7:00am PT by Jean Bentley
How Andrew J. West Is Living His Own Fairy Tale on 'Once Upon a Time'
For a while, Andrew J. West was afraid he would be typecast as a villain — which is a funny notion to consider for anyone who has ever met him in real life.
The actor, who stars as the grown-up version of fairy tale hero Henry on ABC's rebooted Once Upon a Time, is perhaps best known for his role as the sadistic cannibal Gareth on AMC's The Walking Dead. After his four-episode arc ended, he joined the Freeform horror series Dead of Summer as what creator Edward Kitsis described as "Axl Rose leading a death cult of townies."
In real life, his wife, fellow actor Amber Stevens West, says her husband is more like everyman Henry than any other character he plays. He's polite and professional, the guy who folds his costume in his trailer at the end of the day so crew members aren't stuck doing it.
"He played such a good villain, which is hilarious to me because he's the kindest. He's so gentle, and calm, and not scary or intimidating at all in person, but he's so good at playing disturbed people and he thinks it's so much fun because it's such a departure from who he normally is," Stevens West tells The Hollywood Reporter.
"I love visiting sets when he's working because I get to gloat and be proud," she adds. "Every single person is like, 'Oh my God, we just love Andy! He is just such a nice guy!' He's just so friendly, and professional, and he's just considerate. Every person he comes in contact with has something wonderful to say about him, and I am very proud."
West and Stevens met while playing love interests on the then-ABC Family series Greek — a role that began as a two-episode guest spot and turned into a season-long arc. Before that, he was cast in a one-episode co-star role on the short-lived CW drama Privileged that turned into a multi-episode arc. Sense a pattern?
West tells THR that it's flattering and exciting that he's been brought back to shows so many times in his career.
"Every time it does happen I feel super lucky," he says. "Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. But when you can come onto a show and do a good job, but also just bring a positive vibe to what you're working on, that goes a long way. I see it happen all the time with actor friends of mine — great people that are just fun to be around and they do their job well, but they're also just a really positive. They get hired in one or two episodes, and they end up sticking around for the entire season."
Though he grew up writing and filming sketches with his friends as a kid, West never considered that acting could be a career path. But while at Indiana University, he started helping out his film studies roommate by helping write and star in short films. That led to university plays, and eventually, after graduating with a philosophy and anthropology degree, he moved to Los Angeles. He booked a few commercials while waiting tables at a small Italian restaurant, but quit once he landed the Privileged gig.
"I was so naïve. At the time, a year and a half seemed like a long time to me. It seemed like a long time that I had been out there busting my ass and auditioning and doing all these things. Then I was like, 'Finally, they're giving me a shot!' And then in my mind I thought, 'Well, if they let you go act in a TV show, once you're in the club they'll probably want you back.' I was so young. Looking back on it, it's like, 'Oh my God, that's the stupidest ever, it doesn't work like that at all.' For all intents and purposes, I should have had to go back with my tail between my legs, but luckily it didn't work out that way."
After Privileged came the Josh Schwartz-produced webseries Rockville CA, and then Greek.
"Greek shot in Los Angeles, at CBS Radford, and it was populated with a cast of 22-year-olds. It was everybody's first job, basically, so it was all these young kids who are just starting their careers. There was just this youthful kind of naïve exuberance and energy, and nobody was seasoned," West remembers. "The actors were talented, but nobody had experience, so we were all just figuring it out and we had the adults, who were the producers, guiding us. And we were like the rambunctious kids running around in the house going crazy." West and Stevens began dating while filming the series, and were married in 2015.
"I've had a front row seat to his entire acting career," Stevens West says. "He and I met a couple months after he quit waiting tables. He had just started breaking into becoming a full-time actor when I met him, but he was still on his way up. Like, he was driving a really shitty car when we met that didn't have like, a floor in it. He was still living in Hollywood with a roommate, but he had so much focus, drive and passion, and he was so excited by this whole world."
A few years of guest roles later, and West joined The Walking Dead as the mysterious Gareth. Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple tells THR that he cast West based on fake sides he had written about an office worker who was actually a spy.
"Andrew made me want to see that show. His transformation from good guy to cold hearted assassin was riveting," Gimple said via email. "When I cast roles, I really pay attention the actor's eyes. Mr. West has the uncanny ability to use his eyes to go from bright, optimistic and friendly to scary and threatening. And then context of his expressions change completely. It could be the same smile as before, one that welcomed you to Terminus ... But now, that smile means you're what's for dinner."
