Actor Theo Rossi from Sons of Anarchy fame shares his juggling act between fatherhood, work, self care, and the real determination to manage his own internal expectations. Theo shares his fascinating journey from Staten Island to playing Juice Ortiz. He’s bright, intense, surprisingly honest, and a guy who is working incredibly hard. We would all be fortunate to have a person like Theo in our corner.
Listen to the episode here:
- The Way to the Positive Side [00:09:49]
- What is the Matrix? [00:12:00]
- Giving Back to the Tribe [00:15:37]
- More than Surviving [00:18:10]
- Management Mini-Practice [00:20:11]
- Sharing Awareness and Systems [00:23:54]
- Marathon Mentality [00:28:13]
- Feeling and Navigating [00:31:40]
- Building and Parenting [00:33:42]
- Being Kinder to Oneself [00:41:20]
- Unpredictable Life [00:46:20]
- Boot Rides [00:49:33]
- The Magic Between [00:57:51]
- Being a Good Parent [01:02:40]
- Gratitude [01:04:44]
- From What Ifs to How cans [01:09:36]
Actor Theo Rossi – Sons of Anarchy – Balances Family, Career, and Self Care
This episode is with actor Theo Rossi. You might know him from Sons of Anarchy. We had the most unusual time recording this podcast. We had it set up that we were going to do a swap. Theo has a podcast called THEOry. He was going to interview me and I was going to interview him or vice versa and I had technology issues. I then continued to have technology issues so we were in and out of each other’s lives for about 4 or 5 days trying to get these interviews. I came out of this podcast with a new friend. Our families will break bread at some point. He’s located in Texas.
Theo is refreshing because what you see is what you get. He’s honest and talks about all the good and bad. Honestly, he’s a family man. He’s intensely focused on his sons and wife and equally trying to figure out balancing that with being passionate about his business and craft. A lot of us experience that. How do I dedicate myself to my family, which is the most important thing, but also to myself and my work? I enjoyed the conversations with Theo, talking about where he came from. In Staten Island, he didn’t have an easy go of it. His dad left at 9.
He had an epiphany and fell into acting but then got bit by the bug. He discussed going for a dream and moving out to California. I said, “How do you get the courage for that?” He said, “I had nothing to lose.” The other beautiful and profound thing that’s built inside of Theo beside his intensity is, “I want to make my life good. I want to make it good for my family. Can I make it good for all the people around me?” It was a fun and great conversation. I hope you enjoy our fourth recording. Theo Rossi, everybody. Enjoy.
Theo, first of all, it’s lovely to have you again. For the people following my podcast, we did an exchange that I would do my show first and then he was kind enough, and then I would do his show. During that recording, my technology was not working and we tried to do yours. It was a two-hour bust. What’s interesting about interviewing someone that you know is you have a sense of some things that you’d want to know about them that maybe aren’t as obvious.
The gift of talking to you for 22 minutes before and also then getting a sense of you, it makes it so that I have an opportunity to maybe talk about things that are more about who you are as a person. When you have a public job, people have these perceptions. With Sons of Anarchy, people have images and things like that.
I said this to you the day that I talked to you, the thing that hits me over and over about you, and you can joke about parenting, “Is there a struggle with their marriage and being home?” Ultimately, it’s clear to you. People battle, “Am I going to do the right thing? Am I going to be in a good mood?” To me, even against whether you can control it or not, you’re orienting towards finding your way to be up whether it’s in your mood or finding your way to the positive side of whatever is hectic about real life.
That’s a good way to put it. It’s easy to venture into the darkness, especially now. You can attest to this. When you go through a lot of things, loss, which we both know about, and things that occur and affect you as a human, you tend to start to look at life. You can go two ways. You can play the blame game, the victim mentality, and be like, “I’m this way and I have the right to be because all these things have occurred to me.” Or you can get up and search for light every day.
The problem is that the world wants you to be in a bad place. It’s almost geared toward that. It’s why people read bad reviews and not good reviews of things. It’s the way it is. It’s why you go on Amazon and there could be 5,000 reviews that are amazing but you read the two that aren’t and you go, “I’m not going to buy that.” What about the other ones? It’s the way we are. I’ve tried every day to go towards the positive but where that is a problem I’ve come to find out in my life is that you have to battle through a lot. Also, you could almost become an image to people that might not necessarily be true all the time.
To answer that, what I’m trying to say to people now, and one of the big reasons why I did THEOry, the podcast, is I don’t believe that happiness is this eternal state. It’s slight moments. Everything else is geared towards trying to get there. If you think that we’re going to live in perpetual happiness, we’re foolish. It’s impossible. The only people who live in perpetual happiness have to be either completely insane or stupid because it’s impossible. I say that in the nicest way. For me, I’m on this consistent path and I’ve been on it. I feel like I’ve stepped out of a matrix as I call it over ten years ago.
What pushed you? To you, what designates what the matrix is? When you say, “I got pushed out,” was it a level of success? It’s the realization. What happens to you or what few sequences of events happen that push you and what is the matrix to you?
I was always super aware when I was young of everything that was going on around me. My father left when I was 9 and I was raised by my uncle. My mom was there and I saw my mom stressing and my sister was having a tough time and all this stuff. You know all about the family stuff. I was young and I was like, “Something’s off.” I knew that there was always another way to do things, I just couldn’t figure it out.
[bctt tweet=”The things that linked and bonded us was that I’m open about everything, good, bad, and indifferent. I’m going to tell you exactly what’s going on.”]
I would draw and do art, escape in sports mainly, and escape in all these different activities like skateboarding, anything that I can do to escape what my mind was telling me. There were other ways to do things, not generally what’s right in front of your face. What I mean by that is that as I started to go through my life, I started trying to numb my brain whether it be through relationships, partying, going out chasing things, or getting intoxicated by something. It could be certain friendships or this. It was always a way to silence whatever was going on in my brain because my brain was always active from a young age.
