Today, I ramble on a bit with up-and-coming actor Brandon Tyler Russell. I have to say, in the short time I’ve known him, Brandon (or, “the real BTR” as his fans call him) has impressed me with his work ethic and his concern for the charitable causes we talk about below.

Brandon Tyler Russell

Brandon Tyler Russell

Brandon Tyler Russell was raised in Lake Forest IL and did a lot of local stage work with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and other groups before relocating to California to pursue acting and modeling full time. He’s done a number of short films and stars in SMITTY (with Lou Gossett Jr, Peter Fonda and Mira Sorvino), which will be released in 2012.

ANTHONY: You’ve been acting and modeling almost your entire life. How are you balancing career and school? When you’re not on a set, are you attending regular school or are you home-schooled?

BRANDON: It’s not difficult to balance because I am home-schooled. When I am onset, a studio teacher works with me for 3 hours a day. On days when I have auditions or coaching, I just do my school work at another time during the day. I only meet with my teacher 2x a week for 1 hour to take tests & turn in my work. I have been home-schooled since 8th grade. Before that, I was always enrolled in a public school.

ANTHONY: Do you work with an acting coach, and if so how does he or she help you prepare for each individual audition?

BRANDON: Yes, I take acting classes regularly. But, I also work with a private coach for the bigger auditions and they help pick apart certain spots that need more attention. So, I think it really helps to work with a coach for larger roles because the coaches seem to think of things that you don’t sometimes & can see things from a different perspective.

ANTHONY: You’ve done live theater in Chicago, you’ve done television guest appearances, short films and a feature film. If you had to choose one type of performing art to spend the rest of your career in, which would it be?

BRANDON: Feature films….HANDS DOWN! Working on feature films, you spend more time building relationships with people and it becomes like a family-which makes it easier to work! It is fun to travel to new places and be different characters each and every time.

ANTHONY: Okay, let’s talk a little bit about that feature film, SMITTY. What was the experience like, working with Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, and Louis Gossett, Jr? That’s a heck of a cast to be at the center of!

BRANDON: It was a lot of fun! I learned a great deal from each and every one of them. I have a special relationship with each of them and still talk to all of them today. The experience of working with Academy Award nominated actors is one that is hard to come by & I will forever remember working with all of them!

ANTHONY: How long did you spend filming the movie? Any favorite moments you’d like to share?

BRANDON: I was in Iowa for 5 weeks, but only spent 4 weeks filming. The first week there I spent getting settled in and training with the dog. All of the moments I had were special, but some of my favorite moments were spent with the dog. His name is Freddy James. We had a special bond and I enjoyed learning tricks to get him to focus on camera!

ANTHONY: According to the movie’s Facebook page, a release date still hasn’t been announced but it sounds like a decision might be made soon. When the movie comes out, will you be doing press appearances for it?

BRANDON: Actually, we have been told a distribution deal was signed and it is slated for release in April 2012. That is really all I know at this point. But, I should be doing some press for it…I think it’s in my contract. HAHA

ANTHONY: You’ve done a few short films, most recently playing the title role in THE EXEMPTION OF HUNTER RILEY. Tell us a little about the experience of working on a short film like this, and how it’s different from working on a feature film.

BRANDON: I actually filmed The Exemption of Hunter Riley a while ago, but it took a while to finish up. I actually worked on the film for a while, as I spent 3 weeks doing fight and stunt training. But, I only filmed for 7 days total and then had 2 days in post for ADR work. Most short films, you only work on for 2-10 days. So, that is the main difference between a feature and a short. Another difference is that there is usually less crew (not as many grips, camera operators, pa’s, etc…). And lastly, most of the time – you work on short films for the experience and not for the pay or exposure. Most short films are used for students studying the craft and have minimal exposure. I did The Exemption of Hunter Riley because bullying is an important topic & the film has a very powerful message. It was a GREAT film to work on!!

ANTHONY: Tell us a bit more about the message of The Exemption of Hunter Riley.

BRANDON: Well, the story is about bullying and how much words can hurt people. The message is that bullying needs to stop because it can have serious consequences. In the film, Hunter is so angry and hurt that no one seems to care about the constant bullying he faces daily (even his mom ignores him), that he takes his own life. My message to others is: If you are being bullied, tell an adult before it’s too late. Bullying can happen to anyone…it’s happened to me, too. You are not alone. Know that you are beautiful no matter what anyone says.

ANTHONY: Where can people interested in seeing your short films find them?

BRANDON: Well, most of them you wouldn’t be able to see unless you came over my house. HAHA But, some of them have trailers available on their websites or on YouTube. A few of them will be showing at film festivals soon—so you could always check them out there.

ANTHONY: I know your favorite actor is Johnny Depp. If you could work with him, what would your dream project be?

BRANDON: I would love to play his son in a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie! I LOVE Johnny Depp and it would be so amazing to work with him! Any role alongside him would be my dream job!!

ANTHONY: Do you have any projects coming up that you can tell us about?

BRANDON: I am currently the voice of the new EA SPORTS Madden 2012 Holiday Face commercial. But, other than that….just plugging away with auditions right now.

ANTHONY: You recently took part in the Keep A Breast cancer awareness campaign. As a cancer survivor and fundraiser myself, thank you for that! What causes/charities are most important to you?

BRANDON: My grandparents are cancer survivors, so I love to raise awareness about Cancer charities! But, the causes closest to my heart involve animals. I love all animals and I am a speaker for the LA Animal Alliance. I have done PSA’s for the American Humane Society, as well as the LA Animal Alliance. If anyone is wanting to adopt a pet–please adopt from you local shelter! There are so many animals in need of homes!

ANTHONY: How can your fans help with those causes?

BRANDON: ADOPT a new pet from a local shelter or volunteer your time working at a shelter!! These animals need your help. 

ANTHONY: Speaking of animals: your resume lists “elephant” as a special skill, with the note “ask me.” So I’m asking!

BRANDON: I can make an elephant noise with my mouth and it sounds real.

ANTHONY: Very cool! And now my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who had never read it?

BRANDON: The Secret World of Johnny Depp–which is an intimate biography about him. I have read the book over 30 times!! If you are a Depp fan….BEST BOOK EVER! Lots of interesting facts about him. My favorite and most interesting fact is that he never intended to be an actor. He was playing a gig at a club & someone thought he had a cool look and asked him to be an extra on 21 Jump Street. Then, once he arrived on set-they asked him to do a few lines and the rest is history!

ANTHONY: Thanks again, Brandon! Good luck, and keep us posted on your projects!

BRANDON: Thank You so much! And be sure to check me out on IMDB or follow me on TWITTER at @IllinoisActor.

And don’t forget, you can also check out Brandon’s own web-page or his Facebook fan page for more information on his career.

And here’s the trailer for SMITTY: