Month: August 2016

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Danny Trejo

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With his gravelly voice and rough demeanor, Danny Trejo is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors.

He’s also one of the industry’s best feel-good stories.

Since the early 80s, Trejo has starred in hundreds of movies and has developed a reputation as one of the best supporting players in town. Now 72 years old, Trejo has no plans to slow down. He’s appeared in over 300 films and TV shows, including Machete, the Spy Kids franchise, DesperadoFrom Dusk Til Dawn, and The Devil’s Rejects.

It’s been a surreal experience for Trejo, to say the least. Not many people have gotten the opportunities he has. You could call him a man of second chances.

Born in 1944 in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Trejo grew up on the rough streets of East L.A., surrounded by poverty and crime.

“I honestly believe that circumstances create destiny, almost,” Trejo says now. “There weren’t too many ways I could have done things. The only things that were available to me were either be a laborer or be a drug dealer. So I became an armed robber. It was a lot simpler.”

Trejo was first arrested at the age of 10. He first tried heroin at age 12. By the time he was a teenager, he was dealing cocaine, robbing stores, and getting in fights.

Trejo spent time in and out of jail throughout his 20s, mostly for armed robbery and drug offenses. He did time in some of California’s most notorious prisons.

On May 5, 1968, Trejo and two other prisoners instigated a riot and were sent to the hole – solitary confinement in triple-digit California weather.

“We committed three gas chamber offenses, and I was sitting in the hole. I thought I was gonna go to the gas chamber. And I just kind of said a prayer, ‘God, if you’re there, it’s gonna be alright, and if you’re not, I’m screwed.’ I made a promise: ‘If you let me die with dignity, I’ll say your name every day, and I’ll do whatever I can for my fellow man.’”

Trejo ended up getting off on a technicality. A little over a year later, on August 3, 1969, he was a free man.

Soon thereafter, Trejo began the long road back to normal life. He finally got clean and decided to help others do the same, finding work as a drug rehab counselor.

In 1985, one of Trejo’s patients was a production assistant on the set of Runaway Train.

“I was helping this kid I was counseling. He called me up and said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of blow down here.’ It was 1985, and cocaine was running rampant in the movie industry. It was crazy. You’d walk into production and there’d be lines on the table. He just asked me to come down and support him, because that’s what I did.”

Trejo’s distinctive face and multiple tattoos caught the eye of the director, who offered him a part in the film as an extra. He asked Trejo if he could “act like a convict” – which, of course, wasn’t a stretch!

Later, on the set of the same film, Trejo was approached by the writer of the movie, Eddie Bunker. Bunker was also an ex-convict who had seen Trejo win the heavyweight boxing title at San Quentin Prison back in the 60s. So Trejo was upgraded from a movie extra to a boxing coach – for $320 a day.

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The ever-humble Trejo insists that becoming a movie star was a “happy accident.” And it’s hard to argue with that.

Trejo is perhaps best known for his multiple collaborations with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. They’re actually second cousins, although neither of them knew it until they worked together. To this day, Trejo is one of Hollywood’s busiest actors – in 2002 alone, he appeared in nine films.

He’s also been featured on numerous TV shows, including MonkSons of Anarchy, and Breaking Bad. In 2005, Trejo was the subject of an award-winning documentary, Champion.

“I’m an ex-con turned icon,” he frequently says.

On his rare days off, Trejo still works as a drug rehab counselor and mentor. He’s involved in charity and animal welfare causes. He loves spending time with his kids (he has three). And he recently opened up his own taco shop in West Hollywood.

Only a few weeks ago, Trejo announced that he had been sober for 48 years. In 2014, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Las Cruces International Film Festival.

Trejo also visits schools and interacts with kids by telling his incredible life story. He’s even admitted that the reason he chooses to play so many bad guys is that he wants to show kids that crime doesn’t pay.

If anyone can teach that lesson, it’s Danny Trejo.

But sometimes, Trejo will still visit his old neighborhoods. They’re still rough places. And he says it’s nothing short of surreal to go back.