What happened was that I was in Los Angeles and all these things that I thought I needed and wanted in my life, I started to get. I had zero money and then I had a little money and then I had more money. I realized that these level changes weren’t the big difference that my mind created. I would go from one relationship to another. I realized that a lot of it was me. Everything was my state of being. When I say a stepped out of a matrix, I started looking at things in a different way. The way I started looking at them was in a rational sense. I never wanted to bang the rake on the lawn of anything. I never had such a full belief in anything. I wanted to listen and learn everything.
I don’t drink or smoke. I wanted to get my health in the perfect shape. I would test my body and test my physical and mental. I would do all these things to better myself. When I say stepped out of the matrix, I started to realize that if I better myself, I was being an example to others. It’s not that I wanted to be or needed to be but that I was seeing others come up to me and go, “Tell me about that. What did you do with that?” It’s the butterfly in the hurricane. If I do something, it affects other people that I don’t even know. I said, “I have a bit of an opportunity here to spread some little goodness on a small scale.”
Why does that feel important to you? I want to go back and revisit what your childhood experience of growing up on Staten Island is about. It’s natural. When we’re young, we’re supposed to develop our identification if you will. We get older and we are trying to sort that out, make a living, and provide for ourselves and then our families if that’s what we choose.
I don’t know if it’s when you stay connected because part of being a human is to be of service in some way. You’ve got to contribute back to the tribe. You can’t just take. What is this in you that says, “This feels important to see if I can represent something that might make other people ask themselves, “In what way could I elevate myself?”
I’ve always felt that when the group is better, individually, we’re better. Some people always take that as certain things. They bring it to financial and capitalism and social. It’s not that. What I have found is that if I have a best friend or a person who’s a family member to me and they’re unhappy, I feel it. I’m an empath. I don’t feel right. I want to problem solve and do everything I can to make them better. If they’re okay, I’m okay.
A lot of people say, “That’s ridiculous.” I’m okay with myself, which is the first thing that took me many years and I’m still trying to be. My biggest fight now is back to the active mind. I always want to try, do, and learn new things, and sometimes that’s exhausting. For me, I realized that I’m only as good as the people with who I’m connected.
Either I’m going to live my entire life alone, which is what someone like my birth father attempted to do and then wound up dying alone, or you’re going to understand that if you take care of yourself, you can then offer more to other people. Not to say to the detriment of me but maybe sometimes even torturing myself both physically and mentally to rise as many levels in this game as I can. I want to also pick up others around me because, personally, it makes me feel better. Second, It’s better for my group that if we’re all succeeding, it’s even better.
Let’s stop for a second there. There are a couple of things. When someone sees you and they go, “Theo, you got a lot of energy. Your inner compass has always been on a great course. Your internal compass is good.” You have had an external level of success and notoriety and are able to make a living at what you love to do. First of all, a lot of people feel overwhelmed by their day-to-day because it’s overwhelming.
You know this. You grew up with a single mom until she remarried. It’s paying the bills and making sure your kids are not getting in trouble or hurting themselves or others. Life comes down to you. What all people can do is survive on a lot of levels. If you were speaking to somebody, do you think if you get the desire that the opportunity shows up? If you were going to encourage somebody who’s sitting and reading this who’s like, “Theo, I’d like to do more of that too but I don’t know even how to start,” what does that look like to you?
This is a perfect example. I was overwhelmed. I don’t know what happened. I was up late watching the Jordan documentary. It’s incredible. Even if I’m exhausted before I watch it, my brain starts firing and ignites something in me that I’m like, “I want to run through a wall and change all these things.” I got up and at the same time, I’m not saying this was a direct effect from that, I also started to feel this was one of those days. We’ve been in this situation we’re all in for a little while now. I started to feel a lot of anxiety.
I have two boys who are like wild hyenas and they were on it. They were nonstop. I could see already that it was all starting to hit me. The first thing I have to do is verbalize it and I go, “I’m feeling something. I’m feeling this.” I talked to my wife about it. I said, “I’m feeling it.” She goes, “I don’t see it.” I said, “I’m feeling it a little.” There were a couple of things that went on business-wise.
We’re all living in this uncertainty. The point is to drill down on that. I feel that every single day. I’m a problem solver and I also am probably one of the most overly ambitious people I know. I want to do everything. It changes every five minutes. With that, my brain is all over. What that causes is a bit of hysteria.
What happened was that the first thing I do is talk to myself. I have self-inventory. What I do is I put on headphones sometimes and I go for a walk and I talk to myself so people don’t think I’ve completely flown off the other side of the bridge. I’m having a conversation myself. They think I’m talking on the phone but I’m talking to myself.
What does something like that look like? What you’re feeling is not unusual. The fact that you even have a mini practice of management, what does that look like?
The first thing that we have such a hard thing doing is most people don’t even look at themselves in the mirror. When I say look at yourself, I mean look at yourself. Look at yourself in the eyes. Have a conversation with yourself, “What’s up? What are we doing here?” How can you know what truly makes you happy if you have no idea what truly makes you happy? You want to be truly happy but you have no idea what does it.
For me, I had to set what am I trying to obtain in my journey here or in our life here. It’s not to use these weird esoteric words. Whatever makes people feel better. What am I trying to obtain? What do I want? To go down on that, my self-talk to myself is, “It’s okay to have anxiety. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel like you’re getting older and time is running out. It’s okay. What do you want to do today? Right now, it’s all good. Right now, you’re here. You’re under a roof. You got money. You got a wife. You have kids. You got people that love you. You’re okay.”
I’ve been in places where I don’t have that. I’ve been in times in my life where I don’t have any of that. I’ve had less than $0. I’ve had nobody around me. I’ve been alone. I’ve been messed up. I was probably drinking too much and doing other stuff, too. I still had that self-talk, “What do you want? What do you need?”
