“To live an uncommon life, one needs to learn uncommon disciplines.’” – Mark Divine
Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from staringdownthewolf.com. Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.
Theo Rossi (@theorossi) is an actor, best known for his portrayal of Juan Carlos “Juice” Ortiz on the cult series Sons of Anarchy. He recently started his own podcast called “THEOry,” as well as continuing his acting career. Today he talks with Mark about his outlook on life that will inspire you—especially during these trying times.
- You must be able to divide yourself into your “mission-self” and the person you are with family and friends.
- You can use a word or phrase to “signal” yourself that it’s time to start working and be ready to be “on.”
- Sometimes it’s necessary to be by yourself in order to understand your work or role.
Listen to this episode to get more insight into the life of an actor and how you can perform at your highest level.
You’ve probably already heard Mark extolling the virtues of the PowerDot to help with recovery. They now have a version 2.0. The PowerDot is an electrical stimulation device that allows you to increase performance, speed up recovery and overall achieve a deeper mind/body connection. Many stim devices can be clumsy and hard to use, but the PowerDot 2.0 achieves simplicity and is very small so you can take it with you when you travel. It is being used by professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, Tour de France among others. It is also used by Special Operator Forces
Listeners to the podcast, can save by using the code UNBEATABLE at checkout for 20% off the regular price of the PowerDot system.
Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on www.docparsley.com to get 10% off.
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Welcome to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is Mark Divine and I’m having a conversation with Theo Rossi.
We’ve already kind of launched into talking about our experiences with covid-19 and the pandemic or what some people think is a “scamdemic,” but definitely not if you’re from New York.
Let me tell you about Theo and then we’ll continue the conversation. So Theo is from Staten Island… I’ve been out to Staten Island a number of times – taking that ferry back and forth and interesting place.
He is an actor – had many seasons on “Sons of Anarchy,” which is a Netflix series. Also “Luke Cage” – which frankly, since I don’t really watch TV, I’ve never seen either of these – but I can’t wait to talk to you about them.
He’s got his own podcast called “Theory,” play off his first name which means obviously god doesn’t it?
Theo: Te’o means god. Yeah. Theo is short for Theodore. And there was too many “Ted”s and “Theodore”s, so they stuck me with “Theo.”
Mark: I like that. Well, you do also a lot of work with vets so we’re gonna talk about that. Cause we have a foundation that supports vets with post-traumatic stress…
But anyway, thanks for your time today, man. I am from New York State – upstate.
Theo: I went to school in Albany…
Mark: Did you? Yeah, I went to Colgate, which is near Syracuse…
Theo: Know it well, yeah.
Mark: Upstate is also similar probably to Austin… like my family is in Clinton, New York and outside of Utica… there’s really not a whole lot of COVID stuff going on. I think it’s largely because it’s so spread out and people are generally really healthy up there, cause they got to be outside chopping wood and shoveling the snow…
But in New York City, you know to me… when I lived there for four years. That’s all. And so I have that limited perspective.
But when I left there I felt like within a couple months like a new person. I went from New York City to San Diego and I’m convinced it was a couple things – one) the quality of the air right? It’s like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day – and I just say that kind of anecdotally – but that’s what it felt like. I go out for a run and I get back I’m like wheezing… and breathing all that just smog and whatever really does a toll on your lungs and your overall health.
Number two) is just I love New Yorkers they got a great attitude they’re resilient in a lot of ways but they’re not necessarily the healthiest people in spite of the air… so it’s not just the air. It’s like, people are always busy, running from one thing to another… and so they’ll just stop at the pizza shop… and this is what I did… I grabbed a piece of Manhattan pizza. And it’s totally full of grease… you know how that grease would drip off.
And anyway, so when I was there, I ate too much pizza – I breathed all that crazy air, everyone was smoking and I drank too much – everyone loves drinking in New York. And then everyone lives on top of each other right? So they’re spreading those germs in the subways and everywhere. So it’s no wonder New York is just getting slammed.
Theo: Yeah, I remember when I was one time when I was traveling in South America. And you know I think I was in Buenos Aires or something… I was working out there. And someone said to me, “the difference with you guys especially in New York,” he said “is you live to work and we work to live.”
And ultimately when you look at the cost of living in New York City and the way it’s set up is that you have to… something’s always going to suffer in this balance of life, so if you want to live in New York City and you’re gonna pay those taxes and you’re going to be part of that system that ecosystem, your health your relationship… something’s going out the window.
And usually what it seems to be… and as someone who grew up in New York City… you know, family from Brooklyn, and then moved to Staten island, lived in Manhattan – lived all over, worked all over – is the health seems to be the one that goes. And the stress level is through the roof.
