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So…What’s Your Story?: Interview with Gregg Binkley

So What's Your Story Gregg Binkley Tamela D'Amico

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Gregg Binkley acting collage
Get Your Act Together Gregg Binkley

(NOTE: Actual “history” is important to me, in this day and age of people finding out info on Tik Tok for their education, I’ve turned all highlighted words into clickable links in this article.)

Introducing the indomitable Gregg Binkley, a seasoned actor whose illustrious career has spanned more than three decades. His journey into the world of entertainment began in a unique way – while working as a character at the iconic Beverly Hills 50’s-themed diner, Ed Debevics. It was there that he caught the eye of Rick Dees, who featured him on his late-night show, Into the Night with Rick Dees, where Gregg became a series regular for a year.

His talent and versatility quickly caught the attention of Hollywood heavyweights, leading to roles in films directed by legends like Mel Brooks, Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, and Woody Allen. He starred as Harold Skolnick in the Revenge of the Nerds series and portrayed Don Knotts in the NBC movie Behind the Scenes of Three’s Company.

Gregg’s career continued to soar with his memorable portrayal of “Dan the Del Taco Guy” in a highly successful advertising campaign that spanned six years. He then landed the role of Kenny James in the Emmy award-winning pilot episode of My Name is Earl, where he appeared in 20 episodes during the show’s four-year run.

In 2010, Gregg joined the cast of one of my favorites, the hit TV show Raising Hope on Fox, playing the role of Barney Hughes, the grocery store manager, for 71 episodes. His recent acting credits include guest appearances on popular shows like NCIS: Los Angeles, and Young Sheldon.

A few years back, I had the privilege of directing Gregg in a Comedy Central sketch series entitled Pacino and Pacino Talent Agency.  This humorous scenario featured two Al Pacino characters running a talent agency, and it was during this project and the episode “Bobby Deerfield” that I truly appreciated Gregg’s ability to infuse his performances with genuine heart, humor and pathos. (His episode is posted at the bottom of this blog.)

Beyond acting, Gregg is also a director, having helmed shows for Pure Flix, including Hitting the Breaks, Malibu Dan, and The Beverlys. In 2017, he founded Gregg Binkley’s “Working Actors Workshop,” a platform for aspiring actors to hone their craft.

In 2024, Gregg released his inspirational book, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER: Finding Success in Acting and Life, which has been endorsed by Emmy award winners like Bryan Cranston, Greg Garcia, and Eric Stonestreet.

Despite his busy schedule, Gregg remains grounded, living in Los Angeles with his wife and three children. His passion for acting and dedication to helping others in the industry make him a true inspiration in Hollywood. 

TD: Could you paint a picture of your childhood and upbringing, and how it shaped the actor and person you are today?

GB: I grew up in Topeka, Kansas and was the youngest of four children. My Mom stayed at home to care for us, and my Dad owned a couple of Goodyear tire stores. He founded a Little League in Topeka, and he also turned the three and a half acre lawn at our house into an incredible garden that people would pay to tour. It had over 60 flower beds, and in the Spring would have between 25,000 and 40,000 tulips in bloom. He hand-planted each one. He then gave the money raised from the tours to the city to build other nice gardens in town. There is a beautiful garden near Lake Shawnee that has an annual “Jerold Binkley Tulip Tour” in April that continues the tradition he started at our house. He always told me that I “could be anything I wanted to be.” That message gave me the courage to move to Los Angeles to be an actor. My Mom was a very generous and wonderful person and her example of having a good heart is one I try to emulate in my own life.

TD: How did your formative experiences pave the way for your journey into the captivating world of acting and entertainment?

GB: Both my Mom and Dad were creative. My Dad showed his creativity with the gardens he’s created and my Mom always loved theater and was happy when her kids performed in productions. My parents also had a strong work ethic and helped me to recognize that nothing comes easy.

TD: Who were the key influencers and mentors that shaped your journey in the entertainment industry?

GB: I had a number of acting coaches who helped to guide me. The ones I studied with the most initially were Stephen Book and Aaron Speiser. I am particularly grateful for Aaron’s class because that’s where I met my wife, Tokiko. After I had had a lot of success as an actor I went through a period where I was struggling to get work and was a little lost as to how to continue. I took classes from Howard Fine and his approach of finding all the characters inside of us reignited my fire. I found the love for acting again, and I share a similar philosophy to Howard’s in my coaching.

TD: You’ve had an extraordinary journey in the world of television, starring in some of the most iconic shows. Can you share a standout moment where you felt like you were on cloud nine?