He dealt cocaine on one corner. He shot three people on another. He robbed certain liquor stores repeatedly.

Now, something different happens. Young kids run up to him and ask him for autographs.

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Too-Rye-Ay (1982)

I’ve always loved rock music, especially from the 70s and 80s. Of course, that genre encompasses a lot of sub-genres, which, in turn, cross a number of countries. The vast majority of rock bands from that era were from the US and the UK, but even in those two nations, there’s a lot of variety.

Some bands are huge hits in the US and not in the UK, or vice-versa. And some alleged one-hit wonders in the US aren’t one-hit wonders in the UK.

Dexys Midnight Runners falls into the latter category.

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I feel that Dexys Midnight Runners is a chronically under-appreciated band. This experimental soul group had a massive worldwide hit in 1982 with “Come On Eileen,” which was a number one hit in both the US and the UK. But after that, they’re essentially known as one-hit wonders outside of the UK and Ireland.

In the British Isles, however, Dexys had another number one hit (the single “Geno” in 1980) and also had six other career singles that cracked the Top 20. To this day, they’re cult classics, especially in their hometown of Birmingham. All three of their studio albums represented changes in musical style, personnel, and appearance.

Searching for the Young Soul Rebels was Dexys debut in 1980, and it showcased a strong mixture of jazz, soul, and Celtic folk music. Too-Rye-Ay followed in 1982 and featured more strings and keyboards. The group’s third effort, Don’t Stand Me Down, came out in 1985 and is more of a classic new wave album featuring a smaller lineup.

Today, I’ll be reviewing Too-Rye-Ay. But, as I’ve found, most people know very little about Dexys (besides being the “Come On Eileen” band). So I’m about to get historical up in here, because in order to understand this weird band, you have to understand their numerous influences.

Dexys Midnight Runners was formed in Birmingham in 1978 by lead singer Kevin Rowland, an Irishman who had briefly been in a punk band called The Killjoys. After growing tired of the punk scene around Birmingham, Rowland formed Dexys with guitarist Al Archer. They were hoping to hop onboard the growing Northern Soul train.

The Northern Soul music scene started in the early-to-mid 70s and was considered a distinctly British genre. The majority of the kids in the northern cities of England listened to obscure soul and jazz records (mostly from America) that were never big anywhere until well after the fact. So when Rowland helped form Dexys, he had some intriguing (read: hipster) musical influences. It’s also worth noting that Rowland was considered a meticulous and difficult artist, and started gaining a reputation as a serious control freak.

After Dexys debut in 1980 (Searching for the Young Soul Rebels) brought them modest success, Rowland mixed things up for the next album. He brought in more string players and made his band change wardrobes. This time around, they all looked like blue-collar longshoremen, complete with overalls and big scarves.

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“We didn’t want to become part of anyone else’s movement. We’d rather be our own movement,” Rowland said in an interview. “We wanted to be a group that looked like something: a formed group, a project, not just random.”

To that end, Dexys began to experiment musically, starting with Too-Rye-Ay. Before the recording of the album, violinist Helen O’Hara recruited more string players in order to give the album more depth. The brass section – Brian Maurice and Jim Paterson – was unhappy with their diminished roles and decided to quit the band (although Rowland eventually convinced them to complete their parts for the record before leaving).

The opening track is a folk-inspired tune called “The Celtic Soul Brothers,” and it became one of the three singles from the album. Track two, “Let’s Make This Precious,” is a fast-paced song with a fun ska influence, and the fourth song is an upbeat cover of “Jackie Wilson Said” by Van Morrison. It’s a great song, and all the parts fit together very nicely (I particularly enjoyed the walking bassline from Giorgio Kilkenny).

Tracks five and nine (“Old” and “Until I Believe in My Soul”, respectively) are more down-tempo ballads. I like them, but “Until I Believe in My Soul” gets a little rambling and repetitive towards the end.

