In a van somewhere in Northern California, next to some fiercely chilled waves, sits actor Alex Neustaedter when he picks up my call. He breathes what he tells me. Alex, who isn’t interested in pursuing some end goal, lives for the road to the goal. That’s what makes it interesting for him. The outcome isn’t always ideal, but if the process along the way is appreciated, the result doesn’t seem to matter as much. As Alex says about death (yes, we went there), “it is inevitable”. Together with photographer Bianca Gerasia, Alex halts time to be here and now.
Stylist Tara Nichols gears the boy in relaxed fits, classic boots, and knits that somewhat suggests retro. Being in the now constitutes an acceptance of what was, what is, and what is to come. Alex ponders over the minds of past thinkers, but pauses to acknowledge the present connection. He locks eyes with us as he pierces Bianca’s lens, surrendering control over fate and the occurrence of tomorrow. All he can possibly control right now is his ensuing choice.
Acting as a career is a difficult route, which Alex admits to. It took a while for him to get through his personal career dry spell as a teenager, but it turned around with the lead role in ‘Ithaca’, a WW2 period drama directed by Meg Ryan. The year following the release of ‘Ithaca’, he assumed the role of Bram Bowman for three seasons on the USA network show ‘Colony’, a science fiction drama centred on the Bowman family in the midst of an alien invasion. Along with several noteworthy independent films in the works, Alex is starring in the film A.X.L, which is currently out in cinemas in the U.S.
Hello there, are you in a car?
Yes, I’m currently living out of a van in Northern California with my buddy. I’ll be up here for another couple of days I think, and then I’ll make my way south. We’re just going to chase some swell and surf as we go south; we’re making a bit of a surf trip out of it.
Sounds like an incredible adventure. So Alex, who is Alex?
Well, I’m not that good at defining myself. I don’t really know what to say but I will say this: I love travelling and bouncing around - I’ve been doing that since I was little, so that’s something I really love to do. I love meeting new people and exploring this planet. I love being active and I’m super outdoors-y. I like to bounce around, so for instance, I’ll be in the city for a little bit and then I’ll bounce to the middle of nowhere for a while. I don’t know - I don’t like to define my traits. I feel some days it will be different, and in a year it will be different. I’m always changing and growing, so I think that’s my main trait. I try and pick up new and better things that will help me continue to grow and be happy.
It’s a difficult question to answer, I completely understand.
I could sit here and list some qualities, but I’ll rather keep it open. Open for interpretation.
That sounds good. You said outdoors-y, you must be fond of nature I can imagine?
I’m really fond of nature. I think ever since I was a little kid I would go camping or with school to the woods. I also played sports all year round. I was always outside. I feel I find peace and solitude when I’m outside. I do it a bit differently now than before, but I think the root of it is all the same.
Besides nature, what else makes you happy?
Ultimately, just having a purpose makes me happy. That’s the most important thing, whether I’m working or I’m off. Usually it’s easier when I’m working, but when I’m not working it’s often harder and I have to go exploring or find some other things that excite me or go pick up some side work. I just think having that drive and ambition is really what keeps me happy. Although, I don’t think my ultimate goal is to always be happy, because I know it’s a wave. I know I’m not always going to be happy, but as long as I have a purpose, I know that I’m contributing and I’m doing something I know I at least want to be doing. I think that’s enough.
What purposes do you find for yourself in-between acting gigs?
As I said, I really love travelling. I think that’s a good way for me to explore and meet new people. I learn a lot from new people, having conversations and picking up new tasks and things that will help me do what I enjoy doing. When I have proper downtime, I write, I read, and I study philosophers - I continue to learn. I’m not in college right now, so I find a lot of useful tools online. That is something I’d like to continue doing intellectually. I want to continue to grow on that side of things. I’ve also partnered with Oceana, so I’ll be doing a lot more volunteer work and giving back, and I think that is something that is going to be really helpful for me too.
You mentioned studying philosophers, what have you been reading?
