Wilson Bethel: Music connoisseur, slack liner & 'Hart of Dixie' bad boy

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Earlier this fall, "Hart of Dixie" actor Wilson Bethel wrote on Twitter that he was "glistening like a Christmas ham" for an upcoming episode.

Bethel, who plays bad boy Wade Kinsella in the CW series, seemed a little embarrassed while talking about being shirtless for so much of the episode, but said that it makes sense within the story and is used with a great sense of humor.
 
"It doesn't really enter into the realm of being egregiously ridiculous," he told me shortly after filming the episode. "That said, yeah, I was baby-oiled up and had most of my features on display [laughs], which now I guess will be broadcast to the world."

They'll be broadcast for all to see at 8 p.m. Monday, as a matter of fact, in the episode "In Havoc and in Heat." Wade and the other residents of Bluebell, Ala., suffer through a heat wave that lights a romantic spark to the antagonistic relationship between Wade and Rachel Bilson's character, Dr. Zoe Hart.

But don't think that Wade, or Bethel, are simple sexy himbos. They both have a lot more to offer than charisma and million dollar smiles.

Bethel, who had his big break in the HBO series “Generation Kill,” happens to be a well-known L.A. DJ, co-owner with his brother of the music web site www.mixtaperiot.com and one of the founders of the L.A. arts magazine Amor Fati. The son of author Joyce Maynard and artist Steve Bethel also was a finalist to play “Captain America” and is an accomplished slack liner, the PC term for tightrope walker.

Right now, however, he’s concentrating on “Hart of Dixie” and showing that Wade is more than a handsome face and buff body.

“Wade also has this really kind of sweet side to him that I think Rachel’s character brings out a lot,” Bethel said. “It’s kind of amazing from my perspective because it’s really the best of both worlds. I both get to be the bad ass and also the guy that people really love, which is really a pretty ideal situation … He’s kind of, I guess, a bad boy with a heart of gold.”

Bethel and I talked more about muscle cars, slack lining and his other projects.

Tell me about Wade.  
For starters, he’s kind of ever evolving and that’s one of the really exciting things about working on the show. … I'm watching as this character grows and really fills out in a lot of ways that are very exciting from an acting perspective and in terms of a personal perspective.

The kind of description of Wade that I was given upfront was that Wade is this kind of a town bad boy. He’s kind of a lives-by-his-own-rules type of guy. While that is the case and continues to be the case there are other elements of Wade that are quickly being clarified as we’re reading new scripts and the action begins with the writers and me and the other characters.

These new elements of Wade are starting to come out now and are really cool. Wade also has this really kind of sweet side to him that I think Rachel’s character brings out a lot and a side that is as prone to doing really selfless, very nice things for people albeit in very understated ways.

He almost has like a kind of guardian angel kind of quality about him that has shown up now in several episodes that we have shot and are shooting, but it’s kind of amazing from my perspective because it’s really the best of both worlds. I both get to be the bad ass and also the guy that people really love, which is really a pretty ideal situation.

I'm sure there are a lot of things that we’re still going to learn about him. My dad will enter into the picture a bit. I know in a future episode I'm going to be getting into some mischief with and ex-wife figure, so there is always this sense of an evolving take on it. He’s kind of, I guess, a bad boy with a heart of gold.

So he has been married? He has an ex-wife?
Well I can’t go too much into that, but there is an ex-wife episode.

It may not be his ex-wife though?
You’ll just have to wait and see.

OK. And then can you say who is playing your dad?
Truth be told we actually just had the table read yesterday and I'm not sure of the actor’s name, so I will—he reads great.

These changes in Wade, do they come about mostly because of his relationship with Zoe?
I think both because of that and some not because of that, but I think it’s one of those things of like when you’re kind of falling for somebody whether you like it or not you’re opened up in certain ways that you might not have been otherwise. So I think there is an element of Wade that as his affection for Zoe develops maybe he finds himself acting out of character a bit for himself whereas maybe in a certain situation he would be more selfish. With this kind of blossoming affection for Zoe he finds himself maybe taking a different kind of approach.

That said I do believe that he does have this kind of innate quality of him that is a really good guy and it’s kind of obscured sometimes maybe by people’s perception of him as being this kind of archetypal bad boy type character and so there is that interesting kind of conundrum that I think a lot of people face, what their outward appearance is to other people and what other people is expected of them to be and what they genuinely are. That makes for really interesting work on my end as an actor, where you have a kind of interior and exterior life for a character.

He seems maybe a little bit of a womanizer and someone who likes to get along with his charms and his looks.
Yeah, absolutely and again that remains true to a certain extent. But you’ll see there is much more of him in subsequent episodes and that’s where you really start getting the shadings that I think give the character a lot of depth.

