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Ask the Cougar

The Actor Next Door

Matt Czuchry, Class of 1999

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Imagine walking across the stage to get your diploma, armed with a degree in not one but two subjects, and knowing that your next step isn’t going to involve either of them. Your next step is going to take you clear across the country, far away from family, friends and any life you ever imagined for yourself. It isn’t going to promise success – or even a paycheck – and, in all honesty, it’s pretty much stamped with a guarantee to fail.

That’s how Matt Czuchry ’99 ended his college career and started the rest of his life. One giant leap of faith. One bold move. One shot in the dark to see his name in lights.

“I was 22 when I came out to L.A., and at that time for me, there was just on one hand this incredible belief in myself that I could make it happen, and on the other hand, a huge amount of naiveté,” Czuchry says. “You just think you can do anything. You have a conquer-the-world kind of attitude.”

Which isn’t to say acting was always in his stars. It wasn’t really in anyone’s stars from Small Town, Tennessee, according to him.

“Acting’s always been something that’s been inside of me since I was a little kid. I’ve always created characters and used my imagination, and my family always encouraged me to do so,” he says with a chuckle, remembering the first time he watched The Incredible Hulk on TV and destroyed the house afterward while pretending to be the powerful green monster. “But I always felt like it was something that other people did, never something I ever actually thought of as an actual career.”

With brains enough to double major in political science and history, and brawn enough to earn captain of the men’s tennis team at the College, Czuchry belonged on the court, in the classroom – and later, maybe a courtroom or Capitol Hill. Anywhere but in front of a camera.

Here he is, though, 10 years later, residing in Los Angeles, realizing his dream and remembering the ride from College undergad to Hollywood headliner.

Act I

A New Hampshire native, Czuchry moved to Johnson City, Tenn., when he was 9 with his mom, dad and three older siblings. He won the state championship for tennis in high school and continued his run on the court at the College.

Standing 5 feet 9 inches tall with blond hair and light brown eyes, Czuchry certainly is someone you wouldn’t mind watching on stage or even on the big screen. But the closest he ever came to the theatre department was when he was snagging a Starbucks on his way to class – until it came time to choose an elective.

That’s the beauty of a liberal arts and sciences school: “You get a chance to explore new things,” he says.

One drama course later and Czuchry was exploring a whole new life.

He started taking acting courses outside of school and raced around town to make it from history class to tennis practice to local talent agency Millie Lewis of Charleston and back again in time to study or write papers.

It was demanding, he recalls, “but I learned a lot from those degrees and tennis and college. I learned about perseverance, discipline and bouncing back from disappointment after losing matches. Life lessons ... which I think are ultimately the most important lessons that you learn in college.”

Act II

Czuchry knew one person in Hollywood when he packed up his car and headed out West: a casting director named Christian Kaplan. “My mentor and still my friend after 10 years,” Czuchry says of the man who “opened doors” for him and helped him find an agent. What he didn’t have was a job. Or much experience.

“I was completely going into the unknown,” he says.

But the ball started rolling after a few months. Two words here on this show. Five lines there on that show. And then something big – well, bigger – came along. Czuchry got offered a small part, just a couple of scenes, in the TV show Freaks and Geeks.

“The night before, I couldn’t sleep,” he laughs. “I was terrified. I got to the set and had no idea what the hell I was doing.”

Clueless or not, one of the most amazing things happened to him on that set: He got to work with James Franco, of later Spider-Man and Milk fame. “I knew from the first moment I met him that he would be a star,” Czuchry recalls.

Next was a recurring role on Young Americans, a guest appearance on 7th Heaven and a spot on the Jake 2.0 pilot, with 
other projects sprinkled in between.

And then it came – his big break.

In 2004, Czuchry landed the role of Logan Huntzberger, Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) boyfriend on the last three seasons of Gilmore Girls.

“I think a small series of breaks led me to that break,” says Czuchry. “And then, yes, that being a three-year job and a popular show with that kind of exposure – that was my ‘big break.’”

After Gilmore Girls, Czuchry appeared on four episodes of Friday Night Lights in 2008. He played Chris Kennedy, a love interest of head cheerleader Lyla (Minka Kelly) and the host of a Christian radio show.

“I loved the show from the beginning – was a huge fan,” he says. “I would send text messages to all my friends saying, ‘I want to be on this thing.’ Then I got a chance to be on it. It was one of those rare moments in life where everything that you could ever want comes true.”

Act III

Next on the bill: Czuchry stars in the comedy I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, directed by Bob Gosse – by far his biggest role in a movie to date.

Despite his genuinely gentle and gracious demeanor off screen, Czuchry plays a narcissistic jerk named Tucker Max in the film. Max wrote the autobiographical book on which the movie is not-so-loosely based.

“I actually read the script, and the script scared me,” recalls Czuchry. “Because you read a script for that character you would play, and initially I thought, I don’t think I can do this. It’s too much of a challenge.”

Czuchry wrapped I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell last year, and the movie was released in fall 2009.

Today, Czuchry stars in the popular CBS drama series called The Good Wife, in which he plays a handsome Harvard grad who joins a top law firm. The drama centers on a politician’s wife who gets a job as a junior associate at the same law firm.

A wise man – well, actor Owen Wilson – once said, “You can think of Hollywood as high school. TV actors are freshmen, comedy actors are maybe juniors and dramatic actors – they’re the cool seniors.”

If that’s the case, Czuchry is just one Hail Mary from becoming the star quarterback and dating the head cheerleader. Oh, wait – he’s already played that role.

– Abi Nicholas ’07