C. G. Jung - I’ve been reading him. I’ve been reading Aristotle and those guys. And there is this other guy who is not a philosopher but he sort of is: Dostoevsky. He is one of the most famous Russian authors. I’ve been reading their books and it’s been really fascinating. Those were written quite a while ago, but they are so relevant today, still. They were definitely ahead of their time and they were able to see a lot of things that we aren’t able to tap into today. It’s really fascinating. This book I’ve been reading, there are a lot brutal honest truths in the sense of: this is how you can contribute and this is actually how much you can matter to society. It’s all about human patterns and what they follow and what we historically gravitate towards. The book is called ‘The Undiscovered Self’. But there is some really intense verbal jargon too, so I will read a page and then re-read it to dissect it. It’s quite a fun read in that sense, because you have to zone in and try to understand what he is getting at. These guys are just so smart, and so it is interesting to get their perspective on things.
And I can imagine this stimulus is important for you to develop as an actor. How did get into acting in the first place?
When I was five my mum was told I was photogenic from her colleagues. I was already in like five different sports at the time so I was pretty busy, but she signed me up for an agency in town. In Kansas City, it’s not an industry you pursue very seriously so there are only about two agencies. I was signed with the IMTA, which is what eventually took me out to L.A. when I was six. I was in L.A. for two or three months when I was six-years-old and I got close to some bigger projects, but I didn’t get anything substantial so I went back home to play sports. It wasn’t until 12 or 13 that I my current manager pursued me to come out to L.A. At first I moved out to L.A. just with my mum, but then once we had decided that this was the move, the rest of the family came out.
How was the move from Kansas City to L.A.?
It was interesting. I had never really been in a city this big and expansive before, so I just felt completely lost. It was really hard at first because the first three or four years out there auditioning, I didn’t book one real job. It was a solid struggle to try and keep up with school and sports and meeting new people and getting a new friend group and still trying to do this acting thing - and also pursuing other ambitions that I had. It was a hectic time but I’m really glad that I had that because it really makes me appreciate it so much more now when I have work.
In 2015 you starred in the Meg Ryan directed film ‘Ithaca’ as Homer Macauley. How did you find working opposite big names such as Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, and Sam Shepard?
Speaking of the struggle - that is the film that got me out of the struggle. I hadn’t really booked anything but then I got a call back to go meet with Meg in New York. I did the audition and then two hours later I received a call from my agent telling me I got the part. That is what snapped me out of it. I’m forever grateful and indebted to that film. When I did that film I had never been a lead in anything before, so I just wanted to be as much of a sponge as possible. I knew that it was the best way for me to do it. I did all my prep work and I worked so hard on it because I was so passionate about the story. It has so many ties to my life and so many ties to my grandparents and world war two. I was so fascinated with that era that is was a dream to put on clothes and enter into this town set in the 1940s. It felt absolutely amazing. It seemed so real to me at the time. Seeing Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, and the late Sam Shepard do their thing was really incredible. I wish I had asked more questions because I feel like I was too quiet and uneasy. I was a bit too nervous and scared around them. I learnt a lot by watching them work, so it was an absolute joy to work alongside these incredible people. It was a very special film for me.
I understand, I would have been nervous as well. You’re set to appear opposite Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, and Aaron Paul in the film ‘American Woman’ - what can you reveal about the plot of the film and your character Tyler?
I have a smaller role in the film, but it’s about Sienna’s character. It was a great project to be a part of and super fun. I think it’s supposed to be in Toronto (Film Festival), which is exciting. Sienna’s character’s daughter who is about 17 has a newborn baby, but the daughter goes missing. The film is about what happens to Sienna’s character dealing with this situation and raising the newborn - sort of having a new go at raising someone whilst dealing with the trauma trying to figure out where her daughter went. My character, Tyler, was the daughter’s boyfriend before she went missing, so we see him at a couple of stages of his life - when he is 17 and again when he is 23. It was a very cool character jump because a lot changed in-between in his life off-screen. He is essentially the first person Sienna’s character blames for her daughter’s disappearance and it kind of ruins Tyler’s life a bit. Then there are of course things that Tyler gets into that further disrupt his life to escape that pain.
Additionally, there is the film ‘Low Tide,’ what can you tell us about the film and your character Red?
It’s a super indie. We shot it in New Jersey and it’s a relatively simple script but there is so much subtext and underlying themes that it was really quite complex. Essentially, the story is about four boys in the summer in New Jersey, dealing with all the Bennies - people who come from outside town that kind of occupy the Jersey Shore and the tourist spots. They come up with ways of dealing with the Bennies and ways to make money, as their parents aren’t paying much attention to them. And then all these things get them into themes of betrayal, greed, friendship, and trust. This was an amazing project to take part in and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had shooting.
