Interview: Jeff Hephner: The Water Is Wide in The O.C.
by Scott Juba
Published: January 27, 2006
Being the new guy on one of TV’s most popular shows can be an overwhelming experience for a young actor, but with his confident charisma and on-screen presence, Jeff Hephner has fit right into The O.C.’s hot young cast.
Hephner’s close relationship with Peter Gallagher has helped him find his comfort zone on the show. "The majority of my scenes so far have been with Peter Gallagher, who is that show’s fearless leader," Hephner says. "He warmed me up and ingratiated me to everyone. I was very fortunate to run into him first, because he broke the ice for me."
Hephner adds, "Peter plays the nicest guy in the world, and he really is a nice, genuine, good-hearted man. He’s a very talented actor who’s been in the business a long time and knows the ins and outs of it and still isn’t jaded. He has a very positive attitude. That’s one of the things I take away from going to work with him – how positive his attitude can be. We walk out of things and they’re better than they could have been. He makes each situation better."
In addition to his role on The O.C., Hephner stars as Pat Conroy in the upcoming Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, The Water Is Wide, which airs Jan. 29 on CBS. Based on Conroy’s autobiographical novel, the story focuses on how Conroy traveled to a remote island off the coast of South Carolina where his teaching style clashed with the island’s other teacher but eventually transformed the lives of the students. While Hephner has yet to amass a long list of acting credits, he believes his inexperience actually elevates his portrayal of the idealistic young teacher. "I was allowed to just get in there, get excited about what was going on, be nervous, feed off of that and then have this open connection with all these young kids. I could not have been put in a better situation as an actor. I was with Frank Langella, Alfre Woodard and the director, John Kent Harrison, who has done so much. I just got thrown into the perfect fire of experience and knowledge and really gracious people and the curiousness of the children coupled with my own curiousness. I really got thrown into the perfect storm."
During the filming of The Water Is Wide, Hephner’s dinners with Frank Langella gave Hephner an opportunity to soak up knowledge from the respected actor. "He would just import so much mentor-type knowledge on me that I really felt like I needed a pen and a pad of paper," Hephner tells me.
Langella is just one of the many talented actors that has imparted lessons about the profession to Hephner. "I’m getting these perfect lessons from all these experienced actors who have managed to get through this business and hold onto the art of it for decades," he says with enthusiasm. "I can’t even pinpoint the one I’ve gotten the most from, because I get little nuggets from everybody."
Although Hephner has had on-the-job training from several successful actors, he has never formally studied acting. "I was crashing commercial auditions in New York," he says of his early acting days. "One of the casting directors introduced me to a manager. I went up there and she started getting me some auditions, and I started doing some student films. I just started rolling."
Hephner eventually landed his first agent after a frustrating incident on a New York street compelled him to speak with candor when he met with the agent for the first time. "A cabbie hit a puddle and it splashed all over me," he recalls. "By being [ticked] off, I went into his office and was just as honest as I possibly could be about who I am, what I think acting is, how I want to be a part of that, and what I think the benefits of it are."
That same candor and honesty transfers to each of Hephner’s on-screen performances. This key trait separates him from many other young performers, because honesty is one trait an actor can never fake.