Actor Ian Duff on: Film, Focus & Tapping into Life’s Best Stuff!

Hailing from Rochdale Village in Jamaica Queens, NY Ian Duff is accomplishing the dream of millions. Though his childhood goals were laser focused on becoming the next big MLB star, an unexpected detour into acting was where he found his favorite footing. “I’ve been fortunate to have been given opportunities to TRY” he reveals. “What I mean by that is, my mother allowed me to find my path in this world through trial and error. She sent me to camp almost every summer, enrolled me into youth/mentorship programs, anything to spark some interest. That was pivotal to my growth." -And grow he most certainly has! In what seems like a snowball effect of earned momentum, Ian’s career is taking flight in the most delightful of ways. As he expands in both film and television where self-belief and hard work can prove to be enough, we’re excited to have our very own introduction to rising star, actor Ian Duff:

Ian how did acting show up for you?

My uncle sent me the book 'Meisner on Acting' by Sanford Meisner. I didn’t have any insight on acting schools but I knew a theater program was the way in for me because the actors that I admired took that route. I felt I needed to have a fundamental base of acting.

We heard that you had your first actor 'aha' moment while watching the film Antwone Fisher. If you had the chance to sit down with your younger self, what would you tell him about who you are today and what advice would you give him? ….also WHY was that movie so pivotal for you?

Antwone Fisher was pivotal primarily because of the relationship dynamics between Antwone and Dr. Davenport [and] Antwone with his mother. Watching that film at the age of 16 or 17, going through teenage trials & tribulations, feeling like the world was against me (as most teenagers do) -it really planted a seed subconsciously. I saw myself in Antwone -but I didn’t pursue acting at that time. It took about 4 years to really blossom to a point I could no longer ignore it. If I had the opportunity to talk with my younger self- I would probably decline to be honest, because I know I wouldn’t have listened. I truly am at this point in my life because of the decisions I made as a youth -both progressive & regressive. If I were to say anything to young Duff though, I’d probably read the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver a few times over. -I for sure wouldn’t have understood or have been receptive to it at the time, but the seed would’ve planted and I think that’s all you can really ask for!

Eventually you studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Tell us about your experience there compared to your traditional college experience, specifically in regards to academics and personally being surrounded by so many like minded creatives?

The Neighborhood Playhouse was the catalyst of change for me. I enrolled in the program in the fall of 2013 after having completed a 6 week intensive months before. For the first half of the semester, I would go to the Neighborhood Playhouse from 9am to 5pm and then I would rush to St Joseph's College for a 6pm to 9pm lecture. Though I burnt myself out that first semester, it helped bring clarity to what I wanted to pursue. While there, I was introduced to my body as an instrument, an idea that was completely foreign to me. Working on my voice & speech, discovering modern dance & physical theater cracked open a new understanding of what’s required to be a theater actor. My first time on stage was also at the Neighborhood Playhouse- as an adrenaline junkie, that was the pinnacle- I was hooked. Going from that high of the day to sitting in a 3 hour lecture the same night was arduous to say the least. Also, finding my tribe, that’s one of the most important takeaways from my time at NP. Having a support system was a key component to staying sane. The feeling of a communal “we are in this together” and having others to lean on for support was built there and has stayed with me till this day.

Outside of the technical work you put in, can you give us an idea of what it's like mentally (& emotionally) preparing for your characters?

My goal is to BE THE GUY -how I arrive there changes every time. I’ve realized I don’t really like discussing preparation. I find it difficult to articulate because it’s not a linear process. So in lieu of that, here are a few words that may give insight to what guides me the most: Exploration, Excavation, Meditation, Imagination, Observation & Play!

When things really started to take off & you began booking roles, what was that FEELING like for you?

I wouldn’t use the term “take off”[lol] - I’m not too sure what that means -ha. The goal is to make a living doing this job. That entails being able to put ACTOR when I file my taxes. That is a feeling of accomplishment and every job is a reminder that I am doing it; living my dream!

