Kevin Fonteyne plays a young Johnny Cash in CMT’s scripted series Sun Records premiering Thursday (Feb. 23). The 26-year-old is one to watch as he’s already guest-starred on Masters of Sex, Bones, NCIS, Melissa and Joey, iCarly and Criminal Minds.
Fonteyne grew up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and is one of six children in a single-parent home. His mother, a career Air Force military medical senior master sergeant, was the rock for her children. He developed a passion for acting early on in his life, and that passion carried him all the way through school before moving to Los Angeles.
CMT.com: How did you land the role of Johnny Cash?
Fonteyne: After the first audition for the show, I left and I was like, man, I totally blew it. And then oddly enough, I woke up strangely early the next morning, and my agent called me to tell me, “They love you.”
As I was in the auditioning process, Johnny Cash kept popping up in my life. I went out to dinner with one of my friends after an audition, and afterwards we went to a cigar lounge. When we sat down, the first song that came on was Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”. Soon after that, my friend sent me a photo of himself and a Johnny Cash cut-out from an event he was at.
And then, I found out I booked the role on Johnny Cash’s birthday. It was like divine intervention. There’s no other way to explain it.
There are so many nuances to playing Johnny Cash. What did you do to prepare for the project?
It really started when I made my New Year’s resolution when I decided to fix my guitar and play every day for an hour. I had been doing that for a few weeks when I got hit with my first audition of the year — it was to play a young Johnny Cash on Sun Records. So, I kept playing my guitar.
I also started by seeing who else portrayed him, so I watched Walk the Line to get a basis. Then, I read his autobiography and his biography. I also did nothing but listen to Johnny Cash songs, especially Hot and Blue Guitar, which I played in the audition.
I watched tons of interviews I could find. I tried to get the voice right, his playing style right, his mannerisms right. I did as much I could to do him justice.
Interestingly, after I found out I got the job, I actually had to play at the Lincoln Center for the annual Viacom upfront event. That was the first time I had ever performed anywhere. So, to go from my bedroom to playing at Lincoln Center was pretty crazy, and I never thought that would happen.
Did you get to talk to anyone who knew Johnny Cash personally?
I got to meet Tommy Cash, Johnny’s younger brother, and he said “You know, you actually do kind of look like Johnny!”
Then, a gentleman told me that he saw Johnny Cash perform live and told me how much I sounded like Johnny. And just to hear all of that from people who knew who Johnny was pretty amazing.
Side note: Besides looking like a young Johnny Cash, you kind of remind me of someone else, too. Has anyone ever told you that you look like Andrew Garfield?
I get that all the time actually. Funny story: When I was a caterer back in the day, I was passing hors d’oeuvres about the same time The Social Network came out. A gentleman came up to me and asked, “Hey! Were you in The Social Network?”
So I said, “Yeah, and that’s why I’m here passing hors d’oeuvres! Tuna tartar?”
How was filming Sun Records in Memphis? Did you explore outside the city?
It’s surprising to feel the energy of what transpired there and how proud people are of what came out of that region. We actually filmed a scene where Johnny played his first performance ever. Just being there was incredible.
I also had a chance to go to Nashville and visit the Johnny Cash Museum, which was really cool. And while I was there I got to hang out with my good friend and former Glee star Chord Overstreet, who was visiting his parents there at the time.
Favorite Sun Records scene to film?
One of my favorite scenes to film would have to be when Johnny’s at the beer hall in Germany. There’s a fight that break out, and I cull the situation by jumping on stage and performing “The Thing”.
I was pretty nervous because I had to sing it live, and [director Roland Joffé] gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted and the band would follow. It’s the first time you see that Johnny’s in his element, and that he loves to perform and captivate people. And he always knew too what audiences wanted. It was the first time where I got to show that. Roland’s directing is incredible. I look forward to everyone seeing that scene.
And how was working with Chad Michael Murray? Did he share any advice for a young actor like yourself?
Ironically enough, Chad was discovered by my current acting manager. He gave me some advice. He said to keep my head down and keep working and to just focus on that. I think that’s sound advice.
Sun Records premieres Thursday (Feb. 23) at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Follow the conversation with #SunRecords and on Facebook.