Not many people would walk away from a six figure salary at thirty six years of age to pursue a dream they deemed all but past. But Friends with Benefits actor Chris Wood is certainly not ‘many people’. He may have gotten a late start but he’s certainly made up for lost time.
“I figured I’d missed the boat to be an actor by the time I’d finished school (under-grad). I was twenty-two and I thought, I’d already missed it.” Born in New Jersey, Wood spent part of his childhood on the east coast and the remainder abroad in Nigeria and Pakistan, moving along with his father’s job at Union Carbide, a chemical company. He returned to the states and attended Georgetown and then Columbia for law school before starting an impressive five year career on Wall Street in corporate finance. Sony Pictures & Sony Music then wooed him west where he remained in the legal field for an additional three years before declaring himself an actor.
“I got into law and stayed in it as a sort of punishment for not ‘dotting the eyes and crossing the tees’. I wasn’t the best student and I thought if I can conquer something I’m not good at than I can do anything. So I thought I’d do law and in the back of my head thought I could make the move into entertainment. When I got the call from Sony, it seemed like I’d hit the Holy Grail.”
Once in LA, Wood begin dabbling in acting but taking classes only made him more sure his chance had past. “That convinced me not to be an actor because everyone I met in class was actually pretty good and no one was working, making money as an actor, not even doing a play let alone film or TV.” Three years went by in LA before Wood finally took the leap.
“I wasn’t happy with my life, my career, and I was arguing with my mom and sister on the phone one day. They told me to quit and just be an actor- that’s what I always wanted to do. I hung up the phone harshly and something clicked…as soon as the phone hit the receiver that was it, DONE. I went from completely not doing it (acting) to doing it. That was exactly nine years ago.” Exactly eight years to the day of this interview, Wood booked his first national commercial, a spot for Home Depot.
“In that first year, I kept my old pay stub on my desk to remind me how much this change was costing me. Ironically, I’d worried about money endlessly as a lawyer but never did as an actor. I don’t know why, it certainly didn’t make any sense”. Wood hit the ground running and ambitiously wrote and produced a play at the Elephant Theater which earned him his representation. The first few years he booked small part after small part, then bigger part, then bigger commercial until he stopped counting his progress, including more than 30 national commercial spots and 25 theatrical bookings.
“I still remember my first theatrical role on According to Jim, I can remember everything about that day. Other moments that stood out were booking popular shows, shows that I’d watched, like Everybody Loves Raymond and ER-it was a big deal for me. When you get to set, you are there to work. There is not a lot of leeway. They hire you to do the job effortlessly, so you can’t get caught up in the excitement because doing the job is what takes your time.”
Wood’s first mainstream film role, as a police officer that pulls over Steve Carrell’s character in The 40-Year Old Virgin, got left on the editing floor. “My first big role got cut. Still, I remember being on set and feeling its immensity and saying out loud, ‘Wow there are a lot of people here’. I was standing right next to Carrell and didn’t realize it until he looked at me and said, ‘This is your scene, they are all here for you’ and that sort of frightened me. When we were rolling Carrell began improvising and I stuck to my lines adding nothing. I’d done a lot of sitcoms and learned ‘the rules’ that when you have a small role you NEVER add to it. But Judd Apatow yelled, ‘cut’ and told me that when the star improvises you play back with him, and then we just let loose the rest of the night. It was a great experience.”
Despite finding himself on the cutting room floor for other recent hits like Greenberg, Wood remained persistent. His big break came playing Ira Ungerleider, a CEO of an Amazon-like company, in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits, currently in theaters. In the film, Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a job recruiter who befriends Dylan (Justin Timberlake) while on the job. They decide to add benefits to their bond and things get a little sticky, as feelings develop and the pair inevitably separate. When Wood’s character is set on hiring Dylan, it forces Jamie and Dylan back together.
“My scenes were with Mila and she is simply hysterical. It made for one of the best times I’ve ever had on set. On a film like this, your brain is on fire the whole time. They are throwing out lines out and changing dialogue left and right and she (Mila) is so damn fast and funny she just goes with it. You don’t have any doubt as to why she has gotten to the place in her careeer that she has.”
Something tells me, it won’t be long before we hear the same thing of Wood.
In addition to currently being in theaters, Wood can be seen live doing improv comedy monthly with his troupe Kickstand at M Bar in Hollywood. He also recently booked the lead role in the play Naked Short Selling by Nicholl Fellowship winner Marvin Krueger which will run at the Santa Monica Theater. Wood is also in talks to develop his romantic comedy, Wingman. Coincidentally, it’s about a lawyer who could never make a move on the girl of his dreams and the woman who shows him how. Wood is currently represented by his original manager- Kathleen Schultz & Associates, alongside Talent Works and Liberation Management.