And then you have a lot of keeping up with the joneses…
Mark: And that stress is really the debilitating factor too. Because not only does the health factors such as the environment, the air quality and everything affects your stress that you’re taking on. But it is that kind of intense energy of constant grasping, upward mobility, ladder climbing… this is for the white collar, but know everybody’s got a little bit…
If you’re a first responder like your brothers and your family – you know, there’s a lot of stress to be a police officer or a fireman in New York. A lot of responsibility put on you.
Theo: It’s just different… there’s nowhere like it in the world. I mean, it really has that… and again, there’s the positive of it, but there’s nowhere like it in the world.
But my wife – who’s from Houston – which we actually met through team guys – and I’ll explain that in a minute – yeah, that’s our whole thing. If it wasn’t for the team – if wasn’t for the SEALs and the community – my wife… I would never have my two sons, I would never have lived in Austin. You know, my fence is attached to a former team guy who’s now in the private security sector.
And basically when I moved back there to do “Luke Cage” after doing “Sons of Anarchy” – because I lived in Los Angeles for 15 years – when I went back, I was so excited because I felt like I was going back home.
But you have to remember, I left New York City when I was 17 to go to Albany to go to school there. Then I was only back in the city for maybe a couple months, and then I went to la for 15 years. So I had these delusions of grandeur of what New York was, and if it was the same when I was younger.
And then when I went back, and we were having my first my first kid – my son – it was completely different than I imagined it. And I was also I think looking at it with a rose-colored lens, because when I was there, the reason I wanted to move back, is one of the nonprofit’s I started “Staten Strong” when sandy hit and we started rebuilding homes immediately.
And we raised like $500,000 or a $1,000,000. We started rebuilding all these different homes. And I felt the sense of community, because whenever there’s big events, people come together – crisis – everyone comes together.
But that goes away very quickly, sadly.
Mark: You mean in terms of duration? Like people are that way for a few weeks, and then they’re like, “I gotta go back…”
Theo: I think you feel this sense of like “oh my god. We all have each other’s back. We’re gonna do this. We’re all in this together.”
And then a couple of weeks later it’s people giving each other the finger and cursing, you know… and you’re like “wait a second. I thought we were all just helping each other.”
Mark: (laughing) it’s part of that New York attitude, right? Back to the attitude.
Isn’t it interesting how New York has taken this role in kind of leading the country through crisis? 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis – the epicenter was Wall Street. And now the COVID – the epicenter seems to be Manhattan.
It’s like three whammies within the last 20 years…
Theo: Because it’s the epicenter of the world. It’s where everything occurs…
Mark: Everything flows through there, right? All the money, all the people…
Theo: And while that’s amazing – while it is so fantastic – it’s also… I remember I was walking on the streets with a with a team guy who was active at the time – he was coming out to New York to stay with me and we were looking up in Times Square, and we were about to head to Madison square garden.
He said “this place is a tactical nightmare if something goes down there.”
And I was living there at the time and I was like “man, he’s so right. This is just a tactical nightmare, you know, the way it’s set up.”
And again, when we had my second kid my attitude now is – my whole family’s there and we get back as much as we can – I love it more than anything. But the way I’m built now is not… I can’t live there. I can visit all the time, I just can’t exist there. For my own soul – for me.
It doesn’t mean that it hasn’t formed and shaped every part of my body and my mind, but it’s just not for me anymore. I feel a different energy just being in Austin and being more in the country and being more in touch with nature and all that.
Mark: Yeah, I feel the same way about California now. I mean, I mistakenly think thought after I got off active duty that perhaps I would move back there. And maybe this was one of those it was meant to be moments, but I brought my wife back – sandy – and kind of like to check it out.
And we went up to lake placid – we have a family home up in the Adirondacks on lake placid. It’s beautiful. And we went skiing and everything, and it was 20 below zero. So I’m taking a woman named sandy – she’s named sandy for a reason – out of Coronado, California and I take her back 20 below zero and I’m floating the idea that maybe we could move back east.
And we get on the plane in Albany on the way home and she looks at me, she goes “don’t ever ask me again. I’m not doing it.”
(laughing) I’m like, “okay, check. Uncle.”
Theo: That’s what happened to me… I’m a runner, I run marathons… I do all these different races. So I get up every single morning super early and I go running. And what happened was after being 15 years in California living out in eagle rock – Pasadena area – I’m getting up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and it’s 9 degrees or minus 7…
Mark: (laughing) and you gotta run and stop at every stoplight, and dodge the cars… and it’s like a nightmare…
Theo: Right. How can I run in this? And again, now we have one dog, but I had three big dogs at the time. You go to walk them and the salt is burning their paws, and the kids can’t get out.
And so again for me… you have to have a certain way about you, and for me I loved it. We were back there for four years. But after we had my second son, we knew that we just wanted something different.
