Robert Chestnut: More to the Story
Taylor Harrington 5/17/2021 4:30pm EST
Award-winning California native actor Robert Chestnut was born in Los Angeles but grew up in the Redwood Forest of California. Although his family had a clothing business, Chestnut knew from a young age that acting was his calling. Having the full support of his parents, Chestnut was professionally trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute. He first gained notoriety for his role as Ken in the Daytime Series Days of Our Lives, but found himself soon owning a business and having to make the tough decision between pursuing his dreams and keeping the business going. Chestnut’s hiatus was not in vain, and he is back in the film industry, having already won Best Actor for his role in the short Sunny Na film, Carma. Chestnut is an empath, and with the skills he has learned from greats such as Stella Adler, is able to pull out raw emotions and go to depths in a way that is untouched by his peers.
Taylor Harrington: Hello, everybody, welcome to Confessional Magazine. I am here today with the very talented Robert Chestnut. Thank you so much for being here today, Robert.
Robert Chestnut: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure. My pleasure to be here with you.
Taylor Harrington: I know that you have been in the acting world for quite some time now starting out with Days of Our Lives?
Robert Chestnut: That was the first gig I got into in the union. The first thing they did was run me out to Days of Our Lives, and that was really when, after that, I was actually offered a regular part in a series. It wasn’t Days of Our Lives, it was another one, but at that time, you just didn’t do soap operas, and you didn’t do commercials, you didn’t do TV. You were just going to be a film actor, but that has changed so much. You look back now and go, gosh, boy, I’ve made some mistakes along the way.
Taylor Harrington: That’s part of the journey, right?
Robert Chestnut: Yeah. It gives me a lot to work with now.
Taylor Harrington: So what are some of the more recent projects you have done?
Robert Chestnut: I actually just yesterday finished on a little short, and it is called Lamplight, and that’s a little period piece. I actually read for the lead and it was really heavy, like some meaty, meaty stuff. It was always one of those roles I really wanted. So you can throw it out to the film festival world and try to rack up a bunch of, you know, awards and praise, but just touching people with that is really important to me. If I can make you feel what I was feeling, I know it sounds corny, but it’s real, you know, I feel satisfied. It really is satisfying because then you know that you did your job as an actor. They ended up going in a completely different direction with a 20 something-year-old. It’s like, okay, that’s good, but then they offered me a role in it. So I am actually the locksmith which we open up the scene, and I’m kind of getting into the house and I’ve got a crush on his sister. Oh, that was fun. That was cool. I just wrapped that yesterday, and we’ll see when that comes out and how it turns out.
Taylor Harrington: You’ll have to keep me in the loop with that. It’s probably got to feel amazing after so much time, with the past year and a half of the chaos the world has been in, to be out there acting. What was that like, getting back out there and performing after that gap of time?
Robert Chestnut: I’ll tell you after 2020 things are different for me. I mean, I actually took a long hiatus. I took about a 20 year break from my acting career. I had a young family, I had a sideline business, I went to flea markets, and then little street fairs and things like that, right? Art and wine festivals. I had this cool little clothing brand and then I found myself going to auto races. Everything was work on the weekends for me because I had to keep my week open for my acting and for my auditions. I went to this auto race while we were in a recession and I couldn’t believe all the money people were spending, and thus from that, I created this wonderful, wonderful brand, because there wasn’t anything for women in motorsports. It got so big that it started taking me away from acting. So then, all of a sudden, I find my agents at the California Speedway, and I don’t know if you know much about auto racing, and the names of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon, and then my brand, it was called RaceGirl, and we were the biggest hottest thing in motorsports. So there are my agents outside my trailer hands on their hips, saying Bobby Chestnut, you got to make a decision. It’s either this or your acting. I had like 300 people out front, my booth had six girls taking hand over fist money, and I’m thinking you know what, this can be bigger than that two grand, and you know, I always have my acting to go back to. So that took me away for a little while, but I’m getting back into it in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles. It was a really tough venture getting back into the industry up here because there’s not a whole lot of big projects going on. So things started working for me. 2020 was rockin’, it was just off the charts in the beginning. I mean, coming off 2019 and into 2020 was like, Wow, I’ve got my insurance, my health pension again, and then boom, man, COVID just killed it all, and it’s been it’s been a struggle there, but it’s picking up now. Things are starting to happen again, so I’ve had a fairly busy year. I can’t complain. Here we are.
