CW’s hit show Beauty and the Beast is far from the Disney animation film you might remember as a child, rather it’s a fantasy, sci-fi, action series with super-soldiers from an experiment gone dreadfully wrong, as they turn into uncontrollable beasts.
Every beast needs a close confidant and that is J.T. Forbes a loyal childhood friend and scientist, played by Austin Basis. Basis is also a spokesperson for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). ABILITY Magazine’s Lia Martirosyan caught up with Basis via Skype while shooting in Canada.
Lia Martirosyan: How’s it going out there?
Austin Basis: It’s good. The past couple of days it’s been on and off where there’s been some sunny cold days and then the muggy cold days, the kind of overcast which is not that much fun. [laughs]
Martirosyan: What part of Canada are you in?
Basis: We’re in Toronto.
Martirosyan: And where are you from originally?
Basis: Originally from Brooklyn, New York, but been living in Los Angeles since 2005.
Martirosyan: Nice. Tell us about yourself and the acting bug.
Basis: Well, I think I have a very entertaining family, so there is a little of it in my genes, or a lot of it. Everyone loves telling stories and jokes, being the center of attention. When I was a kid, I used to love Halloween, to the point where I extended it to having Halloween pretty much every day, especially when friends came over. I’d collect all the Halloween costumes in a crate, then it became two, the most was three and then some in the closet, because I just love dressing up. At that time, I liked Dracula and the horror-type stuff. There was a period of time when I was younger when 3D horror films were on your TV, so you’d get the 3D glasses and watch.
I was fairly athletic growing up and had dreams of playing professional baseball until I realized that you have to not only be skilled but biologically gifted, you know. It’s one thing to have skills and agility, but it’s a whole other thing to have the body to do it. I was smaller than everyone, I had a late growth spurt, so that put me behind the pack. Throughout school I always did theater, as I went to high school and college, the baseball dreams dwindled away. Medical school dreams popped in for a little bit, but theater and performing dreams were always there, they just took on different forms. Finally, in college at some point I said, ‘I’ve just got to give this a shot.’
It’s always been there. It’s always stayed there. Everything else has come and gone, whether it’s sports, athletics, being a doctor. And now all that’s left is being an actor. I told my wife the other day that I was really good at a lot of things, I could draw, I could write, I could act, I could play sports. But I made the decision to try to be great in one thing, because I felt like I was spreading myself too thin—to really try to make it as an actor. My professors in college were like, “You’ve really got to commit fully, because there are about 10 to 20 people who look exactly like you, who have just as much talent, who are willing to work twice as hard as you. And so if you really want to succeed, you have to go all in.” That’s when I became a theater major and then went on to grad school for acting.
Martirosyan: You’re not Italian, are you?
Basis: No, I’m Jewish, Brooklyn Russian Romanian, Eastern European Jewish.
Martirosyan: Do you speak Russian, by any chance?
Basis: I did grow up close to Brighton Beach, which is a very Russian area in Brooklyn. The people who lived in Brighton Beach were kind of, as we said, as most people say, “off the boat.” Most of the signs are in Russian. It’s like a Chinatown for Chinese, it’s Russiantown, Little Odessa, they used to call it.
Martirosyan: That’s great. Tell me how you became the celebrity ambassador for JDRF.
Basis: Well, I wouldn’t say I’m the celebrity ambassador. I am a celebrity ambassador. I had reached out unsuccessfully on the previous show that I was doing, Life Unexpected. I think I sent an email that probably got lost in the shuffle to the local JDRF chapter on the West Coast trying to make contact. It was kind of late and the show ended, so I had to worry about making a living and getting my next job. Once I got this Beauty and the Beast role and I knew that I was going to be working, I knew that I’d have time to devote to JDRF. I wanted to do interviews and talk about it, because I never felt like when I was growing up that there were examples of successful adults who had had juvenile diabetes or type 1 diabetes. I wanted to put myself out there as someone like that, a role model for kids who are going through the same thing I went through, 25 years ago.
