Wes Chatham talks 'Expanse' Season 5, high school cringe, and 'The Chronic'
“Nothing’s like the horror of losing your shoes.”
In The Expanse, humanity becomes its own worst enemy.
The Amazon series left Earth in dire peril due to an emerging threat from the once-downtrodden Belters, and a hell of a lot's about to go down on Season 5. Previous seasons have hewed closely to James S.A. Corey’s ongoing novel series, and it’s likely Season 5 will keep to that pattern. That means we’ll probably learn a lot more about the hardscrabble backstory of Wes Chatham’s Amos Burton, the brawny philosopher of the Rocinante crew.
“They were very clear on me not being able to say anything about it,” Chatham, 41, tells Inverse about the upcoming season of The Expanse. “But I've seen a lot of – well, some of – Season 5, and I feel like it is hands-down the best thing we've done in this show so far. It just all kind of came together, and I'm so excited about it.”
What kind of kid were you?
I was a chronic daydreamer. I've only gotten a little better. I was a big fan of movies and television. I was kind of the default storyteller of our friend group, and I would regale them with stories. I was a social kid, I loved my friends, I loved hanging out, but I wasn't a very good student. I would spend most of my time in class daydreaming.
I was in the military for four years and I worked on the flight deck of a carrier, and that basically is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be. It’s a floating airport. And somehow I survived. I would be daydreaming half the time out there.
What was your favorite band when you were 15 years old?
I remember getting in a car with a group of older kids and they played The Chronic. It was the coolest thing I've ever heard. I became obsessed with that for a while but I also loved Metallica’s Black Album when that came out. It was everywhere.
What piece of clothing did you wear too often when you were in high school?
At the time, I had only one pair of shoes. One morning, I got up and couldn't remember where they were. So the only option to get to school was to wear my football cleats. I have this memory of, like, walking down the hallway – imagine spending the whole school day in cleats, how relentless people are! But I didn't know how else to go to school. They had been in my locker and I must have gone home barefoot.
This happened more than once. My good friend Charlie was saying he remembers me walking down the hallway holding hands with my girlfriend, hearing the clicks of my cleats. You just marvel at the fact that someone who would do that could actually have a girlfriend!
Nothing’s like the horror of losing your shoes.
What's your first memory of the internet?
I was really late to technology. When you get out of the military – I got out in January 2002 – they do this exit program to help you decompress from military life.
They were shooting Antwone Fisher on my ship. That's how I first got involved with this career that I have now. I told a career counselor about this casting director who wanted me to come to LA. He asked me her name and said, “I’m going to Google it.” I remember saying, “what's that?” So he explained the whole concept of Google. I was just blown away by that at the time. That was 2002.
What’s a truth about love that you believed when you were 15?
You know that high that you get from having a crush on somebody? I thought that that was love and that would sustain a long-term relationship. As you get older, you realize that kind of infatuation that you feel, that mind-altering process, has nothing to do with love. I confused that kind of intoxication, that really glowy period, with love.
It sweeps you up, that exciting beginning, and you get fooled every time. That’s not love, it’s pretty selfish actually, and clouds your judgment of what you're doing. But ultimately, as soon as you feel it again, you sink right back into it.
Did you have a high-school teacher that you particularly liked and why?
When I was growing up I didn't really have any kind of rules. I never had a curfew. I lived with my dad, and it was kind of like having a roommate. I was a little wild.
I met this teacher Ms. Thurmond, and we just kind of hit it off early on in my last year. I got into a little bit of trouble and got kicked out of high school for a little bit. Nothing serious, just not listening to the rules and not going to school.
She literally threw me over her shoulder and carried me through to graduation because she believed in me. That motivated me to get it together. She would basically come and meet me after school in the library and home-school me until the next semester when I got to go back. She was instrumental in my life.
What do you consider your first professional big break, and why?
I started acting when I was really young. There was this national publicity thing where they went across the country to find the next Tide Kid. They came to Savannah, Georgia. I got caught up in these auditions and got to be the Tide Kid for a year.
I was obsessed with stories and movies, so to be able to be a part of this world ... it couldn’t get any better than that. From that point forward, I always knew that was going to be my beacon. I never really stressed about anything else. I just knew internally where I was going.
What was your first professional failure?
The first taste of reality was my first outside audition. I show up and the room’s full of people, everyone’s nervous and in a big hurry. It threw me for a loop. This person handed me the script, and I look at the camera and she starts going, but it wasn't the process that I was used to. And I just couldn’t do it. I didn't even say anything. So she asks, “Oh, did I give you the wrong side?” She came over, looked at the script, handed it back. I just froze. I couldn’t say anything. So she's like, “Okay, well, come back when you’re ready.” I never came back.
It was then I realized you’ve got to really do the work before you get there. Auditioning is a skill you have to learn alongside all the other things, like being able to take the material, interpret it quickly, make strong choices, and build that muscle of memorizing lines faster.
What’s your can’t-miss prediction for 2030?
My hope is that before we get to 2030, we have completely told the whole Expanse story that includes all the novels through nine. I'm really proud of everything that we've done up to this point. I would love to be able to have a beginning, middle, and end, to complete the full story and to tell The Expanse at its highest expression.
What would your 15-year-old self say about your latest project?
One of my favorite directors is Christopher Nolan. I just got to work on his next movie, Tenet. They’re really strict about what you can say about it. I’m involved in a very small way, but I just wanted to work with him. I'm just fascinated by his process and how he creates things. It was such an exciting experience to be a part of that.
My 15-year-old would just be feeling like he's living in a dream, that he gets to do this for a living, be on The Expanse, and get to work with Christopher Nolan. It’s a pretty magical thing.
Awkward Phase is an Inverse series with interesting people talking about the most relatable period in their life. The interview above has been edited for clarity and brevity.