Nerds and Beyond had the opportunity to speak with actor Drew Van Acker — who you may recognize as Jason DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars or most recently, as Garth/Aqualad in the DC Universe’s Titans — about his new upcoming role as Corey Gage in the movie Spy Intervention. Along with discussing his new film, we also talked about his dream role and his acting inspirations growing up.
Nerds and Beyond: So, I first just wanted to say that growing up, I watched you on Pretty Little Liars and I was very excited to see how different this role was for you in this movie.
Van Acker: Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah, Pretty Little Liars is, as you know, a very popular show, but this is something that is a little different. Approaching it for me as an actor, also as a producer, getting to play around with the character, story, and world and really develop it from birth, if you will, it was definitely a new experience and I really had a lot of fun doing it.
Nerds and Beyond: Can you tell us a little bit about your character Corey [Gage]?
Van Acker: Corey is, or he sort of is, this classic spy archetype, you know, kind of born from the male fantasy who is this impenetrable person both physically and emotionally. He kind of represents that fantasy in sort of an absurd way. He’s very much real and grounded. He’s grounded in his environment and in reality who’s the world’s greatest spy, you know what I mean? He’s living that life and that’s all he knows, until he meets Pam, of course. You kind of see his world get upended in a way that I don’t think him, or anybody that knows Corey, would have expected.
Nerds and Beyond: For sure, and that actually leads me into my next question. Do you feel that yourself and Corey share any similar traits?
Van Acker: Yeah, Absolutely. I do and I don’t. I mean, I am somebody who…kind of [goes] through this duality as well in my life. I think we all have this idea of adventure versus security, you know, kind of going too crazy in one direction or too crazy in the other. I find myself constantly wanting to travel and experience new cultures, new places, and new people, and getting to try new foods. I’m somebody who’s at home and outdoors, you know. I’m in my element when I’m outside, when I’m hiking, climbing, running, walking, you know wherever it may be — at the beach, snowboarding, whatever it is I just feel at peace; I feel at home outside. So I’m somebody who’s very adventurous I think at heart, but there’s also something that I think it’s just innate in all of us, that security side, that safe side where you know, you just like being at home. You like kind of being in your own bubble, and you like being sheltered, and you like being protected. So yeah, I definitely relate to Corey in that way, and it’s kind of a little battle that you go back and forth with and finding that right balance between adventure and security. So, yeah, absolutely.
Nerds and Beyond: Who inspired you to become an actor?
Van Acker: There’s a lot of inspiration, but I know it started when I was a kid. I just have this vivid memory of watching Star Wars for the first time and that was always my thing, my go to. I’d never seen anything like that at that point in my life. I’d never experienced that. It took me out of my zone and it was an out of body experience. I remember it very, very vividly; I was laying on the floor in my house in Indiana at the time. It just opened my eyes to the world and I didn’t know anything about acting; I was too young. I didn’t know anything about actors or movies or anything like that. I just knew that I wanted to be part of this world. I wanted to be in this extravagant, imaginative storytelling world and I just knew at that time something kind of sparked in me. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo; these characters who are just so inspiring and so moving even as a young boy. I didn’t know how or why, but it just kind of set the train in motion even though I didn’t know it. It just really inspired me to kind of look outside this world that was right in front of me and slowly but surely opening myself to the possibilities of imagination and storytelling and not just acting, but writing and producing, and all these things.
Nerd and Beyond: Speaking of production, this was actually your first production you got to executive produce. How was that experience for you? Do you think you’d be interested in pursuing that venture again?
Van Acker: The experience was amazing right off the bat. It was very eye opening too, because…like you said, this is my first time not just executively producing it by name, but also by action. You know, I was involved in every process, every decision and the decision making process. I was involved in casting and finding the director and developing scripts to developing characters and the story and everything with that. So, Mark [Famiglietti] and Lane [Garrison] kind of already did an amazing job with what was on the page and setting that in motion. For me, it was just very fun and easy to kind of explore the character and go out and meet Drew Mylrea. He’s somebody who’s immensely talented and kind of being there as a producer to see him develop from the beginning, because a lot of times it’s after you join a project. You’re not there in the developmental stages at all. You don’t get to see those steps, but I got to. It’s something I loved experiencing and creating and crafting characters and creating stories. It’s something I want to do again, and I’m going to do it again.
We have a couple of projects that I’m going to be producing as well coming up this year. A couple of them I can’t talk about at this moment, but hopefully
I’ll be able to announce something within the next week or two. There’s some really exciting actors and cast attached to them that I’ll be producing and starring in as well. I just feel like it was the first of many for me because you kind of get hooked, and I don’t want to say control, but you get to have your input. A lot of times joining projects that aren’t yours you kind of just roll with the punches and jump into somebody else’s train, if you will. Being there from the beginning and seeing it all unfold was something that [not only] changed me as a man but also as an actor. It’s changed my acting and opened my eyes to a lot of different possibilities.
Nerds and Beyond: It’s awesome to hear you’re working on a bunch of upcoming projects! So, I wanted to ask, because every actor or actress has a process they go through when preparing for roles. What’s yours like and was it any different for this role?
