Former As the World Turns star Van Hansis (Ex-Luke Snyder) is back with his exciting latest project, Ms. Guidance. The concept from Van, which has been percolating for some time, finally came to fruition when Hansis, and series co-creator and writer, James Ryan Caldwell, along with the Ms. Guidance creative team, shot the first three episodes of this irreverent, and absurd dark comedy about trying to let go of a dream that won’t let go of you, centered around the character of Jenny Bump (Elliotte Crowell). Jenny is an actress who has a meltdown on the New York stage, and thus ends up back as a guidance counselor at the fine arts high school she attended as young girl. From there this comedy with a message ensues.
Hansis not only co-stars in the new online series, but also co-created, co-directed, and produced it. Currently, the show is looking for funding to finish up its season of six episodes via a Kickstarter campaign, where fans can donate and make the rest of this show a reality for Van and his creative clan, and to bring it to the world for all to see and enjoy.
On-Air On-Soaps spoke to Van this past Friday morning as news spread that the Supreme Court had just ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. And for anyone who knows how we have followed Van’s amazing journey during his portrayal of one of the few LGBT characters in soap history (Luke Snyder on As the World Turns) getting his immediate reaction was a great and memorable moment, as you will read. It’s also hard to believe that five years ago last week Van and the cast of ATWT finished the series 54-year-run, because of the decision by CBS to cancel the soap. But as Van shares, when he thinks of that time, as well his early days at his high school alma mater Walnut Hill, it’s emotional and life-changing. With a myriad of other projects about to be released including starring in the second season of the online series EastSiders, and the film Kiss Me, Kill Me, Van’s fans will get to see a lot more of him in the months ahead, and that is good news. So, here’s what Mr. Hansis shared with us!
Van, this is such an amazing day to speak with you … of all the people in the world to share this with which makes this chat extra special. Just moments ago the U.S Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage across the land! What are your feelings on this historic moment in America?
VAN: Well, it’s great to speak with you, too! I think the best part is that I am not surprised, and this is really, really outstanding to be able in a short amount of time have a monumentous ruling, such as this. It would have been surprising, and I would have heartbroken if it went the other way. I am so, so thrilled! It’s so incredible! It’s an accumulation of so much work and effort, and when you think of Stonewall some forty- six years ago, while there is so much work to be done and so much stuff to be striving for; it’s really remarkable and exciting. I remember a couple of years ago, when New York State ruled on gay marriage, and that was kind of shocking and exciting, because I was in New York at the time, but this feels wonderful! I secretly love going on the conservative websites, and see what they are saying. (Laughs) Oh, my God! Justice Scalia was huffing and puffing, and he was going nuts. He went nuts about Obamacare earlier in the week! Scalia was not having a good week. (Laughs) I am very happy with what Obama has accomplished, but I am really excited for Hilary Clinton to be our next president.
What would As the World Turns and Oakdale’s own Luke Snyder think of the courts decision that marriage equality is in fact, constitutional?
VAN: Luke Snyder would be so happy, and he is probably working on a campaign. He has learned from when he stole that election! (Laughs) And also, I think it was five years ago to this past week that we stopped filming As the World Turns. It’s so crazy, how time flies. It is what it is … I am sad that the show is over, but I don’t think about it as much anymore. But, it was such a wonderful time and hindsight is 20/20, and looking back now I am like, “Wow, that was really an amazing part of my life.” I met so many incredible people, and had so many incredible experiences.
I think it was also that you played this central gay character that was connected to a major family that we had not been seen on the daytime landscape before. You were the actor who played the character that so many in the LGBT community looked forward to seeing, and so appreciated seeing, on their TV screens every single day. And now looking back at that time, and with the news of the Supreme Court ruling, does it all kind of register the significance of your time on ATWT?
VAN: When I was playing the character of Luke, that wasn’t really registering, but looking back it kind of registers now. I am honored to have played that part, and my little bit, and doing my duty, I guess. Being on As the World Turns was great for me, and it opened up a lot of doors. It made me love being an actor, and working within the industry, which sometimes can be really, really hard.
Let’s talk about Ms. Guidance … your pet project! I love the concept. I remember when I was in high school and in the drama department. It seemed some of the teachers ended up teaching high school drama, because they flopped in trying to have a performing career, and so they ended up back kind of where they started. But obviously on the flipside, there are many, many amazing and outstanding teachers out there, too!