My tangible realistic goal might be to have a good day with my family. Be an example to my sons. Be present when they’re around. My self-talk when I’m walking with the headphones on is checking in, “What’s going on with you? What’s up?” That’s where that self-inventory and that talk come in. I never wanted to be a motivational thing or anything like that. I always say to people that what works for me works, for no one. I eat the same thing every single day between 11:30 and 1:30. That is not normal?
What is it?
This sounds crazy. I have two pieces of Ezekiel toast with almond butter, a Chia jam, one apple, and a bunch of berries. My freestyle might be that I add some melanin if there’s watermelon or something in the house. That’s what I eat every single day. I don’t even think about it. I eat it between 11:30 and 1:00 or whenever I get to it and that’s it and I’m good. For dinner, whatever we’re having. I don’t care about food. It’s never been a big deal to me. Not even secondary but it’s been third. I don’t care. The way I get up and run every single morning is I like to get up when no one is up. I like to go to bed when everyone’s asleep. I like to spend some time with me. It’s not for me to tell people this is something you should try. I had to find what works for me.
That’s why I’m asking because it’s also reminding people that we all have to create. I was talking to a gentleman named Scott Carney. He wrote the books The Wedge and What Doesn’t Kill Us. What people don’t realize is we can all have the knowledge of what needs to happen or what to do or even be ungrateful. We then have to put systems in place and then we have to have a practice.
You’re sharing your awareness and then you’re sharing your systems and now you’re discussing your practice but it’s reminding people.
Knowing that improv comes up every day. What has been one of my Achilles heels if you would call it is that I had to get adjusted to things changing in an instant. There’s an old saying, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” I understand that I can have a plan in the morning and then stuff might go south. My kids might be on a different level that day, they might be not in a good place. There might be tension in my house. There might be something with the business that goes completely wrong.
I was doing a podcast and I found out that at 3:00 AM, somebody jumped into this gated community we’re in and robbed all the cars. Now you got to deal with that all day. Things happen and you go, “That’s fine.” I’ve had to adjust to that because I get singularly focused on things and when I get focused on it, I almost can’t sleep or rest until a version of it is done. I’ve had to be easier on myself.
I’m a person that needs structure. If I relate it to acting, I’m an over-preparer on acting. I have to know everyone’s lines. We talked about this on the last one with your buddy, John McKinley. I have to know my lines. I have to know them backward, forward, and everything else. What has to happen is I have to be able, in my mind, to let it go.
I’ve worked with people who don’t learn their lines so they’re in makeup that morning and I’m fascinated by them. It’s not me. I have a way of doing things that work for me. It’s my technique. Each of us has a technique. We’re in this weird society now where we look at people and try to mimic their way of doing things but we can never do that. I can’t mimic your life, you can’t mimic mine. We can’t mimic each other.
All we can do is look at it and go, “What’s something that Gabby’s doing? She mentioned that. I’m going to give that a try.” I might adopt it into my life but I’m not going to do it consistently and go, “How come I’m not getting what she got from it?” I have to see if it works. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. All I do is find little things and that all comes with knowledge, studying, observing, and listening. Nobody does it anymore. We all want the shortcut.
There are a couple of things you said that remind me of ideas that are worth bringing up. If you’re taking care of yourself and then you’re saying, “I’m then better for my group, my family, my block, and my community, the bigger world I live in.” What people have to remember is the rewards are great of that and it takes work. It isn’t one without the other. When you say that, that means you’re willing to do the extra work that takes. People shouldn’t be surprised by that.
For example, I have athletes coming and going when we’re not in quarantine and training at my house. By the way, we don’t charge. Our business to separate. If you come over, athletes will say, “What can I give you?” I’m like, “Show up and work hard.” Also, it’s a better power dynamic. Laird comes up and goes, “This is what we’re doing. Meet me at 8:30.” They show up at 8:30. The point is that I’m going to turn on the sauna for you and he’s going to load the ice tub for you. We’re going to throw away your dirty towel and pick up your crap. In a way, it feels like we’re doing something for them.
What you start to learn is that when you choose the code that you want to live by, you’re going to meet a lot of people who get it and their code flows back in a different way. You’re going to be people who have different codes and you don’t change your code because they’re doing it differently. Sometimes it feels unfair. Sometimes you go, “I’m doing this because it feels good to me but now I’m not getting something in return.” No. You’re living by your code and that always takes extra work. Whether you want to call it God, the universe, or whatever, you get taken care of.
[bctt tweet=”I realized that every single thing that occurs to me has to happen for me to push forward. It doesn’t mean that I’m welcoming tragedy.”]
Also, a big thing that you’re talking about is marathon mentality is different. We’re in a payoff society. You click something and you get it. You order something you wanted. I want to lose weight in seven days and not 70. We’re in a society that goes, “Why would I go lose weight if I can go get surgery?” What we’re trying to do is eliminate all of the work. We want to win the race without running it.
We’ve all talked about this but I feel so much more satisfied physically when I run marathons. I go through such a wave of emotions mentally. My whole life is a marathon, meaning that I start businesses or I start relationships, meaning friendships or business relationships. Even my wife and I, we’ve been married going on over seven years. My thing is that everything is a marathon. I have to look at that and I have to say, “What am I building here? What am I building?”
The truth is I had a conversation with someone. They don’t have a marathon mentality and I knew it right away. They’re like, “I need something like now.” I’m like, “No. If you do this in three months, we’re going to get this and this.” They’re like, “Now.” I’m like, “No. You can get ownership if you do this.” They can’t see it. I understand that because it’s very hard to have a vision.
For me, I treat everything like a marathon. What that means is the way I eat. I don’t live to eat, I eat to live. The way my relationship is with my kids, there are times when I have to be more discipline because I’m thinking about how that’s going to affect them down the road. Maybe I don’t want to be. Maybe I want to laugh and watch Curious George and do this and say, “Let’s stay up late,” but I know I can’t because I’m trying to set a structure.
Back to the original, it doesn’t that we don’t improv here and there. There is looseness in it. At the same time, I have to have a foundation. If you have a marathon attitude towards things, if you look at things and understand that some things will pay off early and something’s won’t, you are going to have such a different outlook on everything. That has been a huge turning point for me, especially someone who is moving 100 miles an hour at all times, which is what I’m doing.
