The Secret Circle's Chris Zylka on Playing Bad, First-Scene Butterflies, and Post-Holiday Underwear Scenes

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Of all the audacious creative decisions The Secret Circle has made so far (i.e., killing off a main character five episodes in or making magical powers seem annoying), one of its best was the hiring of Chris Zylka as a series regular. The Jake character not only introduced a huge chunk of mythology to the show, he also brought a new dynamic to protagonist Cassie's world and forced erstwhile romantic lead Adam to step up his game. But there's no getting around one fact: Just look at him. Like White Collar's Matt Bomer, Zylka's looks would be a downright distraction on any other show. But that's just how The Secret Circle rolls. Fortunately in Zylka it managed to find a guy whose past resumé MAY have featured a lot of swimwear but who has since stepped up in a big way to successfully portray one of the most interesting and complex characters on The CW.

And who can forget the Deep-V incident?

Basically, Chris Zylka's had a pretty great year so far, not only with The Secret Circle, but also upcoming flicks The Amazing Spider-Man and Piranha 3DD (not to mention a certain real-life romance you know all about if you follow him on Twitter). The extremely friendly and funny actor recently took a few minutes to answer some of my questions about reuniting with Thomas Dekker (they worked together in the amazing 2010 film Kaboom), the therapeutic value of playing Jake, and dealing with post-Christmas underwear scenes.

 

First question: Are you a real human being or are you just really expensive CGI, Chris Zylka?

[Laughs] I'm pretty sure I'm real. I feel pain, so that's a primary emotion. I cry.

 

Actually your work on The Secret Circle has been some of your most emotional work to date. Like in the episode "Witness" where Jake came face-to-face with his long-dead parents. Does that kind of stuff come easy to you?

I think it's all in the preparation. My mentor Jon Simmons introduced me to the Stanislavski system which is so heavy on backstory. So you write and write and write these backstories about a character and then you throw it away. So then on set, if it doesn't come, then you didn't do your work. I'm pretty addicted to art, so it's easy to just sit there and write. I definitely enjoy that aspect of drama so much more than, say, doing a sitcom. I'm just so happy doing these dramatic scenes.

 

Do you like returning to the same character week after week, as opposed to films where you play a character once and then move on?

I do. I absolutely do. In a film you only get two hours to do this big arc and so you have to pick and choose your moments carefully, but with television you get to take your time and just take it episode by episode and discover new things. One thing that I've been definitely trying to do as best I can is lighten Jake up a little bit, you know? To try to find the moments where I can take a lighter approach or throw away a line. People might be like, "Oh, that's not Jake." But it is.

 

Jake walks the line between good and bad. As a performer, which direction do you prefer he go in?

Oh my God, I'm really hoping he goes bad. [Laughs] I'm really hoping he goes bad. It's just so much more fun to play bad than good. Plus it's just good to get that out of your system so it doesn't show up in your personal life.

 

Playing bad is therapeutic?

Yeah, it's therapy.

 

You kind of came to the show late, but your character immediately became a lynchpin for the rest of the storylines. Is that a lot of pressure to have to deal with?

It's always really nerve-wracking during that first scene, that first take. You always have butterflies. But it's good to have butterflies. And they always go away. The camera starts rolling and they go away and it's all good.

 

When it comes to the show's central love triangle, it seems as though Jake's got the majority of the fans' votes, though Adam certainly has his supporters. Is there an effort made behind the scenes to keep things balanced?

Jake can't always win and Adam can't always win. We try to keep it even. Thomas and I constantly get together and we're like, "All right, well if you win this exchange, I'll win this one." And we're best friends so it's never an argument. It's usually me saying, "No, YOU win," and he's saying, "No, YOU win." "All right, cool. We'll both win." [Laughs]

 

Is it just serendipity that you guys had worked together before?

It was so serendipitous and amazing. And I literally remember—I don't know if I was shooting Spider-Man or Piranha at the time that he booked the pilot for The Secret Circle, but I called Thomas instantly when I found out and was just like, "Congratulations, man!" And then when The Secret Circle got picked up I called him again. And then I think about two or three weeks went by and I got the audition for Jake. I called him and I'm like, "Dude, we're gonna work together again, I know it." And then it happened and it was amazing. It was amazing.

 

Was it written in the stars?

Yeah. It was destined.

 

Your scenes with Britt Robertson have a much different chemistry than your scenes with Phoebe Tonkin. How much of that is due to the characters and how much is due to the actresses' respective energies?

Yeah, you look at the character for the most part. It's nothing personal, I love both of them and they're such funny, wonderful people. There's something about Cassie that Jake can't get over. She accepted him right away when everyone was judging him. And then the thing with Faye is, they've known each other forever and they get each other. And even though they tease each other a lot, there's no nonsense between them.

 

In your past work, most of your characters have generally wound up naked at some point. Are you surprised it took nine episodes before that happened on The Secret Circle?

I was so surprised. [Laughs] I really was. And I came in in pretty decent shape, but then as episodes went by, nothing. Then I got a phone call the day before we filmed that scene—it was just after Christmas. I just got so nervous about having my shirt—I have like the worst body issues ever...

What?

I even called [Executive Producer] Andrew Miller, and I was like, "Can we please just keep his shirt on one more episode and I'll get in the best shape? Please, dude, please." And he couldn't because it tied into the episode we'd filmed before the holiday break.

 

I think it's pretty unanimous that things turned out okay.

[Laughs] Luckily there was good lighting and good editing.

 

All-new episodes of The Secret Circle return Thursday, March 15 at 9 pm on The CW.

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