Bryan Greenberg will hand you his personal guide to “making it” just five minutes into a conversation. The confidence in his voice will make you wonder if he’s reading from a hardcover propped in his lap, bounded by a notable share of odd jobs, stops and starts, and a tenacious will to build the ladders before climbing them. One thing is for certain, he’s not sitting back in his seat for this one.
“Number One: you got to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself then no one else will. Next, you have to turn “no’s” into “yes’s”. And you have to remember to have fun; you cannot get wrapped up in chasing the mighty dollar. I don’t know,” he pauses. “I am just trying to figure it all out myself to be honest. I guess it is all trying: Trying to stay on the grind, trying to stay humble, trying to be thankful for every opportunity given to me.”
Greenberg might have never anticipated this expert status in the new-age commotion our ancestors never witnessed after just a few episodes into his second season of the HBO show, How to Make It in America. Playing the character of Ben in the comedy-drama that emerged in 2010, Greenberg and co-stars adopt the hustle of 20-somethings making their way through the infamous fashion scene known to govern the insomniac city of New York. Greenberg and friends cloak their roles with the same thick skin put on by many enterprising 20-somethings of the urban playground, a demographic rarely captured realistically on camera.
“I don’t ever see this world in New York City depicted, this generation of ambitious people that don’t have set career goals. There are a lot of people out there who are living their lives but trying to figure it all out at the same time. You see Gossip Girl and Sex and the City, but you don’t really see the downtown New York, the generation of us saying, ‘What are we doing?’ trying to figure it out and trying to make it.”
Greenberg is no stranger to the grit and guts it takes to stitch a name in the skyline that lures millions of young professionals with the prospect of bright lights and big dollars. He’s found much of Ben’s characterization by using his own experiences with taking on odd jobs to make a buck after moving from the Midwest at 18 to pursue acting at New York University.
“My main hustle was always acting. In the meantime, I was catering and I was bartending. I was breaking down sets for a while and putting them into storage, doing things just so I could pay my rent. I found the jobs through friends, word of mouth, but, because I am an actor, I am not really qualified to do anything,” his laughter streamlines into the conversation, both a benchmark and an affirmation in the timeline he’s illustrating. He has learned to delight in the ride.
“You really have to love the job and not worry about the accolades or the final destination. You have to find fulfillment in everyday life. There are definitely times where you don’t know what else you can do. It is a hard business where just because you want it, or you will it, does not mean it is going to happen. You have to be approved by a lot of people and that is a hard position for anyone who is ambitious. You have to wait for that approval.”
One might say that is not even a question for Greenberg at this point. He has been left with no choice but to make a life out of this calling, approval or none.
“Actors don’t retire. You do it your whole life; you are just an artist. I don’t have one of those plans where I am going to work until I am 40 and then I won’t do it again. A lot of my friends, they work to live. I live to work.” Beyond the work he’s done on sets like One Tree Hill and the recently released film, Friends with Benefits, Greenberg has uncovered a deeper social obligation stitched within the gathered fame throughout the years.
“I had the chance to go over to Africa. I was in Tanzania and it was pretty unbelievable. My cousin started this community project, training up young leaders, giving them things like medicine and education, and I think the only way out of poverty is education.”
After learning about the need for a library in the Tanzanian community, Greenberg put together a fundraiser and held a brunch party in New York City, managing to raise 66,000 dollars to build a library that is now being built. “As an actor, if you have the chance to shine the light and if you believe in it, you kind of have to do it. Though there is not a single cause that I am 100% fighting for, a friend of mine has really put me onto the famine that is going on in Somalia right now. There are just so many people who need help out there.”
He shifts effortlessly from talking about the school in Africa to the releasing of several music albums, showing with a sort of grace just how well he gets the grind of the entertainment world. And yet, he’ll humbly tell you that he doesn’t think he’s “made it.” Even with over a dozen movie and TV show credits to his name, the release of two albums, and a starring role in an HBO series, he’ll say he isn’t there…. Yet.
“I don’t ever think of myself as ‘making it,’ I am happy to be working but I just came from a meeting to try to get my next movie. It never really ends, the struggle. It just gets more competitive and even harder the more successful you get.”
Even after wrapping the shooting of How To, Greenberg is back in LA for a day of meetings about potential movie roles, meeting people, setting up his new house and promoting the show, staying eager to see what inspiration or opportunity will come next.
“I never say, ‘I don’t want to be a bad guy’ or ‘find me a hipster role.’ I know it has to make sense in that moment. A lot of it is timing, just like relationships. You can meet a good person and just not be in a place to accept the relationship. It is the same with acting roles. It’s like, maybe I don’t really feel like running around the woods being chased by axe murderers for two months, and so maybe I don’t take that role then. I have to be open to what comes down the pipeline. There are times when I could be reading something and saying, ‘this won’t ever happen,’ but you never know. Everything can change.”
He’s collected in his openness to what might come next, subtle in expressing that he knows something that stretches far beyond a good script or a challenging role. Far beyond what happens next.
“I don’t sit back or quarterback anything. You just can’t. I am fully aware. I am fully aware that once the cameras go on, what I am doing on screen will last a lot longer than Bryan Greenberg will last on this earth. That will last forever. So I make sure to give it my all.”