Justin Chambers: Hot Doc Turns Cop
Hottie Justin Chambers who plays Alex Karev, the cute but pompous intern on popular TV series "Grey's Anatomy", might have had you doing a "who is that cutie?" when you saw him as D'Artagnan a few years ago in The Musketeer. Before "Grey's", Justin took on the role of a totally different character, a frustrated, dedicated cop chasing a famous 1960's serial killer in The Zodiac, opening this week.
Chambers was discovered while riding a Paris subway and thrust into the modeling world with ads for Armani and other top companies before taking acting classes, landing TV guest roles and then film work. Back off ladies. Justin is married to a gal who was working for his talent agent. He's a dad bigtime with four young daughters and one son. Justin is also a twin with a bro named Jason.
We chatted with the hot actor in Beverly Hills at the posh L'Ermitage hotel; a big fave of Angelina Jolie pre-Brad. Picture a friendly and yes, gorgeous dude in crisp khaki shirt, jeans and cute newsboy cap. We noticed a neat tattoo on Justin's lower arm. He demonstrated that, turned at one angle, it spells "death", and at another, "life". Serious stuff to carry around but then Justin takes his acting pretty seriously. He told us what it was like to play an intense cop, how he feels about his "Grey's Anatomy" character and what's coming up next for him.
TeenHollywood: Was there a real cop that you could research for this character in Zodiac?
Justin: Not really. He was a composite of a few different detectives in different jurisdictions. This character is sort of out of Alex's [the director's] mind, so I had a bit of a creative license to go with him how I thought he would do it.
TeenHollywood: Do you think you could handle the kind of stress that your cop character had to handle, or would you have cracked?
Justin: I probably would have packed up and left. I would have found somewhere else. It's not worth it. I think anyone, when you really care about your family, will do anything to protect them. But, it's also his job. Man, that guy was really stressed. He needed to go to rehab too, to detox on the cigs and liquor.
TeenHollywood: Your co-star Robin Tunney [from The Craft] says that she never knew what to expect from you in a scene. Is that just how you work?
Justin: Yeah. You just throw yourself out there and hope the director says, 'Well, no, not this, maybe that.' A lot of it's about the other person. So, working off of Robin was a lot of it.
TeenHollywood: Did you do any research into the Zodiac killer?
Justin: Very little. My idea was to go to this town, a week and a half before we started shooting, and just engross myself in the community a little bit. I would drive around and just map out Vallejo, and just try to place myself, living there, at this period of time, and feel like, 'This is my place. This is where I protect people. It's a great community that I believe in.' And, I just sort of put myself back in the '60s, in small town USA.
TeenHollywood: Had you heard of the Zodiac killer?
Justin: I'd heard of the Zodiac killer, yeah, but I didn't know much about him. It's really spooky, huh that he's still out there?
TeenHollywood: Yeah. Your character couldn't help but bring his work home. Do you bring your work home?
Justin: There are periods, as an actor, where you're like, 'Crap, when's the next gig?' But, no. Matt (his character in Zodiac) definitely had a lot to deal with, and I think that would be trying on everybody.
TeenHollywood: So, you're not a method actor then?
Justin: No, not really. I was tweaked out a little bit, during the filming. You can see it in Matt's eyes. Here's a guy who's chasing a phantom, and your imagination starts to get carried away because you don't know who this is or what they look like or what they're about. It can run the whole gamut. And, that's pretty scary. This is a guy who is just trying to get the bad guy to protect his family and protect his community. He was very serious and charmless. I pictured him being more of a patriot -- somebody who probably believed in Vietnam, who was old school.
TeenHollywood: He got all weird when his wife wanted to start locking the door to the house. Was that because, up until the Zodiac killings, Vallejo had been a safe little town?
Justin: Yeah. I think a definitive moment is the whole situation about leaving the door unlocked, or lock it. Logically, lock the darn door. It's ridiculous. But, it's his ego. It's him accepting the fact that times really are changing in his small town. I think that's the character, in a nutshell.