The sixth song, “Plan B,” was going to be released as the first single from the album, but contract disputes with the record label caused the release to be cancelled. In my opinion, “Plan B” is another catchy tune with a memorable chorus; I’d say it’s one of the CD’s better songs.

“I’ll Show You” is short and sweet, clocking in as the shortest song on the record at 2:41. After a couple of slower songs, “Come On Eileen” concludes the CD – and it’s a real crowd-pleaser.

Lyrically and musically, “Come On Eileen” is the best song on Too-Rye-Ay, and I personally think it could be one of the most romantic songs of the decade. It blends feelings of nostalgia, hope, and love into a wonderful song.

Written in the context of Britain’s economic depression in the late 70s and early 80s, you would expect “Come On Eileen” to be gloomy and dark, but it’s an upbeat song about overcoming obstacles and going on romantic adventures, as opposed to living glum lives like the other people around them. As Rowland croons in the verse and pre-chorus:

These people ’round here, with their beaten-down eyes and smoke-dried faces,

So resigned to what their fate is

But not us, no not us

We are far too young and clever…and we’ll hum this tune forever.

Essentially, “Come On Eileen” is the perfect ending to an eclectic mix of soul and jazz, Celtic folk, and rock. Too-Rye-Ay is an enjoyable musical journey, even though Rowland’s nasal voice sounds like a weird mix of Bob Dylan and a Sesame Street character. If you like discovering a cult classic band with a wide variety of influences, Dexys Midnight Runners is the band for you.

Rating: 8/10

TRACK LISTING

  1. The Celtic Soul Brothers – 3:07
  2. Let’s Make This Precious – 4:03
  3. All in All (This One Last Wild Waltz) – 4:08
  4. Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) – 3:06
  5. Old – 5:00
  6. Plan B – 5:04
  7. I’ll Show You – 2:41
  8. Liars A to E – 4:10
  9. Until I Believe in My Soul – 7:00
  10. Come On Eileen – 4:07

PERSONNEL

  • Kevin Rowland – vocals/guitar
  • Billy Adams – guitar/banjo
  • Giorgio Kilkenny – bass
  • Seb Shelton – drums
  • Brian Maurice – saxophone
  • Paul Speare – flute/saxophone
  • Helen O’Hara – violin
  • Steve Brennan – violin
  • Jim Paterson – trombone
  • Mickey Billingham – keyboards/piano/organ/accordion

 

Who to watch in fall camp (defense)

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Roy Lopez, DT (Freshman)

The Aggies always seem to need more bodies on the defensive line, and Lopez (6’2″, 290 pounds) is an intriguing option. He’s very strong and fast for his size and is only going to get better. A decorated recruit from the Phoenix area, he chose NMSU over Utah State and Idaho.

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Christian Gibson, S (Redshirt Freshman)

Gibson, who can play both cornerback and safety, has shown impressive ball skills in the offseason. He made two acrobatic interceptions in the spring game, showing off his athleticism and  sub-4.4 speed. Originally from Dallas, Gibson played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and defensive back in high school.

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Derek Watson, DE (Redshirt Freshman)

Watson had an ultra-productive prep career and has shown a lot of ability since arriving in Las Cruces. He was in line to push for playing time in 2015 but injured his shoulder in fall camp and missed the season. Watson has good height and length and can pressure the quarterback. He’s an NMSU legacy – his dad played football for the Aggies and his mom was a swimmer.

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Bobby Hill, DT (Sophomore)

A transfer from Orange Coast College, Hill is a quality run-stuffer who looks to fill holes on the interior line for the Aggies. He’s shown a great work ethic in fall camp and could be in line to start at a wide-open position.

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Tymon Locklin, S (Sophomore)

The Aggies are set at safety with returning starters Jacob Nwangwa and Jaden Wright, but don’t count out Locklin. The son of defensive tackles coach Kerry Locklin, he’s shown adaptability after being moved from receiver in the offseason. Locklin has legit speed and length, and he’s turned some heads in scrimmages so far.