VAN: For me, I went to a performing arts high school. I went to Walnut Hill, which is actually where we shot Ms. Guidance, and where we are hoping to go back and shoot this summer. I understand where you are coming from, but I just want to make very clear that the teachers I had at Walnut Hill were the best teachers of my life, and you know how we talk about how your experiences catapult you into the next one. I can say my time at Walnut Hill was the most transformative time in my life, and I owe them everything. Joe Cabral, who was my acting teacher, and is still at the drama department at the school, is the best teacher I ever had. So, I understand about people coming back. There is this great line in A Chorus Line where one of the characters says, “I don’t want to go back and teach people, what I couldn’t do myself.” But I don’t think that is always the case, but in Ms. Guidance it is. It’s about this woman, who is pretty desperate at the end of her rope and her career, and she really has no other option, because she has a breakdown on the New York stage, and she is ex-communicated by the theatre world, and she has to go back home. It’s kind of like the prodigal daughter’s story. One thing I have done recently in my own life though … is that I have started teaching acting myself. I really love it, and it’s really rewarding. I was in Florida just the other week and it was very theatre intensive. I had 80 kids, and seeing them come alive and take direction, and learn and grow, was so rewarding. So for me, although Ms. Guidance is about people at a school who are struggling to make their lives work, it’s not reflective of my time at Walnut Hill, and it’s not reflective of how I view teachers.
When and how did you come up originally with this concept for Ms. Guidance?
VAN: It actually came about years ago when I was on ATWT. I was thinking about this career, and how hard it was, and then I was thinking about my school, and how it’s such a kind of a springboard into a world that can be very hard. It just came into my head that this actress, although she was very talented, and was very driven, and self-obsessed, and narcissistic as a lot of actors tend to be, and how that can get in the way. It was initially going to be this Indie film that I tried writing, and it just wasn’t working. So, I put it on the shelf for years and years, and then I did a reading of a play from my friend James Ryan Caldwell, who is the co-creator of Ms. Guidance. I had just moved back to New York at that time, and we hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years, and he emailed me at the end of the reading. I went home and talked to my partner Tyler Hanes about it, and how all of James’ plays and scripts all have a vibrant, dark humor to them. It’s such a unique voice, and one that I haven’t really heard on television or in film yet. I was going on and on about how great James was and Tyler said, “Remember Ms. Guidance? Why don’t you bring him on board for that?” My issue with Ms. Guidance was that I have a lot of ideas, but I am not a writer, per se. So when I was trying to write it myself as this dramatic Indie film, I was writing in circles. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So after Tyler mentioned Ms. Guidance, I called JR and said, “Hey, I have an idea. Do you want to meet me for a drink and talk about it?” We ended up talking for like six hours, and he loved the idea. I showed him all the stuff that I already had, and then between him and me it turned into a series, and turned into a comedy. I think this is really where this show needs to be.
From the looks of the team assembled. you got to work with people who you know and love!
VAN: I am so proud of it, and just the collaboration of it between myself and Tyler Hanes, who is a producer in it as well, and JR, and the actors are all amazing. So was our co-director Melodie Sisk, who has produced some really wonderful films that have gone on to the Tribeca Film Festival, and others. She came on just to help us originally produce, because none of us had produced anything before. Melodie came on board as an advisor, and then came on as a producer, and then when we were on set last year, she was doing such an incredible job, and since I am in the show as well, she would take over a lot of the directing of it. That is how she and I became co-directors on it. The way it just all snowballed with all these people coming on board was amazing. A lot of people who are in it, and a lot of people who are behind the scenes, have known each other for years and years and years. JR, I have known for ten years now, and Tyler and Melodie were best friends in high school. A lot of the cast I met at my first job at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Everybody knows somebody in this, which I really love. It is really like one big family.
Tell me about the on-camera role you play in Ms. Guidance?
VAN: I play Walker, who was a classmate of Jenny Bump’s at Loch Hill, which is the fine arts boarding school she returns to. Right after graduating, Walker gets cast in a Married with Children type show called “Part of the Family”. It ran for ten years and was a huge success. He played a supporting role in it, and even though he is not the greatest actor in the world it set him up for life, because of the residuals that he is getting. But since the show ended, Walker has had a real tough run of things: he has to do films in Bollywood, and his management is super protective of him, not letting him see any reviews about him, because he has kind of become a laughing stock in Hollywood. So he is back on campus to give a scholarship to a student in his name, and shoots an independent film nearby in Long Island … and so that is how he gets on board and into the story of Ms. Guidance.