And I never thought I’d live in Texas in my life, but I came to Austin and one weekend later, we were moving here. We were ready to go.
Mark: Tell us about what drew you to acting and how you get into that? Because that’s fascinating to me.
I don’t know too many actors. We’ve had some come through our SEALfit training. By the way…
Theo: I’ve done it. I’ve done the course, I’ve done the obstacle course. I was miserable at it, but I did it…
Mark: Oh, did you really? Yeah, yeah that’s a fun one… but I invite you to come to our 50 hour Kokoro camp. Which is kind of modeled after hell week.
Theo: I would love it. That to me is probably why I got along so well…
And so what happened was for me I lived a completely and polar opposite life before this I grew up. I grew up in an era where I was surrounded by – because your formative years, when you’re young, shape your brain so much – I was told and shown that money was the only thing that mattered. The Cadillac’s, the nice restaurants…
It was all about money. They never told you what to do it when you got it. And they didn’t care how you got it. But just get money. That’s it.
Mark: (laughing) right.
Theo: That was the theory and if you weren’t gonna play center field for the Yankees… you were gonna find anyway that you were going to do that. So for me, as the way I grew up, I was like “oh, okay. That’s the way it is.”
You know, my father had left when I was nine. He was involved in all different criminal activity every single person that I knew…
Theo: Yeah, everyone. Everyone I knew had been in jail or in one way that’s what they did. Even my uncle who was a pharmacist wound up going to jail and then committing suicide. It was like everybody was somehow – even if they looked legit – was doing something illegal.
Mark: How prevalent is that across the board in…?
Theo: In the ‘80s and ‘90s? It was pretty prevalent…
Mark: Was it? That’s that soft… people talk all the time about the economy. And I wonder how big that real economy is, that below the radar economy. It’s probably as big as the regular economy…
Theo: It probably is. And I think that it might even have more rules. And more, you know… more honor in it.
The thing is that seemed attainable to me. Like I went, “oh, I’m probably not gonna play for the Knicks. I’m probably…” even though I played football in high school, and I was going to Albany to play football. And that was the plan, my whole team. We only lost two games in high school. You know, my whole four years there we won the state championship.
But I knew, physically, that I wasn’t going to play football beyond maybe a few years in college. So what was I going to do?
And what I did was I figured out how to make money. And I was good at it. And then…
Mark: What were some of the ways that you did that? Just out of curiosity.
Theo: Just, you know, selling dope any way I can, all different kinds. Whatever I can do.
And anything else. Anything that involved whatever I had to do to make money.
Mark: Reminds me of… I remember reading 50 cent’s book, and 50 cent had the same story – like, whatever you had to do, right? You did. Didn’t matter.
And the rules of the street were brutal.
Theo: Yeah, it’s credit card scams, it’s whatever… again, whatever was there. And whatever was available. There was never a thought in your mind of “I probably shouldn’t do this.”
It was “oh I just want to make money.” This is…
Mark: Did any of your friends…? Sorry about that, I’m just so intrigued with kind of the criminal mindset. It’s not like people are trying to be bad, it’s just like you said – that’s just what happens. That’s what you do.
And I’m curious it’s like there anyone in your family or who’s looked at that said “you know what? I’m actually just gonna go to Wall Street and work my way up?”
Theo: Those were the biggest criminals…
Mark: (laughing) check.
Theo: (laughing) those are the biggest criminals of them all. And they make movies about it.
And so it was just another racket. I always looked at everything as “it’s a racket.” That was another racket
Mark: Government is a big racket too, right? There’s so much crony capitalism going on…
Theo: You know, you could talk forever… the unions and this and the way people sitting on the job. And highways would take 25 years to be built, because people…
Anybody who’s gonna find a loophole, is gonna find a loophole.
Mark: That’s right. Fascinating.
Theo: So for me, that was happening, and that’s what I knew I had to do. And then when I got out of college I had to make a decision. And I had gotten very, very fortunate in college – meaning that there were things that happened to me at the end… because that’s where I was doing most of my hustling… was in college. And it was a safer place.
It was safer to hustle in Albany than it was than it would be to do it in New York City, because now you’re talking more probability of jail time. More probability of gunplay. More probability of things that can go wrong.
So when I came back, I knew that. And I also knew that I had gotten lucky. So I had no discernible skills, except how to think on my feet. How to figure things out.
But I had no… what was I gonna do? I had a degree, but I paid people to do my papers. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had street smarts, but I had no educational thing, even though here I was with a degree from the University of Albany.
Theo: So what happened was there was a friend of mine who was taken an acting class in Manhattan. And the story goes where he was doing it, and he was working in pharmaceuticals. And he was using it for whatever it was… public speaking and maybe acting… whatever he was using it for.