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Shane Jackson, LB (Redshirt Freshman)

Jackson is a young linebacker who is capable of pulling off quality spot duty despite his lack of ideal size (6’0″, 244 pounds). There’s plenty of talent ahead of him, but injuries in camp have given Jackson a chance to shine. He’ll be in the mix this fall.

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DeMarcus Owens, CB (Sophomore)

Owens has arguably been the Aggies’ best defensive back in fall practice, making plays and routinely turning heads on the field. He learned on the job as a true freshman in 2015 and took his lumps, but improved down the stretch, making two INTs in his final two games.

Who to watch in fall camp (offense)

The New Mexico State Aggies are well into fall camp. As usual, I’m compiling a list of Aggie players who are looking to take a leap forward this fall. Some are veterans and some are newcomers, but I’ve got a good inclination that these players are going to shine in the 2016 season.

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Royce Caldwell, WR (Sophomore)

He’s only 5’8″, 175 pounds, but Caldwell is the fastest player on the team. The sophomore from Columbus, Texas was a delayed enrollee out of high school (academic reasons) but showed glimpses of his potential last season as a freshman. During a thrilling come-from-behind win over Idaho last October, Caldwell caught a short pass and turned it into a 61-yard touchdown reception.

“Royce sat out his first year here for academics and had a year off from football. And what I’ve noticed is those kind of guys are OK when they come back, but the next year they take a giant leap,” Aggies head coach Doug Martin said. “He was good last year but nowhere near where he is now.”

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Johnthan Boone, WR (Sophomore)

After a year at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, Boone enrolled in the spring and make a heck of an impression. At 6’3″, 180 pounds, Boone has the height, length, and speed to play immediately for the Aggies. Entering 2016, he has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

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Jaleel Scott, WR (Junior)

Scott is a towering, physical presence at 6’6″, 212 pounds. Like Boone, he spent 2015 at Ellsworth C.C. and was a very productive receiver. With his size and speed, Scott is an enticing option as a red-zone target.

“I bring a deep threat and an advantage over the DBs. When the quarterback is scrambling, they can look for me and throw it up and I’ll come down with it,” Scott said. “Junior college taught me effort and hard work and putting in the extra time on the side.”

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Isaiah McIntyre, WR (Freshman)

McIntyre was a bit of an unknown entering fall camp. The local product was a signee in the Class of 2015 who missed most of his senior year at Las Cruces High due to a knee injury. In order to rehab, McIntyre grayshirted last fall while on full scholarship and got a head start in the classroom (he’s majoring in wildlife science). However, he’s shown great hands in fall camp and is as fast as any receiver on the roster. Although it’ll be hard for him to crack the top of the depth chart as a freshman, McIntyre can possibly help boost a sluggish punt/kick return game.

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Brayton Medina, OT (Junior)

Medina was a late arrival over the summer and looks to play right tackle for the Aggies. Originally from Fountain, Colorado, he originally walked on at Wyoming out of high school, redshirting there in 2013 before landing at Glendale Community College in Arizona. With returning starter Thomas McGwire likely the miss the season due to a knee injury, Medina will be ready to answer the bell soon enough.

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Sebastian Anderson, OT (Redshirt Freshman)

A 6’6″, 285-pounder from Goodyear, Arizona, Anderson is looking to replace two-year starter Houston Clemente at left tackle. That’s a lot to ask of a redshirt freshman, but Anderson has made significant weight and strength gains in the offseason and is excited to have an opportunity to start.

“It took a lot of knowledge on how to work in the offense,” Anderson said in the spring. “The speed is different, but learning from the older guys has been helpful. It’s really exciting. It’s a little pressure, but I love football and I’m having fun out here.”

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Brian Trujillo, OC (Redshirt Freshman)

An Albuquerque native, Trujillo has made a lot of strides in the offseason. He played both guard and tackle in high school, but has been working with the second team as a center since the start of the spring. Coaches love his work ethic, footwork, and football IQ.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Robert F. Chew

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Robert F. Chew was a Baltimore guy through-and-through. Born and raised, attended college locally, and made a living as an actor, singer, and acting coach in the historic city.

