Ser’Darius Blain: “Footloose” and Acting Free

Ser’Darius Blain reflects on his long battle with shyness, the importance of a multicultural upbringing, and the valuable knowledge derived from his mother’s artistry.

Ser’Darius Blain is a 2009 graduate of the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. After six callbacks, he landed his first major project Footloose, a remake of the 1984 classic. Cast in the role of “Woody,” Ser’Darius Blain stars alongside Dennis Quaid and Andy McDowell.

In the midst of a promotional campaign for Footloose, Ser’Darius Blain managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule in order to settle down for an interview with Alternatives – reflecting on his long battle with shyness, the importance of a multicultural upbringing, and the valuable knowledge derived from his mother’s artistry.

AHHA: In these past few years, you’ve bounced all across America. You were raised in Florida, developed professionally in New York, and now you currently reside in California. How were able to manage such a great deal of movement at such a young age? In addition, in what ways have these different areas influenced you artistically?

Ser’Darius Blain: Well, people always wondered if I was in the military, but my mom was just constantly moving forward and trying to make a better life for us. So, we lived in Florida until my parents unfortunately divorced. Born in Miami, raised until I was about nine. Then we moved to Oklahoma for about two-and-a-half years. My mom was getting her master’s degree at the time. And after that, we ended up moving to Connecticut for a year. Then back to Florida for about eight years, and then from then on I moved up to New York.

Every single one of those places that I lived—I mean even up until me moving to L.A. about a year-and-a-half ago—really influenced me, shaped me. I was able to learn a lot. Had a lot of island influence in Miami just based on my family. My family’s background is Haitian and Dominican. And then moving up to New York and getting that multicultural flavor, that multicultural vibe and just really learning how to live and survive in that concrete jungle. It was just a culture shock to me at the time, but I wouldn’t give that up for the world. I feel like I learned so much. I became a man just living in New York. I was able to apply everything that I learned here when I got to L.A.

AHHA: As you spoke about your mother, I can only imagine the influence she has had upon your career. With her background as an English and drama teacher, is there a defining experience that pushed you into the acting world?

Ser’Darius Blain: In the ’70s and early ’80s, my mom was actually a recording artist. And as time went on, she eventually had me. She went to school and got her master’s degree in education, and became an English and drama teacher. She just pushed me to always be different. I always conducted myself differently than other teenagers and kids that were my age at the time. Always taught to be really well-spoken. Taught me the basic moral values that I still live with today. She never pushed me, actually, to do anything related to the arts. I always wanted to be a doctor.

Like since I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to play football as a child. As I got older, it was a doctor and basketball. I started playing high school basketball with hopes to get a scholarship to college. But my mom never, ever pushed me to do anything in the arts. She was a drama teacher at my middle school. I helped her rewrite a play. I would help her behind the scenes.

One day, she encouraged me to audition for one of her plays. She had a panel of judges that chose all the roles. I auditioned for the play and ended up getting an understudy role, and later on ended up taking over that lead role. The thing is that still in the back of my mind, there was no secure future in acting, which is still true. I didn’t think that you could actually make money from acting. Fast-forward about ten years later, I ended up booking this huge movie and I’m so glad that the opportunity was there for me. But she never pushed me. She always pushed me to do whatever I wanted to do, as long as education was still at the forefront of that.

AHHA: I find it interesting that your mother never pushed you into the arts. Now that you are officially a part of that world, what kind of advice has she given from her own career, or the politics revolving around the profession?

Ser’Darius Blain: She taught me that two heads are better than one and to never make a rushed decision. Always sleep on something before you make the decision. So, I always come to her for counsel. She also preaches mentorship to me, so I have three mentors that I always bounce ideas off of. I’ll constantly call them or text them or send them an email. If you ever have any questions about anything, don’t ever be afraid to ask. Socrates said, “Challenge everything.” I’m one of those guys that I challenge everything. Not in a negative way, but I never just take what people tell me to be true. I’m more of a “show me” type person. She really taught me to always challenge what’s being taught to me. So that’s lesson one.

AHHA: Speaking of challenges, having entered this career so young, what obstacle do you think has been the biggest that you have had to overcome?

Ser’Darius Blain: Rejection. This industry is 99.8 percent rejection, so unless you’ve got a tough skin, I will tell you run the other way. Go be a doctor. Do something that you know is going to be a “for sure.” Yeah, rejection has been the biggest obstacle. I’ve learned to take every bit of rejection as a learning experience and not really harp on the fact that I didn’t get the job or this didn’t turn out the way that I wanted it to. But it’s always having something to walk away with that I learned from that experience. It just makes me stronger. It makes me better. As people, I think we tend to focus on the negative more than the positive. I just really learned to take away the learning side as opposed to the rejection side. But it’s a really rewarding industry, too. When you finally do make it over that hill and you finally do book that job or you finally do get that meeting with that director or that producer, those victories, man, will encourage you to just keep pressing on and move onto the next thing. It’s all from experience.