In completed short film ‘Accidental Diplomats’ you play Glenn Cowen, what can you tell us about this project?
It’s a true story and it took place during the Cold War. At that point in the Cold War, 1971, the West and China were not speaking with each other. It was a national Ping-Pong championship and this time was the first time that China had gone to the World Ping-Pong Championship since like 1965, so it was quite a few years. My character, Glenn, was a professional player on the U.S. team. On the day of the championship he oversleeps and misses his bus, so he scrambles out the hotel room, looks out and sees the only bus that’s left. He yells after the bus, gets on it, and turns around and realises it’s the Chinese team. And then he is like; “Oh, well, I guess we just got to go”. This guy was such a personality, a full-on hippie - such a wild character. He is speaking to these Chinese people who has no idea what he’s saying. He tries to get things through to them, talking about how America isn’t what they think.
It’s very well written. Ultimately, what eventually happens, the Iron Curtain between the U.S. and China falls relatively soon after this. That is the first time Nixon shakes hands with Mao. This is why it’s called ‘Accidental Diplomats’, because this simple act of kindness and humanness really opens up these people. When Glenn’s in the bus speaking to the Chinese team, the Derek Jeter of the Chinese team walks up to him and introduces himself. He knows a little bit of English and they talk for a bit. They eventually shake hands and it goes onto all of these newspapers, and then the leaders of the two countries come together. What else is also really fascinating is that this project has been in the works for a while and actually what’s held it back are the countries and people trying to not let it get made. They don’t want this story to come out because it takes it away from the government. The government looks so heroic, so god forbids we show that it was the act of some Ping-Pong players!
Oh, this must be what led to the One China Policy. The film A.X.L. is currently in the cinemas in the US, very exciting.
It’s definitely a family friendly film and it has some E.T. short circuit vibes, sort of retro vibe. It’s about this motocross racer named Miles who stumbles upon this huge militarised A.I. capable dog - a mechanised dog. He is able to befriend it and kind of rein it, and so he eventually pairs with it and they go on a journey to try and protect the dog from the military that wants him back.
Seeing as A.X.L. is a robotic dog, there must have been a lot of special effects in this film.
It’s a lot of special effects. The guys at Legacy Effects physically built this animatronic puppet - which is what they called it. It’s very lifelike. There was a guy on top of the dog that would move its neck and head around. And then there was this other guy who would control the eyes and the ears. It was full on for those intense scenes. I was actually able to touch it and interact with it, which is really helpful versus having a tennis ball. It made it so much more real for all of us. That is also something that drew me to the project.
The last episode of ‘Colony’ premiered in July, how has playing Bram Bowman for three seasons developed you as an actor?
I feel like for me as an actor it was a totally different walk of acting. I had only really done films before ‘Colony’ and TV is definitely a different way of shooting. It’s fast-paced and there is a lot of coverage - especially on network TV. You don’t have a lot of time to shoot it, so you get a few takes. At first it was a big learning curve. We couldn’t just do 35 takes and I’d find it on the 35th take. I’ll get two takes and you’ll have two different options to try out. Also, taking the same character and continuing the arc throughout the three years that it went on was a challenge in itself. I probably grew like six inches since I first did the pilot, so I was continually growing throughout. The writers and I would work on putting these pieces together so it would chronologically make sense. ‘Colony’ was a really cool experience and the cast was amazing.
At Boys by Girls, we like to discuss masculinity; do you think society’s view on masculinity is changing?
Well, I definitely think right now is an interesting time for masculinity, but I can’t speak for all of society. For some people, and this is what I’ve heard from podcasts and such, they don’t like to be referred to as ‘a man’ just because it makes them think of toxic masculinity. They feel that. Personally, I feel fine. I don’t walk around thinking I’m a big, strong man, I just sort of walk around like I’m doin’ my thing. I don’t really think about it too much, to be honest. I wish I knew how to answer the question better because I don’t know how society’s view on masculinity is changing. I’m sure it is changing, but where are you coming from with that question? Do you think it is changing?
