Your first screen roles were guest-star spots on TV procedurals like “CSI,” “Without a Trace” and two different “Law and Order” spinoffs. What do you remember about that time?
I remember being so wide-eyed and so naïve. One of the first TV sets I walked into, they told me to go to hair and makeup, and I didn’t know what hair and makeup was. So I just went into a trailer, and the lead of the show was changing in that trailer and she yelled, “Get out,” and threw a shoe right at my head. I had to do a scene with her that day!
It took a real long time for me to feel comfortable on-set. I remember Vincent D’Onofrio talked to me after a take when I did his show [“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”], and he said, “Hey, what you did there was pretty good.” Something like that can carry you through months of rejection. I always try to remember that with young actors, because the littlest thing can keep you going.
Five Movies to Watch This Winter
And what happens when you do break through and win the role you want?
So then you get the job, now you got to do it, right? I dropped 30 pounds for this part in “King Richard.” I started playing tennis. Right here in my town, Ojai, Calif., there’s a tennis academy a lot like Rick Macci’s called the World Tennis Center. I started training every day just to get to know the game, and then I started training in how to coach, how to run drills. There’s a vocabulary in coaching tennis. There’s a psychology to it, an intimacy in it.
I heard you even started coaching Kamea Medora, a Top 50 junior nationals player.
Going into that tennis center every day and then coaching Kamea in character, I’m sure it annoyed the hell out of her and it made her laugh, but I really believe that she really looked forward to our sessions together getting coached by this crazy actor dude. It was so much fun and I really felt like I could walk in on Day 1 of that shoot and know how to coach tennis.
The first thing Serena said to me is that her time with Rick Macci was the funnest time of her life because he had this pure and undeniable love for the game. Coaches are often portrayed in movies and TV as these taskmasters, but I’ve had coaches like this where they just love it. They’re just as tough, just as masculine — they just do it with a smile, and that’s really why I wanted to play this part so bad.