I went by that school cause I didn’t have anything to do. I was helping out my mom who was starting a business out of the house to kind of make some money. Creating flower girl dresses and christening dresses.
And then something clicked. What happened was I had never stood up in class. I had never done anything – I basically… what they call it is you audit the class. I did that forever.
I never got up. I just sat there and just watched. And to me it was the furthest thing from my reality. I never knew anyone who was an actor, I never met anyone who was an actor – to me it seemed like that was what other people did. It wasn’t what I did.
And then what happened was somebody came in to cast a film called “born at the wrong time” about a young drug dealer and an older drug dealer – in the form of similar to like an “American History X,” but with older drug dealer, young drug… the older one coming out of prison – this independent film and the teacher said I should talk to the guy.
And I did. And I got the role. And I didn’t know how to act, but I knew…
Mark: But you knew how to do the work… you just had to be yourself right? Essentially?
Theo: Well, here’s what happened – there was a story once and I never forget this… I had gotten in some pretty precarious situations at a young age. And at one time I had been pulled over in a very high-pressure situation where I could have gotten in a lot of trouble.
But I was very calm, my heart rate was very low. I was okay. I knew how to act in that moment.
And what I found now – 20 years in the game of acting – is that if you believe it, other people will. So you have to commit – the eyes never lie. You have to convince yourself and at that moment… when I talk to this teacher and we go back on my past and we do this kind of sense memory stuff and that was created by Uta Hagen and all these crazy teachers – these Russian teachers – was I now knew that if I can pull stuff from my past and I can keep myself calm that I can act.
And then what I did is – like I do with everything – I inundated myself with it. Where I studied the history of Hollywood from the beginning from Charlie Chaplin and Mack Sennett creating basically what is now known as the Hollywood system, to reading Paul Newman’s books, and reading Sidney Poitier, and Montgomery Clift.
And then basically diving in and saying “if I’m gonna do this, I’m going all in.” Moved to la with my five best friends and we got there October 31st, ’99. And then I started you know busboying and waiting tables and bar backing and doing whatever I could. And then when that would go low – I would go back to hustling. Because it’s what I knew.
And then I got fortunate and less than two years later I got a pretty good role in this TV show. And then my entire life changed with Sons of Anarchy. And then it was – to loop it into kind of your world – and then what happened was when we were doing that show life changed overnight. Even though I had done 40 TV shows before that, my life had changed dramatically… because I had done one or two episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” an episode of “Lost” or an episode of “NYPD Blue.”
But here I was on this show that took off like a rocket. It changed everything. And one of the guys on the show was a singer/actor named Henry Rollins, and he was doing a lot of work for “wounded warriors” at the time.
And he said “hey, you know, this show is one of the biggest shows in the military.”
And I said “we’ve only been on two years,” and at this point, it wasn’t a big show.
But he said “these guys downrange – these guys are watching it all the time. There’s something about the motorcycle clubs…” and if you think about how a lot of clubs got started, it was guys who came back from Vietnam and looked for camaraderie and all that.
He said “you should do a USO tour.”
So I was like “wow, I can probably get the guys to do that. I would love to do that.”
Next thing you know, four of us are going over to Balad air force base for a couple of weeks. And Baghdad and different parts Iraq. Staying on the base. Going up in the C-130s. Flying in the Blackhawks with the Air Cav guys.
And these guys would wait for hours to come and meet us, when no one really knew who the show was. But these guys were so loyal to it. And what I found was in that time with them how little we were actually doing for these men and women who were making it easy for me to go get a latte at Starbucks. Know what I mean?
Mark: Take it for granted, because it’s out of sight, out of mind…
Theo: It was out of sight, out of mind. And I just said, “Wow, this is unbelievable.”
So now here I am, I’ve become friends with a lot of the guys.
Mark: How did you meet the SEALs over there?
Theo: Well, they weren’t there at the time. So what happened was I come back…
Mark: They weren’t where you were, that is…
Theo: No, they weren’t. Exactly. They might have been there, but I didn’t see them. So we were with the Air Cav guys a lot. We were on base a lot.
And what happened was we come back and this organization called “The Boot Campaign” which is still around. Great organization.
They reached out to the “Sons of Anarchy.” And they knew that we had done this stuff with the military. And they said we want to do this thing called “the boot shoot” – where everybody… when they come back, we give back… it was this big thing they were doing.
So they said we want to invite you to this event in Vegas – it was 2011 – and it was a UFC event – and I was a huge fan from the beginning. And I met Marcus, Morgan, Boss, JT… all these different guys were down there and they were with the people from the boot campaign.
So now we all start hanging out. That’s my first introduction to the guys. And they become lifelong friends.
