Former Disney Star David Henrie Exclusive Interview
Full of Conviction, Class, and Candor Meet Former Disney Star David Henrie
Written by Kelli Gillespie
He was a hockey player who liked to entertain his family at celebrations, but little did David Henrie know, by the time he would enter his teens he would be cast in a prime time television show that would lead to Disney Channel success on hits like That’s So Raven and Wizards of Waverly Place. Escaping many pitfalls of his famous peers, at a young 25 years old, Henrie has crossed over into movies with grace. He has two pictures slotted for spring, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 with Kevin James, and the World War II period piece, Little Boy with Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson. Risen had a candid conversation with this rising star to talk family, making movies, virtue, peace and resolutions.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Both you and your brother, Lorenzo, are actors so what was it like growing up in the Henrie household? Was it creative or competitive, what did those early years look like?
David Henrie: It’s kind of a funny story actually. I started acting because of my little brother. He was the ticket that we got to Hollywood. We were just a normal family in Arizona, not tied to the [entertainment] business in any way. But we had a big Italian family and whenever it was someone’s birthday or we’d get together to celebrate something, I’d make a little video of the family. We were always making videos to keep them entertained. We had a big, loud Italian family and everyone in the family always said, “Lorenzo and David should be actors.” We just got lucky.
We were watching something on TV one day and some manager came on and my mom said, “Boys, that looks awesome. Maybe we should email him.” And we said, “Yea! Email him, email him!” So we email the person we saw on TV and he responds and likes my little brother, but not me. The manager said, “Come out to Hollywood and I’ll interview the young one,” meaning Lorenzo, “and we’ll see where it goes. We’ll see if we can get him an agent.” Looking back, what are the odds something like this was going to work out, right?! So we go out and interview for the person and they didn’t respond to the read Lorenzo did, but I had worked on material hoping I could get an audition – they had given us some commercial to read – so I read it and they loved me.
My little brother was too young. He was maybe five, and more goofing around. But they loved me and said, “You’re great. We should try to get you on something before you leave town.” So they sent me to a random commercial audition for Burger King, and I booked it. I competed for this big national commercial against all these other kids and I got it. I think just because the guy [picking the kid] had a hockey jersey on and I said, “Do you like hockey? Me too. So let’s talk about that and not acting.” I think he liked that I was just a normal kid and it got me the role. And then literally my next two big auditions for commercials while we were still in town on that trip, I booked those too! Totally lucky! One day we’re reading for a manager, and the next, I’m on set for Burger King eating French fries – it was great!
Risen Magazine: So you had success right away. And then it continued into your teens as you landed television roles on The Pitts and That’s So Raven, which led to being the son on How I Met Your Mother, and Justin Russo on Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place. Tell me about being part of such popular shows?
David Henrie: I think God had my back through the whole process. I remember the kids I was auditioning against were some of the biggest kid actors in the business at the time trying to land a role on a TV pilot for a network – it’s a big deal. I’m just some kid who did some guest roles, and some co-stars, and a bunch of commercials. I had a great audition and started talking about hockey again with one of the producers; he loved that I was a [Los Angeles] Kings fan, and he really liked me and said, “We are going to test you.” So I go in this huge room, I read my audition in front of all these huge network executives – me just being this little 13-year-old punk from Arizona not knowing which way is up – and I get it!
That was the first series [The Pitts] that got me on the map and in front of the Disney Channel. The Disney Channel likes to track any kids on network shows so they have their pulse on kids that are successful, so I got on their radar. I did The Pitts which was [created by] Mike Scully, The Simpsons guy, then I did a FOX show right after that called, Method & Red and then after that I did That’s So Raven and Wizards of Waverly Place, so Disney was tracking me.
we are trying to do something new that is actually very old; use art for what it was intended to do, elevate the mind and uplift the heart.
Risen Magazine: Incredible. What is it like working for years as the same character on the same show and building up a huge following, versus doing films and spending a few days to a few months as a character?
David Henrie: It is a completely different experience; one feels like you are going to school and the other feels like a boot camp. On a TV show, you are there for years with this group of people, you get to know them and they become your brothers, your fathers, your mothers, cousins – they become your family. Where with a movie, it’s like you are going in for boot camp. You show up on set every day, in character, and ready to rock; you do your thing and then you are done after that. And chances are you are not going to see these people you worked with for years, and who knows if you ever work with them again, so it’s an interesting dichotomy between the two.