So it’s only appropriate then, that Chew’s defining role came on the Baltimore-based HBO crime drama The Wire.

As I’ve written on this blog previously, The Wire is widely considered to be among the finest television shows ever written, and it remains among my favorite shows ever. In it, Chew played “Proposition” Joe Stewart, a portly East Side kingpin whose subtle, methodical ways earned him both the respect and ire of many.

Prop Joe is a presence in all five seasons of The Wire. Everyone in The Wire universe knows who he is. His demeanor is relaxed, confident, and cool as a cucumber. He won’t hurt you or your family — unless you cross him, that is. He’s in possession of some of the best real estate and drug-dealing territories in the city and has valuable international connections, constantly importing the best dope and coke from around the world, frustrating his rivals on the West Side.

Here’s an awesome scene from Season Two of The Wire, featuring Chew as Prop Joe, Pablo Schreiber as dockworker Nick Sobotka, and my good friend Chris Ashworth playing the part of Sergei Malatov (regular readers of my blog will remember that Ashworth was previously featured on the “Artist Spotlight” series).

In this scene, Joe is approached by Sergei, who makes an offer to Joe on behalf of Nick. Nick’s troubled cousin, Ziggy, previously got into a drug-related beef with Prop Joe’s nephew, Cheese, who has demanded payment and threatened to kill both Nick and Ziggy.

“It was a major surprise when I got the part, because that’s not my lifestyle,” Chew said in an interview. “But I like shows where everything is bigger than life.”

To that end, Chew relished roles like Prop Joe, who was based on a real drug kingpin based in Baltimore in the 70s and 80s. The real Prop Joe (whose real surname was Johnson) was known as a charming playboy who appreciated fine suits and selling quality dope. He met his end in 1984, when he was gunned down at a nightclub in Northwest Baltimore.

Chew himself was raised by a single mother, a social worker, in East Baltimore (his estranged father is doing life in prison on a manslaughter charge). He lived off the intersection of Broadway and Eager near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Chew was tempted by the rough streets where he grew up, but he credited the performing arts for keeping him away from drugs and violence. He loved watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island and I Love Lucy on TV, while also writing for the school newspaper and playing JV football. He graduated from Patterson High School in 1978.

“When I played the villain in a school production of Egad, What a Cad!, the whole school knew who I was,” Chew recalled. “After high school, I started appearing at the Arena Players.”

The Arena Players, located on McCulloh Street in West Baltimore, was founded in 1953; it is believed to be the oldest continuously-operating African-American theatre group in the nation. Chew taught acting there for many years, while also performing in major productions like Gospel at Colonius (based on the life of Martin Luther King Jr.) and Five Guys Named Moe. On television, he also had bit parts on NBC’s Homicide and the HBO miniseries The Corner, both of which were created by The Wire creator David Simon.

Simon, a Maryland native himself, once referred to Chew as “a subtle, smart actor.”

“He is clever and comic, but never in a way that detracts from the plot or goes bigger than the moment.”

Simon even went as far as to say that writing Joe’s dialogue was some of the most fun he and his fellow writers had during the course of the show.

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In Seasons Two and Three of The Wire, the West Side has been struggling after the imprisonment of their own kingpin, Avon Barksdale. To counteract bad dope, impatient clientele, and a lack of quality territory, Barksdale’s second-in-command, Stringer Bell, strikes a deal with Prop Joe. They form what they call “The New Day Co-Op,” designed to keep bloodshed at bay and share the real estate – and by extension, the drugs. Much to Barksdale’s chagrin, Stringer becomes business partners with Prop Joe.

In episode three of Season Three (titled “Dead Soldiers”), Joe offers some sage advice to Stringer:

Wanna know what kills more police than bullets and liquor?

Boredom. They just can’t handle that shit. You keep it boring, String. You keep it dead fucking boring.

In Season Four, in addition to his starring role, Chew brought in 22 of his own theatre students to become onscreen students. Season Four focuses on the public school system in inner-city Baltimore, specifically the students at the fictional Edward Tilghman Middle School.

