IN CONVERSATION WITH STEVEN KRUEGER
Interview by Jana Letonja
Steven Krueger has been named one of E!’s ‘Top Ten Scene Stealers’ in TV. His credits include the likes of ‘Roswell: New Mexico’, ‘The Originals’, ‘Good Trouble’, ‘NCIS’, ‘Pretty Little Liars’, ‘Hawaii Five-O’, and Columbia Pictures’ ‘Goosebumps’ amongst numerous others. He currently stars in Showtime’s critically acclaimed, Emmy nominated series ‘Yellowjackets’, which is returning for its second season today (26th March). Due to the ‘buzz’ of a jaw dropping and highly anticipated new season, the series is already renewed for season 3.
Steven, you star in Showtime’s ‘Yellowjackets’, which is returning for its second season. The series chronicles a team of New Jersey high school girls’ attempts to stay alive after their plane crashed deep in the wilderness and were left stranded for nineteen months in 1996. Simultaneously we also get to see their current lives in 2021. What can the viewers expect from the upcoming second season?
It’s always tough going from a first season, when the show found so much success and was so well received both by audiences and critics, and then going into a second season with expectations so high. We’ve all seen where a show peaks in season one and then it’s a letdown after that, so I think that we were all very conscious of that going into this season. And honestly, throughout the season as we were filming, you’re really trying to thread that needle of pushing the show just far enough beyond what it was in season one to captivate the viewers even more than in season one, but without going too far. Obviously the jury is still out until the show actually premieres, but from what we read in the scripts and what we shot during the last months, I really think that we did a good job of finding that.
The show gets very crazy this season, both in the younger storyline and in the wilderness and also in the adult storyline. We introduced some incredible new characters. They’re so fun. We somehow managed to attract some incredible actors to the show, which was very cool to see. In one word, viewers can expect a little bit more insanity this season and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.
You are the male lead of the show and portray Ben Scott, the Assistant Coach of the WHS Yellowjackets. How would you describe Ben and his journey to survive in the wilderness after the plane crash?
One of the things that attracted me to this character from the get go is that there’s so many different dynamics at play with Coach Ben. He’s one of the only males that’s out there in the woods, so of course that’s an interesting dynamic. Then you add in the fact that he is the only adult that’s out there in the woods with a bunch of teenagers. And then you also add in the fact that he has suffered this catastrophic injury in the crash, so he’s now disabled, he’s down one leg and he’s having to deal with all of the repercussions of that, both physical, emotional and psychological, while trying to maintain his status as an authority figure and do his best to lead these girls through this treacherous situation.
When you layer on top of that the fact that he is also hiding this massive secret that he is actually gay, it just clouds everything. Once that’s revealed to the audience, you look back at all the things that he did in season one and a lot of this starts to make more sense now. In season two, we see Ben stops fighting to be that authority figure and he takes what’s given to him, he accepts that these girls are alienating him and pushing him out. He focuses on himself and he turns very inward. We’ll see a lot of really cool stuff that goes along with that, but it all becomes about his own survival. He stays out of the girl’s way and just lets them do what they want and hopes that he can hang on and survive as long as possible.
Before the ‘Yellowjackets’ we’ve been able to see you in numerous TV roles, most notably in ‘Roswell: New Mexico’ and ‘The Originals’. What kind of characters and storylines attract you to accept being a part of a TV or feature project?
I think there’s two answers. I think there’s ones that really excite me and there’s ones that I always seem to kind of find myself in. The ones that I always tend to find myself in, interestingly enough, are the characters that almost serve as the point of view of the audience. Like kind of the sane characters in an otherwise insane world. In ‘The Originals’, I was the new vampire who was indoctrinated at the very beginning of the show and was pitted against all of these incredibly old, powerful vampires. And the audience really got to experience that story through the eyes of somebody who was brand new in this world, which they would essentially be if they were living in this world. And I really love that. It’s kind of the same thing with both ‘Roswell’ and ‘Yellowjackets’. I’m playing these characters, watching all of this crazy stuff happen around me and saying “What the hell is going on?” People are not behaving normally, this is crazy. And it’s a fun conduit for the audience.
As far as the roles that I’m attracted to, I’ve always felt, and I feel like other actors would agree with me, that I thrive as an actor when I’m doing something that’s completely different than who I am personally. And we don’t always get the chance to do that. For example, if I have the chance to play a villain or a bad guy or anybody that’s completely different than who I am, it forces me into a creative space where I have to create a character from scratch and I can’t just do the easy thing, which is rely on my own defaults as Steven, rely on my own normal behavior, my own personal history, all of that stuff. I really have to dig in and create a character from nothing. And that makes it a very fun, creative, spontaneous, authentic process. I’ve just noticed that as I get older and I’ve been in this industry longer, those are the kind of roles that I really want to play because they’re more challenging and it ends up making for better work in the end.
