m coming from and know we’re I’m going.
Aesthetically, you possess that typical LA surfer look but you do play some rather dark characters…
I like to mix it up and I find it boring to be one-sided. So I’ve gotten to play some really great roles, you know, like meth-heads, psychopaths, surfers, cowboys…
Even in The OC you played a pretty intense suicidal character…
Yeah, but he was a fun character to play because had a lot of narly shit happening to him. That’s the story I made up for him, and I got to explore that character. And that’s the fun of it for me, really brining a character to life.
Do you think the intense roles have prepared you for bigger things whereas the happy-go-lucky flicks might not set you up as well?
Yeah, the happy-go-lucky flicks – I mean, they’re fun and if you play that character right it can be really great for you, but I kind of like the dark stuff because it’s meatier and I get to check out and check in to some new kind of reality.
Speaking of a new kind of reality, you starred in a very strange film called Zerophilia in which you changed genders. Tell me about it.
It was a trip when I read that script. Something just kind of takes over sometimes when I read a script, and that one I thought it was so cool – such a trip away from reality. They had a girl playing the female part, though. I wouldn’t dress in drag.
You also appeared in more recent version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Do you like delving into horror?
Yeah, horror is definitely a physically draining genre – that movie in particular. You’re literally bloody, dirty and sweaty constantly so it’s quite a physical challenge. I remember I had to be hung up in the barn for hours at a time. The film was set in summer, but we were actually in Austin, Texas during the winter and it gets fuckin’ cold there, dude. I’m in these summer clothes and having hoses spraying me down… but I’m always up for a challenge.
Is it quite magical, when you see finished scenes like that on the big screen?
Yeah, it’s always a surprise when you see the finished product. As an actor, you do your job and leave it with the editors and post-production people to do their job. Sometimes it’s a nice surprise to see the finished product and sometimes it’s not so nice.
What are some of the not-so-nice surprises?
I’m not going to name any projects in particular but sometimes you can be a little disappointed over how a project has turned out. There are certain cuts that they’ve used for you that aren’t quite [flattering] but it probably makes the film or project better as a whole. Sometimes I’d wish they’d used different takes. But an editor has a tough job. There’s no way I could do that job.
Bringing to the here-and-now. You play Dennis Quaid’s troublesome son in popular TV series Vegas. Tell us about that role?
It’s a period-piece that takes place in the early 1960s, a true story about a guy, Ralph Lamb, who was the longest appointed Sheriff in Vegas for 17 years. And he was there fighting against these mobsters the whole time Vegas was filled with corruption. His role is played by Dennis Quaid, and I get to play his mischievous son. When you first meet me on the show, I’m running out of a house as this married woman is being chased by her husband with a shotgun, so that kind of sums it up. So I’m somewhat of a wild card but as the series moves along I want to do right by my dad and start to help him with the cases he’s working on.
Do you find television is getting more insane as the years go by?
Absolutely. There are so many good shows on television. Sadly, there’s not that many good movies that are on wide release – it’s either these huge Hollywood blockbusters or these little indie films that no-one ever sees – but with TV, things are getting really big. A lot of movie stars are coming over to television because it’s such a great platform to show your worth.
Why do you think television is becoming more credible than film. Are the writers getting away with a lot more?
I wish I could tell you. All I see is the finished product – and it’s an interesting time. Having been in the business for 15 years, I’ve seen it go through quite a few revolutions. When the writers have free reign to write what they want… some of those cable shows are just fantastic. Vegas is on a network but we still have so much great stuff; such a great team. I mean, Nicholas Pileggi who wrote Goodfellas and Casino came up with this concept. So the talent of people involved in this show is just fantastic.
And which actors do you admire?
Getting this work with Dennis Quaid is a huge thing for me. I’ve been up for a few movie roles to play his son, and I finally got to work with him. Some other guys are Jeff Bridges, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, the list can go on and on. I’m such a movie nerd, I’ve seen almost everything. It’s hard for me to break it down into a small box: I like to take a little from everybody.
Well thanks Taylor for chatting with Cream. We hope to see you in Australia some time soon. And since you love the surf so much, you’ve got to check out our beaches.
Yeah, in fact, my brother’s father lives in Byron Bay so we’re thinking of taking a trip in March.
Vegas currently screens Sunday nights on Channel Ten.
Photography by (top) Magnus Hastings, (middle) Meagan Cignoli and (below) Meagan Cignoli.