You’re an interesting blend of passionate emotion. The fact that you can step back, there’s objectivity as well, simultaneously. It’s funny because Laird is passionate and emotional but when stuff gets critical, Laird is slower, calmer, or more focused. It’s his training from probably his job. I’m objective and I weigh things out. Sometimes I wish I could put more of that emotion into that. In some ways, it’s easier to have that marathon view when you’re keeping a little bit of objectivity.
you start analyzing something too early, do you feel maybe it takes you out of some things before you even get to them?
No. You’re doing an interesting combo of feeling and navigating. I’m sometimes navigating that. Even as we go, I can stand there for years in this marathon mentality but then you’ve got to feel it too. I’m trying to manage it so well that I’ve put the emotional flame on such a low because otherwise, it’s hard. You know this. You can get your ass kicked because you’re like, “I’m in this and I’m feeling all these things.” What I’m trying to do is live more the way you’re living, which is to bring more emotion, more of my own joy, insecurities, fears, anger, or whatever my thing is into this long-term thinking.
What comes with that is disappointment. The more emotional investment you get into something, the more let down you will be. I have found that what I’m trying to calibrate is my expectations of anybody or anything. I have to realize that not everyone is like me. I’ve had people flat-out tell me, “I don’t want what you want. You want everything. You want to do this. You want to go here. You want to do this race or do this competition.” They don’t want that.
How about if you want more for them than they want for themselves?
There it is. That’s hard.
Especially when you love people. if you’re reading this and you’re trying to build something or you’re a parent or you’re an entrepreneur, you have no other way. You can be however you want but it is all a marathon. I love parenting because it’s like, “We’ll find out in 25 years how that worked out.” The metrics and the return on that are a long arc. That story is long.
I was on the phone with my buddy. He’s a big designer. He works at this big public company that designs toys and whatever. They were on this big zoom and he said that no one in the company that he was on the Zoom has kids. He has a daughter. They’re all sitting there on the Zoom and their boss was like, “What is everybody doing during this lockdown?” One person was like, “I’m learning this language.” The other person was like, “I’m doing watercolors.”
When they got to him, he was like, “I’m chasing my daughter around. We’re trying to teach her this. My wife is working and I’m working.” He said that everyone went silent. He realized that he might as well have been speaking another language. They can’t even fathom it. To them, while everyone is sheltering in place and doing what they’re doing, they’re picking up these hobbies and binging a series of a TV show.
The people who have children are like, “I am nonstop. It’s all day. There’s no school. There are no breaks. There’s no babysitter. There’s nothing.” Especially if you have young kids under 5 and especially if you’re in financial situations and you got all these other pressures of the uncertainty and all that. I thought it was interesting.
I look at parenting as a great example. We can both relate to this. When you have a certain way you were raised and maybe both parents weren’t there or whatever, you want to write their story a little differently. Maybe you want their story to be a little different. You don’t know why, you just do it. You’ve seen what one side feels like. You would like theirs to be maybe a little bit different.
Maybe it’s because I’ve had dogs my entire life. I’ve never not had multiple dogs. From a young age, I’ve always been responsible for something whether it be I had to come home from somewhere to walk my dogs, I had to take them running, I had to go make their food or I had to cook their food, or I had to carry them up steps. I’ve always been in service to as many people as I can.
With children, for me, as a parent, my biggest quest is balance. I am tracking how to be the best parent and yet how to fulfill myself so I’m happy when my eyes close at the end of the night. It has been the biggest balancing act of my life. I’ve never experienced something like this. I have good days and bad days.
My sons, for example, they’re two wild children. Their hair is down past their shoulders. They love life. They’re alive. I love them to death. I look at them and I could start crying from waking them up in the morning. At the same time, they drive me nuts sometimes. I sit there and go, “Do you ever stop moving? You don’t stop moving. How is this possible? You have to be tired.” I make them do sprints in the house and stuff. I do all this crazy stuff with them.
The point is that once you have children, you’re putting money in the bank in emotional cash. They know and see everything. I am sitting there watching them. Every night, before we go to bed, we have all these routines we do but we say, “What was the best thing you did today? What did you love? What didn’t you like? What is this?” I get them to talk. It’s funny because what I found with them is being with me, being around me, which is similar to dogs in a way. Sitting next to me makes them have the greatest day of their life. It’s not all the other stuff. I am on this constant quest for balance and that’s why I think that being a parent isn’t for everyone.
Also, I would like to interject that sometimes people think, “I’ll be happier. It’ll fix my marriage. It’ll fix me. What if I have a child?” What I want to say is that children don’t make you happier. It’s an unfair thing to sell to people. Children are an experience like no other because that is the only time that you are showing up as a parent in that specific dynamic.
Zen masters talk about, “They’re your greatest teacher.” You think, “What the hell are they going to teach me?” Especially as they get older, you realize that it’s a serious moment of truth. Your kids see you in your entirety and it’s an invitation. They will invite you many times and sometimes in a combative way to offer you to change. You can either receive it or you can be too scared or don’t want to deal with it because it’s uncomfortable.
I was a certain way for 45 years of my life. Now, you want me to be different. By the way, it worked for me. These are the nuances in parenting that if we can look at it and go, “This is uncomfortable but yet, it’s going to give me another opportunity to expand in my life.” If you say to somebody, “You should have babies, it’ll make you happy.” Those people are not telling you the truth.
By the way, balance is essential on some level to have a form of equilibrium or homeostasis. it’s reasonable to go through life and recognize, “I’m off kilter. I’m going to find the way to pull it back over.” You’re then going to move through balance for about four seconds and then you’re going to have to reorient again. All of that is normal.
Here’s what I know, we can’t get it perfect. We can’t be perfectly in shape. You can’t be perfect at your job. You will not be a perfect husband. You will not be a perfect father. One thing that my husband has said to me many times is, “You are here and you love them.” When it gets complicated, you’re there and you’re loving all of them, your wife and children.