And my wife at the time was working for The Boot Campaign. We met we became friendly because she helped out with “Staten Strong” and she was basically doing all the stuff with The Boot Campaign because she used to work for Marcus’s “Lone Survivor” charity – lone survivor foundation.
And then she came over to The Boot Campaign. And Marcus and Morgan were over there too. And then a couple years later, we started doing these… as “Sons of Anarchy” grew, we started doing these boot rides in LA. Where we get thousands and thousands of people to come and ride. And raise all this money for the vets.
And all the SEALs would come out and ride with us on the bikes. And they would stay at my house. All the different guys would stay in my house. And then my wife and I reconnected. And now we have two little kids…
And I’ve been to Coronado a bunch. And I stay in my guy econ’s house and you know we would go out there and we would just hang out.
And I got to really know the community. And I was blown away, because what you guys were was the rock stars of the military. The military guys were different than the SEALs. The SEALs were more “The Rolling Stones” in way, if that makes sense. Flip-flops and tattoos and big and chillin’ and just different.
A different attitude, I would say… almost like bucking the system. Almost like the outlaws – which “Sons of Anarchy” was – almost like the outlaws of the system.
And it was amazing, and as someone who wants to push themselves to the absolute limit, the mindset was so similar.
And that was it. My life changed from “sons” on and now we have multiple companies and multiple different things. And a lot of it has to do with that moment in time – 2010-2011.
Mark: Man, there’s so many different directions I could take this. But I think the… just like what is it like? The day in the life of you on this set of “anarchy” is really interesting to me.
Like what was your morning routine? How did you stay motivated? What were the risks? And what were your biggest insights? I know I’m throwing a lot at you, but give us a peak or like help me feel like I’m on the set of “anarchy,” and I’m an actor…
Theo: Yes, so for me it was different. My character was covered in tattoos – had a Mohawk, had the whole thing.
So I was first in. Usually 4:30 in the morning. Usually an hour and a half before.
Mark: Did they have to paint all the tattoos on?
Theo: Yeah. Because it was really hot – we would shoot in the summer- so you know these things would last as long as they could. But the ones on the head would come off if you’re putting your helmet on and off.
So I’d be first thing – so I got a run in the morning before that – so go for a run 2:00-3:00 in the morning get that out, get that energy going –
Mark: That’s an early wake-up call…
Theo: Yeah, and usually my best thought of how I’m gonna prepare for this day – of how I’m gonna play these scenes, or where my character’s gonna go, I get on my runs. So if I can go get a 6, 7 miler in, I could really deduce kind of exactly how…
Mark: So you’re dirt-diving the day. You generally know in advance what scenes are gonna be shot. So you you’re living in an advance. You’re mentalizing it.
Theo: Yeah. And I have to see it and I have to run – no music – I have to quiet my brain. It’s my form of meditation – I have to hear my steps, I have to hear my breath…
And then I can get into that zone of “what am I going to create?” In my head, right? And for me as I exert energy, my brain gets more active. So I try to do my phone calls when I walk. I try to do a lot of things while I’m in movement.
Mark: I love that. That’s so true, too.
Theo: Yeah, because you’re sparking, right? You’re not just laying there. Or you’re not distracted by a computer or your phone in your hand you’re just dealing with this one thing at hand. Whether it be the phone call, whether it be the thought process…
So I would do that. Then I’d go in. First thing everybody’s tired and doing their thing and we’d all… and then I would start today, and I always felt that you’re gonna set the tone.
Now the difference with “anarchy” was it’s an ensemble cast. So unlike recently – where if I’m doing movies and they’re my movies where you’re for lack of a better word “the lead” of the film or “the lead” of the TV show, you can dictate the pace more.
But ultimately no matter how you dictate the pace in an ensemble show, the creator or the main actor is gonna dictate it, right? So I would try to keep it very light, very happy, very… I make fun of everybody. It’s just kind of what I do.
I like to keep things light, because the scenes I would do would be so heavy. My character was so heavy. Really just awful stuff that he would do and that would be done to him. So I would have to mentally stay in that space.
And I got better at this. 20 years in the game, I’ve gotten better… I used to not be able to get out of the space. So whoever I was playing, I would have to stay in…
Mark: It’s kind of reminding me who is it Joaquin phoenix that played the joker, and just couldn’t get out of that headspace.
Theo: Yeah. It’s hard. It comes with tenure, and I think that it also comes with if you can switch that part of your brain – for lack of a better word – almost becoming like slightly bipolar.
Mark: Compartmentalized to the extreme.
Theo: Exactly. I mean, you know all about this, right? It’s like “okay, I’m this person here… and then when I’m at home in the garage with my wife, I’m this person.” So how do you become two people without losing your mind?
