If you’re on trial for murder, you will most definitely want Jack Falahee in your corner. The 25-year-old actor plays slick law student Connor Walsh on ABC’s new series How To Get Away With Murder, the latest addition to Shondaland’s prolific Thursday night block. After two episodes, the show has received serious buzz – thanks in part to those steamy sex scenes — and has already outperformed sister series Scandal. The down-to-earth newcomer chatted with VH1 about getting into character and the surreal experience of working with entertainment goddesses Viola Davis and Shonda Rhimes.
He admits to prepping for the role by watching Legally Blonde (how else would one know what “mens rea” meant?) and spills on co-star Matt McGorry’s (Orange Is the New Black) tactics for wooing the ladies. Did we mention he fought a boa constrictor? It is without reasonable doubt that you should keep your eye on this rising star, who went from waiting tables in New York City to starring in Shonda’s newest sensation, within a year.
VH1: Congratulations on the show being such a huge success! How does it feel?
Jack Falahee: You know, my dad called me this morning and he’s like, “Yeah, the show was on again last night, and I heard a lot of people watched it.” I think that knocked me down a peg. It’s pretty much the same still — but it’s good, it’s exciting. My family still thinks of me the same way, my friends still give me the same shit, so it’s not like anything has really changed.
What’s it like being a part of Shonda’s huge Thursday night lineup?
I mean it’s pretty amazing. She’s a force of nature, right? I will say that that for me has been the biggest thing, walking onto production and seeing how Shondaland is all these moving pieces but very cohesive. It’s so well run and so well thought-out. It’s been pretty unreal being a part of that machine.
Something I love about her shows is how she and most of her actors all live tweet. Do you have any kind of live tweeting ritual?
Not really yet — I think it’s a little soon. A bunch of us got together for the pilot to live tweet with the cast members of Scandal and Grey’s and that was fun. Yesterday, a bunch of my cast got together at a cast mate’s house to live tweet and I so desperately wanted to make it, but I was in the process of moving — which was hell. So it was funny, last night I was live tweeting my packing, and you know, one was more exciting. People were like, “Can you just talk about the show?!” And I was like, this isn’t going well.
Tell me what it’s like working with Viola.
It’s pretty rad. She’s incredible. Obviously people ask that a lot and I’m still like wrapping my head around it because it seems like – we use this word on set a lot – bananas. It’s just bananas that I’m on a Shonda Rhimes’ show working with Viola when a year-and-a-half ago I was catering parties in New York. From day one she’s been so generous and maternal on set, I feel like she may be starting to become more comfortable with her role as number one on the call sheet. From the beginning, just caring and [being] gentle with all of us. She’s never been — and I don’t think ever will be — some big diva that is very demanding on set. She sits with us and shoots the shit and jokes with us and is insecure with us. She’s so human; it’s really grounding, I think.
With the reverse chronology, how do you guys keep track of all these story lines? Do you shoot in sequence?
That has been a very interesting, complicated part of filming. We are unable to shoot it chronologically just how filming and production goes. We have been kept in the dark about a lot of scenarios and dramatic points, so we discover things at table reads. We’ll shoot scenes during night acts and the next script we get, we’ll see a scene, preceded the previous scene that we shot. So it’s kind of wacky. Alfred [Enoch] who plays Wes literally walks around set with a timeline and Post-it notes: He picks up one Post-it, moves it in front of another, depending on what the script reveals. It can get a little intense, and we do get frazzled at times, but, it keeps us on our toes. We still don’t know who did what.
You have already had some seriously steamy sex scenes, especially for ABC. Are you surprised by how everyone’s been reacting?
Oh, I don’t know, I guess not really. I think people are going to push the envelope a little bit as far as the homosexual relationship, and sex scenes — I guess just mostly sex scenes on screen. I think people are ready to see that, and I think they’re excited to see that.
Can we expect to see more?
I mean, yeah! [Laughs.] Can you imagine if we get it out of the way in the first two episodes and then I’m celibate?
Yeah, you have a purity ring.
Right, joining the priesthood. Yeah, I think you’ll see a lot of steamy stuff from a lot of different people.
Your character Connor is a student that grabs the bull by the horns. How would you describe yourself as a student in real life?
I was a fairly decent student. I come from a very academic family, and I have three siblings who are wildly more intelligent than I am and I think I tried to keep pace with them. There was such a high standard, such a high bar set that I struggled to maintain that [standard]. Even though I may not have been the brightest, I worked very diligently and I think Connor and I share that in a lot of ways. I don’t think Connor necessarily is the smartest one in the room. I mean, don’t quote me because I think all the students will be filled with glee to hear me admit that. But I think he works really hard and I think that that’s his M.O. That’s how he gets by, with everything. I think we share that similarity.