Well, I think in the entertainment industry it’s changing, but then that is such a different atmosphere to the rest of society. In large cities masculinity is changing in terms of it becoming more about being yourself, but in small places they might not be experiencing as much of that change. It all depends on where we are in the world, I think.
I feel like that is happening with a lot of things: areas of population versus areas of non-population. They aren’t necessarily growing in unison. I agree with you in terms of masculinity. I think that it is ultimately the point of it - to be you. I think if you can do that you’ll surround yourself with the people who also are genuine and like you for you. A lot of people put up an act or a front to fit in with other people and therefore they don’t have those same feelings that they need to have. People think they need to act a certain way to fit in, but you should just do you and that will naturally happen. Let it be. Does that answer the question?
Yes, I think we’ve managed to reach a good conclusion here. Do you consider yourself an emotional person?
Yes, for sure. Now do I feel it all the time? That’s the thing. I’m an emotional person, but do I show it all the time? I feel it when I need to show it. I definitely show it when I’m alone. I don’t know if I feel I need to cry in front of a lot of people. I’ll probably try to rein it in. But I would say I’m an emotional person. I don’t always make emotional decisions; I try to make more logical decisions. I feel emotional decisions can sometimes lead to adverse things that pop up, especially in terms of relationships and what you like and you don’t like. I listen to my gut instinct, and I think that is something that really helps me.
How would you visualize the feeling of ‘falling in love’?
Like a warm meadow. The leaves are changing. It would be like a humid meadow. The perfect temperature where it feels like the air is sort of hugging you. It’s bliss. When it feels super connected and real, I feel it’s ultimately one of the best feelings – and I think that is why love is so powerful and strong. It’s definitely the most powerful thing there is. Being connected to someone. Being able to one hundred per cent, no matter what you’re feeling, be yourself and not having to filter yourself. To be completely comfortable around someone. I think it’s something every human being really needs to have so that they don’t wear themselves out to an extent. That’s sort of how I would visualise it.
I really like that! What is the ultimate goal - or dream?
Here is my honest answer to that. I don’t know if I really have an ultimate goal, to be completely honest with you. What I enjoy the most is the ride. The journey. The actual doing it. That’s the best part of everything. When I do a film, my favourite part is shooting it. It’s not about what comes of the film. Obviously, you want the film to be good, but if it’s not, it’s still okay because making it was great. I’m not a big planner. I don’t want I’m doing tomorrow. I do life day by day and kind of just live and go where I want to go and do my thing. Thankfully, I’m able to do that at the moment with the career that I’ve picked I think my ultimate goal is to have a hell of a ride.
I can relate to that very much. I always laugh when people ask the question: “where do you see yourself in five years?”.
I think that is ultimately people trying to have a sense of control. I can respect that. People would like to be able to control as many elements as they can, but sometimes it’s nice to just say; “fuck it, let’s see how it goes”.
That was actually my last question.
You didn’t ask me what the meaning of life was.
Oh okay, well then, what is the meaning of life?
No! I’m kidding haha.
But now we really want to know.
I didn’t just do that… Goodness. I think that is something we all have to figure out for ourselves. I think we have to make peace with it in our own way. I asked a question about my friend’s dog yesterday – he is such a happy dog, and I was asking really basic questions. Does he know when he is hungry? Does he know when he is happy? Then I asked my last question: does he know that he is going to die? The answer to that was no. Animals live differently. We’re so hyper-aware of what is going to happen. To all of it seems like it could never happen, but it is inevitable. That’s scary to a lot of people. It’s not a fun thought to think about, but that is what goes back to my point of wanting to enjoy life as much as possible, because it could happen tomorrow. It really could. That is something that is completely out of our control, and if it’s something that is out of your control, then you might as well just wing it and enjoy it while you still can.
Do you fear death?
I think I used to, but not really anymore. It’s not exactly the most exciting thought, but I think death is just another chapter. I don’t think energy is created to then later be destroyed, so I don’t think true energies are ever really gone. I think we’re all made of the same things and we all breathe the same air. We’re all the same in a certain sense. As an individual, I think we sometimes forget that we are a collective unit. When I put it into perspective, that we’re all the same molecules, whether it’s you, me or this phone that we’re talking through. The concrete that we walk on - it’s all made of the same. I think that gives me peace. The body is just a vessel. We put a lot of value into this vessel, but I think what is the most valuable is what is truly inside.