“Football has a way of making a man feel invincible,” said Spencer Stasmore on a past season of Ballers. This couldn’t be more true for the newest member to the HBO series, Travis Mach, played by Adam Aalderks. The 28-year-old Iowa native gave us an inside look at his preparation to transform into the hot-headed linebacker, his journey from small town acting to working alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.
Cliché: Congrats on joining the cast of Ballers! Tell me a bit about your character Travis Mach and what it took for you to prepare for the role. Can you see some of yourself in him?
Adam Aalderks: Travis Mach is a linebacker from FSU who has a hard time controlling his erratic, narcissistic behavior. He enters the draft but skips the Combine, and now he must follow Spencer Stasmore’s (Dwayne Johnson) lead to becoming a high draft pick. From the very beginning, Travis’s character wasn’t very hard to tap into. The moment I began reading the audition, Travis was already showing himself. I pulled a little bit of reference from some of my own habits from when I played football and the rest fell organically into place from the great writing in the script.
To get ready for the role, I did have to do a physical change. I have always been a gym rat, but having to portray a collegiate linebacker going to the NFL takes “transformation” to a new level. The moment I learned of booking the role, I began a nutrition and workout program centered around steak, eggs, chicken, broccoli, sweet potatoes, avocados, and white rice. My workouts quickly turned into Olympic lifting sessions spanning anywhere from two or two and a half hours every day. I didn’t take an off day or have a cheat meal for 103 days. This was the span of time from booking the role to wrapping my character on the season.
Who is Adam Aalderks at his core? How would you describe him to someone who has no idea who he is?
If someone was describing me, I would hope they say Adam is a little “old school.” Growing up in the small community of Aplington, Iowa, there are certain values and habits I’ve acquired. I like vintage things—things no one else would stop to look at. I have a love for music from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. I still believe in treating people with respect and going out of my way to help them. I enjoy problem solving, whether it’s working on a vehicle or helping a friend install a backyard fence. I built houses with my father for 12 years growing up, so those skills and that “figure it out” mindset has never left me. I don’t shy away from the physical labor.
I guess, at the end of the day, I would hope someone would say that Adam is the kind of guy who treats strangers like friends and friends like family. It was the core of where I’m from and I hope I never let go of that.
You were born and raised in Iowa and are now working with some of Hollywood’s greats. How does it feel? Is this what you envisioned?
To be completely honest, I don’t know what I envisioned. All I knew was I had a burning passion to be an actor and I was at a place mentally and emotionally where I was unfulfilled with the direction of my life. So making the plunge and taking on the entertainment industry was more of a “life or death” type of decision. I am overly competitive, so of course I thought it would be amazing to reach this point. If I’m going to do something, I am all in, but I was hyper focused on the steps along the way. I kept hitting my micro goals and sponging up all the knowledge I could as fast as I could.
It is still surreal for me, but working with Dwayne and rest of the cast at their level of professionalism takes some of the hype away. Everyone is so down to earth and easy to talk to. Moments after meeting these people, I felt like I’ve known them for years. Maybe it was watching them on TV growing up, but they had this simple, humble demeanor that put everyone on the same playing level. This was amazing for someone like me who could have easily felt intimidated. While shooting episode six, we were on a fishing boat in the ocean doing that scene for almost 12 hours. At one point, we were driving to the location and it really sunk in. How cool is this? I’m just chilling on a boat in the ocean with Mark Schlereth, Dwayne Johnson, and Troy Garity filming a major role for HBO. This is INSANE!
I feel so completely indebted to the producers, directors, and HBO network for giving me a chance. These people chose me and put me on a path I could have never gotten on by myself. It is a humbling thing to think about.
Aside from Ballers, what do you think was the turning point in your acting career?
I really feel that I started making leaps forward in my career once I put value to what I am doing and raised the stakes for myself. I made micro goals along the way that once I achieved those goals, I would never go backwards, even if it meant me never booking again. It started with my transition from doing student film and indie projects for free. Then I started putting $50/day as my rate. Later it was $100/day. Then I said only SAG productions or higher budget Indie films. I started making my agent frustrated because the smaller roles weren’t fulfilling my hunger. So I told him not to send me out on “one liner” roles. Then later I said only multiple scene roles. And I kept climbing the ladder one step at a time and refused to step backwards, even if it meant me never booking again. It was these benchmarks over the last four years that helped push my confidence and commitment that really was my turning point to booking better roles.
Growing up, we are taught we can be whatever we want. What made you fall in love with acting?
It was never people telling me “I could be what I wanted to be.” It was the feeling I got when I was in front of people. I joke about this, but it is true: I have A LOT of apologizing to do to my school teachers. I always thought I was a good student. I enjoyed being funny in class and getting attention, but I truly thought I was respectful and wasn’t doing anything wrong. But one time, I ran into my former teacher, who I hadn’t seen for probably ten years. She walked over to me and didn’t say “Hi” or any form of greeting. She grabbed my hand and said, “Adam! Boy, you gave me a hard time in class.” This definitely came as a shock, but I could completely see her justification for it. I just always felt completely comfortable in front of people and making someone laugh is one of the best feelings in the world. I got a taste of it in school and it continued in my life as I narrowed down my career choices. I knew it was the only thing that every truly made me feel satisfied.
I really feel that I started making leaps forward in my career once I put value to what I am doing and raised the stakes for myself.
What has been the hardest part about breaking into the industry?
For me, the hardest part about breaking into the industry isn’t rejection or sacrificing for the cause. I can deal with people saying “No” or having to eat peanut butter and jelly for supper because I can’t afford food. I can work through memorizing the hundreds of pages of auditions just to never hear anything back. It doesn’t bother me having to drive from Atlanta to Charlotte for an audition, then immediately from Charlotte to New Orleans for a different audition, and finally back to Charlotte for the call back, only to find out you didn’t book any of them. Believe me, this is a very real scenario and all on the actor’s dime. But we will continue to do it because it’s what is asked of us.
No, the hardest part for me is keeping my focus concrete on success while watching the people I love in my life have to sacrifice their lives so I can continue chasing this “mirage.” I am close with my family and it is hard missing birthdays, holidays, family vacations, etc. I usually see my parents about once, maybe twice, a year. I have a great relationship with my father so I hate missing out on the father-son hunting trips or grill outs. Relationships are difficult because this lifestyle is very selfish and I can’t live a “normal” life. So, your circle of friends is small and you get used to people coming and going, but you cherish those who stayed close with you from the beginning.
Are there any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I recently learned of an action film shooting soon that I am very excited for. It will require more physical action and stunt work on my part, so I am really looking forward to indulging in that area. Plus, my close friend booked the conflicting character to my role, so I look forward to getting screen time with him and making a great film.
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Talking ‘Ballers’ With Adam Aalderks: Featured image courtesty of Brad Everett Young