Actor Shawn Carter Peterson. Photo: Ben Miller.

Actor Shawn Carter Peterson stars in Pitch Perfect 2 as “Dax.” Photo: Ben Miller.

Pitch Perfect 2 may very well be the most talked about film of the year thus far, and since May 15, the same is ringing true for actor/director Shawn Carter Peterson — at least in terms of recognition within the industry and project offers, if not yet renowned celebrity status (though, mark our words, it’s only a matter of time before his name is on the tip of your tongue!). While his character Dax is something of a screw-up, Peterson’s performance in the much-anticipated sequel as an intern at record label Residual Heat was nothing short of flawless. But before this big break, like any L.A. transplant, he was gradually working his way up the fame ladder. After having graduated from Vassar College with a dual-degree in Drama and Africana Studies, this gifted Baltimore, MD native emerged in national commercials and print ads, and later plunged himself waist-deep into a sea of TV appearances in shows like Entourage, Hart of Dixie and NCIS: New Orleans.

Not one to complain over the jobs he gets, Peterson is quickly reaping the rewards and solidifying his path toward becoming a leading man. In fact, he feels that he has finally hit his “stride” career-wise and that this is the moment when everything is finally coming together for him after 10 hardworking years.

“This pilot season was great for me, because I was going for a lot of series regulars and a lot of leads, which made me feel really good,” he says.

In real life, he seems to be very much the funny, happy-go-lucky man he so often portrays on-screen — but don’t let that fool you, because he has got some serious credits to boot. When he’s not in front of the camera, he’s behind it, producing and directing films of his own for Maestro Entertainment, an independent film production company that he owns and runs in partnership with producer Neecole Cockerham.

Peterson sat down with GALO in-between auditions — literally — to talk about his new projects, lasting trends in the entertainment industry, and what roles he hopes to play going forward. If his most recent one is any prediction of his future, Hollywood better be ready, for there’s a new shining star riding toward the horizon.

GALO: You play the role of Dax in Pitch Perfect 2. The first film was known for its great music, and while you’re an actor, music is not new territory for you — you’re also an award winning pianist, right?

Shawn Carter Peterson: [Laughs] Yes, I am.

GALO: As a musician, in what ways did you find that your musical background helped to shape your character?

SCP: Well, Dax works at a record company, so because I am a musical person, it kind of bleeds into all the work [that] I do. I tend to end up playing musically gifted people or artistic types [of] characters a lot. Dax’s character is kind of funny in a quirky sort of way. He is kind of the hipster — hipsters can be seen as very musical people, if you ask me, because they’re kind of very lyrical in the way they present themselves to the public.

GALO: Would you consider yourself to be a hipster in real life?

SCP: I wouldn’t per se, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with hipsters [laughs]. They tend to get a bad rap.

GALO: Outside of the film world, do you still play the piano either professionally or for yourself?

SCP: Actually, I stopped playing for many years when I first started acting professionally, and then I found that I felt like something was missing. Because I started playing at the age of four, my entire life that I can remember, I had always played [the piano]. Then when I moved to California and started acting professionally, I kind of put it on the backburner. So the last couple of years, I started playing more. I am actually working on a concert right now with another classical pianist friend of mine; we’re looking to do a piano concert sometime at the end of the year. So it’s kind of a comeback and [it] is at the forefront of my life again, which I think is a great thing.

GALO: There are a lot of seasoned actors and actresses in this film, from Anna Kendrick to Rebel Wilson — and to top it off, Elizabeth Banks directed this one. Can you talk a little bit about what the experience of working with such a talented cast and crew was like for you?

SCP: It was really cool. I have been a fan of [Elizabeth’s] work for a long time, even back when she was in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and [was] just starting out. So it was slightly intimidating, but since I knew her as an actress first, I could empathize with her — or at least she could empathize with me. Being on a set with a lot of funny people, a lot of seasoned actors, there is a nervousness that you get when you finally look at the call sheet and see who you are going to be working with. She was very comforting and was like, “Look, just go do the job. Be funny. And if there is anything I need from you, I’ll ask it.” So that was kind of how we moved forward, and it was a lot of fun. She put a lot of faith in me and I think that I delivered.