AHHA: At one point, during your formative years, you did not think there was a solid “monetary” future in entertainment. As you were going through the “starving artist” phase of your career, at what point did your opinion change?

Ser’Darius Blain: You know what? Acting and music and modeling was never my goal. Like I said, it was always the medical industry. I was always good at science and math and everything education-wise. My ex-girlfriend at the time – I think I was 19 – was heavily into dancing, acting and musical theatre. There was an acting, modeling and talent competition in Orlando called AMTC. We lived in Central Florida about an hour away, and she wanted me to drive her there one day after church to audition for it. I said: “Yeah, sure. I’ll drive you.” I took her over there and was sitting in the lobby, waiting for her to finish her audition. The receptionist said: “You should go audition for this.” And I was like: “Oh, no. That’s not really for me. I’m good.” She went: “No, really. It’s free. Just go ahead. You’re handsome. You should go up there, say the line and you get off stage.” I went: “Fine. I’ll do it.” There were about 1,100 people there. I get on the stage, I walk down to this little hash mark they had at the end of the stage, I said the line, I turned around and I walked away.

At the end of that day, they called back 90 people to be in this talent competition, and I was one of those 90 names. My girlfriend was as well, at the time. But I was one of the ninety names out of 1,100 people to actually be invited to audition for that thing. I went to AMTC about five months later – after they trained us and got us ready for the competition – and I ended up getting a broker record for the most callbacks that my agency ever got. There were about 17 callbacks. I also got a scholarship to the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, as well. And it was at that moment that I was like: “Maybe this is something I should explore.”

So, I went, of course, and talked to my mom about it. Her being an educator, I was almost sure she was going to say no to New York. I was like: “Okay. That will be my excuse why I don’t go to New York.” So, of course I sit down and I talk to her, and my mom just reminds me of the dream that she had when she was younger of being an entertainer. She basically told me: “Baby, regular school is always going to be there. If this doesn’t work out, you give the two years of trying in New York and then if not, you go back and finish your medical degree.” And so I went: “Okay. That seems solid.” So, I ended up going to New York and frickin’ had the time of my life. It was very rough, as well, but I had a great time in school learning from some working actors, working professionals. And it was at that moment I was like: “You know. If I apply myself to this, I think I can make this happen. Along with God, this could happen.”

AHHA: It’s really good that your mom was able to be supportive of your efforts. Considering her history, I believe that made her more willing to be supportive. In regards to your time at the NYCDA, it is fairly obvious that you have innate talent. Even so, is there a particular skill that you feel you really honed while you were enrolled at the school? Is there a particular method by which you conduct yourself on stage or screen that you credit to your academic experience?

Ser’Darius Blain: Yeah. I would say the most important thing I learned from NYCDA is actually not the acting side, though I did learn a lot of acting there. They taught us how to conduct ourselves as business professionals. Acting is an art, but there is that business side of it that is utterly important. I think your talent probably only accounts for about 33 percent of you actually booking a job. The rest is all professionalism, how you conduct yourself and knowing what’s going on, on a set. And that’s what that school taught me. The business classes were pivotal. I knew how to go and conduct myself at an agent interview and a manager interview. When I was on set, I wasn’t lost at all. People would surprise us. This would be my first job or this was only my second job. So yeah, that was huge, along with the fact that the faculty and staff were readily available. Small class sizes, so we always got to work. It was very personal.

AHHA: Oftentimes artists tend to forget about the business side of the entertainment business. They go in for the love of the art and then they eventually “get” it. Your forthcoming project is Footloose. Before you signed on as a member of the cast, did you have any previous relationship with the film? And upon reflection, what special bond did you find yourself having with your character, Woody?

Ser’Darius Blain: Originally when I had auditioned for the film, I’d never seen Footloose all the way through. I’d seen snippets and I knew the song. I was well aware that it was a classic, but I had no direct connection or affiliation to the song at all. When I got to audition for it, I looked at the slides and I was like man, me and this character are really connected because he was basically me. He reminded me, actually, of a lot of friends that I grew up with in high school. Growing up in the deep South, and having those friends that are just the good ol’ guys. Level head, etc. It was awesome to be able to audition for that. And so I went in and I just was myself with a Southern accent. And it was a really easy transition for me.

When I got the full script and found out I was going to be getting another callback, then I delved into the script a little bit more. I actually rented the movie and watched it all the way through a couple of times. I wanted to get a better feel of who the character was, what the film was about, just trying to bring that same energy in. It was awesome going in there for the director’s session with Craig Brewer and being in the casting room with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron who produced monstrous movies like Hustle & Flow and Hairspray. It was definitely a lot of pressure on me, but I had studied my script and studied the movie so much that I felt like if they didn’t choose me, then it was for other reasons other than me not being good enough.

AHHA: It was definitely a blessing. Every director has his or her own sense of style. Having gone through the experience now, what do you appreciate the most about Craig Brewer? Under his direction, in what ways did you find your acting skills pushed or improved?