I recognize this in my husband who’s so intense and it’s connected to everything I love about him. One night, he was dealing with our internet and I looked at him from across the dinner table and he was miserable. By the way, his misery, he has no problem spreading that, like, “Shall I pour some of my misery in your glass? Would you like that with your dinner? I have a little misery left over. Would you like some?” Of course, because you’re emotionally driven. It’s fantastic. “A little more? Do you want some ice with my misery?” I am looking at him, I’m like, “This frickin guy is trying to show up.”
He’s trying to do it. That’s his love language. His love language is doing stuff.
It’s not only that but he’s there and he’s doing the best he can. Even if it’s stuff he hates like technology, he’s still going to try to do it. As a partner or somebody, it’s even how we would treat ourselves because we are kinder to others than we are to ourselves. When we’re going through that self-talk that you’re talking about on your walk, at times, sometimes recheck in and first start with, “Am I genuinely trying to show up or am I phoning it in? Cool. I’m only hurt and frustrated because I’m trying to show up.” That’s hard.
I said this to one of my friends, I was like, “You have to understand the situation that we’re putting ourselves in. We are these unique individuals, each one of us. No matter where you are on this planet and no matter who you are, you’re this unique individual. You’re this energy that cannot be created or destroyed. You are you. You have your own DNA. You are unique to you.”
When you’re married and have children, you’re sharing your life with another person and then children if you have children. The children’s behavior and what they’re going to wake up like are completely unpredictable. You have no idea what’s going to happen there. You wake up in your bed with this person next to you and they might have slept badly. They might have eaten something wrong the day before. They might not feel great that day.
You might wake up wanting to jump through the roof, Superman style. You might be like, “Let’s go,” and you’re ready. Immediately, you are starting off on two separate planes of your brain. Your personalities are in two separate worlds. All of a sudden, you’re there, you’re here, and there’s friction. It’s not that anybody’s doing, it’s the fact that this is life. What you’re trying to do is you have to figure out this experience. Do you come down if you’re excited and happy and want to take on the day? Does the person who’s not feeling great come up? This is where compromise and all this stuff come.
The truth is sometimes you can’t help it. You don’t know what’s going on. Some people are morning people and some people aren’t. I rock it out of bed. I wish I never had to sleep. To me, if there’s something I can get rid of, I would get rid of sleeping and eating. I don’t like either of them. As strange as that sounds to people, they’re a waste of time. That’s some of the things that people love the most in this world and my wife is one of them. My wife loves food and loves to sleep. I am the polar opposite.
Because of that, immediately, we have to figure out a way to exist in the little world that we’ve created together. I have to be like a cat burglar when I get up. I have to move slowly. I have to go pee in another bathroom. Everything is stealthy. One of my sons is like me, he never sleeps, “Dad, what are we doing? Let’s go do the balance thing outside. Let’s go run here.” I’m like, “It’s 5:00 AM.” He loves it. My other son will sleep all day. He rolls around. He doesn’t care.
The point is that we have to understand these things and we have to say, “What is my compromise because I’ve chosen to be in this situation of a unit?” I have many friends that are single and I have many friends that live alone. They can do whatever they want. Ultimately, some of them love it. They would never even think about having a family or being married. They love their aloneness. I have friends that have 6 or 7 kids. People who come from families, 1 of 11, are giant families and they love it. They bask in that atmosphere of all this tribe or this group.
The thing that I’ve come to realize is that I’ve chosen to be in a life and have a family, have a wife, and have a spouse. Because of that, I have to realize that I’m not giving up the things I want by no means. I have to turn the wrench, move the screwdriver, and figure out ways to calibrate where I can do it all in a different way than I did when I was alone. It was all me, all times, and all nothing. That’s where a lot of us make the mistake.
I’ll go back to dogs because they mean everything to me. People buy dogs, rescue dogs, find the dogs, or whatever it is and they think, “I got a dog. I don’t have to do anything.” You have to do everything. The dog can’t do anything without you. If you’re not that person, you start to find out quickly that you are now giving a huge part of your life over to this animal. That’s marriage and family on a 1,000 scale.
You said something important, giving. Someone’s not taking it, you’ve given it. When we feel the power of, “I have chosen. I have given. I choose to be here.” There’s real freedom in that. It doesn’t mean it’s blissful every moment. I’ve been in a relationship for over 24 years. First of all, where did you meet your wife? How did you meet her?
Totally random. Everything in life is unpredictable. There’s nothing that’s ever good in my life, and when I say good, I mean the things that have propelled me to the next level. If you’re playing a video game and my level is up, all my level-ups have never been planned. I was a serial relationship guy. I was in one and another.
More like 2 or 3 years.
Three years was my longest. I do that and come out for a little and then go back in. I was living in LA for fifteen years. In 2008, my entire life changed with Sons of Anarchy. Everything in my existence changed and it changed overnight. I was like, “Okay.” What happened was Henry Rollins, who a lot of people would know, was on the show and it was the second season. He and I had gotten along. I was a huge fan of his music, his books, and all that. I would be around him as much as I could. He says to me, “You know that the show is huge with the military.” I was like, “Really?”
It’s still unclear but my birth father was in the army. I don’t know what he did. I heard he burned down The Mess Hall. I don’t know what happened. My step-grandfather was a fighter pilot. I had known a few military people. I was like, “That’s super cool. I have such a huge love for the men and women in the armed forces.” He said, “I do stuff with the wounded warriors. You should do a USO tour.” I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Yeah.” He hooked me up with a person.
Fast forward, the next thing I know, I and a couple of the guys from the show were in Iraq. We went to Kuwait and Baghdad. We were on C-130s. We were on Black Hawks. We were there for two weeks or whatever it was with troops and living with them. It changed my outlook on a lot of things. I was like, “I want to do as much as I can for these men and women when I come back.” I also found out that before the world was watching Sons of Anarchy, they were obsessed with the show. I felt this massive gratitude towards the military community.
