Mike Faist Isn’t Sure About This Whole Acting Thing

Tall and lanky, trying as if he had been born sporting Wranglers, Mike Faist cuts fairly a placing determine within the Amazon Prime sequence “Panic”: His character, Dodge Mason, is a Stetson-wearing rodeo dude who breaks untamed horses, then soulfully gazes into their eyes.

That, nevertheless, is by no means how the character was written within the Lauren Oliver younger grownup novel that impressed the present, debuting Friday, wherein Dodge and a dozen different small-town youngsters face off in a sequence of life-threatening challenges — assume a naturalistic “Hunger Games” with extra class battle.

After capturing a pilot in 2018 in upstate New York (the place the e-book is ready), the manufacturing utterly rebooted in Austin, Tex., a 12 months later, and Dodge’s again story was modified to raised match the brand new locale. Suddenly, the varsity wimp who was desirous about playing cards and magic had been become a Western archetype: the sturdy, do-right loner who doesn’t say a lot. Faist went with the circulation.

“Ciphers can be really boring,” stated Oliver, who additionally wrote the screenplay, “but he manages to capture the power inherent in a certain level of invisibility.”

Faist performs Dodge Mason within the dystopian sequence “Panic,” a “Hunger Games”-type younger grownup story however with extra class battle.Credit…Amazon Studios

Dodge is sort of a departure for Faist, who’s finest recognized for his Tony-nominated efficiency because the tormented, cynical Connor Murphy within the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” Blessed with a rangy charisma and a bone construction that seems to have been carved with a scythe, the actor, now 29, may have simply coasted in “Panic.” But his sensibility is nearer to that of such atypical main males as Adam Driver, and he modernizes a doubtlessly boilerplate half.

“Mike really didn’t want to be a caricature, but I don’t think he ever could be,” stated Jessica Sula, who performs Natalie, Dodge’s love curiosity in “Panic.” She recalled that when capturing resumed in Texas after a Covid-19-imposed pause, Faist selected to reside in a trailer on a plot of land together with his rescue canine, Austin.

“He’s just so fabulously ridiculous and wonderful,” she stated of Faist, laughing fondly.

Faist’s personal course has been ascendant since he dropped out of performing faculty at 18, and his plum position in Steven Spielberg’s extremely anticipated “West Side Story” as Riff, the chief of the Jets, ought to put him on Hollywood’s pace dial when it debuts in December. (Shooting wrapped in September 2019.)

And but the actor spent a lot of a current dialog candidly admitting to ambivalence and incertitude. He spent some of the previous 12 months driving across the nation with Austin and writing a screenplay. He has been turning down provides and is now promoting his Brooklyn condo and heading again to Ohio.

Faist was heat and laid again on a current sunny morning in Park Slope, and he laughed so much in what appeared to be protecting self-deprecation as he contemplated his future, skilled and in any other case. These are edited excerpts from the dialog.

Faist together with his canine, Austin, in Brooklyn this month. The two spent among the previous 12 months touring the nation.Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

How did they spring the brand new Dodge on you?

It was nonetheless the identical components when it comes to, “Oh, here’s the new guy,” however as an alternative of, like, a bizarre magician, he’s now a … cowboy? I used to be like, “What do you mean, I’m now a cowboy?” They had been like: “Yeah, yeah, you’ll be fine. Maybe try an accent.”

You do look fairly snug taking part in a horse whisperer.

I’d by no means labored with a horse in a manufacturing earlier than. There had been two of them: a really calm, mild horse and a skittish one. We simply ended up working with this skittish horse as a result of it was really doing stuff. The scene the place the horse strikes towards me was not deliberate or choreographed in any respect. They are, , unpredictable.

It might need been much less intimidating than a intercourse scene. Is the one with Jessica Sula your first as an actor?

Maybe. I don’t know.

Wouldn’t you keep in mind?

You’d assume! I did do a romantic scene [onstage] in “A Month in the Country” with Taylor Schilling. I keep in mind getting a reasonably [expletive] evaluation. [Laughs.]

Since the autumn of 2018, you’ve gone backwards and forwards between “Panic” and “West Side Story.” How did you deal with these very bodily initiatives?

For “West Side,” I discovered these Bruce Davidson pictures of Brooklyn gangs from the late ’50s. If you take a look at their pictures, these guys are emaciated, they’ve tattoos, they usually look wired. Any cash they’d, they might pool and purchase low cost wine and perhaps they might have French fries or one thing. Then they had been doing medicine. So I used to be like, “I need to lose some weight.” But my physique was completely breaking down. Then I attempted to bulk up as a lot as attainable for “Panic” — simply consuming potatoes.

Did you do any sort of particular coaching?

I began going to the Mendez boxing health club in Manhattan for “West Side.” I used to be working with John Rosado, who was raised in New York, Puerto Rican, badass. He was like, “I can’t believe I’m training a Jet!”

Your first massive job was within the Broadway musical “Newsies,” which is sort of dance heavy. Still, was it formidable to audition for “West Side Story”?

I put collectively a tape, after which they stated, “We want you to come back in and dance.” I used to be like, “Is there any way you could not have me dance?” They had been like: “What are you talking about? This is ‘West Side Story’!” The solely saving grace is that Justin Peck [the choreographer] and I’ve related physique sorts: tall, nothing however legs and arms. They had their work minimize out for them so as to get me as much as snuff.

“‘West Side’ was every thing I had ever hoped to perform as an actor,” he stated of his upcoming position in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” But getting every thing you need, he acknowledged, is difficult.Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

Why aren’t you within the upcoming “Dear Evan Hansen” film alongside your former co-star Ben Platt?

I really feel like I couldn’t do it. I began that after I was, like, 21, and was with it for 5 – 6 years. When you’re doing eight exhibits every week, it very a lot turns into relying in your approach and the job of it. And the present was such a zeitgeisty factor. It actually took so much out of me, and I didn’t actually have it in me anymore.

With “Panic” and “West Side Story” behind you, what are you lining up?

Maybe that is so pretentious, however “West Side” was every thing I had ever hoped to perform as an actor. It’s actually loopy, nevertheless it was transcendental: both I didn’t really feel like I used to be myself, or I used to be probably the most genuine model of myself. I can’t actually inform which one. Having gone from having no cash, wanting to simply be a working actor — I don’t need to simply be a working actor anymore. I had that have. It [expletive] me up.

What did?

“West Side,” in the most effective of the way. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. The pandemic practically killed us and — what, I simply need to be an actor? That’s ridiculous. [Laughs.] I don’t care sufficient. It’s a bizarre factor: I can’t inform if I hate performing or if I find it irresistible an excessive amount of. It’s not like I don’t plan on doing it. I simply don’t need to comply with the trajectory of what the business desires me to do.

Which is what?

Put on a cape and put on a masks. I have to take extra company as a result of nobody’s going to do it for me. It’s tough, nevertheless it’s attention-grabbing and fairly thrilling. I’m going to hang around with my household in Ohio after which begin to determine the place I’m going to go. I want to finally be of service and of use; that’s after I really feel at my finest.