photographed by David Christopher Lee

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Ian Verdun: the Multifaceted Actor and Writer

Ian Verdun is an award-winning writer, actor, and producer. He is best known for his leading role as the mercurial fisherman, Xander McClure, in three seasons of the Freeform series “Siren.” With appearances on other hit shows like “Lucifer,” “NCIS,” and “Hawaii 5-0”, Verdun has also proven to be a prolific writer.

photography by David Christopher Lee

He wrote and produced four full-length plays, two features, and a pilot, which won him the award for Diversity in Writing at Series Fest. Since his run on Siren, Verdun has begun to break into features, with a role in Death Of A Telemarketer opposite Lamorne Morris, Haley Joel Osment, and Alisha Wainwright, as well as an unannounced project due to release in late 2023.

Tell us about your upbringing and background?

I’m an LA native, the only child of a single mother who had to raise a kid through every negative statistic the 90s had to offer. And we struggled a lot, likeā€¦a lot. Lol. Luckily my mom was a creative soul, and she nurtured my artistic side from a very early age. I had a huge imagination and spent a lot of time hiding in my drawings or singing to myself in my room, which must’ve seemed pretty odd to anyone on the outside looking in.

I ended up going to college for theater, having decided that I wanted to be an actor at 13. I was too talented to struggle after graduating. Boy, was I wrong, haha. It took about a decade since graduating to start working regularly. There was a lot of bartending, tight budgets, and non-paying gigs in black box theaters all over LA. It was a lot of trial and error, but I never gave up. Call it faith, stubbornness, or maybe a bit of both. The hard times we had to live through while growing up prepared me for the hardships of a fickle industry. 

You used to be homeless. What did you learn from that experience?

For me, being homeless was pretty high among my worst fears. As a child, we moved around often; nights were spent in my mother’s car, huddled under blankets, and then months renting out rooms in various disparate places. I even spent my senior year of high school sleeping on a cot, sharing a room with my mom and her boyfriend at the time, in what was essentially a halfway house.

The constant housing insecurity instilled a very deep-seated sense of fear around the possibility of being without a place to live. I spent most of my 20s narrowly dodging eviction, always just one step ahead of the fire.

It was a persistent, nagging fear hidden under all my ambition, confidence, and bravado. Then 2016 happened. It started like a nightmare; my father died at the top of the year, then I lost my apartment and crashed on a friend’s couch for a while until I had no choice but to live in my car. I can’t describe how surreal it was, driving the streets of LA, searching for a safe place to park and sleep every night.

The rude awakenings from cops forcefully told me I couldn’t sleep there. The distrustful looks from people who assumed I was up to something nefarious as they walked by. I remember how hopeless it felt looking into the lit-up windows of apartments full of people with somewhere warm and safe to lay their heads. It felt impossibly distant. 

It was awful. But once I had an emotional breakdown (or two), I decided that this wouldn’t be the thing that took me down. After that, I worked two jobs while putting a project I wrote and produced through festivals, all the while I was showering at the gym and sleeping on the street. But that project, a pilot I produced called “Life’s A Drag,” ended up winning some awards with a cash prize that got me off the street. 

 

By the summer, I was pitching that pilot to networks. By the end of the year, I had booked a lead role on “Siren.” The year ended in the complete opposite place that it had started. I learned that when your most significant fear happens, and you not only survive but thrive, your fears begin to hold little to no weight. You realize that they only have as much power over you as you give them and that the more energy you put into them, the more likely you are to make them a reality. It’s not to say that I no longer have fears.

Of course, I do. I’m human. I choose not to let them control me, not to let fear dictate my life choices. You also realize how strong you are, how resilient and capable. I can handle whatever comes my way because I believe in my capabilities, temperament, and follow-through. Looking back, that period was a true blessing despite its messiness. It also gave me more empathy and patience. Dark times can genuinely reveal how much light you have within. It shows you that you are the beacon that can light the way.

How do you find your creativity?

