Up-and-Comer of the Month: “Baywatch” Breakout Jon Bass on Singing Katy Perry in the Shower and Learning to Swim With Kelly Rohrbach

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Jon Bass BaywatchGetty Images

As soon as I saw the first trailer, I knew that would be a major scene-stealer, and sure enough, the up-and-coming actor holds his own against his muscled-up, bikini-clad co-stars thanks to his gift for physical comedy and a willingness to humiliate himself on screen for a laugh.

Bass plays lovable lifeguard Ronnie Greenbaum in Baywatch, and the script puts his character through the ringer, dealing him one public embarrassment after the next. Bass makes the most of the comic opportunity, delivering some killer lines while crushing on Ronnie’s gorgeous co-worker C.J. (supermodel Kelly Rohrbach) in the closest thing the film has to a romantic subplot. Take that, Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron!

Bass got his start on stage in The Book of Mormon before graduating to television with Big Time in Hollywood, FL, but Baywatch is the biggest movie of his . As the action-comedy looks to make waves at the box office this weekend, Bass told the Tracking Board about the best advice he’s ever received, his attitude towards criticism, and meeting Pamela Anderson. We think he has a very bright future ahead of him, particularly in the comedy world…

Tell me about the audition process and what kind of stuff the filmmakers put you through for this role?
It’s the most boring actor story ever. I auditioned… and I got it. I didn’t have to do any chemistry reads. I pretty much just did the audition for Seth [Gordon] and the producers in the room, because when they were doing the chemistry reads, I was in New York doing a play for MTC and wasn’t able to leave for the chemistry reads, so they just had blind faith that I’d be able to have good chemistry with Kelly [Rohrbach]. They were adamant that I audition with the “Stuck Junk” scene [in which Ronnie’s manhood gets stuck between the slats of a beach chair].

Is that your favorite gag in the movie?
My favorite scene is actually the shower scene. I think it’s the only one I can watch that I’m in and I’m not cringing while thinking “what are you doing? What are you doing???” Most of us get uncomfortable watching ourselves. I think it’s a weird thing as an actor. But for some reason, I was fine watching myself sing “Roar.”

Now did you have to learn the lyrics, or did you already know the song by heart? Be honest!
Of course I knew the lyrics! It’s in my repertoire of songs to sing in the shower!

I ask this with love, but did you ever look around at your gorgeous Baywatch co-stars and wonder if you were on the right set? I imagine you had to pinch yourself at times…
I’m still not 100 percent sure that it’s not the most expensive practical joke of all-time. I was constantly counting my lucky stars. I was just, like, ‘don’t say anything and maybe they won’t realize that you aren’t Baywatch material.’

Did you have a favorite character on the original TV show?
C.J. Parker, because of Pam Anderson. I just had a huge crush on her. She was my first crush. Her body was just so primed for an 8-year-old to be like, “that’s what a woman can look like?!?” I was pretty blown away by Pam and thought she was amazing on the show, so getting to meet her was great because she’s so sweet and so kind. That brought everything full circle for me on Baywatch.

The chemistry between the Baywatch team is essential, and you share several scenes with the new C.J., played by supermodel Kelly Rohrbach. How did you develop a rapport with her and the rest of the gang like Dwayne, who’s known to be a pretty fun co-star?
Dwayne’s amazing. It’s kind of crazy, Kelly and I did swimming lessons together, so we met up before we even started shooting and got to hang out while learning how to swim as lifeguards.

Swim as lifeguards? Did you not know how to swim, or is there a special way they do it?
Yes, there is a special way to swim as a lifeguard. You have to keep your head above water to make sure you’re paying attention. It’s like normal swimming, but you’re keeping your head up, so it’s a lot harder. We had a real lifeguard whose was to show us how to swim with the rescue cans like legitimate lifeguards. We met with her twice a week for about two months.

Where would you like to see a Baywatch sequel would go?
Well, I would like to shoot in Hawaii please, because we had to shoot most of this movie in Savannah, Georgia, which was great… but if I got to spend three months in Hawaii, I’d be pretty stoked.

You’re very adept at physical comedy in this film, so what’s your comedy background?
Well, I entered arrested development at about 8 years old. That’s when I started acting, and I continued down that track through high school before going to Boston University. So I’ve been working on this since I was a young kid, and luckily, it has worked out pretty good thus far. The first professional thing I did was The Book of Mormon, and that was really my comedy boot camp, because when you’re learning comedy from Trey [Parker] and Matt [Stone], it’s sort of the height of what you need to learn.

Do you consider Book of Mormon your first big break rather than Big Time in Hollywood, FL?
That was definitely the first thing that started the ball rolling, and what I’ve learned is that in this business, one door leads to another door, which leads to another door. Hopefully you get that first one, and for me, that was Book of Mormon. But getting to do Big Time — which was watched by about 10 people — was a great experience. It was the best professional experience of my . I just think it was a great show.

What’s the best advice you’ve received so far?
It was probably from Trey when were doing Book of Mormon. He just said “look, we wrote a really good script and we hired you because of you, not because of the character. So be yourself as much as you possibly can be on stage, and people will enjoy you.” And that’s something that every actor can hear, but it’s hard to actually do. So “cut through the bullshit and just be honest as you can be” is a spectacular note I got.

Which actors do you look up to, and whose would you most like to emulate?
You know who I’m a huge fan of? Allison Janney. I just think she’s a phenomenal actress. She does everything, and she does it so well.

Do you pay attention to critics, or is it what the fans think that really counts?
I stopped paying attention to critics around Big Time, just because it would drive me insane. One bad adjective would ruin my week, and I realized how unhealthy that was. Don’t get me wrong, I read reviews all the time when it’s not my stuff, but when it’s mine, I tend to take the route of least resistance. It’s a much healthier way of life. It’s a bizarre thing to read about yourself. I think it’s kind of weird.

You’ve appeared on Girls, The Newsroom, House of Lies and American Horror Story. Of all those experiences, do you have a favorite?
Truly, all of them were amazing experience, but The Newsroom was probably my favorite because getting to speak Aaron Sorkin’s words is a dream come true for any actor. If writing was music, his would be like perfect jazz. Everyone says that about his scripts because it’s true. They’re very musical, and that show was a high for me. That cast and crew were incredible to work with.

What’s next for you? Are you focused on movies right now, or were you busy this pilot season?
I have a small part in Aaron Sorkin’s new movie, Molly’s Game. I did three days on that, and once again, it was a dream come true. I just want to work with good people, and if that means film, it’s film, and if it means TV, then it’s TV. You just want to work with people you trust and who you think do good work, because they’re only going to make your work better.

To that end, is there anyone you’d love to work with at some point in your ?
I would love to work with James Gunn. I loved what he did with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I just think he’s so smart and amazing. The Coen brothers would be great too. There’s a laundry list of people I would kill to work with, and I’ve already crossed a bunch off like Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Nichols, Ben Stiller, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It blows my mind, the people I’ve already gotten to work with. If I get anyone else on my list, my mind will just continue to be blown.

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