If you watched this season of FX’s Justified, you might have recognized Atlanta-born Justin Welborn, the actor who played Carl, one of Boyd Crowder’s newest “henchmen.” And your chances of recognizing him are increased if you watch a lot of indie horror, a genre that this hardworking Atlanta-native enjoys. “It’s the poor man’s entrance to film,” he said. Welborn has been in The Signal (2007), The Final Destination (2009), Halloween II (2009), The Crazies (2010), Pelt (2010), The Bay (2012), and V/H/S: Viral, which has a 2015 release date. FieldingonFilm recently spoke with the hard-working actor about his career, his admiration for Peter Dinklage, and what’s coming next.
When asked about when he became interested in acting, Welborn explained that he has been doing it since he was a child. “My father, who is a college professor (he teaches history), and my mom, who was an elementary school teacher, asked me what I was interested in,” he said. “I was a natural ham and I like playing, so every summer my parents got me involved in theater. I thrived in it; I loved it, and I did it throughout (Morrow) High School. I was a drama geek. For me, it was not a question of whether or not I was going to college, so (at the University of Georgia), I studied drama.”
“I really wanted to own a theater, and I had a company for years in Atlanta,” he continued. “It was the best thing that happened to me, but it fell apart. I would like to be involved in a theater group again. Live performances … there is nothing like it.” Welborn is the founding member of the Black Knight Stunt Team, a core company member of Out of Hand Theater. In addition, he was the artistic director of Collective Works, a group dedicated to original spectacle and ensemble-driven stage work.
As far as cinema goes, his “breakout” role was Ben Capstone in The Signal, a sci-fi/horror indie in which a strange signal transmitting through TV, cell phones, and radio turns people into paranoid, homicidal maniacs. It was reportedly made for about $50,000, and, to everyone’s surprise, was picked up at Sundance for a few million. And seven years later, Welborn said that he continues to hear from people who have studied the film. “I heard that Oculus was a tribute to The Signal,” he said.
After The Signal, he landed a few gigs – in Dance of the Dead (2008), the short Bridge, and the video Plague of the Damned (2009) – but Hollywood was calling. He answered it by making that inevitable move to Los Angeles. His relocation seems to have paid off, because he’s been busy ever since with roles in both film and on TV. His road to having a recurring part on the Timothy Olyphant-fronted Justified has been a long one. “I auditioned for Justified the first year I was here,” he said. “The call (for this season) came absolutely out of nowhere.” His character was in 11 out of 13 episodes, and, unlike most of Boyd Crowder’s (Walton Goggins) gang members, Carl was left standing at the end.
Thus far, he hasn’t been approached about coming back for the final season, but he said that he’s hopeful. “It would be wonderful to come back,” he said. “(This role) has even gotten me mail from prison. And this is their last season, which is tragic. The writing is so good, but I think they wanted to go out strong rather than go on and on.”
Whether or not he returns for the sixth and final season, Justified was a great experience, he said. Not only did he get to team up with Timothy Olyphant again – they were both in The Crazies – but he also got to act with Goggins, who starred in one of Welborn’s favorite TV shows, The Shield. “And he’s a Georgia boy, too,” he added. (Although born in Alabama, Goggins was raised in Lithia Springs, Ga.)
Welborn is a fan of good TV, and he cites HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as one of the shows on which he would love to appear. “I love period shows,” he said. “Vikings is my favorite television show right now; I’m in love with that show. I also like Black Sails and DaVinci’s Demons. A really wonderful show is Longmire. It’s a fun show with a great lead character. I also like House of Cards; I like that they are doing it like Richard III.” Other favorites include Deadwood and The Wire, both programs he said made “TV history.”
When asked about his future in acting, Welborn said that he would like to do more horror. But there’s a catch: He doesn’t want to keep playing the same character over and over. He has already played a lot of bad guys, racists, and “crazy,” homicidal characters, so he’s not interested in reinventing the wheel, so to speak. And he doesn’t just want to do a film just for the sake of doing it. “Some of my favorite people are doing great films, but they only have one line,” he said. “I don’t want to do that. I auditioned for The Walking Dead, but they have already filled all of the big roles. I need to keep moving on. I would like to film somewhere else; some place that isn’t Iowa. (He shot The Crazies in Iowa). I need to film in Hawaii, or go to Thailand for six weeks. Starring on Vikings would be a dream come true. I could be on for three episodes, and then they could kill me, and I would be on cloud nine. I would like to be on Game of Thrones. I would be a Lannister guard. They could cut my throat; I would do that for free. They could cut my throat, and I would wet my pants.”
Welborn might be best known for his horror work, but he has worked in other genres, too. For instance, in 2012, he was on an episode of iCarly. “I like comedy; I get to play the shady guy roles on those,” he said. “And I did Drop Dead Diva, but I never watched that show. I was just coming in, and I didn’t know who everyone was. When I was on set, they wanted this dark thing … I won’t ever be on Two and A Half Men.”
If he gets the chance, he said, he would like to have a career like long-time character actor Jim Beaver (Supernatural, Deadwood). “I know him, and I love him. If I have half of Beaver’s career, I will be happy. He’s the nicest guy. Right now, I am back in audition mode, and I’m feeling the idea of famine. I’m ready for what’s coming down the line. It’s been two months for me and no work.”
It’s not as if he is sitting at home, though, just waiting for the phone to ring. Welborn is keeping busy with the Write Club Los Angeles at Bootleg Theater. “It’s a real kick,” he said. “Six people go against each other in a literary combat. The audience decides who wins, and the proceeds go to charity. I’ve run this for one year, and I’m very passionate about it.”
When he isn’t acting, Welborn said that he likes to do yoga, and hike in Los Angeles. An avid reader, he is currently reading Mary Renault’s The King Must Die: A Novel, which is about the mythical hero, Theseus. “I also like reading biographies,” he said. Although he doesn’t have a TV, he also likes streaming TV shows, including, one of his recent favorites, HBO’s True Detective, and Game of Thrones. “Peter Dinklage is the No. 1 actor I would like to meet,” he said. Welborn admires Dinklage so much, infact, that he, and some friends, shot a five-minute video called Dink. Bam!, which is about two overly zealous fans who encounter, and stalk, the critically acclaimed actor, who plays Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones.
As much as he enjoys acting, Welborn sometimes envies his younger brother, Aaron, who works for Duke University in North Carolina. “He calls me to tell me that he had handled a second edition of Chaucer; or a first edition of Batman. It’s pretty cool. I’m the eldest, and I pretend to be Peter Pan. He did acting in high school, and was a better actor and singer than I was.”
Having spent more than a decade working in the industry, Welborn knows where he fits in. “I will never be an Abercrombie & Fitch model, and I’m OK with that. I love character actors – Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti – I love character faces. I am not willing to life weights for four years and become a refrigerator.”