It depends on the medium. As I write, I often find inspiration in my life. Every chapter in my life has come with invaluable lessons and a shift in perspective that’s guided me through the uncertainty of the next one. And it continually spurns me to explore those lessons in a script. I’ll go months, sometimes years, without a fresh idea, then suddenly, it pops into my head and comes pouring out onto the page. I’ve always been a creative person in general. From an incredibly young age, I always knew I was an artist. You’d always find me with my trusty art pad, full of sketches and doodles. It’s how I’d make friends. Since we moved around so much, I was always the new kid at school, and the first thing I’d do was show kids my drawings to break the ice. 

That eventually evolved into making my comic books, and that, in turn, led me to write. First, it was poetry, then full-length plays in college, and now its features and TV. I also sang and got into every choir I could join since I was about 13. Plus, I did all the school musicals since I loved acting and dancing. It all just poured out of me. There wasn’t any question that I would be a professional artist somehow. The only thing that was confusing was picking what I wanted to do. Then I realized I didn’t have to limit myself to just one thing; I could do it all. I went to college for theater, but I never lost sight of the other arts that fulfill me. Lots of people rightfully laud performers that are triple threats in the industry. Well, I’m a quintuple threat, bitches. Get into it.

What makes you different from most actors?

It’s simple, really; there’s only one me. That’s true for everyone, but I’ve recently embraced everything. I wasn’t born into privilege. I had to fight for my education and then for a career, knowing that it’d be difficult and that it could take a lot of time and effort to get where I wanted to go. The struggle I’ve experienced has forged me into something unique in Hollywood: a genuine person. I never really fit in as I was growing up. I was always the outlier, constantly on the outside looking in. I’ve carried that underdog sensibility into adulthood, but maturity has taught me there’s no need to fit in. I know myself and what I have to offer, and as long as I’m true to myself and my many talents, I will forge a path that is uniquely my own. The struggles I’ve lived through have given me a unique perspective and voice specific to my experiences. 

How do you achieve higher consciousness?

I wish there were a simple, easy; one size fits all answer to this question. If there were, then we wouldn’t be facing the onslaught of darkness that’s currently ravaging global society. The truth is, higher consciousness isn’t something that can be achieved and carried indefinitely. It’s daily work. It’s a choice that one makes in the face of society’s brutality, it’s indifference and it’s inconsistency. It’s a choice to prioritize one’s peace, to achieve mental clarity, even when that clarity proves to be exceedingly fleeting. It’s something that we all have access to, indeed what we were born into, but life brings in so much noise, that it’s easy to disconnect from that which connects us all. It’s the work of a lifetime, finding our way back to that. Now, it’s not easy by any means, and I’m not arrogant enough to think I’ve got it all figured out, but it’s not about answers. It’s about asking the right questions, and being open and receptive enough to receive guidance. 

Why is gratitude so important?

I feel like people aren’t specific enough when they say that gratitude is important; Which it is. I’d venture so far as to say it’s integral. It’s easy to be grateful when you’re getting everything you want, when things are humming along, unfolding in the way you’d always envisioned them. The challenge comes when you’re in a place in life that’s difficult. When the cards all seem stacked against you and it feels like everything around you is crumbling. Finding gratitude in the midst of uncertainty is hard, yet the rewards are so much greater. Every day I’m grateful for a roof over my head and food in the fridge. I’m personally grateful because I know firsthand what it’s like to be without those things. I bring that mentality to every aspect of my life. If I can be grateful for the smallest of things, the universe will keep presenting me with things to be grateful for. And eventually, the small things will get bigger. It’s a positive feedback loop.

One’s reality is achieved through the thoughts one believes in their head. How do you take a thought and manifest it into your dreams?

One word; Action. Think of it this way; if I had this great idea for an invention, something I believed in, something I thought would be incredible in its capacity to help people; If I don’t draw the design, then build it, it will always remain a dream in my head, no matter how much I believe in it. We live in a physical world, and part of what makes us unique is that we can take creations from formless thoughts and manifest them into reality. If I don’t put the work into manifesting what’s in my head through direct action, it can never become reality. Thought and action are two sides to the same coin. Then, of course, there’s belief. you have to truly believe you can do it, you have to believe in your core that the dream can become reality and hold on to that. 