I’m not sure which one I like more, but I probably like the TV show route better just because you get to know everyone better, bond with all around you, and there is more stability. I like both. But I’m thinking one day when I have a family, a TV show would be better as opposed to flying all over the place for movies.
Risen Magazine: This spring you have a couple of films coming out. First up Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 with Kevin James, and is it true your bother also has a role in this sequel?
David Henrie: Yes. I star in the film and Lorenzo actually wasn’t supposed to be in it at first, but Kevin James loves Lorenzo and thinks he’s really talented and gave him a role in the film as well.
Making this film was so sick. I think Kevin is one of the most gracious, genuine individuals in the entire business. The way he approaches film in general and his crew and everyone around him, and his way of life is just so humble, and almost sacrificial. He makes everyone feel great, he’s always giving opportunities to anyone he can, he believes in the best in everyone and he is just an awesome dude. I can say nothing but great things about Kevin James.
Risen Magazine: Ironically your second film this April re-teams you with Kevin James. It’s called Little Boy and also stars Emily Watson & Tom Wilkinson. Set in WWII, it’s about believing the impossible. A big piece with both your character and the young boy playing your onscreen brother is the testing of faith. Speak to this a bit and then when in your own life have you weathered your faith being tested?
David Henrie: The script definitely deals with the subject matter of what you put your belief, or faith, in – yourself, or something greater than you. I think this is an age-old argument, especially philosophically, that people have been having since the beginning of time. They found a really nice way to tell a story with that underlying meaning. I think they did both sides justice in the film and telling it through a piece of art. In my own life, every day is a test. You wake up each day and you try to do better than the last.
Risen Magazine: How has faith developed in your life from when you were a child to now as an adult navigating your career and the man you continue to become?
David Henrie: I meet a lot of people who just don’t believe anything and I read a book many years ago, which actually has nothing to do with faith, but I very much agree with the author Joseph Campbell’s statement, in The Hero’s Journey. In the book someone asks him, “What is the best thing a young person can do?” And I don’t know verbatim what he said but it’s something along the lines of, pick something and believe in it. I think that is one of the biggest problems of our generation is that no one believes in anything and everyone is afraid to make a choice. I say, “Let’s make a choice so that we all believe in the fact that there is something to choose. And then we can debate over accuracies and things like that.” Everyone needs to make a choice in life and as I grow up, my choice gets sharpened and sharpened.
Risen Magazine: Growing up in the industry you have fended off temptation a little better than some of your twenty-something counterparts. What do you do when you feel tempted to go with the flow or take a path that you know won’t end well?
David Henrie: I love reading and I love studying, but I think you just have to stay humble. You have to have foresight. And a virtue that I think our generation lacks is prudence. Prudence is to put universal principles into action. Part of prudence is circumspection to know your surroundings and foresight to be able to see what is happening in the future. If people took time to study virtue like they did 50, 60, 70 years ago, I think a lot of problems would be avoided.
I think you stay humble and I’m very close with my family – my brother, mom and dad – and a group of friends that are just awesome. We all try to make each other better and we talk about philosophy, theology and different beliefs. It’s always stimulating conversation and I think I’m lucky to have good buddies who like to talk about things that are bigger than them.
Risen Magazine: I understand you have a few tattoos including scriptures on both arms. Why did you pick Romans 12:2 and Galatians 5:22-23?
David Henrie: To be honest, I should’ve never gotten tattoos. I love the scripture and that’s not a mistake, but the tattoos themselves were a mistake. I don’t think I have any right to mark my own body. It’s not something I’m proud of and not something I really want to talk about. The verses are great. I was just a dumb 18-year-old who got tattoos and I wasn’t thinking.
Risen Magazine: So in regards to our younger audience that may be reading this, if tattoos are being considered, you’d say…
David Henrie: It’s a big mistake! [Laughing] You will regret it. One hundred percent you will regret it. The only reason people get tattoos is for them to be seen by others. If anyone is saying, “I’m getting a tattoo and it’s for me and it’s personal.” Then why put it where everyone else can see it? If it’s really for you, why don’t you keep it inside? [Laughing]
Everyone always says happiness is the key and you should be happy, but I don’t think that is the goal. I think the goal should be peace.
