Exclusive Interview: Chad Michael Murray on Cavemen and Left Behind

Chad Michael Murray is embracing the new media landscape. His latest film, Cavemen, is available on VOD as well as its theatrical run, and he’s on the Crackle series “Chosen.” Murray keeps a foot in the theatrical world too: he’s costarring with Nicolas Cage in the reboot of Left Behind, based on the Christian-themed books about The Rapture. In Cavemen, he plays Jay, the best friend of hopeless romantic Dean (Skylar Astin), with plenty of dating advice. His big one is about giving ladies E, sending energy their way. We got to speak with Murray by phone about Cavemen, Left Behind and “Chosen.”


CraveOnline: Does giving E work?

Chad Michael Murray: [Laughs] That is a great question. I’m a believer in energy so I would have to say yes.


So did you give E even before you read Cavemen?

You know, I don’t think so but I think it’s an idea that works for some people and doesn’t work for others. I’m more of an introduction kind of guy. “Hi, I’m Chad” and leave it at that, get to know somebody.


Can’t you do both? Give them E and introduce yourself?

Has it worked for you?


I think so. I just didn’t use that terminology.

Well, there you go. I think that everybody comes from a place where they can feel your vibrations and whatever it is that you’re feeling. I think if two people see each other and they connect on a deeper level, then I think we call that E.


I always admired when we spoke at junkets, whether it was for Freaky Friday or A Cinderella Story, that you had very clear goals. You wanted to do edgy stuff like a Taxi Driver sort of role. Does Cavemen fit into your long-term goals?

I think this year in particular fits into a lot of why I wanted to be an artist. This year alone, I had the opportunity to do Cavemen where I’m playing pretty much a 25-year-old alpha male with a sex drive who is very candid and has no governor. I got to work with Tyler Perry and just had an opportunity to do something fun. I played a racist redneck with a speech impediment. Then I did an independent film this year called Other People’s Children and I’m playing a homeless heroin addict. I lost 25 pounds and just got ready to go to work and got into a very dark headspace.

Then on to Left Behind where I’m playing kind of a young Anderson Cooper with Nic Cage on a plane in a very Christian based film. After that doing “Chosen,” “Chosen” is a thrill ride and it’s probably the hardest work I’ve ever done just because it covers all aspects of the rainbow, from the emotional content to the action and the physical. There’s no easy scenes. It’s been a very fulfilling year as an artist.


And it was probably a year ago you did your role in Fruitvale Station. Did that get the ball rolling for this string of edgy, meaningful performances?

You know, I think they’re all pieces to a puzzle. The old adage is: work begets work. I think for me it’s about studying, keeping your head down and finding what it is that you love about particular characters and really embracing them, finding a way to bring yourself to the project and really just living in their skin. I think when you do that, and you connect with the other people and you create relationships with the other characters, then you win that opportunity to perform that on screen. That’s kind of where I’ve been coming from. With Fruitvale, I was very fortunate to be part of the film and God, everybody was just incredible. I love that group. They were young, passionate, hungry and it was a hell of a ride. It was only four days but it just seemed like such an experience to see young, passionate people at work.


What is the dream role at this point?

I think at this point right now, I still envision the idea of a Taxi Driver but it’s more broad for me now. I want the opportunity to just branch out, continue to do different things where it doesn’t become an old hat for me. I want each thing to be significant and feel fresh every time you step onto stage or onto set. You want to make sure you’re as organic and real as you can be. So for me, it’s just about finding that next thing that I know will fulfill my creative thirst.


Were there any good Jay stories that got cut out of Cavemen?

I know there’s one and I don’t remember what it was. I don’t recall the story that got cut out but there was one. I wish I could for the life of me remember. I’ve been trying to wrack my brain for a year and a half since we made the film, but the great thing about having Jay as a character is I would sit there and I’d do a lot of work on the material but at the end of the day I was constantly trying to think of new ways to evolve every time, bring things to the table so for me it was nice to have Herschel [Faber], our director, he gave me the reigns and said, “Just run with it. Find whatever you can, just go. Ad lib, be free.” That’s what brought it to life for me.


So it might have been a story you made up yourself?

Well, we did do some of that. We did start just kind of winging it from the hip. A lot of it was based upon stories that he had already kind of set up the bones for, and a lot of the pieces of it were just organically in the moment.


We can look forward to the DVD. Hopefully Herschel saved it.

Yeah, because I remember there being a scene we cut and I can’t for the life of me remember.


Did Jay’s T-shirt have strategic holes manually put into it by the wardrobe department?

I don’t know, what was the T-shirt showing? I think the shirt just had holes on it. Now we pay more for pre-cut holes.


Do you have favorite shirts that are worn out but you still wear them?

Oh yeah, man, absolutely. Don’t you? I’ve got sweatpants that they’ve just been so ground around the heels where you drag them on the ground, but they’re my favorite sweatpants. I’ve got favorite sweatshirts and my Buffalo Bills sweatshirts that I’ve had for years. I will never abandon them. They are my pride and joy.


For me they’re usually things I sleep in or work out in. I don’t wear them out for the evening.

Exactly, I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes we have to accept that fact that you know what, we’re going to the grocery store in sweatpants and a sweatshirt.


Was the toothpick your idea?

I actually made a choice that Jay would always have something in his mouth. I just thought it was an interesting thing to see this guy just constantly doing something. So whether it was eating Skittles off my chest or gnawing on a toothpick or eating the gummy bears while telling a story, I just thought that it’s just so random to see a 25, 26, 27-year old man just sitting there having the munchies pretty much the entire time.