Some of the most acclaimed actors in Season Four were Maestro Harrell, Jermaine Crawford, Tristan Wilds, and Julito McCullum, who played the pivotal roles of middle school boys Randy, Dukie, Michael, and Namond. All four boys are tremendous actors, playing characters with complex decisions to make about their lives in a gritty urban environment. And all four were Chew’s star pupils.

After the show ended, Chew went back to his normal life in Baltimore. In an interview after The Wire‘s conclusion, Chew admitted that, while he enjoyed getting recognized more frequently at the grocery store, he didn’t watch HBO.

“Even if I did, I’m hesitant to watch, because I don’t want to become too critical of my work,” he said.

On January 18, 2013, Chew was found unresponsive in his home. He had passed away overnight due to congestive heart failure at the age of 52. An outpouring of tributes ensued from fans of The Wire, local Baltimore theatre actors, and many other well-wishers.

David Simon remarked:

Robert was not only an exceptional actor — he was an essential part of the film and theater community in Baltimore. He could have gone to New York or Los Angeles and commanded a lot more work, but he loved the city as his home and chose to remain here working. He understood so much about his craft that it was no surprise at all that we would go to him to coach our young actors in Season Four. He was the conduit through which they internalized their remarkable performances.

The Wire cast was an embarrassment of riches and it was easy, I think, for outsiders to overlook some of those who were so essential as supporting players. Robert’s depiction of Proposition Joe was so fixed and complete — from the very earliest scenes — that the writers took for granted that anything we sent him would be finely executed.

The aforementioned Wire alum Chris Ashworth was a good friend of Chew’s, and he penned a thoughtful tribute on his personal Facebook page. In it, Ashworth mentions Chew’s deep personal faith and love of those around him:

Today, I was told that a good friend and fellow cast member from The Wire passed away. Robert F. Chew played Prop Joe. He was a great person. Humble. Talented. Passionate about the youth. He loved to teach acting to kids in Baltimore. He wanted to pass along hope to them. He had no ego — just love.

My heart is heavy, but I’m comforted by the fact that Robert was a Christian. He had a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I miss you and I’ll see you again, brother! Walk those streets of gold. To God be the glory.

Chew’s funeral was attended by hundreds of people, one of whom was The Wire‘s casting director, Pat Moran.

“He meant something to everyone in that room,” Moran said. “He touched them with his talent, his humility and his graciousness. That’s what he was —  a gracious, gracious man.”

 

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Yvonne Strahovski

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Yvonne Strahovski has been everywhere in the last few years. The statuesque Sydneysider, who just turned 34 in July, first came to prominence in the NBC comedy-spy series Chuck, where she played CIA agent Sarah Walker and earned a ton of acclaim for the role. Equally adept at action, comedy, or drama, Strahovski has earned her place in the rank-and-file of foreigners finding a spot among the bright lights of Hollywood.

Born in the Sydney suburb of Werrington Downs, New South Wales, Strahovski was raised primarily in nearby Campbelltown (Strahovski is a phonetic spelling of her last name, Strzechowski). Her dad, Piotr, is an electronic engineer, and her mom, Bozena, is a lab technician. Her parents emigrated from Tomaszów Mazowiecki, a small city in south-central Poland, shortly before she was born. While Yvonne is an only child, she still has many aunts, uncles, and cousins in Poland and is fluent in the Polish language.

Strahovski, who describes herself as a tomboy growing up, started dancing at age five and acting at age 12. Her school did a production of Twelfth Night, in which she played the lead part of Viola. After graduating from the all-girls Santa Sabina College in nearby Strathfield (with straight As in her classes), she attended the University of Western Sydney, graduating in 2003.

After graduating, Strahovski founded a theatre company in Sydney with her friend Ana, and they enjoyed some modest success before Strahovski decided to branch out into Australian television. After a notable role on the show Headland and a bit part on Sea Patrol, Strahovski made her feature film debut in 2006 in the action-thriller Gone. In the film, she played the character of Sondra and received great reviews for her performance.