Ser’Darius Blain: Well, I can say this. Craig Brewer is a nerd. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. When I say that, he goes in and he delves into every single little detail of the script. The setting. The music. He loves it. He truly loves it. He’s like a kid in a candy store when he’s on set. You see his wheel constantly turning. He has this infectious attitude about him where he can tell you a story and everybody will be on pins and needles trying to listen to this story. It will be completely silent in the room because he gets so involved into the story and he pulls you into it. That attitude was infectious about the movie.

Originally, a lot of people were kind of leery about remaking something that was such a cult classic as Footloose. But when he put his own twist on the script and just told us what this movie was going to be about, it felt like it was our own. Working with him made me better as an artist, as a person. He truly gave us an opportunity to put our own fingerprint on the movie. It was ours. It was something new that we were creating. Though it did have a familiar story, it was new because he let us bring our own personalities. He even let us write in some of our own lines. He made us so comfortable. It was so easy talking to him that it was just an amazing experience just being able to put our own twist on something as great as Footloose.

AHHA: You have also been tapped to be a series regular on “Jane By Design.” As you alternative between the “silver” and television screens, what similarities and differences do you find between the two platforms?

Ser’Darius Blain: Similarities. Obviously it’s all acting, but the shooting style. TV is starting to look more like film now. That’s probably the most similar thing. One adjustment for me is having a different director for every episode. That was very different. But it’s cool because you get a chance to get, first of all, more directors on your résumé. Not only that, but you get to learn different people’s styles and it just makes you more of a chameleon. That’s awesome. It’s also really cool just being that the story is ever changing and getting to work with so many amazing actors. I’d say probably the timing is a lot different, too, because you’re shooting one one-hour episode for five days in a week, as opposed to a film which is going to be two hours long and you’re shooting it for three months. And you have to be able to adjust a lot quicker. You’re kind of learning on the fly. It’s a really cool experience, though. Really cool.

AHHA: It definitely will keep you sharp. With being too hokey, I wanted to get some insight into the kind of music that you like. So what artists or songs tends to make you go “footloose”?

Ser’Darius Blain: Man, that’s a good question. Huh! I’d have to say Stevie Wonder, “Master Blaster,” man. Every time that song comes on, it makes me crazy. I’m glad, actually, that you brought up music ,because I actually write and sing music, as well. But yeah, Stevie Wonder – gotta love him.

AHHA: Off-screen, what social organizations or issues keep your soul on fire?

Ser’Darius Blain: I am currently partnering with Dare to Care, which is a charity that I really believe in. Basically they’re advocates for making sure that children in schools have lunch every day. There’s a lot of times when I was in high school that there were kids who couldn’t even afford lunch money. So, Dare to Care is going to be donating lunches to kids at school. They’re also an anti-bullying campaign. They have an anti-bullying campaign. I’m going to be a big part of that, as well.

As a teenager, I kind of was a victim of that bullying by the jocks. You don’t want to kill kids’ confidence. We definitely want to build that and make sure that they can have a solid meal; two solid meals at school per day. That is something that is really basic that we take for granted but I think is really important, so I’m really excited about being part of working with Dare to Care.

AHHA: Well, I’m happy to hear that you are involved with Dare to Care. Arts education is extremely important. As a child, you were very shy. At what point did you gain confidence in your skill and your talent to be able to stand in front of a camera – let alone a crowd?

Ser’Darius Blain: As a kid I was extremely shy. Not even just as a kid. All the way up to when I was eighteen, I was extremely shy. I started breaking out of my shell probably around eighth grade. First of all, I started growing. I started to get bigger, so that helped a little bit. Yeah, school definitely helped me with some confidence, just because I always had good grades and it was something I felt like I was good at. As a kid, I never really felt like I was good at anything. I felt like I was okay at a few things, but never really good at anything.

As I got older and I started doing some theatre and such, I got confidence. When I would step onto the stage, I would be extremely nervous until that first line came out or that first action came out. And this sounds a little cliché, but I literally felt like somebody else, because I was playing a character. Essentially I was somebody else. So I didn’t really feel like people were looking at me, necessarily. They were looking at me as this character. So that helped me start building some confidence.

Also, a lot of times I would just stare into the brightest light I could, so I couldn’t see my body shaking. I’m not nervous anymore, but that really helped. And then just feeling like you know what you’re doing, that provides a lot of confidence. My friends would constantly tell me, “Man, you’re really good. You might be able to do this.” My mom would be like, “Wow. I didn’t know you were that good.” All that stuff started building some confidence in me. At the same time, in this industry once you start becoming successful, there are very few people that will tell you no, so I think it’s important to just keep those people around you that will keep you level-headed and like, “Hey, what are you doing? You’re tripping. What are you doing?” Those kind of people who just keep a level head.

For more of Clayton Perry’s interview exclusives, visit his digital archive. He can also be followed via Twitter [@crperry84].