[bctt tweet=”I’ve always felt that when the group is better, individually we’re better.”]
I came back and right at that time, there was a nonprofit called the Boot Campaign that reached out and they had been doing this thing called these Boot Shoots with different people of celebrity. They wanted to do them with the cast of Sons of Anarchy. They did one. We all wore these military boots. The theme was when they come back, we give back and it was this incredible nonprofit.
My wife was the head of PR for the military charity and we had met but I was with someone else and she was with someone else. We had just met. It’s like, “What’s up? How are you?” She would plan what we would go do. We started doing these things in LA called the Boot Ride. 3,000 or 4,000 people would show up and we do these concerts at this outdoor bar. We would all go ride. We do this huge ride and you’d ride with all the Sons of Anarchy and all the Navy Seals and all the SpecOps guys.
Did you ride before Sons of Anarchy?
I had ridden dirt bikes when I was young. I didn’t know how to ride anything. I used to steal these little Honda scooters. I didn’t know how to ride but I had ridden dirt bikes on trails and stuff. When I went to LA and we had no money, I had this harebrained idea that if I got a motorcycle license, I would buy a motorcycle and get around LA. It’d be a lot cheaper because I couldn’t afford a car. I was borrowing a friend’s car.
I went and took the course and I got my motorcycle license but I never rode a motorcycle. I took the three-day course. When I went to audition for Sons of Anarchy, they said, “You can’t audition unless you have a motorcycle license.” I said, “I do.” What they meant to say was, “Unless you ride a motorcycle,” which I didn’t. I was cast earlier in this scenario and the first year of that show was one of the most frightening days. We do it for 2 or 3 three days a week where they’d be like, “Get on your Harley, this 600-pound bike.” Everybody’s like, “You know how to ride, right?” I was like, “Yeah.” I just figured it out.
For people who know, I have laid down a HOG by accident in the Hamptons. People don’t realize that those are not small, little, and light bikes. Those are big and heavy bikes. You’re doing these Boots Rides.
I was doing the Boot Ride, I was doing everything, and then now I’m proficient. I have a bunch of motorcycles. I’ve learned how to handle them. We’re doing all this and the show is picking up steam. We’re on season 4 or 5. I was living in LA but I went to see my family in New York and Sandy had hit. When Sandy hit, it legitimately destroyed my entire neighborhood. It’s almost like a transformer movie. I was like, “What happened here? It destroyed everything.” I immediately needed to do something. My active brain kicked in where I was like, “I got to raise money. I got to start rebuilding homes. I got to get people’s basements unflooded. I got to get food to people.” I started rallying up all my friends and getting everybody together.
In a way, Staten Island has isolation to it pretty easily.
There are beaches. It’s an island, the water, and all that stuff. It was destroyed. The water came in almost a mile and a half and wrecked everything. I called up my friends at the boot campaign and I said, “This is a catastrophe. I need a 501(c)(3), nonprofit.” I can’t raise money. Personally, I want to start getting people’s homes built. I’m going to do a big event on Staten Island with all the guys from Sons of Anarchy.
They came in. Immediately, we created the offshoot of Staten Strong in an emergency. We came in and raised a ton of money. My wife, Megan, because she was PR, came down to Staten Island. She was staying in Manhattan and she came down and she was going to oversee it for the Boot campaign. When she came down, we had this big event in Manhattan with all my friends from the UFC like Uriah Faber, Ryan Bader, Chris Weidman, and a couple of the running back from the Cowboys.
Everybody came down and we were doing this event to raise money. She was there as the liaison to the Boot campaign. I drove her home that night and I said, “My family’s doing dinner in Staten Island tomorrow. You should come. Everybody’s going to come.” There were a couple of people there from the network, from FX, and a couple of actors from the show. I said, “You should come.” We’d known each other but now we were both single.
Were you seeing her because you were able to look at her in that way now that you’re single and she’s single?
Were you like, “I’m seeing Megan differently.”
I always had a thing but I’m always one of those people who even though I would ask questions about her, I always knew where my place was at the moment. even though I was single before she was, it was the point that I never wanted to mix company. We were doing something with charities and whatever. She then came over to my house.
This sounds completely crazy. We were there. I like to mess with people a lot because it’s the only thing that keeps me entertained. I was messing with everyone. She was like, “It’s funny that you’re saying that but you have a blackhead in your ear.” I was like, “What? No, I don’t. What are you talking about?” She goes, “I’m going to get it out.” This sounds completely strange. I don’t think anybody ever knows this. I’ve never told this to anyone.
She got the blackhead out of my ear, as weird as it sounds. She was taking a picture with it with an iPhone. From that moment on, I drove her home that night and then we started writing letters to each other and we started talking. She was living in Austin at the time and I was in LA. One thing led to another and then I decided to move to New work. I knew that I was going to do my next TV show there. We had hung out now a few times in LA. She would come out to LA.
Was she your girlfriend?
She was my girlfriend and had pulled a blackhead out of my ear. We were dating. I turned to her and I said, “I’m going to move to New York. I bought a house without seeing it. I sent my friends to see it. It’s a big house. I probably shouldn’t have bought it. You should move into it with me.” She was like, “I love New York City.” I said, “You’re going to love it.”
When we got there, she realized that Staten Island is not New York City. We went to Staten Island. We worked on the house for a little. We went back to LA to finish Sons of Anarchy because we had one more season left. The next thing you know, my son, Kane, was on the way. We live in Austin now and we have two kids.
All couples have different variations of why it’s working. One thing that always comes up over and over and they even did a study on 10,000 couples, all the dynamics were different like different religions. She was the breadwinner or he was the breadwinner. He was a recluse or she was a recluse. Every different variation. They said that in all of them, the man had identified in a strong way how much he admired the woman. I’m talking about heterosexual relationships.
