If you’ve been watching the new Spectrum Originals series Paradise Lost, you’ve noticed Denis Shepherd. Denis portrays the younger version of Josh Hartnett’s character Yates Forsythe, bringing to life who Yates used to be and what he went through as a young man – essentially laying the groundwork for the mystery that Yates’ wife (Bridget Regan) is unraveling in the present.
Denis stopped by recently to discuss what it takes to play your version of someone else’s character, what he enjoyed about Paradise Lost, and the unique filming experience in the South. Learn more about him and his character in our interview.
Brittany Frederick: You have an interesting challenge as an actor. How do you make your version of Yates similar enough to Josh’s to make it feel like the same character, but also different enough because they’re from two different points in time?
Denis Shepherd: A lot of the stuff that he goes through now, in the present day, stems from what I went through in the past and the earlier part of the show. The showrunners, Rodes [Fishburne] and Arika [Lisanne Mittman], they sent me a packet of stuff to study for the South. And to get the mannerisms, their culture, I was watching movies and reading books and articles. Then I was given Yates’ whole life timeline, but I could only really study the first half of it; I had to ignore the later years of his life.
When I was talking back and forth with Josh, he was giving me all kinds of encouragement He said hey, man, make this character whatever you feel and whatever feels right to you. And coincidentally I was actually able to pull a lot of my own life experiences and things from my own life. The similarities between me and my character were so on point that it actually was pretty easy for me to develop this character.
BF: Was there a scene that was a particular accomplishment for you during the filming of Paradise Lost?
DS: There is a scene where I’m in the middle of somewhat of a disagreement with my sister, Janus. It was actually my audition scene. It was a very tough, emotional scene. The two of us, me and the actress Autry Haydon-Wilson, we rehearsed it with our director Neema Barnette. She really took her time breaking this emotional scene down and choreographing it a little bit.
It took us hours to get this filmed and get the flow of it just right. By the end of it, Autry and I were just absolutely exhausted and we really put everything we could into it. By the end of that scene, I just remember feeling really proud that I was able to hold my own and deliver. I ended up seeing it the other night on TV and I was proud to finally have a nice moment like that.
BF: This is the longest time you’ve played one character on TV, so what was it like to live with Yates from that standpoint?
DS: I’ve done a few things that I was filming for two or three days at the most. But I was out there four months, going back and forth. I really had to pick up and really drop everything in my hometown and just completely submerge myself with the Louisiana lifestyle and this character.
I was out there on my own in a hotel room. Once you’re out there and surrounded by it, it’s really all that you think about. It becomes so easy just because you become one with your environment. And then [you go] through all the different scenes and prepare them. I put myself in that headspace. It was very enjoyable.
I was counting my lucky stars. Every day I was walking to set, I was just like I’m so excited that I get to play a character with this much depth to him, with so many different types of scenes with different emotional journeys. Honestly, by the end of it, I was just in tears because of how much I enjoyed it.
BF: For people who have enjoyed you in this role, what else would you recommend so they can see more of Denis Shepherd?
DS: Two friends of mine from college, Jimmy Tatro and Christian Pierce, have a very successful YouTube channel which started as college humor comedy sketches. That’s kind of my first dip into acting. Some people have recognized me from there, but I always like to look back at those short little videos, because that was kind of the beginning of it all.
What I’ve learned from this is just be very grateful for what you have right now. As long as you’re persistent and keep at it, everything’s going to end up working itself out. Just don’t ever give up.
Paradise Lost airs new episodes Mondays exclusively on Spectrum On Demand. To learn more about Spectrum Originals, click here.