By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
There was a time when actor Austin Basis, co-star of the hit television series “Beauty and the Beast,” considered becoming a doctor. While attending the State University of New York at Binghamton, he majored in theater but planned to attend medical school. “Every semester, I took science classes and theater classes,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Finally, acting won out and he told his parents of his intention to pursue a career in show business.
Fans of “Beauty and the Beast,” who enjoy his work as JT Forbes, the comical sidekick to Vincent Keller (AKA the Beast), are probably grateful that he decided to forgo medical school in favor of the bright lights of Hollywood.
“Beauty and the Beast,” which airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. on the CW network, will air its season finale on May 16. “You’re going to find out things about JT and Vincent’s characters that will surprise you,” Basis said, giving a hint of what’s in store for fans next week.
Basis, 36, whose acting credits include “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Supernatural,” “NCIS,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” had starring roles in “MATH,” “Life Unexpected,” and “Ghostfacers” prior to his current role as JT Forbes.
Basis lives with his wife in Los Angeles when he’s not filming the show in Toronto. He loves being on a TV series. “In a play, you do the same thing over and over again. With a film, you know the beginning, middle, and end of the story. As a series regular, you get a chance to really develop a character over time. JT Forbes is one of the most well rounded characters I’ve ever played,” he said. Basis has two months off until “Beauty and the Beast” resumes filming.
Basis grew up in Seagate, the gated community at the end of Coney Island. “It was beyond the end of all of the train lines and the bus lines. It felt like growing up in the suburbs,” he said. The acting bug hit him early. He enrolled in Mark Twain Junior High School for the Gifted and Talented as a drama student. Later on, as a student at Midwood High School at Brooklyn College, Basis took part in the “Sing” competitions every year. “Sing,” a time-honored tradition in Brooklyn high schools, features grades competing against each other in shows written, produced and performed by students. “I really got involved in my junior and senior years. In junior year, I played an “Urkel” kind of nerd,” he said, referring to the famous character on the 1980s ABC series “Family Matters.” In senior year, Basis was the male lead in “Sing.”
Once he made a commitment to acting while at SUNY Binghamton, Basis threw his heart and soul into it. “I had a teacher who told me, ‘There are 10 people just like you looking to play comical nerdy sidekick kinds of roles. You have to be willing to work harder than anyone else.’ It’s advice that I took to heart,” he said.
After graduation, he auditioned for, and was accepted, into the Actors Studio Drama School, a three-year graduate program at The New School. “When I got the acceptance letter, it was one of the best moments of my life,” he said. The program is probably best known for “Inside the Actors Studio,” a BRAVO television series in which the dean, James Lipton, conducts seminars with world famous actors in front of an audience of students. The Actors Studio program is now housed at Pace University
Basis earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. In 2002, he auditioned to become a member of the actual Actors Studio. He was accepted and joined the ranks of members like Al Pacino, Ellen Burstyn, and Estelle Parsons. The studio and the graduate program that bears its name are affiliated but operate separately. Members of the non-university Actors Studio “are at a certain level and are working to become better,” Basis said.
“It feeds the need of actors to improve their craft,” he said. “You’re sitting there working on a scene and getting advice from people who are the best at what they do,” he said.
Basis is proud of his membership. “To be in a place where James Dean was, there’s an energy being passed down through the generations,” he said.
In his spare time, Basis does a great deal of volunteer work for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He recently attended a gala fundraiser for the organization. “I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was eight years old. My father owned a candy store at the time,” he said, adding that the irony was not lost on him, even at a young age.
He used an insulin pump for 14 years. “Now there are so many advancements in the treatment of diabetes. There are new developments coming every year. I like to tell kids, ‘Just because you have diabetes, it doesn’t mean you can’t have the career of your dreams.’ I always tell them that anything is possible,” he said.