TeenHollywood: Did you do any research into the 1960's era?
Justin: Yeah. Something crazy was going on. The whole sex, drugs and rock and roll was really starting to happen. There were the racial riots in the South. King was assassinated, and Kennedy. I wasn't there. But, with Matt, all this stuff was going on on the outside, but in his protective little bubble, it wasn't. And, now, it really was bleeding into it.
TeenHollywood: Did you and Robin [who plays his wife] meet at all to talk about your characters before you shot this, or was it just meet on the set?
Justin: We went to the set and talked throughout the film. I think she came on board right before we started shooting.
TeenHollywood: You shot this before you got the part on "Grey's Anatomy". Are you pleased with the show being a hit?
Justin: Yeah. We've been doing 'Grey's' a year and a half now, which is great. It's a great success. The show is popular. I'm having fun. It's great to have a secure job and work with wonderful actors. Some of the writing's really fun.
TeenHollywood: Is your character Alex going to get more sensitive?
Justin: [smiles] No but some cool stuff's going to happen. He's definitely going to go back to the darker side. He's going to fall into that. He just has a lot to work out. He doesn't know how to express himself correctly. I think he's in love with Izzy, but she's not [in love with him].
TeenHollywood: Do you have any good guest stars coming up?
Justin: Yeah. We had Laurie Metcalfe. Mary Kay Place came on right before. And, last night, you saw Natalie Cole. That's what makes the job fun. You come in, not knowing who's coming in, and you watch their work and get to learn, watching them. They're usually really gracious, and exciting to watch. It's a really nice gig.
TeenHollywood: Have you done medical research for that role?
Justin: Yeah. We have a wonderful woman, Linda, who's the technician. So, if we ever have a question about a certain surgery or disease, we can just talk to her about it, and she'll break it down into common folk language. Sometimes, just getting down some of the three or four syllable words is enough work. The show really is about relationships, more than anything, and some of the patients.
TeenHollywood: Are you encouraged, at all, to come up with storylines for your character? Can you go in and talk about that?
Justin: Yeah, you can. I've had a few ideas. Sometimes they'll listen, and sometimes they don't.
TeenHollywood: Do you want to write them in a script?
Justin: I just give them ideas. I'm not a writer. Far from it. Sometimes, we'll get the script a day before we start shooting. And, throughout even shooting that week, they'll change things completely, and even take the character in a different direction. It's always a surprise.
TeenHollywood: You shoot in L.A. and live in New York. How do you work that out with your family?
Justin: That's what we're working out now. My family's still in New York, so I've been doing the back and forth thing. The show seems like it might be around for a little while, so now I'm looking into schools and trying to find a place to live.
TeenHollywood: How many kids do you have?
Justin: I have five kids. I have an 11-year-old, 8-year-old twins, a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old. And, I'm a twin, which is kinda freaky.
TeenHollywood: So, you know what they're going through?
Justin: Yeah. Twins are freaks, so I know how to deal with them.
TeenHollywood: When your girls start dating, you're going to be tough, aren't you?
Justin: Yeah. It's going to be really weird. I really don't want to think about it. But, they're cool. My wife's really helping. I think we've applied self-respect. I don't think they're going to need a guy to define who they are, at least so far. They're still pretty young. But, they're pretty cool and confident. I don't want them dating an ass.
TeenHollywood: So do you prefer the New York life?
Justin: My wife's a New Yorker. I love New York. We live on the outskirts of New York. There's just something about being right outside of Manhattan. It's a great feeling, even though I'll go, sometimes, once a month. But, I like California too. I think California's a great place to live. There's a lot to do here. I think it's a little easier than New York. I just had friends of mine that lived here, moved to Brooklyn, New York, and just moved back. They were like, 'This is too rough." She'd put her kid in a stroller and walk 10 blocks to take him to school, in the weather like that, and she was like, "No way! L.A. is easier'.
TeenHollywood: Has doing "Grey's" made you more high profile? Are you recognized on the street?