GB: I have been fortunate to have some amazing experiences during my career and one of the best moments was early on when I got to shoot a scene with Mel Brooks. It was an extraordinary experience being a kid from Kansas and suddenly working with a legend, and I felt the same way while being directed later by Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and the Coen brothers. Probably the one moment from my career that stands out was when I was on the talk show Vicki! with Vicki Lawrence. I was invited to be a surprise guest on the show for an episode that featured famous actors who were known for being a “second banana.” One of those actors was Don Knotts. I had become pretty well-known as a guy who could impersonate Barney Fife, and they invited me to surprise Don Knotts on the show. At first I turned them down because I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I later agreed. I outlined some questions Vicki could ask me in front of the studio audience as I acted like Barney Fife, and I suggested her last question to be, “what do you do if a kid goes bad?” On the Andy Griffith Show, Barney was known for saying, “if a kid goes bad you’ve got to nip it in the bud!” So after Vicki asked me the question, I responded, “If a kid goes bad? Well, I learned this a long time ago from Barney Sr. When a kid goes bad you’ve got to…” And then I turned and looked at Don Knotts. I decided to serve it up to him and I hoped he would answer… I prayed he would answer… I asked him in front of a national television audience: “Well, what do you have to do Don? If a kid goes bad you’ve got to…” and Don Knotts said, “Nip it in the bud!” That’s a moment I’ll never forget.

TD: From seasoned stars to fresh faces: What valuable lessons have you gleaned from your diverse collaborations with actors of varying experience levels?

GB: I have learned so much over the years as I have worked with very accomplished actors. One lesson that comes to mind was from my experiences on the show Raising Hope when I worked with Cloris Leachman. I was a series regular on the show and was always excited when I could work with Cloris because she was so unpredictable. She would often start laughing right before we shot a scene. I’m not sure why, but it seemed to me that she was keeping it light and getting ready to have some fun. That’s a lesson I have taken with me – sometimes I laugh before I do a funny scene. I also remember on Raising Hope when one of the other regulars, Garret Dillahunt, told me I had great instincts and that I should trust them more. I usually tried to specifically map out scenes and then I would perform them exactly the way I had prepared. Garret’s comment helped me to change my approach and I think it really helped me to elevate my work. Now I do all my homework and make sure I am prepared for all that may happen in a scene, but then I just go with what is happening. I allow.

TD: What was the spark that ignited your journey to penning “Lessons for Acting. Lessons for Life”?

GB: The reason I wrote, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER: Finding Success in Acting and Life is because I wanted to share how I had used success principles to create a long acting career, and how I had learned that acting techniques could be used for a better life. I had never written a book before, so it took me a long time to find the courage to get started and to follow through, but for many years I had been organizing my thoughts as to what I could share. I had also created a lot of exercises for my classes and the results from those exercises reinforced to me how the lessons could really help others. I wanted to share what I had learned with more people. I’m very excited that actors are being inspired by the book, but I’m also really happy that non actors are finding inspiration for their lives as well.

TD: Could you recount a memorable experience from your acting journey that perfectly encapsulates one of the invaluable lessons you’ve shared in your book?

GB: One of the main lessons from the book is to trust your instincts. There are a lot of examples I share, and maybe the most meaningful story is the one about how I ended up going to Los Angeles in the first place. I remember watching the TV show Inside the Actors Studio and I enjoyed how the host would always ask the guests the same question at the end of every episode. His final question was always, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?” Every guest had an interesting answer to that question, but the answer that stuck with me came from Steven Spielberg who responded that he would like to hear God say, “thanks for listening.” So whenever I have had a big decision to make I have always tried to get quiet and listen. When I was about to graduate from the University of Kansas and I was trying to decide what to do with my life, the thought “be an actor” kept coming to me. I’m so glad I followed that thought. As I have grown as an actor, I have always tried to get quiet and listen for guidance. I remind myself to just trust myself. I remember being on the show NCIS: Los Angeles and having a scene where I was being interrogated by L.L. Cool J’s character, and I was supposed to break down and cry. I decided to get quiet, trust myself, and allow things to happen however they would moment to moment. As that character, I ended up going to a very dark place in that scene. I trusted my instincts and it all happened as it should. I think we can all be guided when we get quiet and listen.

TD: How do the insights gained from your acting career translate into practical wisdom for navigating everyday challenges?

