Steve Young Brings Distinct Characters to the Screen
Characters can make or break any film. Actor and filmmaker Steve Young is proving he understands the importance of strong characters in his latest projects.
Young recently stepped onto the big screen alongside Temuera Morrison in the Lionsgate surfing crime-thriller release, Sons of Summer. The film is about a troubled surfer looking to avoid his past and the ruthless hitman seeking revenge. Young appears as Greg, a drug addicted ex-prison mate of the hitman, who holds information he needs.
His love for characters emerged on the opposite side of the camera, as Young made his writing and directorial debut with the 1970’s New York mobster short film, Hells Kitchen. He also stars in the film as the paranoid underboss Johnny Santorelli, who isn’t afraid to pile up bodies as he seeks answers for some missing shipments. The film hit the festival circuit with a bang, winning Best Drama at WorldFest-Houston and several other nominations along the way.
Amongst his previous characters, Young portrayed the villainous Eobard Thawne, a.k.a. Reverse Flash, in the action-adventure fan-film, Impulse, and a Nazi in the WWII vampire feature film, Blood Vessel.
We caught up with Steve Young to find out more:
You’ve been acting opposite some heavy hitters, including your latest role in Sons of Summer, what’s that been like?
STEVE YOUNG: Yes, I’ve been fortunate in the last few years to have worked with some very seasoned actors such as Temuera Morrison (Star Wars, Aquaman), Alyssa Sutherland (Evil Dead Rise, Vikings), Nathan Philips (Snakes on a Plane, Wolf Creek) and Christopher Kirby (The Matrix Trilogy, Preacher).
They’ve all been lovely to work with and have been easy to get along with off camera. We had some laughs on Sons of Summer. Temuera and I got Chris on Facetime while in makeup since we all knew each other, Chris and Tem worked together on Dora and The Lost City of Gold, and Chris and I on Blood Vessel. Small world.
Temuera is a big celebrity, so I wasn’t sure what I was in for. On my first day, it’s about 5.30am, I’ve just arrived on set, hadn’t had my morning coffee yet (which is never good), and Temuera jumps out of his trailer with the script in his hand, he sees me, and immediately says, ‘oh hey! I’ve got some ideas on script changes; hope you don’t mind”. I thought, oh no, here we go! But he was great, he wanted to cut his lines and wanted to focus on my character more. His script changes were excellent and made the scenes better. He was a joy to work with.
I want to come well prepared and like to get focused when I’m on set so it’s a joy working with professionals such as them, you get so much off them in a scene it makes your job easy. It raises your game.
Strong characters seem to be your signature; where do you start when you get a new role?
SY: I always find on my first day of filming any new project, the character comes to me when the director shouts ‘action’. That may sound high risk, I prepare my lines, but I don’t over work the character or try and make blocking or action decisions. When I’m in the space about to act, I get into the characters headspace and once they shout ‘action’, something comes out which is never the same in rehearsals. It’s what I love about acting.
The mobster of Johnny in Hells Kitchen, everything about him was impulse, and this persona just came out of me on the day. It shocked me. It was an incredible experience for me as an actor and a person. A nightmare for editing so you need to get a lot of takes if you’re going to let a character run wild. I got nominated several times for Best Actor at world Top 50 film festivals, so there must be something in it. Not sure if I recommend that process for every actor though. I lost a lot of weight for playing the junky in Sons of Summer, not sure I would go method again though.
All that said, I’m attracted to strong characters for sure, but dark, broken, or evil characters, the more brutal the better. Even comedic characters I play need to be zany, not sure what that says about me. I played the Soldier in the stage play ‘Blasted’ by Sarah Kane, enough said.
What made you want to start creating your own projects?
SY: I was frustrated with the lack of auditions. Having an American accent in Australia and not being able to do an Australian accent probably contributed to that. I can do all sorts of accents perfectly, but Australian is my Achillies heel. I was also frustrated with the quality of projects, and I said to myself, I can do better. I needed to start showing people my skills and talents rather than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. A bold move considering I’d never written, directed, or produced, but I knew I could do it and do it better. So, I put my money where my mouth was and started writing.
I collaborated with my exceptionally talented friend and cinematographer, Joshua Hoareau on Impulse, Hells Kitchen, and now Silence Falls. I have no doubt he will become established as one of the finest cinematographers to come out of Australia. We’ve been friends now for years and we work well together. I hope that we collaborate on many more projects well into the future.
