Josh Kelly heated up TV and computer screens as Cutter Wentworth on One Life to Live. Now the actor is playing the romantic leading man on Lifetime's new series Unreal, a dark, soapy dramedy about a reality show that bears a strong resemblance to The Bachelor.
After watching the excellent first three episodes of Unreal, I caught up with Kelly to get the scoop on the show, his near-nude billboard and why he lived in an RV while he was starring on OLTL.
Daytime Confidential: How would you describe Unreal?
Josh Kelly: It is a scripted drama, kind of a dramedy, about behind-the-scenes on a reality dating show. It’s about the tension that goes on with the people producing the show but also they end up getting involved with the people on the show, just the craziness that happens. It’s insane, but [reality shows] are a part of our culture and it’s here, kids.
DC: Tell me about the character you play, Jeremy.
JK: My character is a camera operator on the show. He has a friendship, and he was formerly romantically involved with the main character, Rachel, played by Shiri Appleby. She returns to [work on] the show and they have tension. He wants to be a director, like a lot of the people that work in production. He wants to do more. His real passion is to be a filmmaker, but you’ve got to pay the bills.
DC: When the series starts, Jeremy is engaged to another woman who works on the show. Is he going to be drawn back to Rachel over the course of the season?
JK: I think that’s where a lot of the drama is going to be played out. What’s going to happen? You never know. They broke up for a reason and sometimes you’re drawn to people that aren’t right for you... Jeremy and Rachel go through that quite a bit. They both question whether they should or shouldn’t they.
DC: He seems to have a love-hate relationship with Rachel.
JK: The breakdown or meltdown she had [in the past was] because she feels so bad about working on a reality show where she feels like she’s ruining people’s lives and publicizing them. So he’s kind of concerned about whether he can be with someone who is not doing what she wants to do. What if what you don’t want to do is what you’re best at?
DC: How dark and twisted is the show going to get?
JK: It gets darker. The show gets real dark. But it’s very, very realistic. It’s all things that happen. When I was on One Life to Live, people used to ask me, “How can you take these storylines seriously?” And I was like, “I’m a divorced war vet living in a RV behind my cousin’s house while I’m playing one of the leads on a soap opera." Life can be weirder sometimes than TV.
DC: Why were you living in a RV?
JK: I was on the show for six months and then it got canceled. I was about to buy a house in New York because I thought I was going to be on the show for another three years. When it got cancelled, I was like, “Well, you’re probably going to fall down an elevator shaft or something in the next week or two.” So I figured I should probably get something that I could take back to California. So I bought a RV. But then they kept me on that show till the bitter end. So I lived in an RV for seven months. It was fun. I like to change up the way that I live my life and the things that I do. I think it keeps you young. It was a 1986 36-foot Allegro, jut an old shag carpet RV. And my cousin’s next door neighbors are big One Life to Live fans too, so it was really funny. They would see me carrying a case of beer into my RV.
DC: You stayed with One Life to Live during its brief transition to an online show. What the heck happened? One day it was supposedly going to go on for years, the next it was gone.
JK: I like to call it a brief but beautiful transition. [Production company Prospect Park] just didn’t have everything in order yet. I’m glad they did it. It was fun. It was great to get the gang back together and shoot again. I just don’t think everything was in place. I wish they’d given it a little more time. Then I think the show would have continued on and gotten better and better. There were too many things that were out of my control, out of everyone’s control. I thought it was really good when it went to the online version.
DC: One thing that soaps and reality shows like The Bachelor have in common is that there’s a stigma to watching them. I read an otherwise positive review of Unreal that claimed people who like The Bachelor won’t watch it because it’s too ‘"sophisticated" for them.
JK: That’s just ignorance on [the reviewer's] part. The Bachelor’s major fan base is people with $150,000 median [household] income, which is probably not stupid people. It’s smart people. It’s the opposite of dumb people.
DC:Are there any similarities between One Life to Live and Unreal?
JK: There’s the love triangle thing and the dramatic tension between people who have been together before. On a reality show, those things happen. The crews work together for a long time and they have histories. Then new people get brought in to the show and it adds drama.
DC: There’s a giant billboard on the Sunset Strip of you and the rest of the cast naked except for a strategically placed tablet. What was that like to shoot and how do you feel about showing so much of yourself to the public?
JK: It’s funny, the billboard is at the end of my girlfriend’s street. She has to drive past me every day. It says a lot about the show. It’s a really clever marketing campaign. It’s going to be gone in a couple days or a month or so. The moments the billboards are up are few and far between. It’s fun to enjoy them. It’s us naked. One of my friends, a successful actress, asked me, “How do you feel being so exposed?” Ironically, it’s kind of the point of the ad campaign and the show. It is weird. My army buddies get to make fun of me because they used an iPad Mini. They always point it out that it’s an iPad Mini to cover up any exposure.
DC: Did you talk to people who work on reality shows to prepare for this role?
JK: I spoke with some friends who work in post-production on reality shows. Living in Los Angeles, I’ve been exposed a lot to the reality TV show world. I have friends who were on them. I used to work in some of the bars around here where they would film some shows. Just exposure around here that a lot of people don’t get. You get to see them set up the scenarios and stuff.
DC: If you were asked to join the cast of a reality show about successful actors, would you do it?
JK: I have no desire to be on reality shows. I’ve been asked to be on reality shows before. I think there is something with the people who want to be on reality shows and be reality stars and use it as a vehicle to get where they want to go. But the people who just want to be reality shows are intrinsically different than the people who want to be successful actors, because wanting to be a successful actor, for me, isn’t really about wanting to be famous. It’s about being good at entertaining. Once you become successful, you’re able to be involved in more projects. Reality stars really want the perks of being famous for themselves in a way that I personally wouldn’t want to be exposed.
DC: As you mentioned, you were a soldier before you became an actor. After doing something so serious, when people get upset on a set, are you like, "This is not a real problem."?
JK: You’d be surprised how silly we got in the field. But when someone does freak out about something silly, it’s not life or death. And having been through situations that were life or death, it does keep you grounded and help you deal with the stress more easily. At the same time, it’s a similar feeling, so it’s been good to be able to give General Patton speeches every once in a while to some of my buddies that were stressing out. “It’s crazy and you’re scared right now, but you signed up for it. You’re the best and that’s why you’re here.” It’s fun to pretend to be a grown up sometimes.
Unreal premieres tonight at 10 EST/9C on Lifetime.