Everyone has a pastā€¦sometimes, it can be quite dark. How would you suggest letting go of your past so that you can achieve great results for the future?

I’m the kind of person that doesn’t deny my humanity. While I consider myself to be very resilient, I don’t beat myself up for being human. When I’m sad, I allow myself to feel it. Same for when I’m overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated. My past is littered with so many speed bumps, dips, and crashes, that if I were weaker mentally I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be here right now, talking to you. For me, a huge part of letting go is acceptance. I allow myself to feel it when things get dark, but I always choose to seek out the light and move forward. I accept what happened, embrace it, and recognize it as a part of my story just as much as any of my successes. When you truly accept what happened to you, reframe the tragedies as something that is meant to teach you, and let it build you instead of tearing you down, you realize it’s all making you stronger. It’s all forging you into the person you were meant to be, pushing you forward on the path toward your chosen destiny. It takes bravery to not only face the curve balls that life throws at you but also to accept yourself and not let your circumstances define you. Tragedy will happen, but suffering is always a choice. I can’t control many things in this life, but I certainly can control my mind. I have complete control of my thoughts. I choose to accept and embrace my past, so I can move forward through my present and into my future with grace.

What is the best way of connecting with someone?

Listening. Truly listening. People constantly underestimate the power of being present, of setting aside the madness of the world at this moment to truly hold space for others. You can’t connect if you’re not willing to be vulnerable, and others can’t connect with you if you aren’t receptive enough to embrace their vulnerability in return. It’s one of the things they go over ad nauseam in acting school, it’s all about actively listening. During a conversation, most people are thinking about the next thing they’re going to say as opposed to actually absorbing what the other person is trying to communicate. There’s a power in language, of the simple act of exchanging ideas, of context and emotion, which is often lost in the shuffling life.

How would you recommend anybody to take their career to the next level?

By taking control and responsibility for it. I’ve always said that all of us need to take responsibility for our talent, our dreams, and indeed our trajectory. No one will care about our success more than ourselves. Don’t offload your fate onto intangible things; on a meeting you’ve yet to have, an audition you’ve yet to receive, or a dream job you’ve yet to book. None of those things are real. But you are. You’re real now, you’re breathing, evolving, living. As long as you’re alive, your dreams are. Be honest with yourself about what you’re doing. How much energy are you truly putting into your goals? How much intention, how much drive do you show daily? For me, it’s about using the fullness of my creativity. I’m not just an actor; I’m also a writer, I’m a speaker, and I’m a producer. I have a litany of skills that I can utilize in multiple areas, so how creative am I in using them to get where I want to go? You gotta level yourself up before leveling up your career. 

What are your views on psychedelics?

I went to art school, so I’m sure you can imagine, lol. I’ve taken mushrooms several times since college and each experience has given me clarity about whatever was happening in that particular chapter of life. I’ve had great experiences, but for me, it’s never really been a wholly recreational practice. I always aim to discover something, unlock something intangible and connect with friends on a deeper, communal level. I think there’s so much to be found in compounds like psilocybin, which occur naturally in the world and that have been around since long before humans developed civilization. The earth and indeed the universe is such a vast, complicated and interconnected place, and nothing evolves without purpose. I’m at peace with the unknown, and it’s my personal opinion that things like mushrooms can offer us a glimpse into some of the intricacies of existence that remain hidden from us. Humans are intelligent, we’ve built so much, discovered and invented so many wonders, but at the end of the day, we’re infants in the face of the universe. There’s so much we’ve yet to understand, so much we’ve yet to discover, and there are countless ways to facilitate that understanding. I’m absolute of the opinion that psychedelics are one of them.

Do you have any biohacking practices that you do?

The only thing that I do naturally is intermittent fasting. I’ve never been a fan of eating breakfast, ever since I was a kid. It just made me feel sluggish and it was hard to focus. Going to school on a full stomach was my academic nightmare, haha. For me it’s great, my mind is sharper, I have more energy and I feel like I’m listening to my body. I’m just not hungry in the morning, so why force food down my throat when my body isn’t even asking for it?