I try to talk about it in all my interviews, and through JDRF became active in fundraisers and also in the JDRF Canada. Last year we went to Ottawa, because it was JDRF Kids for a Cure Lobby Day. They took kids from all the provinces of Canada and representatives of each of the provinces’ cities. There were 50 or 100 kids who had won these applications representing the kids who have diabetes in Canada, type 1 diabetes, made these books and went to their representatives to basically lobby for more government funding for the different projects that Canadian—there’s a Canadian diabetes project that will fund more of the provinces to have access to the insulin pump. Because of the provincial laws and the way it works, certain provinces weren’t allowed, funded or included in projects that provide state-of-the-art technology for kids to function and live with diabetes in the most healthy and balanced way. That’s why we participated in that, and I went back again to these meetings with the kids—spoke to them about what I went through in my adult life of being an actor and being on set; trying to balance having diabetes and my blood sugar level—doing the best job I can and not letting it get in my way.
That was a great experience for me and my wife. I try to talk about it, just so people know that it’s not something that’s debilitating or people should be embarrassed about, ‘cause that’s the thing, when I was younger. Being embarrassed that I had to be cared for like a baby because my blood sugar’s low or because I need that special snack at a certain time of day. I wasn’t getting a snack because I was special, I was getting a snack because I needed it for my health.
Martirosyan: How old were you when you found out?
Basis: Maybe a week and a half, two weeks before my ninth birthday.
Martirosyan: And what were the symptoms leading to the diagnosis?
Basis: I was eight, and had lost about 10 pounds over the summer. That’s one of the warning signs, weight loss, but that comes from the fact that your blood sugar level is high, you’re hyperglycemic, so it dehydrates you. When you’re hyperglycemic, there’s more blood in your sugar that’s not being used for energy, thickening your blood and affecting every other function that your body has. So your mouth is dry, you feel tired all the time, you want to drink a lot, go to the bathroom a lot, and in turn, you lose weight.
You’re always a little bloated and feverish because, again, your body’s not functioning properly. You need a certain blood sugar level to make sure everything’s working properly. And so for the summer, that wasn’t happening for me, when I got back home, I went straight to the doctor for my school medical exam, and they said I have a urinary infection, a bladder infection, or diabetes. And it was type 1 diabetes.
Martirosyan: Anyone else in the family have it?
Basis: No. Actually, my dad owned a candy store at the time. It was kind of an early lesson to take it with a grain of salt and accept the ironies in life. But the only person who had it in my family was my dad’s mother, who had gotten it as an adult, it was adult-onset or type 2 diabetes—she wasn’t insulin-dependent right away. Older people get it. Some type 2 diabetes is caused by obesity. If you lose the weight and eat healthy, you can get rid of type 2 diabetes, but type 1 diabetes is incurable and genetically predisposed. If you get type 1 symptoms, it was always in your system. The only question is when it was going to rear its ugly head. I recently went to a fundraiser where a woman spoke who had been diagnosed in her sixties with type 1. What that means is that for 60 years, she had it in her system, and it just never rose to the surface. For some reason at 65 or however old she was, it decided to come out and take over. They would use her to study how her body held it off for 60 years or what was going on with her that allowed the diabetes to stay dormant.
Martirosyan: Has it changed, has it progressed in any way as you’ve gotten older? Maybe easier to maintain?
Basis: I’ve had the pump for almost 15 years, and the pump makes it easier to manage on a daily basis because you don’t have to keep injecting yourself. The insulin is constantly flowing. There’s a rate that goes all day, so if you don’t eat anything, ideally your blood sugar level will stay the same. And then when you eat, you do a calculation of the carbohydrates, you count the carbs that you’re eating, and there’s an equation that allows you to understand how much, how many units you need. It’s different for everyone. You work with your nurse or doctor in the beginning. It’s a learning curve. It definitely has gotten easier, which is never to say that it’s easy. It’s based on your metabolism and your age and your circumstances. Like, when I’m working my routine and system are based on a different schedule and it affects my blood sugar levels differently, as opposed to when I’m not working, there’s a lot of things that change. So you have to roll with that. You have to just know that’s what’s going to happen.