How do you think your work as an actor gives you an advantage as a filmmaker?
SY: Yes, I understand the actors process when approaching characters, I’m able to have a good conversation on how and why they are doing what they are doing, and then articulate what I need as the filmmaker. There were a few instances on Hells Kitchen where actors wanted to do things that were completely wrong. It’s my job to get them onboard with my vision and reasons. My background as an actor and my corporate experience managing and leading people gave me the tools to manage their expectations and get them onboard. Actors can have egos and strong personalities, so having some credibility and body of work that’s got recognition such as festival awards, nominations, credits, etc. does give the actors confidence in what you’re saying.
Do you find it difficult to direct yourself or how do you handle both roles on set?
SY: Yeah, that wasn’t easy. To solve that problem, I simply added more days to the shoot schedule, which I could do since I was the investor and producer. This gave me time to act, review footage, then get back in front of the camera. You just need to factor in the time. I briefed all the actors prior to shooting, gave them as much direction as I could prior to being on set and ran some rehearsals and blocking prior to shooting. Jumping in and out of character throughout the day wasn’t too difficult. I’m not the type of actor that needs to be in character all day.
What types of stories are you interested most in telling?
SY: I’m particularly drawn to the crime and horror genres, with a deep appreciation for murder mystery stories and films that carry an X-Files-esque intrigue. This aligns perfectly with my upcoming project, Silence Falls, a psychological thriller/horror imbued with elements reminiscent of the X-Files. Additionally, I aspire to explore the realm of time travel in a future film project.
Were you surprised by the festival success of your debut short Hells Kitchen?
SY: Yeah, my friends thought I was a crazy when I told them I wanted to pay homage to my idol, Martin Scorsese, by creating a gangster film set in 1978 New York. I remember telling my Director of Photography, Joshua Hoareau, just before we began filming that this project would win festivals, earn accolades, and receive glowing 5-star reviews from film critics. I could sense he found my confidence a bit naive and chuckled, saying, ‘Let’s just give it our best shot.’ Despite having no prior experience in writing or directing, I was determined to see it through. After all, it was my money on the line.
To my surprise, the 5-star reviews started pouring in, along with nominations and a significant win at a Top 50 world film festival. Even more astonishing, Amazon picked it up—a rare feat for a short-format film. Now, it’s available on Apple TV and Google Play as well. The feature film script is shaping up very nicely, it’s an exciting read. I believe it can spawn another TV show like The Sopranos. I have a whole world introducing my fictional five New York mob families. I want to shoot the feature, then shoot a prequel set in 1973 following Johnny Santorelli as a hired hitman for the mob, then a TV show following each year up until the events of Hells Kitchen, one year would be one season, and that’s my new version of The Sopranos.
How has your international background impacted your work?
SY: I have a colorful background. Currently an Australian citizen living on the Gold Coast, I’ve lived and worked in nine countries around the world. I was born in Scotland, have family across the United States, worked on Wall Street, and studied acting in New York. I’ve managed businesses in five different countries across Asia, the Middle East, United States, and Australia. My international experiences have helped me approach the business of filmmaking and acting, for sure. It’s a positive impact. I’m more in tune with my emotions which helps my acting, and my business experience helps with the business in showbiz.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far, and how did you overcome it?
SY: There are challenges everywhere, but I can’t think of a specific one right now. I think my biggest challenge is still to come. The feature film version of Hells Kitchen I suspect will be an upcoming challenge.
What inspires you most in your life and career?
SY: I’m typically self-driven, constantly seeking new challenges and ideas to fuel my inner fire. However, what truly inspires and propels me forward in life isn’t a mere ‘what’ or ‘thing.’ It’s the unwavering love and support of friends and a cherished partner that makes my world truly spin. Life can feel lonely without that inner circle of friends, family, and a loving companion. Love is the force that sets my world in motion, and I’m overflowing with the desire to give back. Finding those who reciprocate this passion isn’t always easy, but choosing your connections wisely can make all the difference in this remarkable journey of life.
Where do you want to be in five years?
SY: Sitting on the sofa, of a talk show, talking about my new movie. Also, if I’m happy, not alone, and healthy, I’d be in a good place.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
SY: I believe in the power of self-respect, treating every individual with kindness and empathy, unwavering commitment to my principles and high standards, and occasionally, the simple act of buying someone a cup of coffee.