I always find it interesting because, for all couples, one of the biggest dances of life is being in cohabitation with a human being that you’re trying to have a romantic relationship with. However you want to frame it or label it, knock yourself out. It’s still one of the craziest dances, For you, what do you think is the magic, the thing between you? I’m sure it’s more than one thing. You go, “This is why it works with us.” Most people have chemistry. It has to start with a level of chemistry.
I also think that the main thing is we both started from a similar position, meaning that we were both helping people. We were both trying to do good for the greater of people. We met rebuilding homes for people who had been tragically devastated.
On a value system, you’re lined up about a lot of things. When you say you can go in the kitchen and go, “I’m bumpy today,” and she’ll say, “I don’t see it,” there’s something important that you have this person to go to and that you’re willing to even say, “I feel this way.” Is that learned? Did that happen through trust and practice? How does that develop?
The truth is I wasn’t a big proponent of the sacrament of marriage. We were actively trying to have kids and it happened on the first shot. We had seen other people who were having a hard time. We had a lot of family members and friends. It was taking years and they were doing a lot of other stuff. I wanted to get going and it happened right away.
What I come to find out was that the things that linked and bonded us was that I’m open about everything, good, bad, and indifferent. I’m going to tell you exactly what’s going on. I have two modes, they’re going to tell you everything or I’m going to completely shut down. You know, when you meet me, who you are to me. Either you’re going to be my best friend and I’m going to be hanging with you and we’re going to get to know each other or I’m probably not going to talk to you. I always start with the first one.
When I see something that I know and I’ve learned in my years of living that is not a red flag but a warning signal, I step back. Usually, in my experience, those warning signals lead to worse things. Not to go off on a tangent but if I’m on set and some dude is like, “You’re married with kids and all that.” I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Me, too.” He starts talking about cheating on his wife or something. I’m like, “This dude is not for me.” He’s got to do what he’s got to do. He’s got to live his own journey. the fact that he’s telling a stranger, which is me, is already a problem.
On a total minute level, this sounds so weird, I have friends that screenshot other people’s conversations and text me them. They’re like, “This person said this. This was going on.” I’m like, “I don’t like that. Does that mean you’re screenshotting my conversations?” All of a sudden, I go to watch what I texted you.
To go off on a tangent, when she and I got together, I’m an open book. I’m like, “Let’s go. Let’s talk about it. Let’s drill down on it. Let’s do this.” She’s the opposite. She keeps everything close to her chest. We were offering each other things that were different sides. I would never want to be with someone like me. I have been, it’s insane. It doesn’t work. It’s too much. I needed someone that objectively look at something and say, “Hold on. You’re leading with your emotion. You need to step back for a second. You don’t need to rush into this. You don’t need to do this.”
I don’t want to say the word stable because I don’t know if anybody is, especially in today’s world. She wasn’t as emotional as I was. I was intrigued by that because I come from a family that is emotional, yells all the time, is all over each other, and tells the UPS guy if he has a hemorrhoid. They’re too much. This was an incredible difference for me and that was the most intriguing.
The truth is there’s all the superficial stuff, which you have to have in the beginning. The main thing was the value of family. We had this thing where it was not just we want to be parents but we wanted to be good parents. We wanted to be examples to the kids. We wanted to afford children the right to live their best life and to be curious and to see what it was like. She was raised in a certain way that might not have been that advantageous. I was not raised in a specific way. We wanted to give these other opportunities. We had all that in common. Our relationship started with giving. We’re different.
That’s helpful. I always say it’s like being on one side of each of us or on the side of a boat and we can pull each other to the middle a little bit. I’ll be honest with you, as a parent, there are nights where, once in a while, I’ll put my head on the pillow. My kids are older so it has different complexity to it as they get older. They’re females. Go figure. Once in a while, I put my head on the pillow and I’m like, “We did okay today.” I have to be honest, this idea of being a good parent is important and, at times, it feels hard to achieve.
It’s almost impossible. We built an obstacle course for the kids and I was excited about it. I had seen people doing this online. I was like, “This is a great thing to do for the kids.” It started in the house and went outside and I designed this whole thing. My kids did it but they weren’t hustling and they weren’t running. I went in the tank about it. I was like, “What’s going on?” She’s like, “Are you alright?”
I was like, “As much as I know this is a fun thing, I also want to use it as a listening and learning activity.” She’s like, “They’re 2 and 4.” I was like, “I know.” I got super quiet. She’s like, “What is going on with you?” I was like, “I don’t understand why he’s not running from the trampoline to the scooter.” I realized that my expectations were clouded. It started affecting the whole night. It ran into how we had dinner and then it ran into before we went to bed. It was so funny. She was looking at me like I was insane.
I wish I could have been your wife’s girlfriend at that moment and got that phone call. It would have been the best private chuckle ever. You’re tucked away and she’s in some quiet moment and she’ll be like, “Check this out. Check out what happened.”
It’s all on video.
I only have two more things because then I have to let you go. We all have these and it’s an important thing. Do you know when they talk about gratitude or recognizing things? When you were a part of Sons of Anarchy and then you were on that amazing cast, it’s insane. You will have more scenarios. They will be different but they will be magical and you’ve probably had them since. Were you aware, like, “We are in a magic moment that we’re going to get to enjoy, especially as artists.”
No. There was a moment. Now, we talk about it a lot. I had two of the guys on the podcast.
Not even the older guys? Some of the older guys were like, “You don’t understand the chemistry that’s going on here.”
Yes. We were told by the Jimmy Smiths of the world and other people that this was lightning in a bottle. It was my first ever regular TV show. I’ve been a guest star. I’ve been a co-star. I’ve never been a regular. It was my first opportunity as a regular. What I knew was there would be hundreds of people watching this film. Wherever we were, there would be hundreds of people outside the gate at a studio waiting to see us come out.