Who inspires you?

My mother, hands down. I know it may seem like a cliche answer, but for me, it’s so sincere. My mother went through a divorce while pregnant with me, my father was an addict and increasingly unstable and she had to navigate one of the most emotionally distraught and financially devastating moments in her life with no real support and a newborn. As a child, I knew that we were different, that we struggled more than the kids I went to school with, but as I grew up and realized the depths of what my mother was living through, it made me respect and admire her so much more. She’s a warrior, a mentor, and a survivor.

We went through everything you could imagine; welfare, housing insecurity, domestic abuse; it was a rollercoaster. And yet through all of it, she somehow kept me fed; not just my growing body, but she also nourished my mind. She encouraged my talents, taught me to dream, and taught me not to compromise on my goals, regardless of how dark the path could be at times. She was always present, even if she had to take two buses and a train to get to a school play. She was there. Strong, unbreakable, and still unmistakably human. She’s my hero, my teacher, and my best friend. A fucking icon. I don’t know too many people who could live through the things she did and still embody so much grace and kindness. I’m inspired by her daily.

What projects are you working on now?

There are a few things I’m cooking up that I truly can’t wait to share with the world. Being a lead on Siren was such a blessing, really the epitome of a dream coming true. The friendships and experiences from that time will last me the rest of my life and I’ll forever be grateful for every person that made it possible. But I always knew I was capable of so much more. Even while on the show, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I had more to offer. I recently just got back from shooting a movie out of the country with some incredible people. Actors that I idolized for my whole creative life.

The whole experience was life-changing. I’d never worked on something of that caliber; from the director to the crew, to the cast, it’s the kind of thing I’d always wanted to be a part of. Of course, I’m not allowed to say much more than that, which is hard since all I want to do is scream it from the mountaintops. But as soon as I’m allowed to talk about it in detail, you won’t be able to shut me up.

Aside from that, I’ve reinvested in my writing. I talked earlier about the pilot I wrote, “Life’s A Drag”, and I’m currently in development on turning that into a feature. The script is done and we’re in the process of getting everything up and running. It’s exciting since it truly feels like I’m getting back to my roots, really engaging multiple levels of my creativity and collaborating with other artists to bring something to life. But this time I have the benefit of professional experience, so the whole process is fulfilling on so many more levels.

I’m also in the process of making a comic book, which hopefully will get announced later this year. It’s something that’s so close to my heart and is a childhood dream come true. I’ve been working on this particular story since Junior high, so to see it through in this way is incredible. I can’t wait to share it with the world so everyone can get lost in this universe I created and fall in love with the characters as much as I. 

What was your inspiration for the fashion of our shoot today?

I made a commitment to myself during the covid shutdown to fully re-focus my energy on My physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I wanted to have a healthier relationship with my body as a whole. As an actor, I’ve always put more emphasis on my talent, on what I could offer as an artist. I trained for years, went to college, and honestly never considered myself to be a particularly beautiful person, at least that’s how Hollywood treated me; More like an oddity than a commodity. So I would de-emphasize my physical self and lean in on my more esoteric qualities.

Every photo shoot I’d ever done came from that place. I always wanted to show my personality, my wit, my playfulness; anything but my body. This time around I wanted to embrace more of my physicality, indeed my sensuality. I’ve been working hard on my fitness, and on embracing my whole self, and it’s something I wanted to showcase. For the first time in my life, I’m not self-conscious about showing skin, showing more sexuality, and embracing all of my nuances. For this shoot, I was inspired by the intersection of fetish and fashion, but with a touch of my typical goofiness.

I’ve been actively working on bringing my creativity to my sense of style, something that I’ve never really done before. For most of my life, fashion was about function, which is a trap that so many men fall into. Walk into any store and you’ll see the disparity between “men’s” and “women’s” fashion. I love the idea of doing away with that binary and it being more acceptable for men to express themselves through style. I’m only just starting on this journey, but moving forward I want to focus on being playful, sexy, and powerful. Playing with texture, color, silhouettes, and of course a little sparkle. RuPaul said it best; “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag”. I’m all about exploring what drag makes me happy.

