Gavin Drea on Disney+ series Wedding Season: ‘If this came along in my 20s, I wouldn’t have been equipped’
Gavin Drea speaks to NationalWorld about Wedding Season, working with Rosa Salazar, the impact of Disney+ on the UK television industry, and more
“How could it get any worse?” asks Steffan Bridges at the beginning of Wedding Season. A few hours earlier, he interrupted Katie’s wedding, a loud and public “I object” that lead to a loud and public rejection. He’s feeling sorry for himself, embarrassed and dejected, but taking some solace in the knowledge that things are probably as bad as it could possibly get - and then he’s arrested for murder.
Not long after Steffan interrupted the wedding, Katie’s new in-laws died mysteriously, and she was seen fleeing the wedding. The police think Steffan killed her new husband; Steffan thinks Katie did it. No one knows for sure what the truth it, and Wedding Season unfolds over the next eight episodes as not quite a romcom, not quite a thriller, but a clever balance of both.
Gavin Drea, who plays Steffan, recently sat down with NationalWorld’s Alex Moreland to discuss Wedding Season. He explained what drew him to the show in the first place, how he tackled some of the challenges presented by its blend of tones, what it was like working with Rosa Salazar, and more.
How did you come to be involved with Wedding Season? What was the audition process like, what was it that drew you to the script in the first place?
I had a read of the first episode and just really liked Oli’s [Oliver Lyttleton, creator and showrunner of Wedding Season] style as a writer. It’s so fast paced, and there’s so many sudden turns - he’s clearly a real film nerd, and loves mashing genres and styles together. For me, it was very exciting to get to audition for something where you get to play big comedy and action scenes, and very intense moments of drama as well, and all the romance stuff. So, for an actor, it kind of had everything.
I did a self tape - wasn’t expecting to hear back - and a week or two later, we had a chemistry read on Zoom, myself and Rosa. Never thought in a million years that they would go with me, it was such a surprise! But yeah, the writing was really fun, and all the characters felt very real alive. [It has] that lovely element of silliness to it as well, which I really enjoy. I hadn’t done a lot of comedy: I write comedy myself with a group, but hadn’t done any of it in my screen acting career. So that was really exciting. That’s what I was looking forward to the most.
Obviously, it encompasses quite a few tones and styles – you’ve got the romcom, you’ve got the crime thriller – how do you approach something like that as an actor? Did that comedy writing of your own help?
I think it did. I feel like, if a role like this had come along in my early 20s, I probably wouldn’t have been equipped in that sense. Working on some comedy writing myself, you really learn where the beats are, where a punchline is, the rhythm of comedy. Oli is very good at constructing comedic beats - and then obviously, on the day with George Kane and Laura Scrivano, the directors, they both have very good instincts for that.
It’s tricky: you perform it as written on the day, and then see what else in the physical space adds to it. It was a very warm, welcoming set. With all the other actors working with each other, you felt like you could try something, make a fool of yourself, and get it right, get it wrong. That’s the best environment you want as a performer, and we certainly had that. Genuinely, we had a really good time making it, and I think that is very important in the process, to really enjoy it.
I think I let myself go a little bit when I perform stuff. When I read the part, I connected with the character, or understood the character. I love his sort of sense of hope and his positivity - that’s probably where we deviate a little bit, I’m a little bit more pessimistic about things! So that’s quite an endearing character to get into, and that really helped the process as well. Just connecting with the role, and realizing that the role could be very natural. [Something] I think is important to balancing the drama and the comedy and everything is never to heighten yourself in the moment too much, [instead] trying to keep it grounded in reality as best you can in some, as I’m sure you’ve already seen, some fairly heightened situations. But I think actually, full credit to Oli as well, he has this ability to write scenes that will just suddenly swing from almost slapstick, to real, intense moments of intimacy or anxiety or whatever it might be, and it always felt very real.
Are there any particular scenes that stand out to you now as having been especially challenging, looking back?
