John Gallagher Jr. Is a Master of All Trades
Originally published on STATUS Magazine, October 2018
From producing the evening news on HBO’s The Newsroom to escaping the suburban life of Jingletown in American Idiot, JOHN GALLAGHER JR. is breezing right through his artistic avenues.
Jack of all trades, master of none? John Gallagher Jr. proves otherwise, sharing nearly the last two decades of his career between Broadway, television, the big screen, and the recording booth. The Delaware native’s interest in performing stirred at a young age, marking his first play at the local community theater as the beginning of his long-lived love affair with the arts. “I did a stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and remember thinking even then, at the age of 12, that I had found what I wanted to do,” he recalls.
“Theater is liberating and electric because you get to live the role and tell the story in an uninterrupted arc before an audience…A thing I enjoy about film is how collaborative it is.”
Improving his natural talents with years of experience allowed him to branch out and create an impressively stacked résumé. He’s played a myriad of characters on Broadway stages, most notably Jason Willette in The Rabbit Hole, Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakening, and Johnny in American Idiot. His decade-running residency in theater has garnered him both a Tony and a Grammy Award, but it doesn’t stop for him there. John’s TV stint as Jim Harper in The Newsroom snowballed into major movie credits such as 10 Cloverfield Lane and Hush, and he’s moving forward alongside the likes of Chloë Grace Moretz and Jennifer Garner in The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Peppermint. “Theater is liberating and electric because you get to live the role and tell the story in an uninterrupted arc before an audience. You can hone the role and try new things nightly.” He continues, “A thing I enjoy about film is how collaborative it is. It takes so many people to make a movie or a series. I like being just one small part of a larger team and a bigger picture.”
With his long-awaited debut record Six Day Hurricane finally on his list of feats, John Gallagher Jr. continues to breathe life into new characters while remaining true to himself in music—the true mark of a polymath.
When it comes to the performing arts, you’re lauded as a renaissance man. How are you able to strike a balance with acting, writing, and your music?
I try to make time to tend to each outlet so that they’re all getting nurtured and not stagnant. It doesn’t always work and as much as I would like to strike more of a balance, things tend to happen rather randomly and impulsively. I can’t predict what roles I’ll get so it makes it hard to schedule things in advance. I have to roll with the punches.
If I find myself with more downtime than usual in between acting projects, I’ll try to play as many gigs as I can in the interim, or focus on a writing project. Recently, I found myself with a month and a half of free time before shooting began on a film so I rallied my band and made a new record while we had the chance. Mostly I just try to keep practicing and stay inspired.
You play Reverend Rick in The Miseducation of Cameron Post who’s posed as someone reformed from gay conversion therapy, but likely still battling his sexuality inside this facade. What was your approach like in stepping into this conflicted character?
While I don’t know Rick’s specific struggle first hand, I do know what it feels like to try and keep up appearances even when all is not fully well under the surface, so I drew from that. I viewed Rick as a person with a good heart who is just trying to do the right thing but might not be entirely sure deep down of what that actually is.
I think he recognizes the struggle of the kids and feels their pain because he’s been through precisely what they’re experiencing.
“Regardless of the genre, I approach every project with the same intentions. I try to find out who the character is and what they want, and then just do my best to tell that story in a way that feels truthful.”
Your upcoming film Peppermint is a heavy action thriller, and you’ve starred in stories of various types. How do you transition from one mindset to the next when switching genres?
Regardless of the genre, I approach every project with the same intentions. I try to find out who the character is and what they want, and then just do my best to tell that story in a way that feels truthful.
Let’s talk about the musician side of you. As the son of folk singers, who were you listening to as you grew up?
John Prine, Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett… When we took family vacations, we would listen to country stations in the car so there was a lot of Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, and Vince Gill. I still love all of it. Looking back on it now, I see that these artists all write a songs that tell a story, and that’s a trait that I think shows up in my music.
“I think, at the end of the day, a lot of those songs are about the equal parts of celebration and mourning that come from growing up and yearning for connection.”
When creating Six Day Hurricane, where did you find your lyrical inspiration?
The songs on Six Day Hurricane were written over a six-year period, so it’s hard to pin down the source. The songs were picked in a somewhat off-the-cuff manner and we hoped that when sequenced together, they would complement each other. Luckily, it all came together in a way that felt organic. I think, at the end of the day, a lot of those songs are about the equal parts of celebration and mourning that come from growing up and yearning for connection.
You’ve been writing music for over 15 years. What made you decide to release the album as late as 2016?
I’ve wanted to make my own record for years and I finally got around it in 2012. I meant to release it sooner but couldn’t find the time because I was busy filming The Newsroom for HBO, so it sat on the shelf for a while. It also took some time to find a label that would release it, but I got really lucky when my friends at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City wanted to put it out on their new independent label. The stars finally aligned and we put it out in 2016!
Written by Sophie Caraan
Photographed by Daniel King