What was the shoot like? How was your experience?

Honestly, any amount of time with David is always a blast, but the first word that comes to mind is fast, lol. It felt like every look only took a matter of moments to grab the shot, I’d never been in a shoot that breezed by with so much ease. Then, when I saw the shots he got, I was floored. His eye is just so precise and his instincts so refined that there was no need to belabor the process. It truly felt like we were just hanging out and creating art, which is the vibe I want to bring to everything that I do. 

What do you like to write about?

There are so many themes, subjects, and topics that get my creative juices flowing, that it’s not fair to narrow it down to a single topic. I love writing about humanity; our complexity, our beauty, and our ugliness. I love exploring the contradictions that make up the sum of the human experience. Sometimes that leads me to comedy, sometimes tragedy, sometimes high fantasy. One thing that’s a through-line, though is, that I want to explore and present black and brown experiences in a way that’s never been seen before.

I’m inspired by showing us in spaces and narratives where our identities are honored, but not the centerpiece of the story. I want to give any character I create room to breathe, room to be fallible and flawed without the whole of the narrative being centered around just their race, their gender, or their sexuality. As a black, gay actor, those are the roles I also want to play. Let them just be and let’s see how those identities color their perspectives, just like in real life. That’s exciting to me in terms of storytelling.

What does beauty mean to you?

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I agree with that. I said earlier that I didn’t feel like a particularly beautiful person in my youth, and part of that is the environment I found myself in. No one looked like me in media, and most people treated me like I was some kind of an anomaly. I didn’t look like any of the kids I went to school with, and the people who were propped up as great beauties never looked anything like me. It took me a very long time to look in the mirror and find beauty. I was very insecure and incredibly critical of my appearance. I also had terrible acne and struggled with my weight, which left a deep scar on my psyche that I’ve been unpacking for most of my adult life.

I didn’t begin to see myself until I started to accept myself, to truly love myself, and that love runs deeper than the surface. That’s where I feel beauty truly lies; in the confidence that one exudes because they have a deep, unflappable love for themselves. The trap that so many of us fall into is defining beauty through the lens of others’ definitions. Through what everyone else tells us beauty is. I’ve come to a point in my life where I don’t care about other people’s definitions, and have internalized the realization that the only one that matters is mine. The only person that can validate me is myself. There’s so much power in that realization. And with that power comes confidence and the ability to walk into a room knowing that you are that bitch. People are drawn to that energy, and as long as you stand within your truth, your definition of beauty,m and how it looks on you specifically, others tend to start seeing the same thing. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is if you can look into the mirror and celebrate yourself. Throw yourself a party, turn the sidewalk into a runway, and shine. If others are bothered by the light, they should invest in some good sunglasses because it’s only gonna get brighter.

How would you describe success?

Success is contextual at the end of the day. I think most people tie the idea of success to financial gains or fame. While those can be great measures of success in one form, they are so limiting in that they don’t allow us to celebrate personal, intimate successes. Finally breaking free of a toxic relationship is a success. Conquering fear is a success. Success can be anything that leads you towards a sense of personal accomplishment and inner harmony, and that could look different for everybody.

Tell us some fun facts about yourself.

I’m a nerd. Like a full-on, card-carrying, comic-loving, video game-obsessed dork, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I prefer games to most any other form of entertainment. It’s just a great convergence of so many crafts; writing, acting, directing, visual art, and technology. It’s got everything. I truly think it’s the future of entertainment. What else? I also played football for most of my childhood and quit so I could play Danny in Grease when I was 16. My Highschool experience was essentially the first season of glee. So I’m also an athlete. I’m just a hodgepodge of harmonious contradictions.

Where can we find you?

I’m simple when it comes to socials. You can find me on Instagram at @ianverdun and on my twitch channel at twitch.tv/ianverdun 

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