Talking Paradise Lost With Denis Shepherd

Recently I spoke with Denis Shepherd who stars in the new Paramount series, “PARADISE LOST,” starring Josh Hartnett Bridget Regan, Nick Nolte


How did you get into acting? Why did you want to pursue it?

My favorite thing to do as a kid was go to the movies. My dad would take my siblings and I a few times a week. Each time I would leave the theater feeling so excited and inspired by what I had just seen on the big screen, and I knew that I wanted to somehow create that same effect in other people. I loved performing at school assembly’s and talent shows, always trying to entertain people and to make them laugh. When I got to the University of Arizona, I studied Film and TV producing so I could learn the ins n outs of just how my favorite movies and shows are made and even had my first foray into acting with short sketch comedy videos. Once I graduated, I began working as a PA and took acting classes so I could develop a strong foundation. As soon as I got into my first acting class, I knew this is what I wanted to do.


What do you look for when you consider a part?

It’s important for me to have a role that I can relate to on some level and bring my own truth to. I feel as though I can better serve the story and the character if I know whom this character is or what they have gone through. I never want to misrepresent someone if I can’t relate to what they’ve gone through. They say it takes 20 years to be a good actor because you just need more life experience to be able to pull from. At the end of the day I always want to be honest and come from a real place.


What can you tell us about your character?

My character Yates is the “golden child” of an extremely powerful and wealthy family in Mississippi. He is held to a much higher standard than the other boys in his town. He has the reputation of his family to uphold and he takes it on with pride. His family is very important to him and he cares a lot for those that are close to him. Unfortunately his heart and his empathy for others gets him into situations that really challenge his morals.



How difficult was it playing a younger version of such an iconic actor?

It was a truly surreal experience for me that I am very grateful for. I saw it as a challenge and an incredible learning/growing experience for me. I did everything I could to learn from him. Whenever I had the chance I would get to set a little earlier to watch some of his scenes. This is someone who I looked up to as a kid, and now we are work colleagues. He really took the time to sit with me and share his insight on how he viewed the character and collaborated with me on the process. He also encouraged me to not be afraid to make my own choices and make Yates whatever I thought he needed to be. The experience was invaluable and I will never forget that.


How did you prepare for the role?

Prior to shooting, I was given quite a few references to study in order to embody the culture and lifestyle of the south and my characters backstory. Different books, movies, news articles. As well as phone calls and video chats from my hotel room with my acting coach. It is actually kind of crazy how much I related to Yates in my own life. I really feel like there are some roles out there that certain people are meant to play, and that’s how I felt towards Yates. I was able to draw from a lot of my own experiences to bring him to life. Once I got to set and was immersed in the surroundings everything really sank in.


What was working with the cast like? Do you have any special moments from filming you can share?

I had such a great time working with this cast. It felt like a big family by the end of it. It’s amazing how you can go into a situation not knowing anyone, but by the end you feel so close. I was soaking up as much knowledge as I could; it felt like one life lesson after another. There were actually a few scenes that required some “water training” for safety precautions, which I had never done before but was a lot of fun. They brought in experts to work on our breath hold underwater. I went from only a 30 second breath hold, to 3 minutes underwater! It was insane!


What do you like to do in your free time and how are you handling the confinement?

This is a really strange time we are living in; there’s never been a situation where the whole world comes to such a stand still like this. Before the crisis, in my free time I’m normally driving around Los Angeles for hours at a time, going to auditions, playing soccer, going to concerts, but of course all of that has come to an abrupt stop. What I have been trying to focus on during this time is to do what I can to keep my family safe, keep every day positive, and keep moving forward. It has been a major adjustment but I think there is some good that can come out of this too. For instance, I’m eating a lot more home cooked meals and watching more TV with my family, which has made us closer. I think it’s important to adapt your mindset and just make the best of whatever situation we are in. It has been really great to see how much people have come together during this time to keep their lives moving forward, whether it be video conferencing, online classes, or virtual workouts. This will eventually pass and hopefully we can hit the ground running once it’s all over.


What do you have coming up that we can look forward to?

I just recently finished my first short that I wrote and directed called “Stunt Double” that I’m really excited about. In the mean time, I’ve just been writing more, collaborating with friends. Planning more projects once it is safe to do so. Unfortunately it’s hard to say what’s coming in the near future, but I will be home continuing the work so that when this is all over I will be ready for what’s next.