JON MORENO — Arts Editor
Anthony Cusello, who says he prefers to be called AJ, is a pre-education major who is in theater, music and art. He’s had a cameo in the TV show “Scrubs” and has performed in various plays. He says he hopes to have a part in an upcoming musical on campus. Cusello also already wrote his own play and had it performed. Cusello says he hopes to teach one day but does not rule out the possibility of taking his talents to newer heights.
Q. Let’s start with the basics. What’s your major, year, and what do you feel separates you from other people who do what you do?
A. Well Jon. Do you mind if I call you Jon? OK. Well Jon I am a Pre-elementary education major. I guess I’m kind of right in between junior and senior at this point of my Southern career. Ahh well there are so many things that make me better than everyone else out there. It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. No, I’m kidding. There are people out there who are better than me at some of the things I do, but I think the thing that sets me apart from them is that fact really doesn’t bother me. I have fun acting. And you know I’ll audition for things here and there, and if I get the part that’s great, and if I don’t that is OK too. Some people really harp on it and make themselves really feel terrible about not getting a part. I congratulate the person that got the part and tell them I’m sure they will do great because in honesty they probably were better for it than I was. But that’s not going to stop me from going out there and trying again.
Q. Take us back to the first moment when you realized that acting is a lane for you? Were you always a natural at it or did you have to work your craft before becoming good at it?
A. Well that was actually in 1997. My sister was always really interested in acting, musicals and all of that stuff. She had just auditioned for a play at her high school and there was an opening for the part of a little kid about my age. She basically made me audition (laughs). I did not get that part but there was another one not as large that they asked me to do. I accepted and went to some rehearsals and just had a great time being in the show. All the fun I had doing the production was what really made me want to keep doing it. When I kept doing shows, I realized it was just the production but the acting was what I enjoyed doing. Trying to completely be someone else for a while is really fun.
I would not say that I am a natural really. I feel like a natural is someone who can pick a script up and be the character perfectly. To me that is something that few people can do. I have to rehearse just like everyone else does. It really takes a while to nail a character. You may think you are doing it perfectly and then the director comes and tells you that you are doing it completely wrong. But other than rehearsing for shows, I don’t really study acting. I haven’t taken lessons or classes. The most studying of acting I do is going to the movies or watching TV.
Q. So you write and you say you can even carry a tune. I believe that makes you a triple threat my friend. What exactly do you do with your writing and singing? And how serious are you about those two? Is it right up there with acting?
A. Well I don’t think being able to carry a tune qualifies me as a triple threat (laughs). I really like music so I do enjoy singing whether it is on stage or in my car. I’ve been in a couple musicals, which are always really fun to be in. I took choir for about eight years so I have some vocal training, but I’m not going to go out there and try to be a professional singer. I actually just auditioned for “Spring Awakening,” the musical on campus and am waiting to see if I get a callback. I would be psyched – that is a great show and I would love to be a part of it.
Writing though is something I have always loved to do since I was little. It is kind of a terrible thought because I have such terrible grammar in my writing, but when I have an idea I just need to get it on paper. On my computer, I’d say there are like 10 unfinished projects I have started that I work on from time to time. I really hope to have something I write published one day. Of course, I would have to finish writing something for that to happen but it would be quite an experience. I actually got the pleasure of seeing a show I wrote come to life last semester when I was at Sacred Heart. A play I wrote called Super Zeroes was performed. That was a lot of fun to write because it was the first time I had tried writing anything other than a short story. I would say that they are all around the same level of interest for me but more recently I have gotten the chance to act and write more than sing.
Q. Who are some of your favorite actors – actually entertainers overall – and how have they influenced you artistically or personally?