Shortly thereafter, Strahovski decided to roll the dice on some opportunities in Los Angeles, flying from Sydney to L.A. in order to read scripts for several TV pilots. One of those pilots was Chuck, created and produced by Hollywood up-and-comer Josh Schwartz. Schwartz, fresh off the run of the successful drama The O.C., had created Chuck with producer Chris Fedak.

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The show revolves around the title character, a nerdy, underachieving Stanford dropout whose life is turned upside down overnight. After opening an email from his college friend-turned-nemesis Bryce Larkin, Chuck inadvertently downloads top-secret government documents into his head. Soon enough, an NSA agent named John Casey and a CIA agent, Sarah Walker, arrive in Los Angeles to protect Chuck and prevent the classified info from falling into the wrong hands.

Strahovski auditioned for the role of Sarah, and Schwartz had her run lines with Zachary Levi, who had been cast to play Chuck. The two developed undeniable chemistry, and a week later, Strahovski was cast as well.

“I never used my return ticket home,” she recalls with a laugh.

Chuck ran from 2007-2012 and developed a large cult following. Strahovski was praised for her chemistry with Levi and for adapting to the physical demands of the role of Sarah. She was nominated for three straight Teen Choice Awards for Best TV Actress in an Action Show, winning two of them. She also shared a TV Guide Favorite On-Screen Couple Award with Levi in 2011. Also in 2011, Strahovski was named Favorite TV Actress by Cosmopolitan Australia.

In 2012, Strahovski was honored, along with Liam Hemsworth, with the annual Australians in Film Breakthrough Award.

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Since the conclusion of Chuck, Strahovski has starred in several notable films, including I, Frankenstein with Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy, The Guilt Trip with Seth Rogen, and The Killer Elite with Robert De Niro, Jason Statham, and Clive Owen.

Strahovski landed another major TV role in the seventh and eighth seasons of Showtime’s Dexter, portraying the sinister Hannah McKay. In 2013, she received a Saturn Award for Best Guest Starring Role on Television.

Outside of film and TV work, Strahovski has also done a number of voice acting roles, most notably Miranda Lawson in the Mass Effect video game series. In 2014, Strahovski played another CIA agent, Kate Morgan, in the spinoff prequel series 24: Live Another Day. The next year, she reunited with Josh Schwartz in The Astronaut Wives’ Club, playing Rene Carpenter, wife of Mercury Seven astronaut Scott Carpenter. However, the series received mixed reviews and lasted only one season.

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“I would love to explore film, seeing as I have prominently been on television,” Strahovski says. “It would be nice to change it up and focus on film a little bit.” To that end, she has seemed to have found a balance between film and TV work in recent years since moving to the States.

Currently, Strahovski is filming He’s Out There, a horror film shot in Montreal, and is also featured in the upcoming drama/thriller All I See Is You, alongside Jason Clarke, Blake Lively, and Danny Huston. The film is directed by Academy Award nominee Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, World War Z, Monster’s Ball) and will be making its premiere this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Outside of film and TV, Strahovski enjoys hiking, camping, and being with her dogs (whom she posts about frequently on Instagram and Twitter). She currently lives in Los Angeles, but travels back to Sydney at least once a year.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Ben McKenzie

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Ben McKenzie has quickly become a mainstay on American television in recent years, starring in crowd-pleasing favorites like The O.C. and Gotham. The dashing 37-year-old is enjoying the new heights of a promising career after many years of uncertainty. McKenzie has successfully fought off the teen idol image in favor of taking on more challenging and nuanced roles, none more notable than his turn as the young Detective James Gordon in Fox’s Gotham.

Born Benjamin McKenzie Schenkkan on September 12, 1978, he was raised in Austin, Texas. His father Pieter was a prominent lawyer, and his mother Mary Frances was a poet and news reporter. He has two brothers, Nathan and Zack. Ben’s paternal grandfather was Robert F. Schenkkan, a longtime professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a noted radio broadcasting pioneer.