Van Acker: Absolutely. I mean, for me, preparing is something I do a lot. I’m somebody that likes to throw themselves in before production begins, and I think I’ve found talking to other experienced actors and people who’ve done this for a long long time that’s what works for me. Doing the research, feeling really comfortable in the skin of this character you created. When production begins and you start reading and you get into the meat of it all, you know that you’re confident in the work you put in. Now you can just be open to the story and be in the moment and play and stuff. This role was different in the sense that I had time to create other characters and stuff. You want to bring a little nuance and little things to your character that are different and interesting and something you haven’t seen before. With this one, I got to develop it from an early stage and be hands on with the creative side and production side and watch it unfold. It’s like a little baby [laughs]. I mean you become very protective of this character, you know? It’s something I had a lot of time to watch old movies and take tidbits of things that I’ve seen and mashed them together in this James Bond spy archetype. It was definitely a new experience for me.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s the hardest scene you had to film?
Van Acker: The hardest stuff for me to film was…Well let’s start by saying there was a couple of scenes where I’m in a Speedo, in, I think it was 16 degree weather in upstate New York. So that was tough, physically. The hardest things for me were the scenes with Blake [Anderson] and Brittany [Furlan], because you know, they’re just naturally funny people. They both have a unique style that is very different, so just to see them work together, they’re masters at improv and carrying a scene, so it’s never dull or anything like that. It was amazing because I got to soak up this knowledge from them and they’re so amazing at what they do, especially Blake. I mean there’s nothing you can say to that guy in the middle of a scene that is going to surprise him. He would come up to me and I’d say, “What if I did this?” or “What if I said this?” and he’d be like “dude, do it.” A lot of this stuff made it into the movie, a lot of stuff didn’t. There were a lot of times I was pinching myself trying to take the focus off of what they were doing, and Poppy [Delevingne] and I shared looks just kind of having this moment of realization of “wow, we’re creating something really special here.” So those were the hardest but also a blessing at the same time.
Nerds and Beyond: Well I guess you just kind of answered this [laughs], but what was it like working with Poppy [Delevingne] and the rest of the cast? What was the dynamic like?
Van Acker: The dynamic was amazing. Every single actor that was on this movie, Blake Anderson (Smuts), Poppy (Pam Grayson), Brittany Furlan (Brianna Brown). The characters are very grounded. They don’t understand they’re being funny. They don’t think that they’re living this extraordinary life. This is just reality to them. Every actor came in with that tone in mind and they also knew if we were all on the same page, we can really create something special, something fruity that we can mold in a way that is something people haven’t seen before. Everybody came in with this playful mentality; staying present in the scene, being open to play, and finding nuances that make the characters tick. Overall we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. As you know, as a producer, you’re also learning things about time and production and schedule and things like that. Everybody took the film very seriously, which was amazing, It was kind of like everyone had this goal in mind and as long as you kept that at the forefront, everything else fell into place. The professionalism and hilarity was all there. Every single person on the cast, I couldn’t ask for a better cast to be surrounded by. They’re incredible.
Nerds and Beyond: It definitely conveys that in the movie, too. There are funny moments. I definitely laughed myself, but there was a very serious tone to it too, which is cool.
Van Acker: Like you said, some of the tones are very realistic. I mean I think a lot of us, a lot of people struggle with that. The sort of midlife crisis or some sort of adventures versus security duality — living the life they think they want versus what they really want. There’s a lot of different tones that I think people can relate to, including myself. I don’t know about you, but I relate to stories that I’m most affected by and stories where extraordinary circumstances change. The movie does that for me and I think it’ll do that for audiences as well.
Nerds and Beyond: Throughout the movie, Corey goes through a drastic transition. He went from being a spy to you know, a small town husband type who realizes maybe that’s not necessarily the life for him. What drew you to playing Corey?
Van Acker: [Laughs] I think a lot of what you just talked about touched on the idea. For me as an actor there’s a lot of glitz, a lot of glamor, great great things and benefits that you get from it. But as a man, as Drew, I sometimes don’t like those things. I struggle with that. So for me, it rung a bell right off the bat with issues I had dealt with or I think a lot of us have dealt with. Who doesn’t want to be the world’s greatest spy? [Laughs]. I love all the James Bond movies. I did a lot of research watching old spy movies. I got into a bit of a hole watching old Bond movies, Our Man Flint, all those movies. So Corey was fun to explore because he had it all in a way. To see him vehemently leave it all behind for this woman in his life, it was real. You knew it was grounded and something deep down he wanted, and you see him struggle with how to fix his marriage, because it’s not about the person, it’s about the lifestyle and the person he has become. So you see him grappling with not wanting to lose that bit of adventure he had with his old friends, his old spy community, traveling the world and helping people. There’s so much that’s underneath that that spoke to me right off the bat. Corey was a no brainer for me.
Nerds and Beyond: Last question – If you could pick any role to play someday, what would it be?
Van Acker: You know what’s really funny about that question? Somebody asked me that, I want to say two years ago, and my answer was [laughs] to play some sort of international spy. I’m not even making this up. I’m smiling right now because I did say that it would be so much fun. I think I said James Bond but I said it in a joking manner and you know, here we are. The stakes are different, but I’m really having a lot of fun exploring characters that are so different from who I am. I grew up with comics and all these characters that I can talk to you about for hours, but to get to play in Titans was a dream come true. So I think I’d love to explore some sort of Star Wars character. I’d love to explore the world and be in that environment. I think that would be a major bucket list thing for me just because of the impact it’s had on my life and how it got me into this business and how it started that whole process.
Thank you again Drew for taking the time to speak with us! You can check out Spy Intervention in select theaters as well as VOD and digital on February 14. Check out the trailer below!