If you weren’t acting, what do you think you’d be doing?
I was really into politics as a kid. I really like the idea of being a senator, but I think that was very vain and romanticized. But if I could go back, I would probably study political science or something like creative writing because I really enjoy writing.
Plant the seed for a Scandal cameo! Just throwing it out there…
Oh, yeah, totally! I think they squashed that in the beginning. I read in some interview that the shows don’t take place in the same world but I’m kind of hoping they do so that I could walk into the West Wing.
Did you brush up on your legal knowledge before going into this or is it just touch and go when you get the script?
A lot of it for the students is touch and go learning. My sister is actually a lawyer; I come from a huge family of attorneys. But my sister, most recently having graduated from a prestigious law school, has been a really interesting and valuable resource for both myself and my cast mates. Because I think more than brushing up on the legal terms and court jargon, it’s valuable for us as actors to be familiar with the trials and tribulations and stress of being a law student. I watched Legally Blonde, which, believe it or not, is quite accurate in some of the classroom scenes. [Laughs.] A lot of our writers are law school grads so they’re an amazing resource on set.
In real life, is your hair as perfectly coiffed as it is on the show?
I’m gonna be honest right now, my hair looks like shit. Here’s the thing, they do such a good job. My hair stylist is such a pro. It’s so nice all the time that I just put zero effort into it the rest of the time. I feel like you’d just be let down in real life.
I’m Italian and I saw you mention gnocchi in your Twitter bio, so you automatically had my heart.
Yeah! So you get it? My mom’s Italian, I come from a big Italian family. I’m a big foodie in that sense, growing up on grandma and mom’s cooking. One of the biggest traditions that’s been passed down from that side of the family is hand rolling gnocchi.
Would you whip up a nice meal to win someone over?
I mean, yes? I would, I need to dust off my cooking chops a little bit. Since I’m moving I was just unpacking my pasta making machines. But yeah, for sure. I’ve been known to whip up a little. That’s the thing though, it’s my only move in the kitchen.
Are you single? If so, do you have any Murder-inspired pick up lines?
No, I should get some though. Yeah, I am single. But for sure, I should definitely get on that. If you talk to Matt McGorry, he’s a sly dog, I bet you he has some.
Who’s smoother with the ladies, you or Matt?
Matt. He’s got all the moves, he’s an operator. It’s really funny going out with Matt just because he’s so humble and down-to-earth and such a nice guy, but he gets so much recognition and attention and he’s just so god damn charming. Whenever someone approaches him about Orange is the New Black he’s just the sweetest and makes it about the other person. Which is so fucking rad. And it’s not like a play, he’s just really such a nice, well-raised little gentleman who’s just charming as all shit. And you better watch yourself when you’re in the same room as him ‘cause you’re gonna try and sleep with him probably.
What is something in real life that you would want to avoid at all costs?
Fucking going to the gym, are you kidding me? Working out is the worst. Matt and I try to be involved with fitness ’cause Matt was this big body builder pro guy and he knows all about it — I don’t know shit, but I try to eat healthy. The other day he literally put away two cronuts in front of me and I was furious. Actually, physically manifesting rage towards [him] because he has this tall, slender muscle-y body and he’s downing cronuts, cereal, Doritos, whatever.
What is your dream role? In 10 to 20 years, what do you want to have accomplished?
This is silly, but I want to do a cartoon really badly. I think as actors we’re so often defined by the way that we look. People make assumptions and put you in boxes, and I recently got in this huge kick of a few different cartoons and looking up the actors who voiced them. It’s amazing the disparity between the voice and appearance of the actor. I just like the idea of total disassociation creatively. It’s fascinating to me.
What’s the most badass thing you’ve ever done?
I was in Africa and working at this orphanage in college — that’s like the juiciest way to start a story, oh my God — and I was volunteering. My buddy who runs the orphanage was like, “I need you to come with me.” We go down into the field, he shines his flashlight and there’s this 13-foot boa constrictor eating his dog, and he says, “We have to kill it.” So we all run in and I’m thinking, “Wow this is badass. I have a spear, we’re hunting a boa constrictor in Africa! No one is ever gonna believe this.” All of a sudden I feel this scorching pain up my legs and my buddy’s like, “Run to the water! Fire ants!” I look down and there are just thousands of fire ants running down my legs. We dove into the water — it just turned into this really heroic badass event, then we got blisters all over us and by the time we got out the snake was gone. And then I lived in fear for another month about another [one] being on the property. [Laughs.]
That is insane. Did you make that up for this interview?
I did not make that up, I promise! That’s a true story.