The interrogation scenes, which you’ve probably seen a lot of, were tough. It’s always a reality of filming that it’s location based, rather than sort of chronological or sequence based, so we shot a lot of the interrogation stuff in essentially one or two days. So that’s a challenge, in terms of a timeline - you’re playing different episodes, but actually, you’re just playing them over the course of two days in a story that has to jump back and forth.
You’re trying to live that and keep it natural. There’s some real highs and lows in those interrogation scenes - if anything, they’re sort of a perfect summation of the show as a whole, with hilarious moments in those scenes, but then also it gets very emotional as well - so it’s a perfect example [of how] those days are tricky, for sure.
It’s just more of a practical thing, rather than an emotionally difficult thing, because again I just find the writing very easy to perform. And that’s a good thing! You don’t have to pull it apart too much. It’s all there, and there’s enough room then to improvise and expand in the moment as well. It was more of the practical end of filming that made it a challenge.
Our second actual day filming was that scene on the cliff edge. That was a very intense scene, and Rosa had to have a panic attack as Katie. That was really challenging, and it was day two, so everyone’s very nervous. Actually, I think that energy probably fit quite well - I think maybe if we shot a couple of months later, maybe that wouldn’t have been as good. Sometimes things work out very well.
You worked quite closely with Rosa Salazar on this – what was your working relationship like? It’s quite a complicated relationship between the two characters – how did you approach that together?
Just very naturally. She’s fantastic - she’s got such passion and energy. She was always the first to do the stunts; I had to follow suit, she set a real bar. She was very passionate each day, wanted to make the scenes as good as they could be. We just had a very natural chemistry, a very good rapport, a lot of fun in-jokes on set. That really helps just keep the lightness in those scenes, which can then turn very antagonistic, one moment [to the next]. But it felt very fluid and organic.
We were very lucky [in that] we got a week of rehearsals before we started filming, which is a fairly rare thing on television. It made a big difference, I think, particularly for George our director. Obviously we couldn’t rehearse everything - I think it was just some key scenes the first couple of episodes - but that was great, because we had groundwork laid in a rehearsal room, and meant that when things go wrong, as they inevitably do on set, we had a bit of time to adapt.
So, you’ve spoken a lot about the fluidity of the performance, but obviously as you’ve said as well you had this unusual opportunity to rehearse ahead of time too. How much of your performance comes down to choices you’re making in the moment, would you say?
It’s always the way where - it’s such a funny thing, when you read a script - you sit down and you read the scene, adding the location and exterior and eyeline or whatever, your brain automatically projects. It’s exactly like when you read a novel and you visualize it, and then it’s adapted to film and you watch it going ‘oh, wow, I didn’t have any of that in mind at all’. You have one picture in your head, and you learn pretty quick as an artist that you’ve got to be prepared to throw that out: the second you get to set you realize, oh, this is actually in a very big space, it’s very noisy outside, we’ve got to raise our voices. I had this idea in my head that the scene would be quite intimate, but all of a sudden the wind or the elements or a host of other things mean it’s not. So I find that the best thing to do is to not make too many hard choices early on, because I think you corner yourself and limit yourself and, you know, inevitably make your life a little bit more difficult.
Obviously if you do get to set, and a moment of inspiration doesn’t strike, you have a bit of a panic - George and Laura, as directors, were great. That’s where you need your direction: you’ve got a couple ideas, maybe you’ve practiced that scene before, run lines with the other actors and you do the scene… but then it’s great because George would have maybe a good shot in his head, and then you’re matching that and you’re adding to what you’re doing. They both had great energy - you’d want to make them laugh as much as you want to make the audience laugh. I always felt like there was room to add something or throw a line in - you’d have enough time to do a couple of takes where you get exactly what’s there, and then there’s one or two takes leftover [where] we’ve got a bit of freedom to just have a go and have a play.
It’s where the producers and the writers on set help to remind people of the through line, the continuity of the story. Particularly when you’re shooting things like that out of order, it helps to have somebody to guide it all together. Because sometimes as an actor in the moment, you’re thinking of yourself, all you can do is play the moment, you need somebody else looking at the bigger picture to make sure that that all ties together. It’s a subtle thing - if you play two scenes in a row, emotionally very angry, it might seem natural to you, but then when they cut them together, if they keep having to come back to you angry all the time, it’s boring for the audience, or it’s too heavy handed, or so on. That’s a big difference between theatre performances and screen acting - [the latter] is much more collaborative, it’s very in the hands of other people when it comes to the edit room and things like that. So I think the trick is to give the editor and director as many options as you can, so that when they go into the editing room, they have more to play with.
Wedding Season is significant in that it’s the first Disney+ UK original. What do you think the impact is – or maybe how have you experienced it – of the growth of these streaming platforms in the UK?
It’s colossal. I mean, we were shooting in Manchester for the majority of it, and I think there were five or six different productions shooting in Manchester around the same time, and it was a genuine challenge to get crew. It makes your head spin, how much content has been made, and how quickly it’s been made. That’s definitely changed, the speed and the turnaround - we only finished filming a lot of this in late February, it feels like [the release] has come around very quickly. That’s the nature of the industry at the moment.
So it’s a very exciting time, and there’s so much choice for people. It’s a challenge, obviously making the show stand out amongst all the noise. But we’ve been very lucky - [being Disney+’s first UK production] is, you know, incredibly exciting. It’s great when something doesn’t feel like a run of the mill exercise, it felt special as we were making it - but at the same time, it didn’t feel like we were part of this massive machine, part of this Disney Empire or anything like that. It felt like we were kind of making quite an indie British comedy show. [Even] at these locations in Las Vegas or a desert and things like that, it kind of had the best of both worlds in that sense.
The industry’s in a head spinning place at the moment. There’s just so much - so much - stuff being produced. There’s so much going on. I think it’s an exciting time, you know, particularly getting new crew members in.
What would you say are your biggest influences as an actor?
I studied film in college, I’m just a big film geek. I always find myself absorbed by a certain actor for a while, and then jump onto another one. But for this, we loved [to look to] a lot of those 90s comedies with that darker element - for me, I think a big one was Grosse Pointe Blank. The performances in that - John Cusack particularly, he’s a wonderful actor, he just can be incredibly natural [even as he] plays a hitman. It couldn’t be more over the top, and yet it’s also about a high school reunion, and getting into your 30s, and seeing people having kids. I don’t know how he managed to balance going around murdering people in cold blood, but also seemingly going through all those very regular feelings. So that was definitely an inspiration - obviously they’re not similar characters, but I think maybe tonally they were a little bit similar.
[More broadly] I mean, I could list… you know, Bong Joon-ho, the Coen Brothers, you know, all the classics. During lockdown, I binged a lot of 90s cinema, obscure thrillers and David Fincher movies, things like that.
I’m also watching Frasier again. Like my god, you know Niles Crane? It’s really great. Again, going back to the wonderful physical comedy elements in Wedding Season, I’d look at somebody like David Hyde Pierce - like, that’s great, just an incredible performance. I mean, brilliant, amazing, what they were able to do, you know? And I like that, I’m glad that now that old school comedy - which in the 2000s maybe went away, it was more about dialogue then - has maybe come back a little bit? You know, you look at old Buster Keaton movies and that physicality on camera is a wonderful thing.
Finally then, just to draw everything together - what are you hoping for in terms of the response to Wedding Season? What are you hoping people might take from it?
I hope they just have a wonderful time and they enjoy it, and that they get to enjoy a show that feels a little bit different. You know, there’s a lot of comic book stuff - this is something new, it’s a new IP, it’s new characters, it’s a new story, which feels like a bit of a change.
It’s exciting, it’s a roller coaster, there’s something for everybody - it’s got the romance, it’s got the action, it’s got the comedy. And I think, at the heart of it, it’s got real humanity to it. Oli has an ability to write incredibly, wonderfully flawed characters. They all mess up. We all make mistakes. They’re all selfish. They’re all self obsessed. And I think it feels very real. Hopefully, people will probably see themselves in some of the characters - I love all the characters, so hopefully they’ll love themselves too.