In Season 2 of the CBS All Access series The Twilight Zone, “The Who of You” tells the story of struggling actor Harry Pine (Ethan Embry), who finds himself in a position where he’s willing to risk everything to finally catch his big break. But when an impulsive action sends him down a twisty path, the destination is most unexpected.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Ethan Embry talked about the wild experience he had doing this episode of the anthology series, now in its second season, fine-tuning his performance, what he most enjoys about the concept of The Twilight Zone, identifying with his character, and whether he feels like Harry learned anything from his journey.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episode 3, “The Who of You.”]
Collider: Your episode, “The Who of You,” is such an interesting story.
ETHAN EMBRY: It’s definitely a strange experiment, this one, I’ll tell you that much. The way (director) Peter [Atencio] decided to tell the story was just a wild experience that none of us had ever had before, with the idea that my character has accidentally stumbled on a way to transfer bodies. At first, he has no idea how to control it. It’s just something that happens to him. The whole experience was very strange.
How was it swap bodies with Billy Porter, and to play his character inside of your character?
EMBRY: Billy Porter is a big character. He’s a broad personality, and I didn’t want to go super big with it. With each one, I just wanted a hint of what their characters have. We had a discussion before about whether or not to fully take accents over. Specifically, with Billy Porter, he’s got a very distinct voice, and he’s also LGBTQ and a Black man, so I wanted to take these little essences of what makes Billy Porter, Billy Porter, but without doing an imitation. I just tried to figure out the small underlying things that I could do. It was this really fun, experimental process that the director, Peter, was fully supportive of, which made it a really great work environment.
I thought it was handled really well because you can really see the changes in each of the characters, every time they’re hopping around to different bodies.
EMBRY: The biggest challenge was for Peter, the director, in deciding how to convey it. The biggest challenge for us was just trusting that what he said to do was the right thing to do. But it was fun. I would say that it was more enjoyable than challenging because of how different it was. I remember when I first read it, that was the first thing that I asked them. I was like, “How are you doing this? How is this going to happen? Am I suddenly putting on this woman’s clothing? Is it me in there? How are you making the swap?” It was new. We got the opportunity to go to work, doing the same thing that you usually do, but having the rug pulled completely out from underneath you and doing something brand new. It’s a rare experience.
This show, in general, is a different experience because each episode is different and self-contained, with a beginning, middle, and end, each time. How did it feel to tell the whole story, just in one episode?
EMBRY: Yeah, there’s the anthology aspect of it. One of the things about it that I loved, and I grew up watching The Twilight Zone classics when I was a kid, is that it seems to me like they are only telling that part of the story. To me, it’s not a complete story. It’s a snapshot of the story. It’s giving you the meat of the sandwich. That, to me, is the fun part of it. You can inject so many other things into that because you’re picking up in the middle of the act, and a lot of times you don’t really get the ending. It just leaves you. I’ve always loved that. I did [an episode] of the Forest Whitaker one, when I was like 19, or something. I can’t remember the storyline of it, at all. I just remember being in an insane asylum, or something like that. I totally forgot that I had done one of those, but then I started thinking about, if they do a Season 3 of The Twilight Zone, I think it’d be really fun to have an actor, as the character, that had done both Twilight Zones like me, but he was really bitter and he wanted to do one of the originals, like a typical actor. And then, he gets thrown into one of the originals. That’s The Twilight Zone.
Could you identify with and have a little fun with the fact that your character is not just an actor, but he’s stuck in an awkward audition that just doesn’t go his way?
EMBRY: Yeah, that’s the majority of [auditions]. The only way that you can be successful in this business is to accept the fact that 90 percent of the time, you’re gonna fail, and that’s if you’re doing really well. It’s like the baseball of art. The majority of the time, you’re gonna lose, and you have to accept that. That’s acting.
Do you think that this is a guy who learned anything from the experience that he goes through, in this episode? Do you think he would have done anything differently, if he’d known how things would turn out?
EMBRY: No. That’s another thing that I think makes this episode different from the episodes that I, personally, have seen. It’s a rare episode of The Twilight Zone, in the sense that he actually is the winner. If you track the turn of events, he actually came out on top. He gets everything that he wants, which is not typically the case in The Twilight Zone. Usually, it’s a hard way to learn a lesson. But this guy actually gets rewarded for being a piece of shit. So, no, I think he’d do it all again. If anything, he learns that taking advantage of people and manipulating people is the way to success. It’s the American way.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 is available to stream at CBS All Access.