And those things also present a lot more excitement than just playing something that is similar to your own character.
They really do. That’s why we all got into this business. We want that excitement, we want that feeling that we are doing something completely different. And any actor will tell you, as grateful as we are to be working, which is certainly not a given in this industry, you start doing the same thing for 3, 4, 5 years in a row. Anytime you do that with any character, it has the potential to start to get boring and you start to lose interest in it. So I think the more we look to challenge ourselves as actors, the more stimulated we are.
You first acquired the taste for performing after your mom encouraged you to try an acting class, but it wasn’t until after college when you actually realized that is something you want to pursue professionally. What was it about performing that made you want to do it professionally?
When I first started acting, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I liked about it. I was in high school, I just knew that it was fun. I enjoyed being up on stage and being silly and playing. Credit to my mom who forced me to do this. I really did not ever think that this was something I would enjoy. And sure enough, she knew better than I did. But even when I was doing it in high school, it was always just a hobby. Never in a million years did I think that this would turn into an actual career. I had planned to go to law school and was well on my way to doing that when I found myself in LA. And I think what happened is I got some very good advice from somebody who’d been in the industry for a long time.
One of the things that attracted me to it is there’s this feeling, which I started referring to complete and utter freedom. And it certainly doesn’t happen on every take that you do or in every scene that you do in rehearsal or in acting class or wherever. But every so often, there is this feeling of complete and total freedom where you can do whatever you want to do and nobody can say anything. For those few seconds between action and cut, when the camera is rolling and everybody is quiet, nobody can tell you what to do. You feel it in your body, this sense of I am free, I can do anything and everything, and it’s euphoric. It’s the closest that I could imagine being to nirvana. And I don’t think that you get that with a lot of other professions.
So, that feeling was one that I was like “It would be fun to chase that and figure out how to do that for a living”. And of course, there’s the very practical issue of I didn’t think I was cut out to sit behind a desk for eight hours a day. Maybe I would’ve been a good lawyer, but I also think I probably would’ve gone a little bit crazy. It just appealed to me to try something where you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You don’t know what’s going to happen the next week or the next month or the next year. And that’s scary for a lot of people. It was scary for me for sure, but it was also exhilarating.
But despite your interest in acting, you initially moved to LA for an internship at a law firm. Why did law prevail over acting in the first place?
There’s an interesting revelation that I had actually just within the last couple of years, during the pandemic. I had a chance to reflect on this and I was talking through it with a friend and it hit me like a brick wall. This sounds silly in retrospect, but I used to watch this show growing up here in America. It was called ‘Boston Legal’ and it was such a good show. It was a show about lawyers in Boston and it had an incredible cast. It was very kind of sardonic and sarcastic and with a lot of humor in it. At the end of every single episode, for the most part, James Spader would be trying a case in front of a jury and he would deliver a four minute monologue as closing argument to the jury. And he would win his case every single time.
I remember watching the end of these episodes and thinking that it’s incredible that he just won his case with this four minute speech to the jury. At that moment I knew I wanted to do that. What I didn’t realize until 12 or 15 years later was that it wasn’t the lawyer that I wanted to be. I wanted to be James Spader, on television delivering these monologues as part of a show. And that’s how I ended up here. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was very subconscious.
You’ve also been a competitive tennis player for 15 years and still enjoy everything that is adventurous. What do you love the most about adventurous things? What is the one adventurous thing that you haven’t done before, but really want to?
The one that I haven’t done and is a stretch because I’m not sure that I want to do, but I probably will at some point, is bungee jumping. I love skydiving. I’ve been skydiving multiple times and it’s really fun. I really enjoy it. There’s something about bungee jumping though that just strikes me as different, because the ground is right there and it’s very visible. You can easily smash into it versus skydiving, where you’re so high in the air that you know the ground is really far away. I’m also not a big fan of that feeling of dropping. I hate roller coasters that have big drops, it’s miserable. I don’t understand why people like it. It’s so uncomfortable. And that’s really all bungee jumping is.
There’s just something about nature and being outside and being disconnected. We’re so connected these days and I think just being outside and breathing fresh air and seeing these incredible landscapes that we have, not just across this country, but across the world, there’s something really elemental about it that appeals to me. I’m always looking for the next place to go find something beautiful to look at, that was created by nature and not by man. And then you find a group of friends who are interested in the same things and everything just clicks. 2, 3, 4 times a year I try to go on these kind of random nature, backpacking, outdoorsy type trips and camp and hike and all that stuff. It’s very grounding.