Taylor Harrington: I want to go back to your company RaceGirl. I had no idea about that part of your story. I’ve seen you as an actor, but that is so cool to know that you did that. Supporting women is always important, and especially in an industry like that, where it’s not, you know, as prevalent. Danica Patrick was probably the first.
Robert Chestnut: I have a nice story about Danica Patrick, but maybe we’ll save that for another day.
Taylor Harrington: It’s really impressive that you were able to find success not only in acting but then you ran this wildly successful business. In your heart did you still have this calling to come back to acting?
Robert Chestnut: I grew up in a small little town in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We were born in LA, but we moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains in the Redwood Forest. So, you know, up there we had the valley boys, the rednecks, and it was like, well, I really don’t fit here. I wanted to do theater, but I felt like, well, I can’t do that, they’re all gonna give me a bad time because they already gave me a hard enough time anyhow. So when I was a junior in high school, my Dad says, Hey, what do you want to do? You know, cuz, your brothers are in construction, and you know we have the clothing business, but what do you really want to do? I said, well, I want to be an actor, and I just blew my parent’s minds. They had no idea, but they were very supportive and they wanted to make sure that I got the best training, so we went down to Southern California, we found the Lee Strasberg Institute, and that’s where I started training. It was really reaching your core, and really giving your truth through your art, and sometimes that really sucks because it hurts. You know? Like I did Carma. Carma was just so tough to do. It was wrenching. You’re going so deep to such heart-wrenching places in your life that you have to take yourself. They were all night shoots. I didn’t sleep for three nights while filming.
Taylor Harrington: Carma is incredible. I watched it by myself and then immediately afterward, I walked out into the living room and I said to my husband, “You’re stopping your video games, and you’re watching this movie with me.” It’s, powerful, and you’re incredible in it. I don’t want to give too much away because I want people to watch the movie, but it’s a story that more of us can relate to than we probably are comfortable admitting. It’s about a time of desperation in a man’s life trying to save his wife who is battling terminal cancer. It just goes from there and it’s heavy, and I have so much respect for you for being able to play a heavy role like that. What do you do to get into that heavy of a character?
Robert Chestnut: You just reach deep down into yourself and your bag of tricks is what they say, but the bag of tricks is really real-life experiences. If that’s not there, it’s the what-ifs. So you really have to go deep. I was trained to be able to go there, but you’re not there goofing around. Sometimes you’re on set and people want to talk to you and be goofballs, but it’s like, you’re doing your work and they realize that, and then they give you your space. That role in Carma was really reaching down pretty deep. I’ve had some things happen in my life that I’ve lived life. I’ve lived life. So, yeah.
Taylor Harrington: Where has Carma gone within the film world?
Robert Chestnut: It went to the film festival world, and that’s what a lot of these short films will wind up doing. Carma has been well accepted there and it’s won lots of praise and reviews, and thank goodness for that. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do it. It was this great young South Korean director, Sonny Na, and she’s actually back in Korea right now. Well, because you saw it, I just thought, hey, there’s a nice little spin-off on this thing could be what happens afterward.
Taylor Harrington: So, Robert, what would you say your favorite kind of role to play is? What is your favorite type of character to get into?
Robert Chestnut: I’ve always managed to get the role of that troubled guy that is hurting a little bit. There’s something deep emotionally with him. It’s like, well, whoa, wait a minute, you got to stop doing that stuff. Because there’s a different part of me, it’s like, what about the funny witty charming guy? I always get the deep-and-endearing or troubled-and-hurting roles.
Taylor Harrington: What can you tell us about your family?