A. I would say acting-wise there are a few people. Will Smith is, I think, my favorite actor though he has done so much in his career. He went into Fresh Prince basically never having acted before and look where he went from there. Even being the comedy that it is, in the serious episodes he will blow you away. And if you have seen “Pursuit of Happyness” I think that is some of his best acting in any movie. Neil Patrick Harris is also someone I highly admire. Not only is he hysterical in “How I Met Your Mother” and the “Harold and Kumar” movies but he has an amazing voice. I think “Dr. Horrible Sing Along Blog” is one of my favorite musicals ever. If you haven’t heard of it, do yourself a favor and see it. Hugh Jackman is also one of my favorites. He can just do so much; plus he is Wolverine.
Q. What do you hope comes out of all this? Is this something that you see staying as a hobby or is this something that eventually can become a career path for you?
A. To be honest with you I don’t care what comes out of it. It’s something I enjoy doing. Right now my goal is to be a teacher. Acting would be a cool career but I don’t see it as something realistic. There are so many people that do it that the odds are just naturally stacked against you. I’m not saying no one should try, just I don’t see it for me. Regardless I am going to keep acting, singing and writing when I can. They are great hobbies and who knows? Maybe one day someone will see me or read something I wrote and be blown away by it and give me a multimillion-dollar deal. However, I’m not going to go out of my way to pursue that when I’ll be just as happy teaching.
Q. What is your advice to other actors, singers and writers that may hit a mental block when they try to create a project? What do you personally do when you struggle to get what you have in your mind out on paper?
A. Just that it happens to everyone. Some of the best people out there have periods where they don’t do anything. My advice is just giving it time. Sometime you just have to let things go for a while. Don’t try to force it because you may end up with something you don’t like. When I’m stuck on something I leave it for a while and see what happens. Sometimes I’ll be able to pick it right back up and carry it on like nothing happened and just burn through it. Asking people for opinions I feel helps me too. It may give me something I hadn’t thought of before. The one thing I would say is definite though is always have something on you that you can write on and with because you never know when an idea is going to come at you and you’re going to want to write it down. That’s how I wrote “SuperZeroes” I had an idea while I was hanging out with some friends at school then went on my computer and typed up six pages.
Q. Are there any places people can go and check out what you do? I know you had a cameo in the TV show “Scrubs.” How was that experience and how did that come along?
A. Yeah that’s actually on YouTube. Just search “janitor chief of medicine” and it’s somewhere in the middle of the video. That actually didn’t have anything to do with my acting talent. I got a “Make a Wish” when I was in high school; they asked if I wanted to be on “Scrubs” and I jumped at the opportunity. It was one of my favorite shows. They flew me and my family out to California, put us up in a hotel and pretty much took care of everything. Then when I arrived on set I got a tour of the whole place. I had no idea it was shot in an abandoned hospital. But originally I was just going to be on screen and the writer came up and asked if I’d want to say something. Obviously I said yes. I actually came up with the line when we were talking about it. It took a few takes cause they had to shoot it from all the different angles. It was a fun day though; everyone on set was really nice and I got to have lunch with the Janitor, Ted and Dr. Cox. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Plus now I can say I’m on Netflix, and how many people can say that?
Q. If it wasn’t for being able to express your creativity through all that you do, how do you think life would’ve turned out for you? Would there possibly be something else that took up a lot of your time or do you simply have no idea?
A. These things are a pretty big part of my life so I have no idea what I’d be like without them. Definitely not the same person I am right now. I made a lot of my really good friends through acting and singing so I probably would have a whole different set of friends.
I have no idea what else I would have done. There really isn’t anything else that interests me like this stuff does.
Q. What are your plans once you graduate from Southern?
A. I haven’t decided whether I am going to go on to get my Masters or take a break and start teaching right away yet. It’s really a hard choice and I’m glad I have a little more time before I decide.
Q. What is your fondest memory here and what would you like to tell the Southern body for those who don’t know you?
A. I met the Flash and Batman once. It was one of the coolest moments of my life. And well, as a message to those who don’t know me, I like long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners and puppies. But actually, say hi whenever you want I’m a pretty friendly guy. And just as a message to everybody, be cool to each other; there is no reason for hate to be around.