Besides all of that, you do a lot on philanthropic front. You’re passionate about the environment and support organizations like ‘Surfrider Foundation’ and ‘Cool Earth’. What fuels your passion for environment?
We only have this one earth, we only have this one environment. If we destroy it, then what do we have left? I think there’s a much simpler way to think about it, which is we all want to breathe clean air and we all want to drink clean water. And it feels like that’s becoming more and more of a luxury with every passing year and every passing decade. There’s so many parts of the world that don’t have those things and we kind of take them for granted. When you talk about how much we’re willing to pollute the earth for profit, not to get political too much, it just seems ridiculous in retrospect.
Look at all the health problems that we have and so much of it can be traced back to what we’re doing to our air and our water and our food. Why are we doing this? There’s something very fundamental and basic about it for me and then there’s of course a political argument to be made that we’re all going this direction anyway. 30, 40 years from now we will have renewable energy sources, so we might as well just get on board and start doing it now. It is ironic to me that America seems to be the one place that this is even a debate, that it’s even controversial to say that we need to protect the environment and we need to figure out cleaner and more renewable sources of energy.
As we live in a world that is facing a huge environmental crisis, with even worse predictions for the future, what do you think we as society should do and change in our lifestyle?
It’s a mindset. I think that it’s probably more productive to try to influence people’s mindset and get them to think more broadly about these things instead of laundry listing. Like, here’s the things that you can do in your everyday life, use these kinds of light bulbs, drive this kind of car. People don’t like to be told specific things about what they need to do on a daily basis, how they need to live their lives. But if we can start to change people’s overall mindsets and the way they think about the environment, the way they think about sustainability, the way they think about the future in general, that’s a great start.
We would ask you what are your goals for the future of your career, but we know you are all for spontaneity in life. But we also know that you want to try your hand at directing. What excites you about this part of the creative process?
I should be very clear, I will never give up being an actor. Acting is my first love, it will forever be my biggest love. When it comes to the creative arts, I always want to be an actor, but there is something about directing that really appeals to me. I almost went to law school, I’m much more of a left brain person naturally, I’m very analytical. I’m organized, I plan, I think ahead. And acting has been a struggle because of that. The challenge of acting for me is shutting off that part of my brain and allowing myself to live in that kind of messy, free creative space that tends to occur on the right side of your brain.
When I think about directing, it feels like that’s something that comes much more naturally to me. And I just think it would be nice to find an outlet for my natural skills and the way that I think. I think it’s something I’d be good at, I think it’s something that I’d really enjoy. And if I can then meld the two together and I can start directing and acting in the same projects, then I’ve hit the jackpot.
I think that’s what has really inspired me over the last five years. You see a ton of actors on TV and in film, who are suddenly getting behind the camera and they’re finding ways to use that as another creative outlet. And that’s all I wanna do. We tend to go where we haven’t been before and there is something really appealing about that. I’m looking forward to certainly taking that plunge over the next year or two.
With the ‘buzz’ of a jaw dropping and highly anticipated second season, the series has already been renewed for season 3. How excited are you about this?
Obviously very excited. When you work in TV long enough, you come to realize that this is rare. This doesn’t happen very often where you get a renewal for the following season before we even finish shooting season two. It’s very flattering and also very scary knowing that we’ve got more expectations to live up to. I think we’re all very grateful that they’re going to continue to let us do this.
I can tell you based on the way that we ended season two, and I will of course not give away any spoilers, but season three we’re all looking forward to and we all are very nervous about the direction it’s going to take, because I can guarantee you it’s going to be a whole annother level.
What can you tell us about what your 2023 looks like, project wise?
I’m trying to take a deep breath and be strategic about what I’m going to do with the rest of this year. But one thing that I am going to do this year is direct my first short film. I’m working on that pretty hard right now, finding a script that I can develop and both produce and direct. That’s gonna be my focus for these next couple of months. And then of course I’ll look for other projects over the next however many months until we go back and shoot season three. I typically try to do a film in between seasons, just to mix it up a little bit so that will certainly be on the horizon.
These days, whatever falls into my lap and whatever I read that excites me is what I go after. You get to a point where you have the luxury in your career of not having to jump at every project that comes your way. It’s really exciting to see what’s gonna happen over the next year. I think there’s gonna be a lot of cool things in store.
Talent STEVEN KKRUEGER @stevenakrueger
Photographer BEN COPE @ben_cope
Stylist DOUGLAS VANLANINGHAM @dvlstylist
Styling assistant MARILYN MONROY @fractals_
Groomer KIKI HEITKOTTER @kikihaircutter
Editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA @timiletonja