McKenzie was an accomplished athlete in middle and high school, playing flag football with future Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. McKenzie went on to play wide receiver for Austin High, before graduating with honors in 1997.

Like his father and grandfather, McKenzie attended the University of Virginia, where he majored in foreign affairs and economics. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” McKenzie recalled. “So I thought I’d get a good education and do some acting at the same time.”

Upon graduation in 2001, he moved to New York, where he worked odd jobs and performed in off-Broadway productions. McKenzie also performed several times at the acclaimed Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, before moving to Los Angeles in the fall of 2001.

After receiving bit parts in shows like JAG and The District, McKenzie got his big break in 2003, when producer Josh Schwartz cast him as Ryan Atwood in The O.C.

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The show follows Ryan, a troubled teen from the rough streets of Chino, California, who is arrested for an attempted carjacking and sent to juvenile hall. There, he is taken in by a compassionate lawyer, Sandy Cohen, and his family, who live in the affluent town of Newport Beach, Orange County. The storyline revolves around Ryan adjusting to his new life and coming to grips with his past, accompanied by the Cohens’ dorky son, Seth, gorgeous girl-next-door Marissa Cooper, and many other characters.

McKenzie – who was only cast a couple weeks before the pilot episode was shot – proved to be an overnight hit. The O.C. went on for four seasons and became a cult classic. In 2004, McKenzie took home a Teen Choice Award for Male Breakout TV Star.

“It’s against type in the sense of my background, but it’s with type in the sense that I am a loner who’s new to this business and skeptical about a lot of it,” McKenzie said of his role in an interview. “This whole scene is very strange. It’s a very strange town and a very strange business, and it has a tendency to creep me out. Ryan’s relationship with Orange County is very similar to my relationship with L.A. – fabulous wealth, and odd people behaving oddly, and I’m definitely a bit overwhelmed. I hope I’m hiding it well.”

Suspicious of overnight fame and wary of being typecast, McKenzie began to choose a variety of other roles, both during The O.C.‘s run and after the show concluded. In 2005, McKenzie made his film debut in the acclaimed indie drama Junebug, starring as Johnny, a surly 20-something trying to provide for his pregnant wife (played by future Oscar nominee Amy Adams) and dealing with other family drama. The film did well for an indie feature and received numerous awards. McKenzie also co-starred with Al Pacino in 2007 action-thriller 88 Minutes. 

In 2009, McKenzie returned to TV with a role in police procedural Southland. However, the show received mediocre ratings and was cancelled midway through production on its second season.

gordon-gotham-james-gordon-may-be-this-close-to-having-a-nervous-breakdown-jpeg-215233In 2014, McKenzie was cast in Gotham, a new Fox series chronicling the young Detective James Gordon, many years before the Batman saga begins. This was not McKenzie’s first time working on a film involving the Caped Crusader – in 2011, he had provided the voice for Bruce Wayne/Batman in the direct-to-DVD feature Batman: Year One. The show, produced and developed by Bruno Heller, was received well by critics and audiences alike.

“Gordon is a truly honest man,” McKenzie says of his character. “The last honest man in a city full of crooked people. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s a true hero.”

“McKenzie’s James Gordon is a commanding lead,” remarked critic Chuck Barney. Matt Brennan of Indiewire said that Gotham was “the perfect antidote to superhero fatigue”, praising the “bright, pop-inflected aesthetic, with urban backdrops that appear as though cut out from the panels of a comic book.” Season two received similar acclaim, with critics praising the renewed focus on certain characters and the darker storyline.

McKenzie has long been considered a rising star in the industry, and the success of Gotham will undoubtedly bring him more work. Known for guarding his personal life closely, McKenzie surprised some by acknowledging a romantic relationship with his Gotham co-star, Morena Baccarin, in late 2015. They welcomed a daughter, Frances Laiz Setta Schenkkan, this past March.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more of McKenzie in both film and TV in the coming years. If you haven’t watched The O.C., I strongly suggest you give it a shot.

Gotham returns to TV for its third season on September 19, 2016.