cameron gellman interview
photo: David Higgs

Cameron Gellman

David Higgs
Wilford Lenov
Emily Zempel

Cameron Gellman is currently under the spotlight for portraying Rick Tyler aka Hourman in DC and The CW’s superhero sitcom Stargirl. The show recently aired the finale episode of its first season, making the fans eager to know as to what will happen next. In our exclusive interview, Cameron Gellman tells us about his experience playing Hourman and reveals his initial reaction to getting the chance to play a superhero.

cameron gellman interview

How did you first get into acting?
I was one of those kids that played a ton of baseball really competitively and I had this arm injury from pitching and I had all this time, all of a sudden, to explore these new creative aspects of my identity. So I started playing guitar and taking all of these art classes at this local spot in my hometown in St. Louis called COCA, which was the Center of Creative Arts. I took one acting class and this wonderful lady named Susie Wall who taught theater there brought me into a theater study in Webster Groves and then all of a sudden, I had a St. Louis agent, and at the time, you get a St. Louis agent, you book one commercial and you’re like, “Oh my God, I have a career,” and it was so far at the time from having a career. Then one random serendipitous step at a time I just inched closer to Los Angeles and to the actual thing.

Whose career are you most inspired by?
Ooh, that’s definitely not an easy question. You hit me with that early. There are so many artists out there that I am completely inspired by. I feel like anytime I see someone who’s really doing things their own way, I just get excited. Because for some reason, watching someone else be super bold and super abstract in their work gives me permission to do the same thing.

So easy example– Donald Glover is someone that I look up to so much because I feel like it seems like he’s in a place with his artistry where he gets bored of one medium and he’s like, “Yeah, acting’s not really doing it for me at the moment,” and goes straight into music, or whatever it is that he chooses to do. But that kind of flexibility of expression is something that I’m working towards in my own career. Because as you mature, you realize how little it matters what other people think of what you’re doing and you stop telling yourself like, “Oh, I’m acting and good for me, but music is not for me because there are other people further along.” Or, “Oh, writing is not for me because I haven’t started yet.” You just go, “Screw it. I’m going to do this because right now it’s what my system wants me to do.” And I’m a lot happier as an artist when I operate that way.

There’s definitely that chameleon aspect to his career.
Yeah, totally. I just think that we live in a time where social media– I’ve just discovered how wonderful it can be, it really is such a cool way to interact with the rest of the world and keep up with your friends– but also, it makes it so important if you’re going to do that to stay in your own lane and not constantly compare what you’re doing next to what other people are doing and de-legitimized where you are in your journey, whether that’s working on finding yourself beautiful and not going on Instagram and comparing yourself to 10 people that you perceive to be gorgeous or whatever the example is of that thing.

You have to know that what you’re doing is enough and that my definition of art is just, are you creatively expressing your truth? And as long as you’re doing that, I really feel it’s going to be wonderful and it’s going to be healing for people and it’s going to be interesting. If you’re trying at something, it might flop, you know what I mean? That’s how I’m defining what works for me now.

As long as you have the courage to go after whatever you want to, and regardless of if it flops or whatever it is, you tried it. There are no regrets.
You tried it, did it you heal something in you? Did you say something that you’ve been itching to say? Did it bring you to people that you are grateful to have been brought to? Whatever. There are so many different ways that a project brings value beyond just commercial success. And actually, commercial success is determined by a lot of really antiquated systems that don’t even know how to recognize today’s version of the talent or art.

cameron gellman interview

What drew you to Stargirl?
When I first started auditioning for the project, I knew that [Brec] Bassinger was attached and that for me was exciting because I knew she was a Type 1 diabetic. We were both involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for a while, and it’s like somehow we had barely managed to miss each other at events for a couple of years. And also, when I was a straight-up child and was just beginning to audition, I was always auditioning for her show, Bella and the Bulldogs, so I saw her name attached right away. Then all of a sudden, I’d been asked to do it.