Robert Chestnut: I was I was born in Southern California to young parents. By the time my Mother was 24, she had four little boys. We lived the all-American life down there. We were close to LAX Airport. In fact, in second grade, the airport bought all the houses closest to the airport to expand, so they wiped out all my friends. I have four brothers, so we had each other. Then we moved to Northern California. My father was going to UCLA and with four little boys, he actually went back to school. He was one of those guys working for a huge market and the union boss wanted to take him under his wing and kind of prep him to be their “future” guy and send him back to school. So Dad went back to UCLA, even as a kid who was a little troublemaker. It’s funny, my parents met at Dennis High School in the dean’s office. My Dad was in trouble again, and my mother was sweet and just late for class. Sitting in the dean’s office, he’s looking at her and says I’m going to marry you. And she’s like, Oh, yeah, right. And then he did. So that’s really sweet. They’re still married. They’ve been married for, gosh, 60 years. Yeah, it’s crazy. We moved up to the Santa Cruz Mountains from being little city boys, and we just grew up in the Redwood Forest and just had a little Tom Sawyer life. My brother stayed with the family business. It didn’t work for me, you know, and I just needed something more. I went down to LA to pursue my acting career and I did very well. I’ve been in about 100 National commercials. I was one of those guys that, you know, was probably in 90% of America’s subconscious mind. Now, I’m still in a lot of backs of people’s heads, but I worked so much and then left the business, and now I’m back. I didn’t know how good I had it. I mean, I really took it for granted, but you’re out there doing it. My whole thing was, Hey, I’m gonna do this for my talent alone. I never did the “Hollywood-scene” thing. I didn’t like the people, and there are nice people in Hollywood, but I just wasn’t into that. I wanted to actually prove to my father that I’m going to do this with my acting and my skills alone. But it’s really tough. That was tough. I guess I’ve got to be proud of myself. I used to get called in from ABC for all of their “Movies of The Week”. I didn’t have to audition for them, they would just call me in, and I’d always be on the bottom of the list of five or six guys there. I finally figured out Oh, you dummy. You know, as as you grow a little older, a little wiser, is why you’ve been so proud. A part of the business is marketing yourself, so you have to do some things you don’t like, be at places, you know, be a part of this, but you don’t have to get too involved in it. That is the way it is in most businesses. So here I am. My kids are grown and when my son left the house, he said, “Dad, you know you’ve got to go back to acting because that’s where your heart is.” So here I am.
Taylor Harrington: Good for you for coming back to it because at the end of the day, if you’re not fulfilled, then you’re not happy, and then what’s the point? What are your future goals in the industry and beyond?
Robert Chestnut: Actually, over the years, I have collected a few stories, and have a few really good project ideas, but those are the things that you just kind of put in the back of your head and you say, oh, I’m gonna do these someday. COVID actually put off my first movie, which was something that I came up with when I was sitting on set as a background actor on one of the big blockbusters out in San Francisco. That’s another story in it’s own, because I never did background work before, for me it was always the principal work. When I was in the Union, it was really tough to get in the Union, and then there was the Screen Actors Guild and the Screen-Extras Guild, which is a great thing for people and they have a lot of fun. Some people can make a bit of a living at it in LA, and then they can get their insurance and do all that, and that’s fine, but you know, that’s not why I’m in the business. I want to be able to touch the audience. I want you to feel my pain. Coming up here, it was really tough, because it’s like I couldn’t get an agent. I’m now thinking, “How can I not get an agent with everything I’ve done before?” It’s just different up north, it’s small time. You’ve got these agents that were actors 20-30 years ago, and now they’re agents that became agents for all their buddies from 20-30 years ago. So it’s like they say, “Sorry, if you’re willing to do some non-union work, we’ll take you on”, I say, “Well, I can’t do that. Is that it?” “Well, that’s the way it’s gonna work here. I’d rather give it to my buddy.” I guess I re-started from the bottom. I got to go and do some background work, and it was tough to do having mainly principal roles in the past.
Taylor Harrington: So, Robert, how can people find you to see all of your work?
Robert Chestnut: IMDB would be good. You can actually get a little taste of my actor’s reel, which I need to do a little updating with a few things to add to it, which is great.
Taylor Harrington: Okay. Perfect. Thank you! You are so talented and I’m so grateful that you sat down and chat with me for a little bit today and that we got to know more about you, your story, and your journey.
Robert Chestnut: I’m back. I’m here to stay now.
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