Former child actor, Adam Irigoyen, seen on such series as Disney Channel's Shake It Up opposite Zendaya and Bella Thorne, talks to us about about growing up in the industry, the advice he would offer his younger self, and the transition to portraying more emotionally complex characters, including that of Isaac Rodriguez in new Netflix series Away.
Not many of us start working at 11 years old. My first job was at 14, doing stock checking in a local newsagent before school a few days week. While I could just about manage making sure the correct number of magazines and baked goods had been delivered, I'm not sure I would have fared as well performing on TV - something that would have already been old hat for Adam Irigoyen at the same age.
One thing we are all familiar with now, however, is what a strange year 2020 has been and how its affected work for everyone.
"It's definitely been strange. It's been strange for everybody. I've just been trying to take this time to really focus on self-care. I think that's something that's really important. I mean that in all aspects, whether it's relaxation or educating myself on different topics. I try to stay tip-top on the acting but also I've been doing MasterClasses online, catching up on movies reading, writing, trying to take advantage of life on pause."
On the subject of online masterclasses, you might assume that for an actor the most appealing classes would be ones given by such heavyweight thespians/directors such as Dame Helen Mirren, Spike Lee or Martin Scorsese. In fact, it was that of former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss that captured his attention.
"I thought was super fascinating because he says, 'Every conversation is a negotiation'. I think it's cool because he comes from the background of a hostage negotiator. To apply those tactics to everyday life just fascinated me. I've tried to implement those in everyday conversations. For me, it's insightful because I love the idea of learning how to communicate better."
Communication is one of the centre points of new series Away, which recently landed on Netflix. It follows the story of American astronaut Emma Green, played by Hilary Swank, who leaves her family on Earth to join an international space crew. on a 3-year mission to Mars.
"Looking at it from the outside, I can see how people are going to expect this 'space exploration/final frontier' type thing, but at its core, I think people are going to be surprised to find out that it really is a family drama and it's very character-driven. It's like This Is Us in space. It really focuses on what it's like for these astronauts to be away from their families for three years, the relationships they can create on their journey, and the ones they're leaving back home."
Irigoyen plays 17-year old Isaac Rodriguez, a character who befriends Green's teenage daughter Alexis, played by Talitha Eliana Bateman, soon after her mother leaves. She is struggling to deal with her departure, along with other issues that surface, when Isaac becomes something of an escape for her. That's a lot of emotional weight for any 17-year old to carry, but Irigoyen himself empathises.
"Listen, as far as for me, I always try to be there for everybody as much as I can. I was talking with friends the other day, we were just talking about what love is and means to each of us in the general sense. Not being in love, but love for a brother or a friend. People who know me know that I'm not the best communicator over text or even responding. I've never been good at that, but I do pride myself in that, when someone needs help, I've always done my best to be there.
"Isaac is 17 years old, he's in high school, and as far as this experience goes, it's really new for everybody in the series. I think at first he doesn't know what he's signing up for, but he's willing to take on a challenge. There's one point in the season where I think he feels it and he does get overwhelmed. You're 17 years old and you're dealing with being the stronghold in a relationship. At some point, it's bound to catch up to you, but I think he deals with it as best as he can."
While Irigoyen had experienced a character-drive role before, his role on this series was quite different to anything he'd been a part of up to this point in his career.
"It wasn't the first piece that I had done that was very character-driven, but the first to this extent. I did six episodes of a show called The Fosters playing Kyle Snow that was a nice, little character study and a very fun character for me. This was that, but on an even a bigger scale. To come to a set where Hilary Swank is your number one, working with Josh Charles, Monique Curnen, and Talitha, who is no novice, I was surrounded by a lot of really talented people.
"I just wanted to come to work, ready to play. That for me was the most fun and what I had been looking forward to the most about doing this, how character-driven it was and how important the characters were to the story. As you watch, you'll see that every character has their story and that's what pushes this series forward."
On the film front, Irigoyen has a new feature project, Centurion XII, in post-production which is far more grounded than the space drama. It's the story of college student Ellissia Hall, played by Amber Midthunder, competing in Mexican horse dancing when she discovers she has APL - acute promyelocytic leukemia.