How do you like driving his muscle car?
It has been a dream my whole life to have a late ‘60s or early ‘70s muscle car and I'll tell you what, there is nothing so good as the feeling of 458 horsepower underneath your hands. It’s pretty incredible.

Do you ask to take that home for the weekend?
I wish they would let me. They’re smarter than that. They know that I wouldn’t be at work on Monday if they gave me the car for a weekend. I’d be in Baja.

And never coming back.
[Laughs.] Yep.

I saw that showrunner Leila Gerstein said there will be some Wade-Zoe flirtations and you just confirmed that.
Yeah, I don’t think there is any doubt about it. I mean we’re making out in the pilot, so it lays the foundation pretty firmly from Jump Street. Yeah, that’s a pretty central defining characteristic of our relationship is the flirtation that kind. But one thing I like about it is—it’s a kind of fun, needling flirtation where they’re always kind of getting on each other’s nerves a little bit or I'm getting on her nerves, but I think there is really that kind of deep innate affection there that drives it further.

And so there will be a lot of that repartee.  
Totally, absolutely, yeah.

Are you happy that you're not shooting in the South and that you’re shooting in LA or would you rather be down on location?
To be honest I loved shooting the pilot down there, but I'm thrilled that we’re shooting in LA. It can be both really fun at times as an actor to be able to shoot on location and go to some really cool places and I have had some really wonderful opportunities to do that. I have traveled a fair amount with my work, but especially for a series where you might end up spending years of your life working on it. It’s a lot to kind of up and relocate for maybe three or four, five years or more and for eight or nine months out of the year, so I really couldn’t be happier to be in LA. This is where my life is, my friends are and I'm a stalwart proponent of LA. So yeah, I'm thrilled to be here.

So let's talk about your costars, working with Rachel for instance.  How is that?  
Rachel is pretty much one of the coolest gals I have met in Hollywood, which is saying a lot because I have met a lot people in the time I've been doing this. She is just an incredibly cool, fun, down-to-earth chick and I really couldn’t be much more blessed to have her as the lead of our show. She is easy to work with and really fun too.

We have a really good private relationship and also it’s kind of reminiscent of the repartee of our characters—a lot of joking around, a lot of needling back and forth, but all in the spirit of fun and a strong affection for one another. I think she is a really cool chick.

Had you met her before?
Yeah well, my first job in LA was actually working on “The OC” as a matter of fact. When I was 18 years old Rachel and I had a scene together.

That's cool. How about Scott Porter? I met him at Comic-Con this year. We were at this party and we both got pulled into this after-party and ended up bartending together.
That’s hilarious and that is totally something that Scott would do. Scott is amazing. Scott is amazing and it’s like between me and Scott and Chris I think there is just a really cool little romance going on there. I have so much love for those guys. They’re just terrific guys, the type of dudes you want to hang out with and grab a beer with, which we’ve now done plenty of times. And also go dancing with, be able to talk about acting, really just guys who are down to just roll with the punches, which is about the best you can say of any friend.

So in both of their cases, really in the case of everybody on the show, what an incredible amount of talent there is. Everybody brings so much to their characters, so much to the show and really, really dynamically so.

And do you get a chance to work with all of these folks in your scenes too; everybody intermingles?
Yeah, absolutely and again it’s because the writers I think are doing a really wonderful job. They’re not rushing it either, so it’s not like trying to throw everybody together, which sometimes you see on shows. You slowly get the full scope of the intermingling. It’s a small town, so everybody has a certain amount of history together.

I just got a kind of script synopsis the other day of an episode that is coming up because I hadn’t yet worked with Jaime [King] who I'm very keen to work with. She was so talented and there is a really cool storyline coming up with me and her and Scott all joining forces together, so I'm really looking forward to that. I think that will be fun and yeah, it’s one of those things where I think over the course of the season and hopefully multiple seasons you’re going to see a lot of cool little different pairings of all of us and being able to play off each other’s strengths both as the characters and our strengths as actors.

You were a finalist for “Captain America.” How was that?
It was pretty rugged. I think if you talk to any actor who has been doing it for awhile, everybody has gone through countless rejections and close calls, but every now and then there are parts that both speak to you on very kind of deep connection character levels and also ones that are obviously potential game changers as far as just the scope of the project. Obviously when you’re talking about something like a hundred million dollar major franchise action movie those are game changers, so yeah, it’s safe to say I had a lot invested in the process of auditioning for that movie and when after several months of callbacks and screen tests and stuff I didn’t get it it’s safe to say I was pretty devastated.

But I learned a lot from it and I also, with those types of things I think the best thing that you can hope for is that you walk away from it having felt like you grew in some way. I feel like I grew immensely from that experience both as a person and as an actor and I think in Hollywood there is often a sense of like, ‘Oh, you know, somebody just got their break.’ It happened overnight or whatever, like suddenly this person is famous. Really for 95 percent of the actors who I know who are working in Los Angeles it’s a slow build of near misses and a near miss helps you get your next job even though you didn’t get the last one.