We’d go to Australia and we go do press in France and it would be the closest I can imagine to being a rock star because it was different. It wasn’t just a TV show but it felt like we were these heroes to people. They believed it so much. We became this group. I had known it from that. When I realized it, honestly, was after it. I went on to do a lot of things and still doing a lot of things and nothing has ever been the same.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. They’ve all been amazing and unique in their own way. This was like living a life, almost like being born and coming to the end of your life in a 7 or 8-year span. What that means is that what we went through personally, together, mentally and physically, people leaving people dying, truly dying, and things happening, we went through it all and it was crazy. At the same time, the whole world was watching.
[bctt tweet=”We’re in a payoff society. You click something and you get it. You order something you want. I want to lose weight in seven days and not 70. What we’re trying to do is eliminate all of the work.”]
We felt like we were in this little bubble of just us. We felt like it would never change. It was like a walking comic book. It was like we were these larger-than-life people. Still to this day, now that we can sit back and look at it, we are okay with the identity of it. At the end of the day, we were the last era of that. It was the last era of a weekly show that you had to wait. It was off for six months and it would come back for six months. What that means is, to the viewer, you were their friend for seven years, eight years with the off-seasons. You were their friend, meaning they knew you.
When you binge-watch a show, you only know people for 2 weeks or 3 weeks. You don’t get to live with them. The older actors on it would tell us, “Don’t forget about this. Don’t rush through it. It’s lightning in a bottle.” Now I have such a tremendous love because the truth is there is no Boot campaign, which means there are no kids, which means there is no wife. I stepped out of the matrix, which I talked about earlier in season three of that show because of situations that had occurred.
I had awakened myself, which was because of certain people around me. I realized how I didn’t want to be. I had made a concerted effort to know that I have one shot at this. I was aware of that during this. All these things that have shaped my existence as Theo only occurred because of that single television show in which I auditioned for eight different characters and didn’t get any of them. It was truly one of these things that, whether it’s divinity or whatever you want to call it, shaped everything.
I want to end on this. In our first podcast, that didn’t happen. You grew up in Staten Island. I hate the idea of doing anything. You’re making it work. You’re hustling. You’re trying to figure it out. Your pops leave at 9. It’s not easy. There were two things that I thought were important. One is that you are a reminder and example that we can transcend our story. A lot of us sometimes think, “I was born into this scenario and this happened to me. This didn’t happen for me.”
You then get to write your adult book yourself. It’s like, “I’m going to take all of that and be thankful for it. I’m going to learn. It’s made me who I am. I’m also going to do my version, my adult book.” In your early chapters, we are beholden to our environment and our parents, good and bad. We get to a certain place and it’s like, “I have stories that I’m going to write that are completely not even linked to the way where I came from.” You represent that. It feels important to remind people of that.
Here’s what I believe and I talk about this with a lot of people all the time. It took me a while to not fight against my story and not fight against, “What if I had this?” If I was a kid who came from money, if my family had anything, if I didn’t pay for my own college, if I didn’t have debt, if I didn’t lose my father, if I had a better relationship with this person, and if I started doing this when I was young, I would do that all the time. Sadly, that is a natural tendency.
What happened is I flipped it and I said, “How can I use the things that I’ve done and that have happened to me, good and bad, to push my narrative forward in a positive way?” For example, when I act, I use little techniques that I have to get myself into a calm situation before I go. When they call rolling, I have this self-talk that I tell myself. It used to be and it still is part of it. I used to say, “I love you, unc.” That was for my uncle, who was a huge part of my life from 14 to 24. I would say that and I would immediately go into a trigger. I almost put myself in a trance and then I can become the character.
Now, what I’ve incorporated into it too is I had so much venom toward my birth father because he wasn’t the father I wanted or thought I needed. I see other people have this amazing relationship with their dads and they have all this stuff. I never had any of that. What I started to do was, internally, forgave him. I said, “If you didn’t do what you did, I wouldn’t be who I am.”
I am the father I am because of him. I found on the internet in 2010 that he died in ’09. I did it by pulling up public records and all that because I was trying to track him down. What I’ve come to find out was that if I didn’t have him and all the chaos that he brought to my life, I wouldn’t be me. Now, when I act, I say, “I love you, unc. I appreciate you, dad.” I say that because it frees me of any regret and anything that I have that could potentially be a weight in my knapsack.
I realized that every single thing that occurs to me has to happen for me to push forward. It doesn’t mean that I’m welcoming tragedy. It doesn’t mean that I need these bad things to happen because there have been multitudes of them. It means that I understand that I would not benefit in this world as someone who came from roses, I wouldn’t be. It’s not my personality. If you accept your story, more importantly, if you accept yourself and your role in it, you will have a better time taking that next step.
If you fight against it, you’re fighting against something that isn’t even real anymore. It doesn’t exist. It’s over. I’ll never forget when my cousin OD’d on heroin and my uncle killed himself and all this kind of stuff. It was easy for people to go, “That’s bad.” I said, “It’s terrible stuff but it happened.” People seem that that’s callous to say that but it’s not because what you have to understand is that it happened and now we’re here. What are we going to do?
I’m trying every day to improve, I’m trying to be better, and more importantly, I’m trying to be better because I want to be able to pass these lessons on to my kids and that they’re enough. A lot of the external stuff that goes on around the world is not their fault. Once you do that, you can propel yourself into some great situations because you’re honest. The eyes never lie.
That’s all I’m going to continue to try to do. By no means am I even where I want to be but I know I could wake up every day and be like, “I’m good with myself.” It takes a long time to say that and do that. People don’t like that. That’s hard for people to hear because they don’t know how to get there. You got to start by being good to yourself.
That level of honesty, if you can have that with yourself and the people close to you, is helpful.
I could talk to you forever about many different things. I appreciate you so much.
Thank you, Theo.
I appreciate everything that you’re doing and what you represent. Thank you.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
Subscribe to The Gabby Reece Show
About Theo Rossi
Theo Rossi aka John Theodore Rossi is an actor and producer from America. He is notable for his role in Vault, Sons of Anarchy, Red Sands, Bad Hurt, Luke Cage, and Lowriders.