Jeff Hephner Settles Down With 'Boss'

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Photo Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Jeff Hephner has flipped from "Hellcats" to "The Playboy Club," finally landing in Chicago on Starz's "Boss" with Kelsey Grammer. After a career of jumping from role to role, he's settling down with the new series, which has been renewed for a second season.

Growing up, Hephner never thought an acting career could be a reality, but after college he moved to Jacksonville, Fla., and began working in community theater. "Since I was the only young guy showing up for the plays, I got cast in almost all of them, so it was a great training ground for me for having started so late," he notes. While working on the film "Tigerland," Hephner got the push he needed to take his career to the next level when the first assistant director offered to let the young actor stay at his place in New York so he could pursue his career. "And from there, I just started crashing as many auditions as I could find, was introduced to a manager, and with persistence, things just kept moving forward."

Hephner wasn't classically trained as an actor but instead took a more nontraditional approach. When he first moved to New York, he took some workshops, but most of his training came from the hands-on experience of working on student films. Hephner felt that environment allowed him to make mistakes and learn. He also loved the energy level and openness to experimentation that he found. "For me and my personality, that was the best way for me to train," he says. "I'm not necessarily one to do well in a classroom, and I think hands-on training like that served me well." Now he says he has a "mixed bag" of techniques he can draw on whenever he needs them. "I think the certain amount of training is different for every single person," he continues. "Some people thrive in the [classroom] atmosphere for a very long period of time, and those people come out completely multifaceted actors who are beautiful to watch and fascinating, and I think for others, such as myself, I'm trying to find out where I fit in and how I fit in, and not having that training allows me to kind of create for myself."

When he booked the lead role of Morgan Buffkin in the series "Easy Money," Hephner felt he had reached a turning point. "There were many times in my career when I was just looking around waiting for somebody to tell me to leave." But on "Easy Money," he says he "started to feel like I should be here, doing this."

Another turning point for Hephner was being recast while shooting the pilot for "The Playboy Club." He notes, "Every actor at some point is probably going to get fired from something, and the last thing that you need to do is sit around and feel sorry for yourself and play the pity card. So I just said, 'Hell, I'm going to go to every audition that comes my way.' "

It didn't take Hephner long to rebound. He flew back to L.A. and booked a role with the first audition he went out on—that of the young, ambitious gubernatorial candidate Alex Zajac on "Boss." "Boss" was shooting in Chicago just as "Playboy" was, so he headed back to the Windy City. When he showed up on set for "Boss," he discovered that a lot of the "Playboy" crew were working on "Boss." He says they were surprised to see him back; it was "bizarre synergy."

Shift in Tone

The tone of "Boss" is different from that of Hephner's previous work as football coach Red Raymond on "Hellcats." He basically went straight from "Hellcats" to "The Playboy Club" to "Boss," which forced him to switch gears and slide into a completely different character quickly. The tone of "Boss" is dark and gritty—the world of power and politics in Chicago. Hollywood was a good template for the world in "Boss." He notes, "It's very political on the business side in Hollywood, or the entertainment industry as a whole, because it produces so much money and it employs so many people. And I think that if we look and pick apart certain parts of our business, we can see templates of power everywhere, and then you often see people making choices in this business based on naive ambition."

Hephner says he's learning a lot about what it takes to lead a show from TV veteran Grammer. "He's a very charismatic and imposing man, and I think that by him absorbing all of the focus, it allows the rest of us creatively to be able to push that stuff aside and do what our work is."

Auditioning is a key part of the actor's life, and Hephner has had his share of difficult auditions, where the room is just cold and "it's almost like Simon Cowell is sitting in the room." But he also has had his share of great auditions, where everyone's excited about the project and warm "and understands that you're there to bring voice to something, and they want to see what you do."

Through good auditions and bad, Hephner has learned that the key to an acting career is perseverance. He likes to read interviews with actors, especially those who have been doing it for a long time, to see what has sustained them. While he was having dinner with Frank Langella during the shooting of "The Water Is Wide," a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, the older actor advised, "If you're going to do this, you've just got to do it." The industry is cyclical, and actors face a lot of rejection. "[But] if you keep doing it, things will just balance out, and I think that's keyed on persistence," Hephner says. "You do take it personally, and I think that's completely natural. And then you just have to say, 'All right, they're idiots, and I'm going to keep doing this.'"
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Melinda Loewenstein
Prior to joining the Backstage team, Melinda worked for Baseline StudioSystem tracking TV development. When she's not working, she enjoys cuddling with her cats while obsessively watching every television show to ever air.
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