Actor Blake French never had much luck getting on stages in mid-Michigan. At 18, unable to land parts with local theater companies, the Mason High School student began skipping classes to travel to Detroit, where he started acting in small film, television and commercial projects.Some 14 years later, French’s persistence has landed him a lead role in a television series on the Cartoon Network’s evening Adult Swim programming block. French, 32, stars as the werewolf in “Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter,” which returned for its second season Monday at midnight. The half-hour mini-series, created by Jon Glaser of “Girls” and “Parks and Recreation,” airs five consecutive nights for its premiere week.
“I kind of got lucky,” French said. “I was called in based on an open casting call, and back then the character wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.”
French believes his strong audition convinced the producers to expand the role.
“They had me pretend to be a wolf, and all my horror instincts came out,” he said. “So it was just this crazy, zany audition. But I had a good feeling about it, because I’m a big horror fan, and I knew I had the right instincts for creature stuff. I got the call a couple hours later, and then that’s when they decided the character was going to be big.”
“Neon Joe” is French’s first lead role in a television series. Adult Swim, which reaches up to 1.35 million viewers per night, is basic cable’s No. 1 network among ages 18 to 49 in the midnight-12:30 a.m. timeslot, according to Nielsen Media.
“This is a show that has kind of a cult following, like obsessive fans,” French said. “I’ve been seeing a lot of talk by fans of the series, and a lot of them have been talking about the werewolf. I might become a part of one of these cult followings. It’s cool.”
Playing the werewolf involves physical and aesthetic challenges. Not only did French perform his own stunts, but he also had to endure a four-hour application process of makeup, prosthetics, wigs, fangs and contacts each day to transform into the lycanthrope.
“There wasn’t one square inch, other than the whites of my eyeballs, that wasn’t covered for 16 hours a day.” French said. “I was in such a panic the first day, I actually contacted a hypnotherapist, because I couldn’t just take a Xanax. The anxiety levels were so high, but I couldn’t be ‘Xanax werewolf.’ I have such an intense fear of all of it, but I pulled it off.”French, born in Lansing and raised in Mason, graduated from Mason High School and studied theater at Lansing Community College. He also covered entertainment for Lansing City Pulse and AMC Networks while still attending high school.
French dropped out of LCC after two years and moved to Los Angeles at 20, where he and started to book billboards, magazines, television shows, commercials and movies.
After L.A., French spent time as a Chippendale performer in Las Vegas and a swimwear model in Miami. He is now based in New York, where he’s lived since 2013. He has appeared in television shows like “Quantico” and “Kevin Can Wait” and in the film “Rock of Ages,” to name a few. He’s hoping that his role in “Neon Joe” is a gateway to meatier roles.
“I kind of had a career of getting little stuff,” French said. “I had a couple small parts in big things or big parts in small things, but to actually get something like this was really exciting.”
French isn’t sure how long “Neon Joe” will last, but said the project has opened up the door to many opportunities already.
“If there’s a season three of the show, there’s a good chance I’ll be a part of that too,” French said. “You kind of ride the wave of success. The waves are intense, and the lows are really low, but the highs can be really high.”