Like Dean has a group of friends always telling him to write things down for his screenplay, do you have friends who always suggest ideas for scripts to you?

No, I can’t say that I do. I think that I have a lot of people who have been really supportive and pushed me to continue writing and to put my work out there. I think that that’s one of the most validating things when you have friends that are willing to read your content and go “This is good” or “This isn’t for you.” My father’s a big advocate. I send my father everything I write. I just finished a novel and my pops is reading it right now as we speak. God willing he’ll finish in the next day or two. I’d like to know what his opinions are.


Is that your first novel?

Yeah, I’m co-writing with Heather Graham, not the actress, the author.


What is the novel about? What prompted you to get into writing?

I wrote a graphic novel that came out in 2011 called Everlast. We had a really successful run with that. It was one of the most successful graphic novels of the year. I also wrote an episode of “One Tree Hill” back in season six. It was kind of a throwback to the ‘50s, Casablanca type show. This is called American Drifter and the idea is it’s about a man, an ex-military man backpacking through South America, ends up in Rio and has a high adventure romance with this beautiful woman. There’s just a lot of twists and turns and it just gets fast and crazy and free would be the worst.


If they make a movie out of American Drifter is that a character you’d like to play?

I always envisioned it that way. When I originally wrote it, I conceptualized it as a script. There was just so much to gnaw on that we were able to expand it, turn it into a 12, 13, 14 chapter book.


Is Left Behind a full on Nicolas Cage action movie?

I think it’s a little more heartfelt than the Con Airs or The Rock. It’s a little bit more made for the audience. We didn’t want to veer too far off of the book itself. Left Behind has something like 65 million copies of that book were sold. I don’t think you want to stray away too far from the actual story before you start losing your fans. We really try to keep true to the book but we kind of extended and grew upon a bunch of things.


That actually is what I come to think of as a Nicolas Cage movie. I think one of the reasons The Rock and Face/Off work so well is because of the heart that’s in there. I meant more on the scale. You could imagine Left Behind behind being a big visual movie. Is it able to be that too?

When I see the final cut I’ll let you know. I haven’t seen it yet but we had Jack Green, our DP, he’s a very gifted man and [director] Vic Armstrong who was one of the best stuntmen that ever lived, running around making this film with us. They were our captains, so to have those two at the helm, I think that in the end you’ll get the big budget production of Left Behind that people haven’t seen.


If your character is a reporter, does he take a very practical, newsy approach to what we know is going on is The Rapture?

Yeah, I think that when you’re a reporter, one of the things I was trying to find when I was looking at this character is where does he lead from? I decided that he led from compassion and he was a fact finder. He didn’t want to believe in things bigger than the facts. He needs to get the facts straight before he can decide what has actually taken place. So I think you find “Buck,” Cameron Williams through this tale as he’s got his head on. Ray Steele is trying to land this plane the entire time and Ray is Nic Cage. We bond through this unbelievable tragedy of events. I think that trying to find the heart of the character is where you always win, so every time something came up, I just tried to lead with compassion.


Is it left open to continue the story?

That’s the idea. That’s the absolute idea. The idea of doing three movies just to tell the story of the first book is the idea, but it’s up to the Christian followers and the people that come see the film whether they want to see another one or we’re going to continue the story. It only gets darker and more action heavy as the tale goes on.


How did you get involved in Fruitvale Station last year?

They were making the film and a buddy of mine called me and just said, “Hey listen, we’re doing this. Would you come on down and kind of just do a favor?” That was the opportunity that brought itself to me so I read the script. I knew that the character was pivotal and obviously the story itself is all about this one moment, but the opportunity to be a part of something with such a great cast, great director, I just really wanted to be a part of it. So I just said, “Yeah, absolutely.” I jumped on a plane, flew to Oakland and we shot.


Did you know anything about that story before?

I didn’t. I had heard something about it but I learned so much. Everyone in Oakland knows about the BART train shooting. I mean, everybody knows. There’s still a lot of animosity towards the BART police. For instance, when we were shooting, we weren’t allowed to take our jackets off that were showing our security uniforms until all the people had cleared the station because there was so much animosity and hate for these guys that took a life.


Are you shooting season three of “Chosen” right now?

We just finished season three. Season one and two are both available on Sony Crackle. 


You’ve been the leader of several movies and TV shows. On “Chosen” is it really Milo Ventimiglia being the leader on the set?

In season one it was very based on Milo, Ian [Ventimiglia] and Laura’s marriage and their little girl Ellie. In season two you pick up with a young man named Jacob Orr, which is myself. You spend a lot more time following his tale throughout the second season as Ian and Laura are on the run trying to get out of the game. It was a scenario where we were both carrying a lot of weight but in the end, it was just a pleasure.

I love Milo. Milo’s a great guy. He’s awesome as a producer. He’s just a good, good man so it’s nice to go work with him and see a buddy. God, I’ve known Milo for 12, 13 years now so it’s nice to kind of grow up with somebody and start bringing projects to each other. We intend to make more down the road.


How does season three shake things up with Rose McGowan?

You know, I never got to see her side of the story because they’re not together. They’re going on at the same time. It’s two storylines so my storyline continues to pick up on season three and I can’t give any information away. Let’s just say there’s a vengeful man trying to get back at a world that he didn’t create. Then you follow Rose McGowan and she is somebody who’s been in the game for a long time and it shows how she copes and how she deals with a family and children and continues to survive. So you get to look at it from two different angles which is exciting. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.