Cincopa WordPress plugin

GALO: You mentioned that the set was full of funny people. Given this, I can’t help but wonder, were there any comical behind-the-scenes moments or even pranks being pulled?

SCP: There were a lot of behind-the-scenes moments with a few of the special guests… We did have a lot of fun. There was some funny stuff that was caught for the B-roll, the special editions on the DVD — and when I was being interviewed, a couple of the other actors kind of jumped in and we had a lot of fun with that.

GALO: Lately, apart from remakes, there seems to be a lot of crossover between musicals and films. You come from a theatre background, having studied the craft in New York. Do you enjoy the current trend of musicals being done in the film realm? Or do you think these are two separate entities that should be left to their intended market and audience?

SCP: I am a big fan of musicals being mixed in with the film world. I started off in musical theatre, so my very first role was the role of Peter Pan in Peter Pan — that’s my comfort zone. So when shows like [NBC’s] Smash came out and they started to do more musicals in [TV and film], I was pretty happy about it.

I would love to do musical roles on film. I think that would be great. There is a different kind of acting when you are on film than when you’re on stage. I think that lends itself to, at times, being a little more intimate. So I would love to see more of that.

GALO: It’s interesting that you say that, as one would think that theatre might be perceived as a more intimate experience, given the limited audience numbers and the ability to interact with them. So, clearly, you have a love for both forms, but have you considered getting back into theatre?

SCP: I definitely am looking to get back into theatre. I did a lot of theatre when I moved to L.A. And then I started to concentrate more on film and television, and like with music, it took a backseat. Like music, it’s my first love, so it feels natural [to] me. There has been a good marriage when I have been able to do multi-camera comedy shows on television, because you do have to have a live audience. It feels good because it’s like you’re back on stage — because you are! You’re feeding off an audience, and there is nothing like that feeling at all.

GALO: You have been a part of numerous short films in your career, including 2010’s The Untitled Bob Marley Project, in which you played the titular role. What is the draw for you creatively in doing short films?

SCP: The cool thing about short films is that you get to flex your film muscles, and you don’t have to spend six or seven months doing it. By nature, the medium is a lot shorter, and it’s hard to tell a really good story in a very short amount of time. It helps you kind of hone your storytelling skills. I think, now, I want to move more into feature-length [productions], because I have not done that yet. I think that short films as a medium can be quite poignant. If you can tell a good story in a very short period of time and make someone feel something, then you got something you need to hold onto.

Photo Credit: Ben Miller.

Shawn Carter Peterson. Photo Credit: Ben Miller.

GALO: Are you interested in doing feature-length films as an actor or are you looking to move behind the camera, given your prior experience as a producer?

SCP: Both. I have directed a lot of shorts and I’ve been in a lot of shorts. I am starting to do more in features, but I haven’t directed a feature. I think that would be something that I want to tackle in the near future.

GALO: You also have your own production company: Maestro Entertainment. Are you producing or directing any upcoming projects we can look forward to?

SCP: I know that Maestro is going to be co-producing this two-piano concert film that we’re working on. I am also executively producing a series with a really good friend of mine, Melvin Marshall, and it’s about art, art curation and artists, as well as celebrities who collect art. We haven’t come out of the box with that yet, so I can’t give you too much more [information] about it. We’re actually in production right now with something, so you will be seeing more of us in the future.

GALO: Do you have an estimate of when we can expect the series to premiere?

SCP: I would say by the end of 2015 at the latest.

GALO: You once said, “It takes 10 to 15 years to become an overnight success,” a quote which I love, by the way. Was there any moment for you as an actor where you felt you were starting to get into your “sweet spot?”

SCP: I’m feeling like that right now, actually. It feels like it’s all starting to gel [together], after having been out [in L.A.] for over 10 years. I have a resume that is starting to speak for itself, as an actor, a director, and as a producer. I’m feeling way more comfortable with my work now. When I walk on set, I feel like I own it. I own my stride and I feel like I am meant to be there — and that feels good. Because I remember feeling like a fish out of water the first few times, and feeling very scared and nervous working with big stars and being like, “Oh crap, what do I do?” You know what I mean? Now I walk on set and I’m like, “Well, hey! Yeah, you’re big, but I’m coming!” So, it feels really good and like I am hitting my stride right now.

