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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

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Brooklyn native brings humour to reboot of Beauty and the Beast

Tags: Arts
Austin Basis

Beauty and the Beast’s second season is in full swing, continuing the modern revamping of the ’80s TV series of the same name, and actor Austin Basis said there’s still lots of action and excitement to come.

This season revolves around the theme of “Who am I?” – also the name of the season premiere. Each of the characters is going through changes and learning more and more about themselves.

Basis said his character, biochemistry professor J.T. Forbes, is learning how to open up to relationships outside the university and with his friend, Vincent Keller, the titular beast in the show who became beastly after a failed military experiment in post-9/11 Afghanistan.

At the start of this season, Vincent has a form of amnesia and can’t remember anyone, including J.T., who had been his roommate and best friend for 11 years.

“[J.T.] is trying to figure out who he is without Vincent in this world,” Basis said. “It’s like an onion, peeling the layers to who J.T. is.”

Basis said he brings lots of his own personality to the character. Identifying as a cultural Jew, he said that this trickles through in bringing humour to the character.

“[It’s] that kind of love of life, but in the deepest darkest moments, you are always able to make light or relieve the tensions with a little humour,” he said.

The Brooklyn, N.Y. native said it’s exciting shooting the show in Toronto, especially since it reminds him of his hometown. He has filmed in Canada before, but in Vancouver, which he likened to Los Angeles, where he now lives.

“It’s that laid-back lifestyle that’s very different from the urban lifestyle I knew in New York,” he said. “Coming to Toronto, I was reintroduced to [it].”

The 37-year-old actor began his dreams of stardom with a goal of becoming a professional baseball player – specifically for the New York Mets.

“I was dead set on it and saw it in my future,” he said. “I’d be that kind of player on the team that’s the fun-loving jokester and the good player.”

But once all his high school teammates grew, he realized that unless he was especially fast – he wasn’t – being small wouldn’t help.

He then enrolled in New York’s Binghampton University, where he majored in theatre but also took pre-med courses, though he gave that up after taking a few university-level science classes and realizing they weren’t for him.

So with some encouragement from his professors and lots of training, he began trying to make it in the acting industry.

He said his first big break was in 2004, when he was cast in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

“You’re not really an actor in New York until you’ve been on Law & Order,” Basis said, explaining that the role almost legitimized him in the industry.

But you have to treat every role like your big break, he added. Every role could potentially help you break into the next level, and apart from a few A-listers, every actor is working toward finding their next big break, he said.

He’s thrilled at the success Beauty and the Beast has found. It has a big following, especially among women.

“I think partly because of the romance aspect of the show and partly also because Jay Ryan, who plays Vincent, is a good-looking dude,” he said.

But it’s not just about the romance. There’s action, supernatural mythology and even comedy.

“You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stress out and scream at the screen,” he said, “and every episode will leave you wanting more.”

Beauty and the Beast airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on Showcase.

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