And maybe that’s because it makes you a stronger person, maybe it’s because it makes you a better actor in some way, but I can definitely say with some conviction that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t not gotten a lot of the jobs that I didn’t get, which is part of it. That is part of making it in this business: not getting jobs and learning from not getting jobs.

How difficult is it not to take that personally, or is it not really at all?
Yeah, it’s very hard. It’s very hard, but you learn. You learn to figure out ways of coping, whether it’s bottles of Jameson or meditating or some combination of the two. [Laughs.]

Is that your trick?
[Laughs.] Some combination of Jameson and meditating, absolutely.

How about “Generation Kill”? That was sort of your big first huge project?
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I think if you talk to any of the guys who worked on that show, a lot of whom have now gone on to really wonderful work on big projects in TV and film, on Broadway.

We knew that we were working on something so far above the kind of standard for what is expected of television, so there was that element of it, of working on something great, incredible material. But then there was also this aspect of growing together as people. We shot for 7 1/2 months in Africa, about 20 guys who we’re brothers now, and it’s an experience that almost all of us walked away from feeling connected for life.

Now every time one of us gets engaged or—I was just at one of the guy’s weddings last month. We are still so tight.  We see each other all the time. We talk all the time and it’s something that is so rare I think, especially in Hollywood, although I mean really in any adult relationship to be given those opportunities to forge really meaningful strong relationships with other adults in a relatively short period of time is special. I think the most lasting thing that I took away from that job was these friendships with these guys.  

Also, I learned so much. I was one of the younger guys on that shoot and learning from guys who have been working for five years longer than I have, 10 years longer in some cases, and guys who have been in the game for 20 years longer. Getting a job like that is the kind of stuff that no acting class or no conservatory can teach you. It’s the most valuable kind of experience on that experience and working with incredibly talented actors.

And did I mention we got to shoot guns in the desert? Very fun, everything from a 13-year-old boy’s dream. It was like summer camp for a very, very long time.

I'm sure it was. I also read that you’re a DJ, a former DJ.
Yeah, not former. I still do it. Yeah, I still have a weekly gig here in LA and always hunting down new music, new records, making mixed tapes, the whole bit.

Where do you do that? Where is your weekly gig?
It’s in a spot called Bar Lubitsch in Hollywood and I'm always doing kind of different events around town and stuff like that. It’s one of those things that was always great for me to have when I was not working regularly as an actor, It kind of takes my mind off not working and also making a little extra money on the side and until this day it just brings me such great joy to DJ, to be playing music for other people, get people dancing. It’s really a pretty awesome, thrilling hobby to have on the side.

Cool, and you and your brother have 10,000 vinyl records I read.
Well, I have about 10,000. He has probably another 15, so between us we have probably about 25,000 I would say. Our long-term goal is opening up a record store someday, a used vinyl shop, but he has got to get his out of storage first. He moved out to LA last year and we live together now. It’s not particularly easy to haul out 15,000 records in a U-Haul. His are in a storage unit in Brooklyn as we speak, but someday we will unite our record stashes and have one of the great West Coast record stashes.

Do you like all kinds of music or is there anything in particular?
No, I mean all different kinds of music. I definitely have particularly a strong affinity for music of a certain era from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but of that era everything from rock ‘n’ roll to blues to R&B and soul music to Brazilian music, Latin music, psychedelic music, funk, all over the map, all over the map.

Anything current have your ear?
I listen to a ton of current music too. I mean obviously as far as records go and the hunt of looking for records there is something particularly enticing about the treasure hunter aspect of looking for old records, which is not to say that I am not always discovering new music and new music that I love, but just as far as the actual act of collecting there is something particularly fun about collecting old records.

Well what has your ear right now?
Right now, let me see. I have to look on my iPod real fast and see whatever I'm playing the most. I'm loving Bon Ivors’ new record. I think that is just like a really pretty fabulous record. Local Natives have been one of my favorite bands for awhile, LCD Sound System. I love this new band Tame Impala; it’s very kind of throwback psychedelic rock.

I always have love for Kanye, so Kanye’s new record with Jay-Z I've been playing a lot, and of course his last solo record I absolutely adore. Yeah, all over the place, many different styles.

Most of those CW shows have great soundtracks. Maybe you can contribute to that.
I would love to, believe me. It has long been one of my ambitions to have a component of musical direction in my work in some way or another, so it would be awesome. I would love for that to be the case.

And do you and your brother still do the website?
Yes, absolutely. Mixtaperiot.com always has fresh new contemporary music, fully free and downloadable, so yeah, definitely check the website.

And you did that just so that you could sort of introduce all this music that you’re finding.
Absolutely, yeah.