I was the last one, I think, in the cast to book the show, and all of a sudden, I’m there living in Atlanta in March. The thing that really blew me away and excited me once I had just booked it was Geoff Johns. I have never met somebody so passionate about a project. And obviously, it makes sense because it’s uniquely personal to him; the show is a tribute to his sister who’s unfortunately passed away. And so his openness and willingness to talk about his own journey and his sense of loss and how that informed this amazing show, and the fact that he’d already kind of built it, and I was one of the last pieces, I was just like, “I’m so honored that you want me to be a part of this for you.” Just sitting and listening to what he had to say about exactly where Rick was coming from and the parts of Rick’s anger that were personal to Geoff and his own loss and all of that, I knew that he was going to be an amazing leader. I knew that he wanted me on that set. I knew that he was building a family, and I was just super excited to be part of it.

Were there any special rituals that you did to get yourself into character?
I’m still totally figuring that out, and I think it’ll always be evolving as I am and as the roles change. But with Rick, I was very intimidated by his heightened state of aggression when I first started playing him. It’s not where I operate from, and so the first thing was just figuring out, what’s our common ground? What do we both do a lot of? And we both think a lot.

We’re both really introspective people, but I think he runs a little bit more from any self-awareness he does have because it’s too painful for him. So when his emotions overwhelm him, he lashes out; and when my emotions overwhelm me, I kind of invert and disappear. And that’s where it felt like we differed. So I was doing a lot of physical-themed stuff– I had a coach who told me to push against a wall as hard as I could for a minute or two, just to experience what it was like to push against something that wasn’t budging at all and to play with the frustration of that as a metaphor in his life; lots of running around the block a couple of times before takes and push-ups and things that just felt intense; a lot of kind of hyperventilating sort of breathwork when I was working with the hourglass when I was fired up. As the season progressed, I started playing more with his mindsets, and I was worrying less about getting there and showing Rick’s anger and was more interested in why he felt that way and then how he was feeling about the team and being wanted again and having friends and learning about his dad’s true history. I just kind of relaxed a little bit, and it became very easy to switch in and out of him, as opposed to needing to not be near anyone when the season started and go in a corner.

What do you like most about Rick, and is that different from what you like about Hourman?
I think Rick is really strong to have made it as far as he’s made it in his life and somehow even keep going and getting up every day and even kind of attending school and still working on his dad’s car. There’s still hope in his system, and I think it’s pretty extraordinary that he has managed to keep that last little bit of hope alive given the fact that he has absolutely no support system and really nothing to look forward to. He feels invisible. He feels forgotten, and somehow he’s still dreaming a little bit and I just think that that kind of resilience is really rare to find in someone and especially someone at that age.

cameron gellman interview

What was the most challenging aspect of playing him?
He’s his own worst critic, and I think he berates himself. He’s as aggressive with himself, if not more so than he is with other people and because of that, I think there’s just a lot of shame cycle and a lot of harassing himself and a lot of reminding himself that he isn’t worthy of the good things that started happening to him with the JSA and with Pat and with this new family and that gets in his way because there are all these moments where you get to watch him choose if he’s going to be the bigger person in a situation, or be kinder, or be safe when the team is fighting, and he doesn’t. .

Obviously, with it being a superhero show, there’s a lot of visual effects that get added in post. Did you face any challenges in actually performing your lines and knowing what was going to happen and acting out the scenes knowing that a lot of it would be added in post?
That was just an adventure, it was so much fun. I think that’s what acting’s all about. You show up on any given day, and you kind of get dealt these really interesting challenges that just make you perk up and go, “Wow, okay. Like today, I’m talking to a stick, and that stick is going to become the staff, and that staff is going to then grab me and take me across town to Courtney.” It wasn’t easy, but no one had it harder than Anjelika [Washington], who was always talking to herself because her best friend in the show are the goggles. So I have no room to complain. I had the hourglass on me, I always had Brec wielding the staff, which she completely personified and gave a personality. At the end, in the last episode, I had that massive fight with Grundy. That was me on top of a giant, green beanbag with a sad face on it. To be releasing all of this rage and all of this anger on this thing that’s not really there. But yeah, in the moment, your imagination just engages and it’s easy. You believe it and you kind of suspend the reality. Everyone around you believes it, and watching you. When Geoff is there watching this moment that he had already told me about months and months and months before. Then when the episode comes on, you were there, you did it, you know this but you see it and you’re like, “holy crap, that is not what I did on the day.”

I was always onset creeping around and watching everybody work, because it was just such a master class and I was allowed to. When they filmed in the final episode, when they filmed Grundy and S.T.R.I.P.E. fighting, they filmed an empty hallway, you know? And somehow onscreen, these two monsters are tanking each other, and it’s just extraordinary what they were able to accomplish. There are entire sets, that I would be on my couch and see onscreen that did not exist, entire sets that did not exist on our show, that were green screens. You see it and you’re just like, you’ve got to be kidding me. Holy crap. They did such a good job.

What did you enjoy most about watching your costars bring their characters to life?
When you’re working, you can appreciate your castmates a certain way because you’re in scenes with them, and it blew me away how generous everybody was and how prepared everybody was. Then you’re off set and you get to be a fly on the wall, and really take in the depth of their work, and appreciate how talented those people are. When you’re not focused on you, you can pay attention to the details. Getting to be there for a scene where it’s just Brec talking to Luke [Wilson], and having some kind of beautiful father/daughter moment. Or it’s just Yvette talking to Henry, and it’s some crazy Wildcat/Brainwave Jr. confrontation. You get to just watch them work, watch them take notes, watch them get into it, and kind of creep on how they prepare. It was such a happy creative environment, that I just kind of always wanted to be there, you know?

Who was your favorite villain of the season and why? I know some fan favorites were Sportsmaster and Dragon King.
I mean, I’m pretty excited to see Cindy [Burman]’s second season. I think that she is one of the meaner characters on our show, one of the scarier, more dangerous characters on the show, and I really enjoyed watching her this season. I thought Meg [DeLacy] did such a brilliant job. As the season goes on, you learn the full extent of the way that her father has just completely experimented on her and messed her up. That was always something that really got my imagination going about like, what is the full extent of what this scientist actually did to his daughter? Yes, we know she has lasers come out of her wrists, but I think that’s 1% of it. So I always enjoyed watching her do her thing, and probably my favorite two episodes are “Shiv Part One” and “Shiv Part Two,” I thought that those two fights with Brec were extraordinary.

cameron gellman interview

The finale just aired, and of course, the fans are left on their toes. Is there anything you can tell us about season two? What can fans look forward to?
I think that season two is going to really heavily deal with the fallout and the rewards that each character individually experiences, based on the ways that they’ve stepped up in the last episode. I think that we’re going to get to see Rick improve a lot because he was able to refrain from killing Grundy and I think we’re going to see Yolanda really struggle with what she did in killing Brainwave. And I think by then, you’re going to see the JSA training a lot more, becoming really legitimate superheroes because by then we need to be. It’s like the team has had so many near-death experiences and it’s like they have to get ready because clearly there’s already another threat, whatever Cindy/Shiv released in the show is clearly going to be even worse than what we just fought.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I’m really lucky. I’ve worked with a lot of more experienced actors and creators who have been really willing to share with me their own pitfalls and their own successes. And I’ve always been someone that, even if it was annoying, has asked those questions because I’m just really curious whenever I meet people that are doing really well and have sustained long artistic careers.

I remember I was talking with Geoff Johns about my power-up, how Hourman transforms and what that looks like from an acting standpoint when the hourglass turns on and I had done it one way in episode five and then it had been directed very differently in episode six, but it turned out that he loved the way it was done in five but I had already changed it. I apologized and just was a bit nervous about the situation and I just remember him saying to me, “Hey, Cam, no one knows what we’re doing here. We’re figuring this out together. You’re bringing this character to life for the first time on camera and I love what you’re doing and all that really matters is that you work hard and that you are open-minded with us,” but he’s like, “We can edit, dude.” He’s like, “I promise you there was a take in six where you did the same thing or we can borrow footage.” And something that shifted my entire season, he said, “There are so many people here to problem-solve with you and around you, and just know that. We’re figuring out together and we’re equal here.” Then I started reading a little bit more creatively and my confidence went up and I think Rick became more interesting. And all of a sudden, it was always this negotiation like, “Okay, cool. We’ll get two takes your way and I want two takes my way,” and a lot of those takes that I wanted ended up made the show.