GB: There are a lot of lessons from my acting experiences that can translate into practical wisdom for everyday challenges, but two of the main focuses are the importance of confidence and being present. One of the key attributes that people sense in a dynamic actor is that the actor has “presence.” In other words, they are present. They are right here right now. In my acting career I have learned that I can do my best work in my scenes when I block out everything else and just get present to what is happening. I forget the crew is there, I forget the camera is there, and I just get present to what is happening between me and the other characters in the scene. When we can block out all the other distractions in our own personal lives and just get present to our current circumstances we can be much more relaxed and productive. It is very easy to be distracted by our phones and so many other every day concerns, but when we can eliminate those distractions in the moment and just be right here right now, we can be much more at peace. As actors, we can also develop our confidence through exercises, some of which I share in the book. We can become the kind of people that other people want to associate with. Those two skills – being present and being confident – are the ones I really focus on with the actors in my classes. We work regularly on those two skills, and I make sure the actors practice the exercises in their daily lives too.

TD: What’s a piece of advice you wish you had received when you were just starting out as an actor?

GB: When I was just starting out as an actor I wish I had realized that I can find all the characters I play within me. I was trained in creating a character by trying to be another person, but my work really elevated and became more fun when I discovered that all the characters I will ever play I already have inside of me. I just have to tap into it. Each one of us is a part of humanity, and we can find ways to justify whatever our character says and does. It doesn’t mean that we are the same as the characters we play, but it does mean we can find them truthfully within us. We don’t judge the character as being different from us. We find our way to justify what our character says and does. Once I learned that lesson, I really discovered the joy of acting. This approach also gave me an appreciation that my truthful interpretation of the character would be unique, and my uniqueness would be my best bet to get work.

TD: Could you share a behind-the-scenes story about a role that truly tested your acting skills, and how you navigated the challenges to deliver a memorable performance?

GB: One role that really tested my skills was a recent one for the show, NCIS. The character I was playing was a man who was stalking a woman Admiral of the Navy. It was a challenge to not judge the character in any way. The episode began with my character talking to himself in the mirror, similar to the classic scene Robert De Niro did in the film Taxi Driver. I had to make sure I was not influenced by what he did, but instead just trust myself moment to moment. Earlier in my career I would have tried to give a “performance”, but now I recognize that I can do my best work when I do all my homework and then allow things to happen in the moment. The writing was good, so all I needed to do was to find my own personal connections to the material and not try to push for any result. That kind of mindset takes courage because it can feel as though I am giving up control, but ultimately I think this kind of approach leads to my best work.

TD: How do you maintain a harmonious balance between your acting career and your personal life, including your family?

GB: Maintaining a balance between an acting career and your family life can be very challenging because of the unpredictability of an actor’s work opportunities. My wife and I have three children and we want to make sure we can provide a good home. When an actor is in the position of having a contract on a show (as I have had a few times in my career) it is so much easier because you know you will have an income. When you are trying to survive job to job it can be very stressful. I think a big key is to make sure you save money whenever you are doing well. It is also essential to make time each day to be with your children and to pursue your career. You must value both. If you have a vision that you are pursuing for both your family and for your career, you can make sure to live each individual day to the fullest.

TD: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

GB: I hope the readers will find inspiration and encouragement to go for what they want in life. The book largely focuses on how we can be successful as actors, but the lessons can be translated to a person’s personal life and how they pursue any profession. As actors our job is to develop the character we play with the choices we make and the actions we take, and that approach can apply to our own personal lives as well. I share some daily focuses that the reader can follow, and if they practice those focuses I believe they can become the kind of person they want to be. The book opens with a quote from the Greek playwright Euripides – “There is just one life for each of us. Our own.” I hope the reader will take the lessons I share in the book and take action to live the life they have imagined both personally and professionally.

TD: In an industry as dynamic and competitive as acting, what strategies do you use to maintain motivation and focus amidst constant change?

GB: The business of professional acting is constantly changing and we must keep growing to stay alive. I’ve always liked the quote from Steve Martin, “be so good they can’t ignore you.” I think it’s essential that actors continue to work on their craft so they will be on top of their game at all times. We never know when our work opportunities will arrive, so we must be ready today. I also think it’s essential that we love the craft. If we don’t love our work, the entire process can be very frustrating and demoralizing. If we focus on what we love, we will be more open to seeking and finding work opportunities. The acting business is one you should only pursue if you are passionate about it. If you feel as though acting is what you are meant to be doing, and you have a strong work ethic, you will have a good chance to find work. Don’t rely on others to give you work, but keep building your industry relationships. Audition for shows, but also create your own work. We can’t control the business, but we can control what we choose to do each day. If we are going to stay in the game then we should keep seeking new ways that we can find work as the entertainment business evolves. I think we should alway be prepared to work and be pursuing work.

