Nearly two years after heading west to chase his Hollywood dreams, actor Denny Love — perhaps better known to Madisonians as 2012 Boys and Girls Club of Dane County Youth of the Year Denzel Irby — may have landed his big break.
Hulu and Paramount announced last week that Love would play Chip Martin in a major series adaptation of John Green’s bestselling novel, Looking for Alaska.
“I’m more than excited. I’m just ready, man,” Love tells Madison365 in an interview. “I’m ready to show the world what I’ve got. I’ve been wanting to do this for the longest time. And it is great to have my city behind me.”
Since graduating from the prestigious Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, Love has booked guest star roles on a few big shows, such as Empire and Lucifer. Despite going on many auditions and hearing “not right now” again and again, Love felt something big was on the way.
“I already knew this was going to be my year,” he says. “I knew something cool was going to happen. I felt like I was going to book a pilot, but it was just incredible how God can exceed your expectations. I’m sitting here praying for a pilot, and he brought me a series. So it’s pretty incredible the way all these things have just been turning out.”
He also says he had a good feeling about this specific role when he first picked up the script — even though he didn’t know where the role first came from.
“I read the first episode, and I remember telling my girl, ‘I think I just found my show.’ And she was like, ‘What? Really? What is it called?’ And I was like, ‘It’s called Looking for Alaska.’ And she was like, ‘Oh my God, I love that book.’ And I said, ‘Wait, wait, what? It’s a book?’” he says. “And she’s like, ‘Yes, I love that book. I read it when I was in high school.’’ So I immediately went to Barnes and Noble, and I read the book in less than a day … and I thought to myself, ‘This is mine. This is it. This character is me.’”
Apparently, the casting director agreed, and more or less told Love he had the role before he left the audition.
“I remember going into the audition room,” he recalls. “I had never met this casting director in my life. And After I did the first scene, the casting director got out of his seat, shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you so much for bringing this character to life.’ And then I did the next scene, and he was just so happy. He said, ‘I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for truly embodying this character.’”
But Love wasn’t done yet, and asked to perform a pivotal monologue from the book.
“There is this monologue in the book that my character says, it’s like a short passage where he basically talks about how the biggest moment in his life,” Love says. “He and the other characters are talking about the best moments of their life. They’re just envisioning, what would be the best moment of your life. And my character goes into a story talking about how the best moment of his life would be the day that he’s able to buy his mom a house. My character grew up pretty poor, with a single mom. His dad was abusive, and left him and his mom. He grew up in like a trailer. He had a really hard life. But he was extremely smart, so he got a scholarship to go to this school with all these very rich white kids and he just talks about how one day when he is able to buy his mom a house and hand her the keys to her house, how happy that’ll make him and that’ll be the best day of his life.”
The monologue resonated when he read it, Love says.
“I remember crying when I read it, because I just related to that so much,” he says. “And I think so many young kids of Color, especially Black kids grow up thinking like that. Like, ‘I can’t wait till one day when I’ll be able to afford to just make my family happy….I remember looking at the casting Director as I’m doing the monologue. And it was one of those rare moments as an actor when I was so invested in these words, that it was like I could have wrote them myself. I looked up and I had tears in my eyes. I didn’t plan to cry, but I remember I was crying. And I looked up at the casting director and they had tears in their eyes, as well. And it was an insane moment.”
Love will soon leave for New Orleans to shoot for five months filming the series’ eight episodes. The story follows a teenager named Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter (Charlie Plummer) as he enrolls in boarding school to try to gain a deeper perspective on life. He then falls in love with a young girl named Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth), who unexpectedly dies, leaving Miles and his friend group to uncover the truth behind her death.
The 2005 navel was going to be adapted into a feature film several years ago, like other Green novels including The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, but that project never got made. Paramount is producing the series for Hulu, the streaming service that offers network television shows as well as original series like A Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock.
Love says he got a call from Green himself after landing the role.
“He said I’m exactly as he pictured the character to be. Which to me was insane,” Love says. “I mean, the man wrote the book. Obviously you have a vision in your mind of how this character walks, talks, looks and for him to say I’m what he envisioned. To me that’s one of the biggest honors I can have. To know that the guy who wrote this story believes in me, I have no fear in my heart that I’m going to kill this role. I feel confidant. The crew, and the characters, everybody is so talented. It’s insane the amount of talent that they have involved in this project.”
Love says this role is proof that anyone can and should chase their dreams.
“I’m not from LA. I don’t have any family connections to the industry,” he says. “I’m the only actor and comedian in my family. I don’t know anybody in this town. I didn’t join any secret society. I’m a kid from Madison, Wisconsin who had a dream. Who went to invest in my dream. I trained. I got really good at what I do. When you have faith, and you invest in your talent, God is going to meet you halfway. It’s not that unfathomable if you really go after it, and you really believe that you can do it. I mean we don’t have to be athletes. Everybody thinks that Madison, the way out is to play basketball, or play sports. I’m just trying to show the community that there’s a different way. Like why can’t we be Actors? Why can we be doctors? Why can’t we be writers? Why not?”
No release date has been announced for the show yet.