I also stumbled upon the magazine, Amor Fati.
Yeah, Amor Fati was an art and literary magazine that I put out with a few of my colleagues and friends that was a really cool, an art and literary quarterly. It’s on temporary hiatus because my time is so monopolized right now by the show, so we ended up putting out four issues of really high quality print only Los Angeles based artists and writers that was a really cool project that we had going for a year and a half and work that I'm very proud of. Really just putting the spotlight and giving shine to writers, poets and artists right here in LA, which often kind of gets overlooked in that area.

Often people have a sense of LA being so film and television centric that other arts are not as well represented here, so our goal was to have a magazine kind of or a quarterly that was really about illuminating the many talents of the local community here and I think we were really successful in that.

My sincere hope is that I will have time enough at some point in the near future to resurrect it and keep it going because actually one of the harder things about taking this job was knowing that I wasn’t going to have enough kind of time and energy for that, but Amor Fati will live on and I think you can still order back issues online if you’re interested.

Is it true that you tightrope walk too?
I am a pretty damn good tightrope walker, although to be clear in contemporary nomenclature it’s more widely referred to as slack lining. That’s the kind of extreme sport nomenclature for it, but yeah, I've been doing it now for about three years and I recently walked my longest line yet. I did a 164-foot long and 12-foot high line, which was pretty fun.

How did you get into that?
Leave it to a place like LA to just have a niche culture for just about anything. [Laughs.] There is a pretty strong niche culture of slack liners down in Santa Monica. On any given day on a weekend you can go down there and get your first few wobbly steps on a slack line. It’s an incredibly fun sport.

That’s cool.
Yeah, people do that really wild stuff these days; do like crazy tricks and stuff.

Well maybe they’ll have you doing something where you have to go across a line to save somebody on the show.
Yeah, that would be pretty awesome.

You also have two movies coming out soon: “The First Ride of Wyatt Earp” and “Stealing Summers.”
Yeah, “Stealing Summers” right now my understanding is that it’s premiering in New York sometime soon. It’s a really cool, fun Indie that we shot down in Argentina and got to do some really cool character work in and worked with some great other actors, James [Jagger] and Sophie [Auster].

“First Ride of Wyatt Earp” will go down in history as my first and hopefully not last Western, which was super fun getting to play Doc Holliday.

You did? That’s cool. And with Val Kilmer.
Yeah, the original Doc Holliday or my favorite Doc Holliday I should say. That element of it was pretty wild, to be playing Doc Holliday in a movie with the guy who made that role absolutely legendary.

You’re getting to do all kinds of stuff. While doing this research I learned that your parents are author Joyce Maynard and artist Steve Bethel. I had to go back and look at the cover of one of your mom's books to figure out which one you were. These little tow-headed kids.
[Laughs.] Yeah, me and my brother look a lot alike.

And I wanted to just commend you for that note you wrote that appears in the forward of her book, "At Home in the World."
Yeah, it’s funny how that note lives on. I still occasionally get emails from readers of my mom’s who read my defense of her and were very moved by it. Yeah, it’s a proud moment for me. It’s not every day you get to defend your parents from misguided angry attacks.

Right, exactly. So was your getting into acting part of your parents being artists?
No, not in that direct way anyway. But yeah, I think you can certainly say that for people who grew up in artistic households there is maybe more freedom to pursue those artistic careers in the arts. My parents never offered anything but support for my at times seemingly misguided pursuit of an acting career. I think that is a lot more than a lot of people can say.

We live in a culture that is so unsupportive of the arts in a lot of ways that I feel really, really blessed to have parents who just encouraged me every step of the way in that regard. But no, other than their love and moral support and the kind of household that I grew up in as far as it’s also engendering creativity there was no direct link between my getting started in this business and my mother.

Who did get you started?
I guess you could say I have always had a very theatrical bent from a very, very young age and I think anyone who knows me for a long time would corroborate that. I have a lot of energy and have a propensity toward making drama wherever I go, making scenes. And then I got into doing theater and plays when I was really young, 7, 8 years old and had some really wonderful opportunities even in growing up in rural New Hampshire of being surrounded by enough really cool, creative, interesting people and going to kind of funky interesting schools that supported art and supported theater. I don’t know. I have always had a very strong connection to it.

That’s great. Thanks for your time Wilson. Why don’t you give me your pitch for the show as a final note?
“Heart of Dixie” is a purely entertaining show in a way that doesn’t leave like the kind of saccharine aftertaste of a lot of shows that maybe that are too kind of sickly sweet. It also manages to not ever leave you feeling like you just saw something you didn’t want to see. It has all the kind of brightness and charm I think of the fabled South and all these characters that are just so much fun to watch and so much fun to watch develop in their relationships and individually.

And do you get along with Burt Reynolds?
To be fair I have not met Burt Reynolds yet. I'm really disappointed by it, but I hope that one day I will get to wrangle with that alligator.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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