Do you then get to play Walker as a really bad actor? (Laughs)
VAN: At this point we don’t see his acting, and he is not the brightest tool in the shed, but he is not an idiot by any means. There are a lot of times when an actor has a certain level of success. They kind of are used to things going their way, and getting what they want. So he is used to people saying “yes” to him, and if you live a life of people saying “yes” to you all of the time, it really doesn’t make you the most clever person, or make you figure out ways to get what you need, because you are just being given it. So since Walker was 17 and graduated high school, he has had people be “Yes Men” and “Yes Women.” He is used to having things go his way, but throughout Ms. Guidance a lot of stuff does not go his way, and you will see the ramifications of that.
Where do things stand today with the Kickstarter campaign? How much more funding do you need to be able to shoot the rest of the episodes to make your entire season?
VAN: We are at about $26,000 of the $35,000 we are looking for, and we have about 10 days left. If all goes well and we get our goal, I have been in touch with Walnut Hill, my alma mater, who has been incredibly supportive and generous about it. They have been amazing, and I am incredibly indebted to them for allowing us to shoot there again to complete the season. I have been in touch with the cast, and the school, and the shooting dates we are looking at are mid to late August.
And, you and your team are offering up some fun incentives for fans to donate to the fundraising campaign, correct?
VAN: Anybody who backs at any level, there is a backer rewards kind of a thing, but also one thing we have been doing is launching daily incentives. For instance, recently one of them was if we recorded a certain amount of donations on this day, we recorded a video of Tyler, who is a Broadway star, singing a lullaby to you! So we have had little incentives along the way like that.
You have worn many hats in this production: co-creator, co-director, producer, and cast member. Did it almost seem like too much work for you to pull off at one time? Were you completely overwhelmed?
VAN: Obviously, producing, creating, writing, and directing is a lot of work, but the way I look at it, it’s the work I want to do. There is no other work that I want to do more than to be in this field, and in this industry, and creating stuff, and being proud of the work I’m doing. I could be doing another kind of job, and being doing a lot of work, but it wouldn’t be the kind of work that speaks to me. And if it’s really hard, well a lot of the best things in the world really are hard. There are some days where I wish I could get more sleep, or wish I wasn’t so stressed, but I would rather be stressed about this than stressed about something I don’t enjoy and love. When we were shooting the first three episodes … we shot them in three weeks last summer … and in that entire time I didn’t have anytime to call my parents. By the end of it, they were so mad at me, and they had been leaving me messages. I remember wrapping shooting, and then immediately calling them, and going, “I’m so sorry. I have been off the grid for the last two and half weeks.” So, yeah, it’s tons of work, but it’s great fun.
Hollywood is talking that an Emmy nomination is in the very near future for your EastSiders castmate Constance Wu, for her heralded performance in the ABC comedy series, Fresh off the Boat! What do you think of Constance’s success?
VAN: Well, she should be an Emmy nominee! It was kind of like I was saying about the gay marriage ruling: “I’m not surprised.” Constance is a star, and she is so talented, and she is so smart in her acting, and her choices are always grounded to the character, and yet they are hilarious. She is wonderful. I am so happy for her.
What’s the latest on a season two of EastSiders?
VAN: As for an update on EastSiders, I saw an episode from the second season and it was really great, and really funny. I think there will be stuff coming up soon that will be really, really exciting, but I am not at liberty to say anything, yet! The first season of EastSiders is now on Hulu for five months, and I shot the second season in L.A.
You lowered yourself to come back to L.A.? (Laughs)
VAN: Actually, I kind of miss L.A.! I was back in January to shoot a film called, Kiss Me, Kill Me written by David Michael Barrett, and directed by Casper Andreas. I loved being back there. I will say there is more news coming out soon about the film, as well. The character I play in the film is named Dusty, but I can’t reveal too much about him! (Laughs) It’s a murder mystery, and it has an awesome cast: Gale Harold (Ex-Queer as Folk) is in it, and so is Brianna Brown (Ex-GH, now Devious Maids) and it’s a noir-ish West Hollywood murder mystery, and it’s loads of fun. I can say people that have seen it love it, and I will say, I believe in the hype with this one.
So, are you out on the audition trail, as well? Everyone loves when you pop up and star in a new project! You have an amazing and enduring fan base, and following worldwide.
VAN: I am out auditioning, and I do have another film lined up, and Kit Williamson is directing it. It’s a film called Pharmacopeia. That is going to be shooting this fall. However, right now obviously my focus is on Ms. Guidance, and getting that all done. I could not be more grateful to all of those who are contributing to our Kickstarter campaign, and I can’t wait for everyone to see the series!
Watch below the Kickstarter campaign video from Ms. Guidance! Then weigh-in on Van’s comments on the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, his time as Luke Snyder on As the World Turns and remembering it five years to almost the week the CBS show shut down production, and if you are excited in seeing Ms. Guidance finish its season and it becoming an online smash!