Working with West was an easy experience, Gimple says.
"Working with Andrew was a dream. He 'got' Gareth from the start and ... made the character more than a stock villain. And his showdowns with Andy Lincoln, where he went from high status in one to low status in the other, were just terrific."
Plus, Gimple adds, "he did not complain too much when our blood was accidentally poured right in his ear."
While Greek was a training ground, West says The Walking Dead — which is shot in rural Atlanta — was a childhood dream come true.
"My life was completely different because I was living in a state that I'd never really spent any time in, far away from my wife, everything else. It was one of the most exciting, fulfilling jobs that I had ever had because it was heavy and it was dark, and I was working with superb actors. I made some really great friends working on that show," West says. "It was just very adult, and that was one of the big differences from working on Greek. But also, The Walking Dead, as adult as it was, in a lot of ways it was some of my childhood dreams coming true where I get to show up to work and they smear dirt on your face, and give you a gun and send you out into the woods and say, 'OK, go run around and play.' As a 10-year-old kid you think, 'What could be cooler?' That's the dream job, which is what we got to do."
On Once Upon a Time, West is living a different type of childhood dream, telling familiar fairy tale stories as Cinderella's handsome prince. In a way, Once creators Kitsis and Adam Horowitz say it was the next natural progression in his career. While playing the aforementioned cult leader Satanist on their Dead of Summer, they realized he would be perfect for the new version of Henry they were planning for season seven of Once.
"I think we're very confident in telling you that Andrew is not a Satanist, but within that we saw his ability to play all these different things," Horowitz says. "He had incredible talent and just getting to know him we realized just how perfect he was for Henry so that when time came to cast the part he immediately came to mind. We called and asked if he'd be willing to do it, and we were just thrilled he was willing to come aboard and take on the role."
Says Kitsis, "What we loved first and foremost was how talented he was and also he just understood the rhythm of the show. He just picks up where [Jared Gilmore, the original Henry] left off and he really inhabits someone who makes this show real. When we're watching him we're always with him, and that's what we loved about him. No matter what he was saying, we were always with him."
West was familiar with Once so he knew who Henry was, but he had no idea about where the storyline would go when he signed on. A week after accepting the role, he flew to Vancouver to film the season six finale.
"I'm shooting a scene where I'm with my daughter in fairy tale land in a cave, and something's chasing us. Nobody has any idea what's going on. The director of the episode, nobody really knew. They were just like, 'We're just playing like something's going to kill you guys and we'll figure out where this is going later.' It's tricky, but super exciting. Then when we found out that the show got picked up for season seven, we all came back up here a few months ago and that's when we started to dig in. But still a lot about this character and about the storyline is just getting revealed week to week as scripts come in, too."
Both he and his wife are series regulars on TV shows this season, though Stevens West's sitcom Ghosted films in Los Angeles while Once is in the so-called "Hollywood North" of Vancouver.
"We've definitely had to spend a bit of time apart because one of us is working on location somewhere. That's come up a lot over the years," he says. "This is the first time that we've both been series regulars on different shows that are shooting in different cities. Luckily it's Vancouver-Los Angeles and those cities are pretty close by plane, so that makes it a lot easier."
He continues, "Amber and I have a strict three-week rule, where even if it's just for a night or two, we've got to just get back and be with each other. At the same time it's exciting, because we both are getting to work on these shows that we love. It's fun to get to share that."
West is fully on board for future seasons should Once continue past season seven, but in the meantime he's happy to enjoy the experience. While he's seen plenty of fellow actors skyrocket to fame, he's happy with his continued upward trajectory.
"I've been so lucky to make a comfortable living doing what I love to do for such a long time that if it had worked out differently, that's sort of scary in a way," he says. "I can't imagine it working out better. For my own sanity and my own disposition, this is the trajectory that is right for me. Whether it's right or wrong, or whether it is what you want or what you don't want, I think you have to take a step back and just ask yourself, 'Am I happy? Am I satisfied? Am I content with the work that I've gotten to do, the work that I'm doing?' Professionally in my career, I absolutely am. That's all you can hope for. That's the ultimate. I just feel lucky to really feel that way, when I take an honest step back and look at all of it up to this point."
Once airs Fridays on ABC.