J. Avella Talks to
Actor Gunnar de Jong
Opposite Photo: Gunnar
Photo Credit: Mark Veltman
de Jong is an intelligent young actor currently
pounding the pavement in NYC. Born and bred in Holland,
de Jong is that unique brand of stage and screen
thesp who can believably play a sixteen-year-old
or a thirty-year-old. de Jong has played a wide
variety of teens--from wizards to skater boys--and
is ready to tackle the adult parts. He exudes an
honest and excited energy and seems genuinely dedicated
to his craft. He’s also that rare species
who actually listens attentively, pauses to reflect
on what he’s heard or been asked, and then
J. Avella: When did you first know
you wanted to act?
de Jong: I remember specific moments in my
early childhood in which the act of ‘pretending’
gave me much joy and I always figured that if I
became more skillful at it that it would serve me
later in life - but it wasn’t until high school
when I kept getting cast as the lead in the school
plays and musicals that I realized. I didn’t
really like singing, ha-ha. There was nothing more
exhilarating to me than acting, though, so I guess
I’m pretty lucky that I found my calling so
early in life.
J. Avella: How does Holland’s
theatre and film industries differ from that of
de Jong: The fiction film industry is pretty
limited in comparison to that of the US. There are
very few new actors or directors who really establish
a name for themselves, but what I like about Holland
is that this desire for fame isn’t really
the objective. I think Holland is more of a stage
and theatre nation. Internationally, it has a reputation
for it’s avant-garde, experimental and often
controversial work which is why the recent big budget-cuts
from the government was a huge blow to the scene,
lots of arts organizations have been deeply affected
by it. You won’t see that happening on Broadway
because it brings in so much more money.
J. Avella: You came to NYC at 18.
Why New York? Had you ever visited the US before?
de Jong: My family and I went on a holiday
to the States when I was 15 and I pretty much knew
right away that I was going to come back. I grew
up watching Hollywood films so there was nothing
cooler than being so close to its inception.
J. Avella:You were accepted into
the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and the Lee Strasberg
Theatre and Film Institute. Elaborate on your experience
de Jong: When I first came here I wanted
to learn as much as I could about the American approach
to acting and I quickly discovered that there were
these three people who kind of dissected Stanislavski
into their own technique. I figured that if I would
learn all three different acting methods I could
start to develop my own technique as a mix of the
three. I auditioned for the two schools and was
fortunate enough to study at Strasberg during the
day and at Stella Adler at night while I studied
some Meisner on the side. It was a crazy period
in my life but I couldn’t be more grateful
for the experience.
J. Avella: Since graduating, you’ve
written a one-man show, been featured in several
stage plays and acted in short films. What have
you enjoyed most and least about these experiences?
de Jong: I would say that writing the one-man
show was definitely the scariest thing I’ve
done, but doing it was all the more rewarding. It
was about the concept of questions and answers and
how it relates to a mentor-pupil relationship, and
by portraying both I ironically learned a lot about
myself. Stage rehearsals have usually been very
fun but I love being on film sets as well, just
the experience of being around so many hard-working
people with all kinds of different creative disciplines.
What I enjoy least is that I would love for my family
and friends in Holland to see me in some of the
work I’ve done on stage here, but alas...
J. Avella: If you had to select
one medium (film, theatre, television) to work in,
what would it be and why?
de Jong: Film. There’s something about
the immortality of it that really speaks to me.
It can draw a much bigger audience than theatre
as well so it’s easier for my friends in Holland
to see what I’ve been working on. I do believe
that we’re currently in the new golden age
of television with so many brilliant serial shows
out there but telling a story under three hours
is, I think, what I like best. I can’t imagine
never doing theatre again, though - but thank god
we’re speaking hypothetically, right?
J. Avella:What do you love most
about New York?
de Jong: What’s not to love? It’s
an open-ended platform for people where you are
stimulated to pursue your dreams fearlessly, home
to mavericks and epicureans alike…a city with
a tirelessly beautiful skyline and a very favorable
single women ratio.
J. Avella: Do you see living in
NYC as an actor a challenge?
de Jong: In today’s economy, I think
living in NYC in any profession is a challenge,
which is why it is definitely more challenging to
live here as an actor. There’s not enough
money to pay actors sometimes, which can be pretty
frustrating for non-union actors, and rent-protected
apartments are hard to come by as well but we live
for the challenge, don’t we?
J. Avella: Besides, New York, what
other city in the world would you want to live in
de Jong: The obvious choice would be LA.
I went there in the summer of 2011 and I think it’s
beautiful there, so I can definitely see myself
moving there in the near future.
J. Avella: Who are your heroes?
de Jong: I have many. They are the fuel
for my dreams and I am eternally grateful to them
for igniting that light in me. To name a few: Robin
Williams, Marlon Brando, Steve Jobs, Ramses Shaffy,
Mohammed Ali, Martin Luther King, Vincent van Gogh,
Socrates... People who passionately worked on what
they wanted to be good at and made a lot of people’s
lives better along the way. There’s one that
deserves special mention though because he really
changed my life and that’s Heath Ledger.
J. Avella: If you could work with
anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
de Jong: Again, Heath Ledger. He was so intense,
so talented. I think I could have learned a lot
from working with him, just seeing him live doing
his thing. Also, if I would ever get the chance
to work with Terrence Malick or Charlie Kaufman
I would immediately jump at the opportunity - I
really, really resonate with their films.
J. Avella: Favorite Malick?
de Jong: Tree of Life, I saw it
three times. It’s just beautiful.
J. Avella: What are you currently
de Jong: I just finished working on a play
in which I played a teenager who, in his spare time,
becomes a fabulous wizard and am currently working
on a new short film project in which I play a street
poet. I’m also trying to adapt the one-man
show into a full-length screenplay but that is proving
to be more difficult than expected.
J. Avella: Where do you see yourself,
ideally, ten years from now?
de Jong: Sitting in a very comfortable chair
on the set of Terrence Malick’s new film,
contemplating my successful career choices as I
read back this interview on my iPhone 14S.
To learn more about Gunnar de
Jong and/or track his career visit: