You became popular after playing in Disney movies and TV shows like "Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board" and "Wizards of Waverly Place". Do you remember your first audition for a Disney TV show? What was the most exciting aspect of being a Disney star?
I was lucky to have the opportunity to work on such fun, interesting projects at such a young age. The film "Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board" was one of my first live action films. And "Wizards of Waverly Place" was my first live action series. I remember the auditions for both projects. It was when I was 12 and 13. And both auditions started in New York. The call backs were in Los Angeles at Disney. I was so nervous, but I remember in the audition for "Wizards", Selena talked to me beforehand and told me she really wanted me to do well. That was encouraging and gave me the confidence I needed for the final audition.
"Wizards of Waverly Place" was one of the most popular Disney TV series and you were playing Max Russo for six years (counting "The Wizards Return: Alex vs. Alex"). The character you played was sometimes crazy, sometimes unpredictable, but always very funny. Do you share any similarities with Max and did this role influence your own personality or attitude to life in any way?
Portraying Max Russo has definitely been one of the highlights of my life and career. It was a bit challenging for me to play a character who was sort of oblivious to most things. And often times, the character of Max served as the comedic relief for the series. So that was definitely something I felt responsible for and enjoyed very much. As far as how the character has influenced my own personality, I would say that every character an actor plays is uniquely different and often times, brings their own set of challenges and experiences. Playing Max Russo was a lot of fun for me because the character was so unpredictable and spontaneous, which can enhance life in many ways. And it always makes for an interesting story.
You are now a grown-up man and your roles are becoming more mature and complex, for example in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" or "The Fosters". What kind of roles do you prefer to play: comedians, villains or romantics? How can you describe your "dream role"?
I’ve been fortunate to be able to be a part of so many wonderful projects from animation and roles for younger audiences to more mature content and that is something I’m grateful for. I think it’s important to try new things and to take risks. With each role, I want to push myself further than I’ve gone before. I’m constantly pursuing the unknown. My dream role would be portraying a historical figure in a compelling story based on true events. Films based on true events are always fascinating to me because I love to do research for projects, especially if the character I’m playing is based on a real person.
You are also a voice actor, you were voicing Diego in "Dora the Explorer", Khumba in "Khumba" and Blue Beetle in "Justice League vs. Teen Titans". How do you prepare your voice for this job - is it a challenging experience for you?
Doing voice-overs for animated projects is challenging but a lot of fun for me personally, as an actor. Preparing for voice-work requires understanding the character, how they sound, what they look like, etc. You must use your imagination and try to picture what the scene or character is going to look like because, often times, actors are brought in to the studio to record their lines months before final animation is completed.
Your real name is Jake Szymanski and I know that your father is of Polish ancestry. Can you tell us more about your Polish origins? Do you know any Polish words or traditions?
My grandfather’s name was Joseph Szymanski. He was born in Poland in 1942 along with my great-uncles and aunts. They came to the United States during World War II and never returned to Poland. Growing up, my relatives would share stores of life in Poland. They would speak Polish and introduced me to many local recipes and dishes from Poland. Unfortunately, many of my Polish relatives have passed away since then, however there are a few relatives still in Poland I would love to meet. It has always been a dream to visit Poland with my father and perhaps I will have that chance one day. I’m very proud of my Polish heritage.
In 2016 you had an adventure with dancing in "Dancing with the Stars", you also played a baseball player in "The Perfect Game" and a wrestler in "The Fosters". What are your favourite sport activities and ways of spending your free time?
My favorite sport is baseball, I played for many years as a child. And my favorite hobby is writing. For the past few years, I’ve been developing my own scripts. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to direct one of them some day. That is one of my goals.
This year your new film "The Valley" with a strong message against bullying was shown on multiple film festivals. Can you briefly describe the role you played in this movie? What more can we expect from you in 2018?
"The Valley" is a drama set in Silicon Valley. I play Chris, a popular high school teen who develops a crush on the main character in the film, played by Agneeta Thacker. Without revealing too much about the plot, the overall message of the film is to be kind to others and spend time with the ones you love, because you never know what will happen.
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