Alumni Answers: Chester Rushing, actor
Alumni Answers: Chester Rushing, actor
Posted on 12/19/2017
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Northwest alumnus Chester Rushing, an actor

Chester Rushing was once a student at Northwest High School filming videos for fun, and now he’s part of a cultural phenomenon TV show just a few years out of high school.

As Tommy on Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Mr. Rushing’s acting has led internet commenters across the world to call the character one of the most hated on TV – in a good way, for an actor – because of the reaction his acting as a bully created from audiences. His work creating a response from the audience has led to more roles, including characters in the upcoming Hulu series “All Night” and the movie “Jeepers Creepers 3.”

Since graduating in 2010, Mr. Rushing has appeared in more than a dozen TV shows or movies and is adding more to his résumé each year.

Mr. Rushing talked with Northwest Navigator about his experiences in the TV and movie industry as well as some of his goals and advice for aspiring actors.

Perhaps your most recognizable role to date is as Tommy in the Netflix show “Stranger Things,” which quickly became a streaming sensation. What was seeing that response like for you?
It has been and is still such an amazing experience. The show captured the hearts and minds of so many people who truly fell in love with the story and the characters. Maybe not so much Tommy H., but that has been fun as well. When I meet a fan of the show they instantly see me as Tommy and some of them just start yelling at me.

As Tommy in “Stranger Things,” you played a high school bully, which is pretty far from your personality. Is it more enjoyable as an actor to play something so different from yourself, or does that make the work harder?
With every character I get the opportunity to create a person based around my personal experiences, people I have researched as well as personality traits from my friends and family. The work is the same with any role and it always requires time to develop that character into someone that the audience can relate to. At the end of the day, if people love or hate my character, I have gotten a reaction and that is what makes me happy.

One of the next times people will see you is in another show on a streaming service, Hulu’s “All Night.” What’s it like knowing anyone can open an app on their phone, computer or TV and see you thanks to the ubiquity of streaming services?
We all have such busy lives these days that getting time to sit in front of a TV to watch a show is so hard to do. With streaming services, we are able to bring shows to your schedule. You also have to remember that companies like Hulu and Netflix are global, which allow amazing shows to be viewed in parts of the world that do not have access to network TV or movie theaters. It’s amazing when you realize people from all over the world are watching the same shows and connecting at the same time.

Are there any actors or directors you hope to work with one day?
Where do I start? There are so many talented people in the industry that I have been a fan of for years just getting the opportunity to work with any of them would be a dream come true. Director would have to be Tim Burton who has so many iconic movies. Keanu Reeves is someone I have looked up for both his acting abilities and how authentic and generous of a person he is. I am also going to have to add Dan Harmon to the mix and would love to do anything with him, since I am such a fan of “Rick and Morty.”

Since shooting can take place almost anywhere, how do you stay in touch with friends and family when you’re aware from home?
Again technology is so amazing and helps me keep in touch with everyone no matter where I am. The tricky part is adjusting to different time zones and shooting schedules. When I am filming at night, we get lunch around 3 a.m. and I just return their calls then and wake them up for fun.

You hosted an event at Cinemark in Roanoke last year to benefit children with special needs, where they were able to watch a movie with special settings to make the sensory experience tailored to their light and sound sensibilities. What gave you the idea for that event?
The Autism Society has promoted Sensory Friendly Films for a number of years, but there were so few theaters participating. We were able to work with AMC Cinemark locations in Dallas and Fort Worth to starting hosting these events and bring awareness to the area. It was amazing to see so many families who had never been to a movie share that experience for the first time. “Stranger Things” created an opportunity for me to connect with so many amazing people that I wanted to make sure that I was using the platform to bring attention to something that was important to me.

What advice would you give to any students considering careers in acting?
Honestly, I think the advice I have is important to every student considering any career: You have to love what do and work extremely hard to make it happen. Nothing is going to be handed to you, and there will be times that you will struggle, but stay focused and never give up. School is very important, but you also have to make an effort to lean outside of school. Learn everything about something and something about everything and you will go far.

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Northwest Navigator magazine.

To view a list of movies and TV shows Chester Rushing has appeared in on the IMDb website, click here.