So in that case I had to – because again I’m such a believer of the eyes never lie – if you don’t believe it, I don’t believe it. So I have to believe it. I can’t fake it.
And especially if you’re any bit of a perfectionist. If you want to go to the extremes now obviously in a character like that who takes a lot of people’s lives on screen… I haven’t taken anybody’s life… I’ve choked a few people in jiu-jitsu and done whatever, but I’ve never taken someone’s life so I have to go in my head and go “where was there a moment where I wanted to take someone’s life?” In a moment
Like maybe it was a road rage, or maybe it was someone you know hit into my son and for a moment you your red brain takes over, your eyes go red… and then you then you let it go and you become a citizen, right? You let it go.
I have to take that and make that believable for a long stretch while filming. So I had to become… almost like master my emotions. So in my day now I’m in the makeup trailer and getting everything done. I’m trying to process. I’m trying to get in that space. I’m listening to that music that’s gonna get me there.
And then I generally stay away from a lot of people, depending on the day. And if it’s a drama – which is usually what I do – I’m doing more comedies lately – I stay away from people.
Mark: Because you think they’re gonna pull you out of your character?
Theo: It could be anything. It could be just someone wants to lay their shit on you. Or someone is hung over. Or someone is not in the mindset you’re in.
And for me, I only have one shot at this so I don’t need I don’t need that infiltration. For me it’s like a few hours for the better good. That’s gonna live forever, what’s on that screen. So let me just do what I need to do here.
Because nobody’s ever gonna watch you on screen and go “man, I bet you but he was tired that day. I bet you that was bad makeup.”
They’re gonna say you’re either good or you’re not. That’s it.
So I have only that one chance. So I have to give it all to that or I’m not going to do it. And I’ve lived my entire life with that attitude of like “if I’m gonna do it, I have to do it all the way.”
The problem in the world we live in is that most people are not programmed like that. And in most things you do, you have to have other people. Whether it be a sound engineer, whether it be your producer, whether it be whatever…
So you almost have to take your frustration and put it somewhere because you’re like “I don’t understand.” So in that case of acting, my thing was distance. Let me just stay distant.
Now I’ve worked with actors who could turn it on and off in a second. And it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Mark: That’s fascinating.
Theo: I’m not there. I’m getting better, because I have triggers – I have words, I have things that I do. Exercises that I say a word before they start rolling the camera. And that word will bring me to where I need to be. Almost like a hypnotist kind of thing.
But I was never good enough in my mind to just be joking around, joking around and then they call action and I turn it.
Mark: Can we pause there. Because you just said something that is a profoundly valuable tool for everybody – everybody listening. And it’s that state change trigger, right? And I know this is a big part of Tony Robbins training… to literally have a… he teaches like a physical kind of action… you know, like boom. He slaps his chest, pumps his hand in the air…
But it’s not just about “I’m a badass.” He’s got a whole series of internal dialogues, imagery, and then emotional stuff going on with that. Which instantly or very quickly – and if you ever watched his documentary “I’m Not Your Guru” he does this kind of routine where he does his little breathing. Then he gets on his trampoline. And then he does this state change spin, and then he goes onstage.
Theo: And that’s it. And it pops him into this “Tony Robbins. I’m onstage for 11 hours straight. And let’s go.” And then he doesn’t waver, doesn’t lose focus.
Theo: That’s exactly… that’s a thing that I do…
Mark: How did you come by that? And could you give someone like the two-minute Theo Rossi training in that?
Theo: Yeah so what happened is, ultimately, I had to find a way to quiet the noise. The noise is always going to be there. I can’t get away from the noise – that’s the world we live in. I can’t control the outside factors. I can’t control the people talking. I can’t control – I’ve tried – I can’t control the people walking in the background and I can’t control it. It’s uncontrollable.
The only thing I can control is me. So especially when you’re in a big scene with a lot of people there might be a thousand extras, there might be 20 people in the room who aren’t speaking as much in the scene, so they’re just kind of going through the motions. Especially if you have a big thing going on.
So what I had to do was I had to give myself a technique that while I’m looking around and seeing all this stuff that I was going to center myself.
So for me, my uncle was a profound influence in my life. When I lost my father years later he had moved back to New York, and he was a true hippie – he was living in northern Cali, and he was just an incredible human being. And he didn’t have a penny to his name. Broker than broke, but he had compassion and heart and he had life lessons that were incredible to me. And they stay with me every second of my life.
And what happened was, on my first big film ever, at the wrap party – I was in Toronto in 2004 – while I was in Canada those three months – I was actually doing a film about west point, the west point cheating scandal in whenever… them and navy were playing those giant football games and the football players got caught cheating on the honor system. And then it was this big scandal and I think it was the ‘40s or ‘50s.
