For Adam Faison, success as an actor is about making enough money to live comfortably, so he can spend his time exploring the world and diving into the research of a new character.
“What I’m doing right now — this has always kind of been the dream: to travel to places I’ve never seen before and meet people I’ve never met,” he said.
While on location shooting his latest project, Faison was driving to Bromont, Canada, and got emotional when he saw a group of yaks in the snow.
“I had never seen yaks before,” said Faison, who lives in L.A.
It felt surreal, and it was a moment that made him think about his mother, who died earlier this year. It was his mother who had encouraged him to explore and seek new experiences. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on the same day of his first table read for “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” the 2020 comedy that ran for two seasons on Freeform.
He’s been thinking about how the best and worst moments sometimes intertwine.
What defines success?
This profile is part of a series about what success looks like to working actors in Hollywood.
Faison first started doing theater and commercials when he was 5. He had a lot of pent-up energy, he said, and his mom could tell he needed an outlet.
He quit in high school because he was getting bullied. “I was just feeling like it wasn’t the cool thing to do in San Diego, in the small military town where I was growing up,” he said.
As he pursued media studies at Pitzer College, he got a wide variety of entertainment internships working in production, development, the art department and publicity.
For the record:
10:17 a.m. May 26, 2023A previous version of this article incorrectly said Faison studied media at Pomona College. He graduated from Pitzer College.
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But when a college mentor asked him which path he wanted to pursue, he had to admit what he really wanted to do was act.
By then, he was ready to take the leap again. “When you know how it works behind the scenes, then it doesn’t seem as scary,” he said.
When he was a development intern, he got experience pitching his ideas to a roomful of Bravo executives. As an aspiring actor, he was able to use those same skills, this time to pitch himself. He submitted his materials to 150 agents, heard back from a handful and signed with one.
While auditioning, he worked at Bubba Gump Shrimp on the Santa Monica Pier. He remembered one day calling his mother, panicked, from his small Little Tokyo apartment where he slept on a mattress on the floor. He didn’t have enough money to pay the rent.
She covered him that month, he remembered, but gently encouraged him to find financial independence. His aunt recently confided that his mother was worried about him — but tried never to waver in her support.
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Faison’s first big win came when he booked an app commercial that ran during the 2016 election cycle. He shot it in one day in Chicago. It was the first time he had gotten paid to travel for acting, and it helped him get his first theatrical manager, who saw the commercial constantly playing on CNN.
“Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” was another game-changer. Faison played Alex, the boyfriend of comedian Josh Thomas’ lead character, who, along with his two half-sisters, are coping with their father’s death.
“You can be hustling for a while, and it takes one project to put you into this world where, maybe not everybody is watching it, but it’s an indie darling and critics like it,” he said.
It meant a lot to Faison that viewers connected with the storylines about a young gay couple and a half-sister on the autism spectrum. In the second season, audiences learn that Alex’s father is deaf. It was a storyline the writers added, inspired by Faison’s real-life best friend.
Even though he just booked his second series regular role, Faison still considers himself an up-and-coming actor. “I don’t have any very huge hits or anything,” he said. “But it’s nice to not be known as one type of character yet — to be able to try all these different types of roles and get a breadth of experiences.”
In “The Venery of Samantha Bird,” the psychological thriller he’s currently shooting in Quebec, he plays a podcaster who studies the flora and fauna of New Hampshire. To get into character, he finds himself going to the Montreal Biodome to watch the animals. He walks around by himself, listening to a real-life podcast that’s given him a deeper appreciation for birds, beavers and other wildlife.
Hence his teary moment with the yaks.
“It’s funny,” he said. “It’s the happy memories that can make me cry more than the sad ones.”
When he needs to drum up tears for a scene, sometimes he’ll think of “altruism or something good,” he said.
Maybe it reminds him of his mom, he said. “I think of how hard she worked — having three jobs while we were growing up — so that we could pursue our dreams. And how it makes me really grateful to be doing this.”
Photo editing and design by Calvin Alagot.
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