Blake Cooper Griffin on the importance of storytelling

Blake Cooper Griffin stars in the new film Love Is All You Need, a provocative drama set in a world where being gay is the norm and heterosexual persons are bullied. We talked with Griffin about the importance of telling stories, how film has affected his life, and what he’s learned from working with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Benjo Arwas Photography

What was the first moment you can remember that you wanted to be an actor?

My mom recently reminded me that at three years old I would watch Disney movies and memorize them from beginning to end and then recite them back.  The whole movie. Even the sounds effects.  I think that was the beginning of me expressing myself as an actor. I didn’t want to just watch the movies, I wanted to be a part of the story.  That strong desire to tell stories we all can relate to has carried me into this career and keeps me excited about the work, because whether it was my childhood favorite Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the film I just completed Love is All You Need, we learn more about ourselves through the art of storytelling.

How did Love Is All You Need stretch you as an actor?

Bill Bradley was one of the most challenging roles that I’ve played. It required me to move through fear and stretch outside of my comfort zone. The first day on set, we actually shot the climax of Bill’s story and one of the most important scenes in the movie. For the week or so, I had to prepare for the role, I became obsessed with anything that would inspire me or give me more information about Bill.  I listened to music that reminded me of him. I imagined a lot— why would he do the things he did? I tried to find ways I could connect with him, which was important because I wanted to make sure I played Bill as a real person, not a monster. Finding his humanity and vulnerabilities were key. Because we were shooting out of order, I arrived to set needing to find a way ‘in’ to the events of the scene we were shooting while carrying the history of everything that came before. The stakes of the story at that point are very physically and emotionally demanding.  On top of that, I had just met my co-stars for the first time. Rocco, our director, put me at ease and gave me total freedom. The confidence she displayed opened me up and I jumped into the work. Bill’s choices are large ones, dark and sometimes brutal. My job was to tell the story and commit without judgement. That was the only way we could do the story justice. I let any fear of being “wrong” go. That’s the thing that working on Love taught me.  Making art is not about being right. Truth is a better focus.

How does the film fit into what’s happening today in our political/social climate?

3.2 million kids experience bullying at school every year. In fact, 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of bullying. We have to ask ourselves, what in our culture and our institutions are promoting the kind of hate and intolerance that leads to bullying? Unfortunately, all you have to do is turn on CNN and see bullying happening on all platforms. Even in our politics, we have a presidential candidate fanning the flames of intolerance and dividing people. We find religious organizations that actually picket the funerals of gay people. And sadly, women and minorities still face unfair treatment.  It all adds up to this culture of meanness and disrespect. So movies like ours call it out. Love Is All You Need advocates for people to choose love and respect as their guiding principles. I fully believe that Love trumps hate.

Was there a film that affected you in a deep way that challenged your thinking on the world around you?

Dead Man Walking rocked me deeply the first time I saw it. I was in high school, at boarding school, and on the weekends they would play important previously released films that we would discuss in our classes. Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn’s performances were brilliant and the story shook me. That is the gift that we — actors, directors, writers, and everyone in this industry— are given. The chance to impact people’s lives— make them question something or laugh or cry. We have the chance to start a conversation.

When did acting become something more than just being on screen for you? 

For me, acting is about telling stories. Story is the way that we learn about ourselves and the world. They help us laugh at ourselves, reveal ugly truths about the world, and give us hope. They reveal the common thread within us all— we will all experience surprise, pain, anger, joy, and loss.  Stories remind us we are not on the road alone.

You’ve worked with actors like Helen Hunt and Cuba Gooding Jr.. How did working with people of their caliber push you and challenge you as an artist?

I remember watching Cuba Gooding Jr. accept his Academy Award. I was a kid, but I knew I wanted to do what he was doing. He was having the time of his life. The joy he felt winning that award was infectious. I can honestly say, that acting really brings me that joy.  It’s the greatest love affair of my life. No doubt. I told Cuba that story of watching him win and what it meant to me at the time— a little kid from South Carolina— when I met him. He was pretty amazing to work with. He still carries that joy with him on set.  And, I can’t imagine a better role model than Helen Hunt. She does it all. As Good as it Gets is still one of my favorite movies and her work in The Sessions was so rich and real and deep. I’ve had the privilege of being directed by her twice now. She’s deeply committed to finding the truth of the scene.

Acting is a tough profession full of high and low moments. What sustains you and keeps you driven?

I laugh a lot. I make fun of myself. I curse. I forgive myself. I drink a lot of coffee. I appreciate those who support me. I go on walks with my dog. I have beers with my friends. I read the newspaper. I call my mom. I celebrate when things go well.  And I remember, that ever since I was a three-year-old kid I’ve wanted to do this. And I’m doing it. And that’s pretty freaking cool.

Benjo Arwas Photography

Photography by Benjo Arwas
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