While I was doing that movie, it was the first time I’d ever made money acting. A lot of money – when I say a lot, to me, I had literally $0 – and he would write me handwritten letters when I was in Canada. And in the last letter he ever wrote me, he wrote “just remember son,” cause he would call me son and I’d call him pop. He wrote “even in death, I’ll always be with you.”
Mark: Oh wow. Interesting.
Theo: Two nights later we had the wrap party for the movie, and I was into nefarious activity – being crazy like I always was back then. And I get a call. And he had passed away in his sleep. He was battling many things – dialysis and he had a quadruple bypass in his forties – and all this kinda stuff.
So what happened was from then on in, when I was acting, it started to come to me that I wanted him with me at all times. Because he was the reason ultimately why I had gotten as far as I’d gotten at that moment.
So in my head I would say “I love you, Unc.” And then I’d go. And I would just say “I love you, Unc.” It would put my smile on my face in a better position. It would put my inner energy in a better position. And then I’d go.
Mark: And to be fair, metaphysically you probably were connecting with him at some level…
Theo: And he was there for me, and this influence of him was now over me while I was in there, so I felt unstoppable. I would use that and what it became was… as much as it became about him it also became a trigger where if I had forgotten it, the tape would go haywire. Or it didn’t work.
And I would have to do another one where I said it. Even if I was just getting OCD about it. I needed it.
And I’ve expanded on it now, in the many years through it. And there is just this moment where I look around, I know the timing, I know what’s about to happen. I know where they’re gonna call rolling. I’m an over-worker, so the dialogue is never my problem – I know everyone’s dialogue on the set.
Because that’s gonna free me to be more free. And then I use my little words and it brings me into the scene. And then the sad reality is that after it, I’m emotionally exhausted. I mean, I’m emotional wreck.
Mark: You put so much energy into it.
Theo: Yeah, because I have to. And that has been the new balance that I’ve been working on – not the sneaker – the new balance is I’m trying to figure out…
So I’m getting better. And with my last few films, my last TV show… I’ve gotten better now, because it’s not for my wife and kids to see. It’s not for the other people in my life. It’s the way I choose to work, so I have to compartmentalize, like you said. And I have to be able to bring it home, but keep it somewhere else.
And I’m in awe of the people who can turn it on and off and be great. People like Anthony Hopkins could just read the phone book and they’re interesting.
Mark: (laughing) just the way he presents…
Theo: Just the way he speaks. So for me and I never play myself, I don’t ever want people to know Theo Rossi. I never want people to know me as a person, I want them to know the characters I’m playing.
Mark: Right. That’s good.
Theo: So that’s what I do.
Mark: It’s fascinating, it’s reminding me… I mean in the SEAL teams we have the mission brief, but it’s more than a brief, right? It’s imagery, it’s language, it’s a mental rehearsal, it’s the time to come together as a team and then to go apart individually and to prepare for your role.
And then the same sort of mental triggering that goes on. And if you ever seen a SEAL on mission… stand-by. It’s a very, very different character than the SEAL you see in the church pew, or the bar, or whatever…
And then there’s a post-mission process too. Like you’re talking about. And not all SEALs have the best post-mission process, but the best ones do. And that’s how do you decompress, how do you debrief, how do you learn from what happened and how do you set aside what you don’t want to take home to your wife and kids?
Theo: Yeah… and I’ve listened to your show a bunch and you had recently an episode with another team guy, Chadd Wright? And on that episode you did an ad a commercial for a Doctor Parsley stuff, right?
Mark: Right. He’s awesome, by the way.
Theo: He awesome. So here’s what’s funny in 2010-2011, whenever I was… maybe it was ’11 – whenever I was in Coronado – I was with you know one of the guys. And I was having a real hard time, because for the role I was playing at the time I’d gotten down like super-low – I was about 160 something pounds – my energy was really not great. I wasn’t sleeping. The character had really taken over my brain.
And he said “hey, listen man. You gotta check your cortisol levels, you gotta check this… you gotta check that…” and he said there’s a guy – former SEAL – was now a doctor he was helping the guys out. And I still have the email – he sent me the email – it was like “you need vitamin d, you need this 5-htp, you need this…”
And it was just this whole combination, and it changed my life. I was sleeping incredible. I felt amazing and I was like “wow.”
And what he told me was that a lot of these guys were coming back their testosterone in the tank. Obviously the sleep we talked about right, you got to get that that that quality sleep in, that quality rest day, and that changed my life. And it wound up being the doctor who now has you know the product which is incredible.
And what I found at that moment is if you’re gonna put yourself in these high-pressure situations -whatever that is – mentally, physically… whatever you’re gonna do. There’s so many more steps that come with that.
