Zack Weinstein's Road to GleeBy Michael Karol Posted: May 7, 2010
Who is Zack Weinstein? The simple answer is, he's a guest star on the May 11 episode of GLEE, "Laryngitis." The more complicated answer is, he's a talented young actor, who hasn't let a paralyzing spinal cord injury stop him from pursuing his dream.
Life changed for Zack between his freshman and sophomore years at Skidmore College in upstate New York, where he was a theater major. During a day off from being a counselor at a summer camp in Maine, Zack suffered a spinal cord injury that changed his life — but not his spirit or his ambition. "I broke my neck, shattering [my] C4 through C6 [vertebrae]," Zack says. "I was conscious the whole time. Three of the people who saw it happen were lifeguards. They stabilized me and I was rushed to the hospital."
— Brad Buckman
Zack didn't get his body back: "I have function through C6. I only missed one year of school. When I returned, some of my professors suggested that I could be a very good director." But he wanted to be an actor. I spoke to Zack about what led him to audition for GLEE.
Soap Opera Weekly: How did your accident affect your dream of becoming an actor?
Zack Weinstein: If anything, it solidified it. I did come pretty close to dying. Life is short. It's a cliché, but it's a cliché because it's true. You never know what's going to happen, and you only have one shot at it. If you don't actually go after what you want, then you're just wasting time. This is what I always wanted to do, and there was no good reason to stop going after it.
Weekly: You'd had voice and theater training before the accident. Anything else?
Weinstein: I was also a dancer before my accident. And if my dream [had been] to become a professional dancer, I would have had to reevaluate. There are limitations to what I can do now, obviously. I'm not going to be an action hero.
Weekly: Well, ya never know...
Weinstein: [laughs] Yeah, but chances are I'm not going to be. But losing dancing — that really sucked.
Weekly: Did you have a plan once you got to Los Angeles?
Weinstein: I had a couple of connections out here through the random ways that people have connections — a family friend who knows somebody who lives out here and [is] in the industry.... Actually, pretty much my whole group of friends from college lives here. We decided that being in Los Angeles was the best [option] for us. We all live within a 15-minute radius of each other, which is really cool.
Weekly: How did you get an agent?
Weinstein: There was one agency that used to have a division representing performers with disabilities. They don't have it anymore, but they still represent pretty much all those performers, and I'd been trying to set up a meeting with them. I booked a SAG commercial, and the casting director called me and said, "Do you have an agent to negotiate your SAG contract?" I said, "No, I've only been out here for about three months."And she said, "Okay, well call this agency," which is the [one] that I'd been trying to get a meeting with. We set up a meeting a couple days later. I went into the office and they decided to represent me.
Weekly: And that was your first professional gig.
Weekly: You came out to L.A. in the spring of 2009, so things must have happened fast.
Weinstein: Yeah, very quickly. I had the agent within three months, and then I met a guy who was directing an episode of CRIMINAL MINDS. I did some extra work on [that], which I guess counts as my second professional job. It was cool because I got to hang out on-set, spend two whole days, like, behind the video monitors next to the director, with the headphones on.
Weekly: Did that on-set experience help you with the GLEE audition?
Weinstein: It was the first time I'd been on a live TV set, seeing how everything was done and what the process was. It made me 100 times more confident going onto the set at GLEE, where I was in front of the camera. From those two days on CRIMINAL MINDS, I got a great sense of how the system runs, and kind of got my feet wet.
Weekly: What else were you auditioning for?
Weinstein: I'd auditioned for a ton of student productions at the UCLA or USC Film Schools. And I didn't book a single job through any of that. I did one thing [where] they cast me by booking me online — a short, comic video that was submitted to a contest on [the Web site] Funny Or Die.
Weekly: And then came GLEE...?
Weinstein: Yeah. The GLEE casting notice just came through the professional casting breakdowns [on] a Web site called Actor's Access. My agent submitted me for the part, written as a character with a spinal cord injury very, very similar to mine. I got the audition and I got the sides, worked my ass off on them for two days, and then went in, auditioned and got the part.
Weekly: GLEE is one of the hottest series on TV right now. Do you think your role will help you get more auditions?
Weinstein: I have no idea. There's no way to tell. It would be great if it did. If it doesn't, I'll just keep plugging away the way that I have been. It was great to get the opportunity to do good work on a good show. The writing is really good, and I think it will be a good part of the show that they wrote. Even if it wasn't me doing it, I'd [still] think that it was really well-done.
[Note: A shorter version of this interview is running in Soap Opera Weekly's May 18 issue — along with Zack's own words on his accident and a more detailed version of the GLEE audition process — now on sale.]