TD: In the age of self-tapes, how do you navigate the balance between receiving direct offers and honing your self-tape skills? What’s your approach to auditions and how do you prepare for them?

GB: Our business has changed considerably with the switch from in person auditions to self tapes. That change has been both good and bad. The good news is we can record our auditions at our convenience, and we can submit whatever take we think shows our best work. The bad news is we don’t know if the casting directors will actually watch the tape. We also don’t get to have the in person interaction that could lead to receiving new direction in the room and to building a relationship with the casting directors and producers. Given this new situation, I think our approach should be to embrace the fact that we have the opportunity to really send in our best work. Prepare for your auditions and shoot your scenes as though you are actually DOING the job, not trying to GET the job. Take each audition as an opportunity to go deep in your work and really express your talents with the role you are playing. Love doing the job, and then send in the tape with no attachment to a result. Your job is done. There is power in that mindset. If you match what they are looking for, they will offer you the role. We should endeavor to create a reputation as an actor who always sends in excellent work. That reputation will lead to more work opportunities.

TD: What’s next for you in your career, and do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?

GB: What’s next for my career is to continue preparing to work and pursuing work. I still think my best work is ahead of me, and I want to be ready when the opportunity arrives. I am excited to continue to coach other actors and to speak to groups and share the message of my book. I love seeing the actors in my groups continue to grow and to get work. I remind them that our future is created by what we do today. I like the quote from Steve Jobs, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward – you can only connect them looking backward.” I’m excited to see what work will come my way in the coming years, and I feel as though writing this book has given me a clearer picture on how to make things happen. The book is not just a record of the past, but it’s also a roadmap to the future. I want to continue to practice what I preach, and see what happens.

TD: In addition to your professional accomplishments, you’re also a proud father and family man. How has being a parent influenced your approach to your career and your work in the entertainment industry?

GB: My greatest gift is my wife and children and I know my experiences with them helps to shape my work. One of the big things for actors to remember is that they need to have a life outside of acting. As I mention in the book: Your acting skills will help with your life, and your life skills will help with your acting. The more experiences we have outside of our acting work, the more elements we can bring to the characters we play. I waited a long time to get married and to have kids, and that helped me to stay in the game longer because I had fewer responsibilities. Now that I have a family it does put more pressure on me to be able to provide for them, but that again helps me to understand the characters I play. Every character is multidimensional, and the more life experiences I have with my family and with the people who come in and out of our lives, the more I have to call upon in my acting work.

TD: What are some of your passions and hobbies that you haven’t had the chance to explore fully yet, and how do you plan to incorporate them into your life moving forward?

GB: The writing of this book has opened up new opportunities for me to pursue. To be honest, I would have been happy if the show I was on (Raising Hope) would have lasted 20 years and I could have just coasted into retirement. The fact that I have had to look within to discover new chapters in my life has ultimately been a blessing. As I move forward, I want to see how I can grow into a speaker who can share this message in front of live audiences, and also how I can continue to pursue writing. I want my classes to continue to grow and I look forward to meeting new actors who I can train to use these skills in their careers and in their lives. I still have big ambitions as an actor, but I’m excited to see where my life goes and grows as I continue to pursue other avenues as well.

TD: In the midst of a pandemic, labor strikes, and the rise of AI, what are the things that bring you joy?

GB: Through all the turmoil of the recent years, I have focused more on the everyday joys of life – spending time with friends and family and trying to really experience each day. As you get older and see people you know pass away, you realize that no one gets out of here alive. We all have a limited time, and we have to respect that each and every day is important, not just for building our future but also for just experiencing the day itself. I remember during the pandemic I saw so many more people taking walks through the neighborhood where I live, People were slowing down because they had to. As a family, we had to be isolated together, so that situation ended up making us closer as well. The strike kept us from working, but many of us veteran actors became reacquainted as we walked the picket lines together. Through it all, it’s been a reminder that life is happening right here right now. Let’s not miss it.

TD: ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?

GB: People can find my book on Amazon, get information about my classes on my website, and follow me on Instagram. GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER: Finding Success in Acting and Life is available now on Amazon: https://a.co/d/cNgGKy8

TD: Where can people learn about you and connect with you? Links:

GB: Website: www.greggbinkley.com Instagram: instagram.com/greggbinkley

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