A good hotel is like a duck: calm and unruffled on the surface, a frantic rush of activity beneath. Grand Hotel, Eva Longoria’s hit new show for ABC, is far more concerned with the latter than the former, as the owners, staff and guests intertwine and drama and intrigue abound within the walls of the last family-owned hotel in Miami Beach.
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In the middle of all of this is kind-hearted waiter Jason, played by Chris Warren. Warren has followed an interesting route through the acting jungle, starring alongside Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr in Men Of Honor and then being catapulted to teen stardom in the High School Musical films.
We caught up with Chris to chat about the new show and any potential return to school.
For people who haven’t seen Grand Hotel yet, what can you tell us about the show and your character?
Grand Hotel is about a hotel in Miami Beach. It’s the last family-owned hotel there. There’s the rich family who run the hotel and then all the people who work at the hotel and all the secrets and mysteries that go on between them and the guests who come in each week.
My character is Jason. My mom runs the hotel and I’ve been working there since high school. I’m pretty friendly with everyone, so I know everybody’s secrets and scandals and I’m in the middle of everybody’s drama.
Being both a member of the family and a member of the staff really puts you right in the middle of everything.
Yeah, it does. My mom runs the hotel and she’s been there forever. She’s loyal to the family and then I have loyalty to the people I work with. I’m definitely caught in the middle.
What kind of guy is Jason?
He’s a hard worker. He’s been working at the hotel for so long because he wants to provide for his family and wants to make them proud. He’s got a big heart and he’s loyal, almost to a fault. That gets him into trouble at times. All in all, he’s a good guy.
How did the part come about for you?
It was just an audition during pilot season, which is crazy with auditions every other day. It looked too good to be true, with Eva Longoria attached and ABC involved. It was actually a pretty fast process.
I was flying out to London that day with my wife. I just left and was in the UK for about a week before I realized that I didn’t have my wi-fi calling on and my agent had been trying to get a hold of me because I had a screen test for Grand Hotel.
My first day back in LA, I’m sick and jetlagged and I go to the screen test and I booked it the next day. It was a week and half where my life changed, which was pretty amazing.
You might have to go jetlagged into every audition from now on.
Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking.
Is pilot season a real grind for someone in your position?
Oh, it’s definitely a grind. I’m grateful to be in my position. I’ve friends who are actors who have to grind just to get an audition or two during pilot season. I’m grateful to be in the position where I’ve a lot of auditions but that’s because I’ve been acting since I was a kid.
But then, I’ve been acting since I was six and this is my first series regular, so the grind of being an actor is a lot. But if you’ve a passion to be an actor, all those no’s are just fuel to keep going. I’ve always known that if I kept at it then I’d get to where I wanted to get and thanks to Eva and ABC, I’m right there.
Do you have any idea if Grand Hotel‘s going to get a second season?
We don’t know yet, but for the first couple of weeks, the numbers have been good. Fingers crossed.
Did you shoot the whole series on location in Miami?
We shot the pilot on location at the Fountainbleau in Miami Beach but then we shot the rest of the series in LA at the Manhattan Beach Studios. They recreated the entire Fountainbleau in this studio. It’s pretty amazing what the set decorators were able to do. It looked exactly like the Fountainbleau lobby.
And you just got married this year…
Yeah, my wife Leyla Rumi is an actress, a host, a producer, she does everything. We’re actually developing a show right now based on a movie we produced together. That’s my partner in crime right there.
How is it working on a project with your wife?
It’s pretty easy for us because we were in acting class together for years. That’s really my best friend so us working together fits pretty perfectly.
Your big break in your teens was in the High School Musical series, which basically kickstarted an entire subgenre of movies. How do you feel about that legacy now?
I’m eternally grateful to Kenny Ortega [director of the three films] and everybody over there with that franchise. It took on such a life on its own that being a part of it was so helpful to me and my career.
Looking back on it as a 30-year-old man, I was in the first one when I was 15. I kinda got to experience high school, through that high school.
Was it weird having your real high school and a movie high school running in tandem?
Oh absolutely. The only real difference was that in real life I played football and in the movies, I played basketball.
I literally went to prom in High School Musical 3 and missed my real prom, so that was my only prom. I’d have real school and then in summer, I’d go to the movie school.
You were also in Men Of Honor, even before that…
Yeah, I was nine when I did that. My parents were huge Robert De Niro fans so they were thrilled I was getting to be in a movie with him.
It was a huge experience for me at that age and definitely helped me realize that this is what I wanted to do. I don’t think I realized the gravity of it as a nine-year-old.
There’s supposedly a High School Musical 4 in the works. Are you going to be in it?
I don’t know about any of that. I just know that Kenny and everyone at Disney did such a great job of wrapping up the trilogy, so for them to do another one with the original cast, it would have to be something special and a lot of moving pieces would have to come together.
If it happened, I’m sure everyone would think it’d be fun, but it would take a lot to bring it together. I know they’re definitely doing a streaming show on Disney+ and they might incorporate some of the original people in that.
Would it be an automatic “yes” for you?
I think I would need to know who was going to be involved, how it’s going to be done and that it would do justice to the three films we’ve already done.