And what I’ve always been intrigued by and I was dealing with this with a lot of the Air Cav guys, is I would watch guys before they would deploy. And I would watch how their wives would be distant, how the families would stop talking.
Like, they were almost preparing mentally how they had to prepare. I would take all that in like a sponge, because my job is to mimic reality. And I would watch how people would act in these high-pressure situations, even if it’s the spouse of the warrior.
And I would go “this is incredible our self-protective mode of what we need to do.” And one of the things – and I tell this story a lot – I was with one of the team guys once and he said you know “I gotta tell you man. I have a hard time existing in the world. But if I’m hanging off the side of an air carrier jumping out of a helo or doing whatever… I’m right at home and my heart rates at 38, 42.”
“But if I go into a Starbucks, I’m through the roof. Because it’s so unpredictable.” I have come to feel that way a lot… and why I’ve probably you know hidden myself in Austin… why I had to get out of la, and why I had to get out of new York is the acting world and Hollywood world is a strange thing. A lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing, a lot of people that are nefarious and attitudes… a lot of things.
So I found myself that when I’m on set, when I’m in a controlled atmosphere and I could do my thing that I love… when I’m with my kids and my wife…
But when I’m dealing with people I don’t know and dealing with people who I know probably don’t have the same mindset, I’ve had to retreat more and more.
Mark: That’s just a way of using you know altering your environment to protect your energy. And that’s really important. You need that kind of sacred space to protect your energy.
And then when you enter the mission… in your case when it’s on the set, with a SEAL it when you step foot in the helicopter… it helps you to shift focus. And then when you come back you need that kind of sacred space.
And then there’s certain rituals that you’ve developed right to kind of ramp up and prepare for that peak performance moment. Even if it’s like… I don’t know how long you would shoot a season of anarchy, but like three months…
Theo: Six months
Mark: Six months. Yeah, so that’s game time.
But then you have a ritual to kind of come back down for the next six months or whatever… the period between your next shoot… you got to protect that time, both to protect your family and your energy.
Theo: Yeah. And it’s funny because they’re so polar opposite… as someone who’s you know been to almost every military base in the country and spent many time at Pendleton and hood and all these different places… and I’ve been around some of the greatest people I’ve ever met…
I compare it to like when I’m around mixed martial arts fighters or you know high level black belt in jujitsu or whatever… there’s a certain… if you’re gonna go to that level… if you’re gonna do something on the extreme level… if you’re gonna be spec ops, if you’re gonna do something that’s different from 95% of the population.
If you’re going to go to that other place – you also have to learn that there is consequences to that that’s gonna come. And I think that a lot of people don’t see that. And I think why a lot of people get burnt out in all those things we talk about, is they only see the positives of it.
People think of SEALs and rangers and other guys and they think “oh my god, that’s amazing,” right? They’re not thinking about the combat. They’re not thinking about the deployments, the missions. They’re not thinking about all the things that come with it. They’re just saying like “oh man, he’s a SEAL. He’s a former SEAL. He must have it all together.”
Mark: Right. We had a saying that everyone wanted to be a frogman on a sunny day.
You know, this has been such a fun conversation. I feel like we’re just getting warmed up but I have a podcast in eight minutes with another individual. (laughing)
You’re killing me, man. I want to continue this conversation. We got to do this again.
Theo: Yes we will, for sure.
Mark: Or maybe I’ll come on your podcast…
Theo: Yeah. How about that? We’re gonna guarantee that. I’m gonna take you up on that, and we’re gonna continue right where we were.
Mark: All right that’s a deal. We’ll mentally shake on that.
And my invitation for you to attend – when we get our SEALfit events back online – if you want to come out and do a Kokoro or 20 x and just play. Or even if you just want to come out and observe…
Theo: No, no. I want to go.
Mark: Do a little film.
Theo: If I’m going, I’m going.
Mark: Yeah, right on. We’ll work on that. I think that’d be great.
Theo: A real pleasure my brother, and I appreciate everything you do and you’re an incredible motivation and thank you.
Mark: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate you saying that. I’m really glad we got to meet, and I look forward to in person…
Theo: Yes sir.
Mark: Even if we have to do the elbow… where can people learn more about you? @theorossi?
Theo: Yeah, all the socials and everywhere. @theorossi Twitter’s… who knows? Whatever. They’re all over.
Mark: You’re easy to find. Just Google.
Theo: Yeah, the new podcast is theory with Theo Rossi, and yeah, check it out.
Mark: Super-cool. Great to meet you. I appreciate you too. Hooyah. That was Theo Rossi. Check him out @theorossi and “Sons of Anarchy.” And we’ll see you soon.
This is Divine out.