It gets easier to understand but there’s moments that I have that it’s annoying and a struggle. Even when I think I’m in total control, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am in total control. But I try my best. I try to eat as healthy as possible, try to keep the white sugars, refined sugars and white bread and pasta and stuff like that to a minimum. You lean towards the complex carbohydrates, the only pasta that I would eat is brown rice. Quinoa is not really pasta, but brown rice or whole wheat pasta. But the only other carbohydrates I really eat are whole wheat bread, fruit and vegetable carbohydrates. Proteins are not carbohydrates. But they do help control your blood sugar. Everything’s important. A well-balanced diet is definitely important, and exercise.
It was a struggle in the beginning, but the curve—before, I was taking three shots a day, and it changed to two shots a day and then back to three. It went back and forth based on the doctor and the new information they had. I changed insulins over and over. There’s different brands or types of insulin that people use. There’s insulin that works right away, there’s certain insulin that works throughout the day, and other insulin that has a delayed response, so you could take it now and it’s not going to work for two hours, and then it’ll work for three hours after that, in five hours it’s done, and then you have to take more.
So luckily the pump is fast-acting. It’s Humalog. It’s a content flow. I can be on top of it as best I could without having a machine or a pancreas to do it for me.
Martirosyan: So you must have great organizational skills.
Basis: I had to from an early age. My parents were very organized and good at it. My mom was a teacher. My dad was an accountant, but he always did the money and the bills, and so he was always extremely organized. The transition for me to live a life where every day I had to keep track of where my blood sugars were, write them down, when time I was taking them, just to keep track of them when I went to my doctor, we had something to talk about, they were good about all that stuff. So from age nine, 10, 11, when I started getting the hang of it, you have to grow up a little quicker, which is not to say I wasn’t able to have a childhood, my parents were able to allow that for me, but you still have to learn a little more responsibility. You can’t get ice cream every day at the candy store. You can’t go and get—my brother used to love Skittles and Starbursts and certain pure sugar candies, Sour Patch Kids, that type of stuff. That’s pure sugar.
I always preferred chocolate, which was a little better, but milk chocolate is pretty sweet and not good for you. I kind of weaned myself off of milk chocolate and only had dark chocolate because of the antioxidants, but I also—you don’t want to deprive yourself to the point of binging when you can’t take it any more and stuffing your face and doing your body harm, so the way I’ve balanced it out is because I have a pump, it’s a little more flexible than my previous existence on shots and needles and finger pricks.
So I have everything in moderation, and when I do have it, I know that I have to give myself insulin or balance it out with exercise.
Martirosyan: Do you do the injections yourself?
Basis: The pump lasts—I usually do it ideally two or three or four days. It’s really only one injection, and then every three or four days, so mine is in my arm right now, and I did it not yesterday but the day before, I injected it. It’s basically a catheter, the system I used is a soft plastic catheter, so I inject it with a needle and then take the needle out and there’s still a little plastic tube in there, and it pumps the insulin. It’s a constant flow, so that’s the best part of the pump. If my blood sugar is off, if it’s low, I can just pump up insulin right away, and within 15 minutes, a half hour at most, my blood sugar is down or is starting to come down if it’s high.
Martirosyan: Do you experience mood swings when that happens?
Basis: Ask my wife!
Basis: It’s more like there’s a disconnect. What I feel from the inside and from accounts of my experiences with, whether it’s my wife, brother or my parents, there’s a glazed-over eye thing that I’m just not connecting all the dots and definitely there’s a disorientation because low blood sugar is lack of oxygen to the brain. When it’s high, there’s just a sick feeling, I’m all kind of—nothing affects me mentally when I’m high. But when I’m low, the lack of sugar in my system again affects how everything functions. I think it’s a lack of oxygen to the brain, so anyone gets really tired and hungry or faint, they get disoriented. Imagine that but for a little more prolonged period because most people’s bodies right their wrong automatically, whereas with our bodies, type 1 diabetics, we have to inject insulin or get sugar into our system to right it with some help.
So yeah, disoriented. There’s been times when I’ve come out of low blood sugar attacks and I thought what just happened was a dream, but it wasn’t, it actually happened. Luckily it’s not happened in any dangerous situations like cars. I usually check before—two things that are the most dangerous, I think, are going to sleep with low blood sugar and going into a car or being in a situation where you could hurt other people, like lose control or something.
So just as you’re not going to drink when you drive, I try to make sure that when I’ve worked a long day, 12, 14 hours on set, I make sure my blood sugar’s okay, so that when I drive home, everything’s cool. You have to be extra careful, that’s the only thing.
Martirosyan: Good for you. You mentioned exercising. Is there a routine you follow?
Basis: I try to. There’s days, especially after working a full day, that I’ll want to rest. If I’m going to work the full week, I want to rest on the weekends. But I alternate between taking long walks. Because we’re in Toronto, I get to walk in the city. I try not to drive anywhere within downtown. So long walks. We just took a walk in the park the other day. I feel like sometimes I walk—in LA, you drive everywhere, so when you’re here and we’re living here for the show, I get to walk places. As long as the weather’s all right, which, it’s starting to get cold, we try to walk as much as possible.
The other things I do, there’s a gym in the building, so whether it’s elliptical or the treadmill, some sort of aerobic activity for usually 45 minutes to an hour. I had taken a boxing kind of boot camp class, where it’s aerobic activities, but you use gloves and you punch a bag, you do push-ups and jump rope and mountain climbers and all these different—calisthenics, but you also get to do boxing technique and spar with the bag. You’re not punching with anyone else, it’s just you punching a heavy bag.
I’ve done a class where you have the guy who has the pads and you punch the pads. That’s a lot harder.
Martirosyan: That takes a lot out of you.
Basis: Yes! And then we did a class before that for a couple years called cage fitness that was awesome. It’s based on cage fighting, but it’s an aerobic workout, but instead of the bag being—in boxing, the bag’s hanging from the ceiling. Instead of that, you have the bag laying on the floor and it’s shaped like a person, and there’s handlebars, handles all over the bag, it’s about 42 pounds, and you pull the bag, you lift the bag, you do push-ups, you ground and pound the bag, and it’s set up like a five-round cage fight. It’s a half an hour class. The best part of it, it’s only half an hour. Each round is five minutes. The first round is a warm-up round, the second round is upper body, third round is lower body, fourth round is cage cardio combo, where you do a lot of different things, and the last round you chose between two. But there’s only a minute break in between. So technically it’s a 29-minute class, because you have five-minute rounds with a minute in between.
Martirosyan: It sounds pretty intense.
Basis: Yeah, it’s definitely intense. It burns a lot of calories. It’s full contact. I used to play competitive sports, so I don’t really—it’s hard for me to run on a treadmill unless I’m listening to music. If I’m listening to music, it doesn’t make it easy, it makes it easier. But I kind of like competitive stuff, and when there’s tasks... You can read
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from the Austin Basis Dec/Jan 2014-15 Issue:
Janet LaBreck — Modern Day Commissioner
China — Weihong Li
Senator Tom Harkin — HIS Legacy, OUR Equal Rights
Austin Basis — CW's Beauty & the Beast
Special Olympics — Patrick McClenahan Leads #LA2015
in the Austin Basis Issue; Ashley Fiolek — Never Halfway!; Humor — Oh, Life; Geri Jewell — Tis the Season to Remember; China — Braille, My Twist of Fate; Janet LaBreck — Modern Day Commissioner; Senator Tom Harkin — HIS Legacy, OUR Equal Rights; Special Olympics — Patrick McClenahan Leads #LA2015; Austin Basis — CW's Beauty & the Beast; Long Haul Paul — A Distraction from Beyond; Bad Boys — EEOC Sues Dillard’s for 2 Million; ABILITY's
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