GALO: You have worked with a lot of “big names.” Were there any in particular that kind of came along and helped you in your development as an actor?

SCP: That I have actually had personal interaction with?

GALO: Yes.

SCP: There was one [actor] in particular that I worked with on Pitch Perfect 2, [Keegan-Michael Key], who I got to work with side-by-side. [He] really helped me to get comfortable with myself. He is a very well-known improv actor, and when I saw his name on the call sheet, I kind of started sweating a little bit [laughs]. When we got on set, he was like, “Hey, let’s do it! Let’s play!” It was kind of like working with a big brother, so that was really cool.

I also got to work with Faye Dunaway on Midnight Bayou when I first started working. Watching her work showed me how the pros have done it for years. She knew exactly what she was doing — she knew what the lights were about, where the cameras should be placed, and where she would look her best. She got a lot of flak from some of the crew members at times, but I got to see that she knew what was best for her.

GALO: Going along with that idea of taking 10 to 15 years to become an overnight success, what do you think of the current trend of YouTube and Vine stars that seem to be creating fast content and gaining millions of followers in such a short period of time? Do you see this kind of art making a lasting impact on the entertainment industry?

SCP: I think that you have these YouTube and Vine stars getting millions and millions of followers overnight, and then they’re getting jobs based on that. Some of them will last — because I think there are people out there who have natural talent, and when they are given the opportunity to shine, they do shine. But I think the majority of them are kind of like — and I hate to say this — but how reality stars have been seen in the last five or six years. Where many of them were given opportunities to shine, and they did for a little bit, but because there was no craft behind it, only the cream rose to the top. So I don’t feel threatened by it per se, but sometimes you might feel a certain way about someone who just popped up and all of a sudden, they are starring in movies. But I am here to stay. Whatever they do, that’s good for them. We all have our insecurities on a bad day, but for the most part, good for them. Maybe that will parlay into something that I can piggyback on, so I say kudos to everybody!

SCP: You know, I have been approached to be a part of different reality situations, but I wasn’t into it. I actually executively produced a reality pilot a couple of years ago. Being on the behind-the-scenes part of it was different than being in front of the camera. I don’t know that I really want to do that. I don’t know that it’s for me. I kind of like having a certain amount of privacy. I know that as you get bigger, you kind of lose your privacy more and more, but I don’t need cameras in my face when I wake up — that’s just a little too much for me.

GALO: That makes a lot of sense! You have made quite a name for yourself in the industry already, creatively speaking. What is a career milestone you still hope to achieve in your future?

SCP: I would really like to produce, direct, and star in my own [project]. I feel that has worked for a lot of people. Whether it is Sylvester Stallone or Ben Affleck, I think there is something to be said for being able to pull off your own work through your own lens. We all see ourselves a certain way, and everyone outside our head sees us in a different way. I think it would be great to show the world what I see, the way that I see it. Because I think I’m a superstar [laughs]! It is really hard to prove that to people, so you spend a lot of time toiling in other people’s lens. Which is fine, and it pays the bills! So, there is nothing wrong with that, but I’d like to expand how other people see me. Sometimes I think the only way that can happen is if I do it myself.

GALO: Is there a certain way you want people to see you?

SCP: I feel like I am more of a leading man than I have been given the opportunity to show — and I am funny! Which is what people are seeing me as, but I think I am [also] a little more serious than what people have given me the opportunity to be. Leading man with a little comedy, because that is how I am in my day to day, but there is a strong side that needs to be showcased.

GALO: That’s great. Is there anything else you want your fans to know?

SCP: As far as hitting my stride, I think I have been given the opportunity to audition for some roles I feel I’d be really good in. This pilot season was great for me, because I was going for a lot of series regulars and a lot of leads, which made me feel really good. I would walk into the waiting room with people who had multiple shows before and people whose work I had admired. I feel like it is all coming together [finally], and [that] I am just one step away from being where I really want to be.

Video courtesy of Universal Pictures UK.

For more information about Shawn Carter Peterson and his current and future endeavors, you can follow him on Twitter @ShawnTheMaestro.