We've found that a lot of the #26 creatives we interview generally think with a certainty, an all in, “there is no plan B, plan A will work”. Was this your train of thought as well? …How did you arrive at that? Was it more of a “knowing” or a “decision”?

I knew in my gut this that is what I wanted to do- so I’d say the “knowing” came before the “decision”. The decision was that I would commit daily to becoming a craftsman, learning the business, and taking the steps to making a living as an actor. I dropped out of college to attend The Neighborhood Playhouse. That’s when I decided to be ALL IN. I knew I could always get a job or go back to school so there was no reason for a plan B. There’s been progress every year since finishing the program at NP- that is enough for me to stay the course.

What are some of your personal self-care must haves/must-do’s?

A life outside of work is extremely important. Hanging out with friends and family, getting a haircut once a week, a facial once a month -these things are a must. Also for me, physical activity is imperative, anything sweat inducing is really important, whether that’s boxing or playing basketball or my new found passion for Muay Thai. I also enjoy reading. I [recently] got a puppy during season 1 of The Republic of Sarah- he takes up a significant amount of my time as well :)

Judas & The Black Messiah came out during [what continues to be] a tumultuous time for race relations in this country. What were your personal emotions going into that role & project? -Were there any personal takeaways once completed & you saw the final product?

What I enjoy most about this job is the opportunity to learn something new each go round. Having a deeper level in understanding the history and politics of the Black Panther Party was not only insightful- it had a profound impact on me because I was raised with a step dad who tried to introduce and implement similar ideals growing up. Though I wasn’t mature enough at the time to receive it, to get reintroduced as an adult with a stronger, more clear POV felt like alignment.

There were so many takeaways from Judas and the Black Messiah, it's hard to keep it short because I can talk at great length about that experience. My cast-mates were superb, the creative team was brilliant, the Panthers were real life heroes, the city of Cleveland (where we filmed) fully embraced us with love. That experience will probably go down as one of, if not THE MOST impactful of my life. The camaraderie, support and genuine love exhibited within the cast and crew was pivotal to the success of the film.

What are some of the ways you hope to use your gift to give back?

I wouldn’t say I personally have a gift- I think the opportunity for someone to see themselves as a character I’ve portrayed, to hear my story and be inspired to set and give themselves permission to achieve their own goals is the gift. My opinion is that what a lot of children in my community lack is opportunity. The ability and permission to find their way through physical activities outside of basketball, baseball and football. To fund the arts, STEM programs, and more. Access is important and I feel that’s severely lacking today.

Now you’re on “The Republic of Sarah” which is a complete departure from your last project. Have you found a preference between film & television acting? What can you tell us about your new character Grover Simms?

I like rehearsing- there isn’t as much time to do that on a TV set as there is on a film set. Acting is acting, wherever I’m allowed to do it is the preference :) -Grover Sims is your traditional small town guy. He works as a manager in the local diner. He is Sarah’s best friend. He tries to support and assist in her new duties as the leader of a new country. When we meet him we realize he’s dealing with the death of a loved one. He’s on a journey of self-discovery and healing.

As a rising star, we'd gather that people are being introduced to you and your incredible talent likely on a daily basis. What would you like the world to know about you? Who is Ian Duff?

Everything the world needs to know, I hope to share through my work. I don’t think I'm that interesting of a person honestly [LOL]. I’m a simple guy whose always had something to say but could never quite formulate my thoughts into words. Acting has given me the opportunity to express myself in ways I haven’t before. It’s also helped me find my voice in writing; a medium I hope to share with everyone one day!

Finally Ian, our favorite question: can you tell us, what’s your definition of luxury?

My definition of luxury as a state of being is to live a comfortable life. The goal is to have the ability to financially manage life’s responsibilities and still freely enjoy time and experiences outside of that. Materialistically, I think luxury items stand the test of time; the efforts, details, considerations put into a piece are what make anything “luxury.”

Catch Ian on the 'The Republic of Sarah' currently airing Monday nights @ 9pm on the CW!

Photography: Stephanie Diani

Wardrobe: Ani Hovhannisyan

Grooming: Remi Odunsi

As told to: Corey S. Guevarra & Kyrl James

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