Justin: A television show like that really reaches a lot of people. We live in a small place outside of Manhattan. No one gives a crap [about what I do], and no one knows. I've always been the guy from such and such film, but it was never like people would come up. Now, with the impact of 'Grey's,' that's starting to change. But, it was kind of cool that way because my kids lived a pretty normal life, and I made enough to pay my bills and got to work. I guess it's changed, in that way. The popularity of the show has made me more visible and made people more aware of who I am. I get a lot of cat calls about Alex. It's like, 'It's a character. Give me a f**king break.' Some people are like Trekkies with this show. There's some women out there who are really into it. And then, the guys are always like, 'Oh, my wife loves your show' but they know everything about it too.
TeenHollywood: Yeah, they're watchin'. So, what's the weirdest fan encounter you've had then?
Justin: Nothing too weird. Those are questions for [Patrick] Dempsey [who plays another hot doc on the show]. I'm sure he's had some crazy things happen. We went to some convention recently, and there were a few women that I sort of felt like were elbowing me to get passed me to get to Dempsey. But, it was as if they really believed I was the character, which is great. I'm doing my job. I don't [care]. I really don't. Am I going to ask you out for a drink? No.
TeenHollywood: What's lined up for you in the next hiatus from the TV show?
Justin: I don't know yet but there's one thing that I really, really, really want to do, and they're interested, so we'll see what happens. But, I just want to keep working. I want to work and grow and learn. The show feels like it's going to be around a little while, so I'd like to just try to take this character somewhere. It's time for him to develop and grow. It's sort of like a stretched out movie, doing this. It's great. It's a great gig.
TeenHollywood: In addition to Zodiac, is there anything else in the can that we can watch on the big screen soon?
Justin: Southern Belles. It's a little comedy. It's me and Anna Faris and Fred Willard and Laura Breckinridge. It's pretty cute and funny. It's just a silly romantic comedy.
TeenHollywood: Who do you play in it?
Justin: I play a guy named Rhett Butler. She's obsessed with 'Gone with the Wind.' It's, more or less, about two girls who want to break out of Alabama. They're speeding and I ticket them. On my tag, it says I'm Rhett Butler, and she's like, 'Oh, my God!' And, he's just really dumb and sweet. Some of it is really cute. It's really about them. There's a little bit of a love story with me and Laura.
TeenHollywood: Have you thought about ever directing an episode of "Grey's Anatomy"?
Justin: No. I don't think I'll ever direct. That's air traffic control. I don't think so. Never say never, but I don't think so.
TeenHollywood: So, you are satisfied with your role in Zodiac?
Justin: Yeah. Luckily, that fell into my lap. I think I would have campaigned to be involved in a film like that because it's a spooky, cool story. And, playing cops is kind of cool.
TeenHollywood: There is another Zodiac movie being done. Do you have any thoughts on the David Fincher version that's supposed to be coming out later?
Justin: I'm sure it's going to be very good. I like his films. Somebody said that they're going to have an ending, which doesn't make sense to me. Like, they catch the killer. That's what I heard. I don't know if it's true. Maybe it's just speculation of what could have happened. It's pretty scary -- somebody who hides and sends letters. It's so callous, the way he did it. The idea that he would attack these young, beautiful couples, experimenting with love on Lover's Lane, and then just go up and shoot them point blank, and you don't know who it is. Is he dead? Was he 18 when he committed these [murders]? He could be alive. Was he from the town?
TeenHollywood: Creepy! Was it difficult to pull off the more emotional scenes in The Zodiac?
Justin: No. That's just all those years of not working as an actor, and being able to let it out. It's pretty easy to go there. It was originally titled 'In Control of All Things,' so I tried to work off the fact that this guy was sort of anal about everything. I just got really out there about it. It was all about just trying to control [his environment]. Whenever you set yourself up like that, the harder you're going to fall because you're not in control of all things. I think it was kind of easy to work off the fact that it's very stressful to try to be in control. You've got to kind of just let things take their course.
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.