Risen Magazine: You are a crack up David Henrie. Love the candidness! In addition to growing your acting career in film, you also just recently stepped behind the camera to write and direct a short film. How did this passion develop and is it something you’d like to do more of?
David Henrie: Oh yes, I absolutely love it. I’m going to be making a feature film toward the end of this year that I wrote. I have some partners and we created a production company called Novo – which in Latin means new – because we are trying to do something new that is actually very old; use art for what it was intended to do, elevate the mind and uplift the heart. We are developing a bunch of stuff and I have some great things down the pipeline. I’m going to continue directing, continue acting and doing whatever I can to create big stories and tell stories that can make a difference.
Risen Magazine: Speaking of big stories, I read the script for a project you are attached to titled Reagan, about the life of President Ronald Reagan. You will play the younger version of Reagan. What has impacted you most about this actor-turned-politician’s lifestyle and career?
David Henrie: I grew up hearing about Reagan and everyone in my family – aunts, uncles, cousins and stuff – everyone was a big Reagan fan. So I always heard quotes by him, and I always had an admiration for him. I always respected a lot of things he stood for so getting the script and getting to dive into him – I’m so stoked! I’m getting to play one of the most-known presidents in our history so it’s going to be really cool to do that. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is wearing those little speedos. [Laughter] The world is going to see parts of me that no one else has seen. I don’t know if you’ve seen Ronald Reagan as a lifeguard, but man, he’s wearing speedos and they are going to be tight. I’m going to have to go on a diet for like eight weeks before that.
Risen Magazine: I read on your twitter account your New Year’s Resolution… the post said, “What’s your New Years resolution? My New Years resolution is to grow in virtue. Specifically humility, and to eliminate pride.” Why is this so important to your growth now?
David Henrie: The reason I think I picked those two is that humility is a direct opposite of pride, and pride is the beginning of all defect. Pride is the thing that starts you choosing your will over other people’s will. A lot of old time writers over the past 2000 years of history have talked about pride as the beginning to all sin. Because ultimately it places the importance upon you and what is going on in your life as opposed to others. It can also make you esteem yourself higher, or less than you are. And humility directly contradicts and directly opposes that because to be humble is to live in accordance with the truth; not judge yourself greater or less than you are, but you as you actually are. Humility comes into all different circumstances in life from relationships with your friends; to live in accordance of the truth is to live in accordance with reality. Pride is at the root of any argument, any disagreement, and any wrongdoing.
Risen Magazine: There are many that would look at your life and wish they had similar experiences and opportunities, but what would you say brings you true joy?
David Henrie: When I’m doing the right things in life and when I’m not going against what I know to be true and what I know to be good. When things are ordered because peace is the tranquility of order. To be at peace is to be ordered. So when I’m ordered in my life, or doing what I know I should be doing, then I find I am most at peace. Everyone always says happiness is the key and you should be happy, but I don’t think that is the goal. I think the goal should be peace. You can do a lot of things that you don’t like doing, or that don’t necessarily make you happy for the sake of another. Like when a couple is married for 30-40 years, they are not always happy having to sacrifice for the other person but they do it because they love them. They will get peace from it. Everyone places this stress on the emotion of joy, or the emotion of happiness, but it’s not about the emotion. It’s about doing what is right. And peace is the reward. You shouldn’t just do something for the sake of a feeling because feelings come and go.
Risen Magazine: You’ve brought up hockey a couple of times as key connecting points in auditions. I have to ask, how did your love for hockey develop living in Arizona?!
David Henrie: It’s so weird. The Phoenix Coyotes came into town and my dad took me to some random game and I remember going to the game and seeing Jeremy Roenick play and I thought he was the greatest thing ever. And I asked my dad if I could get on the ice and play hockey and he said, “Sure, but the gear is really expensive so if you are going to play you need to go all out and try your best.” I did. And next thing you know, I was playing travel hockey all around the United States on one of the best teams in the nation. I never really gave up my love for it. I still play.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2015
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