"Ellissia is this up and comer in this world. She's really trying to make a name for herself which is put on pause because of a diagnosis that she gets. I play Francisco, who is really her biggest competition, a rival if you will. For me, my character has this flirty rival vibe going with her, even though it's maybe not completely reciprocated.
"It follows her story, the story of her relationship with her horse Centurion, and my part in that as well. That was a fun one too. It was supposed to be coming out around this time, but due to COVID and everything like that, things got put on pause. It is in post and hopefully, it should be coming out fairly quickly."
The film was shot right before filming for Away began. What was it like switching gears between the two projects, both in terms of their formats and the very different characters he portrayed?
"Most of the things that I have done have been longer TV projects. I'm used to sticking with the same character for a period of time. For me, the difference really was the movie. It was an indie movie, so we filmed it in 30 days in Napa, which is already impressive. It was super concise and I had, honestly, the time of my life filming that movie. Then to go from, like you said, playing the flirtatious rival, to now this really sweet, genuine kid, that was a blast for me. That's what I love about acting, that I can go from this one movie where I'm playing this flirtatious rival guy to a series helping someone cope with crazy events."
Being in the industry as an actor from the age of 11, both 'crazy events' and change is something he must have plenty of experience with. I ask what it's been like for him to grow up in front of the camera.
"Listen, it's been a crazy journey. I've loved every second of it. It's interesting for me because I'm blessed to be able to say I'm only 23 and have already been at different stages in my career. You go from being a kid on set, having to do school work and your parents having to take you, to then being there by yourself and not having to do school work.That was a new chapter for me and a big step. Just getting used to that and then, obviously, now I'm working on Away, that was such a different experience as well.
"It's funny, because in life, when you have kids that are teenagers, everybody wants to be older. As you get older, everyone wants to be younger. It's just a way of life and I don't think that was any different for me. When I was younger and I left children's programming for the adult world of The Last Ship, I wanted to play older than I was. I forget who it was, but this very well respected actor was giving advice once and said, 'Play young for as long as you can, because as soon as you play older, you can't play younger anymore'. That makes sense to me. At least for me right now, I'm just trying to soak up as much as I can and do as much work as I can, and I'll play young as much as I can. Then, obviously, when that chapter turns, there's no going back."
I mention speaking with another former child actor who observed that one of the key differences between child acting and adult acting is, as a child actor, it's simply enough to know your lines. Actors of a young age are rarely required to portray a character removed from themselves, or imagine the lived in experience of another. It's an observation that also rings true for Irigoyen.
"Well, when you're young, it's really a personality thing. You've got a great personality, you're going to remember the lines, you're going to say them how you think is the best way to say them and that's pretty much enough. I'm telling you, man, that year where I wasn't working after I decided to leave children's programming, for me it was scary, but it got better over time because I started finding out how to make each character deeper, for lack of a better word.
"It's all about creating a human being, especially in something like this of like in Away. You have all these characters who we meet at this point in their lives, but before we see them, before we meet them, they've had a whole life that they've lived and experiences that have created them into the person that they are. Just like you and I, before this conversation, have lived our lives and we've gone through different things that have brought us to this point right now. A character's no different. It's learning to figure that out. Thankfully, I've had a lot of great teachers who have been able to help cultivate that in me."
And on the subject of learning, now with a lot more lived experience of his own, if he could go back to his younger self and offer any advice, what would it be?
"I think it would be to never be complacent. I only speak for myself, but I had some relative success when I was younger. Coming out of that I did a Disney show for three and a half years, then after that I did two more pilots with Disney that never ended up going anywhere. After that is when I decided, 'Okay, I'm leaving this world of children's programming behind and I'm going to move on into this adult television'. That next step was The Last Ship, but before that, there was a year where I just wasn't working.
"For me, that was difficult because I had just come off having, up until that point in my life, the biggest success ever. When you're in it, it feels so big, but when you come out of it, you still have to put in the work. Things aren't just handed to you. I think that there was a time where I was expecting a little too much. Over time I learned, but I it would definitely be that, never be complacent."
You can follow Adam on Twitter: AdamIrigoyen