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‘Lights Out’ with Alexander DiPersia

This summer’s breakout actor may be starring in a horror flick, but what really scares him doesn’t go bump in the night

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Upon first meeting Alexander DiPersia, he might strike you as being especially calm, but mention this and he’ll waste no time correcting you. “I am not laid back,” he says. “You’re getting the nice side of me. Everybody else right now is getting the ‘dude, calm down’ side of me.”

As he says this, DiPersia crosses one leg over the other, cozily close, a rebuke to any body-language coach who ever dared suggest the move doesn’t radiate alpha-male moxie—because somehow, it does. The 34-year-old actor wears his posture like a distinction in vulnerability, as though it were more lucrative for him to appear exposed than undaunted. In fact, it probably is. “It would be really nice to be someone who didn’t care what people thought,” DiPersia says. “I think they just exist in the movies. You can love your art, but other people have to love you in order for you to love it—if you also love eating.”

Fortunately for DiPersia, it doesn’t seem like he’ll need to worry about an empty pantry any time soon. This July, the anticipated horror film Lights Out hits theaters, with DiPersia starring in his biggest role to date as a smitten boyfriend unearthing a new love’s paranormal baggage. The movie is set to be the supernatural blockbuster of the summer, produced by James Wan (creator of Saw and director of The Conjuring and Furious 7) and directed by David Sandberg, the rising Swedish filmmaker. For DiPersia—who’s landed roles ranging from a reformed playboy in the ABC Family movie Lovestruck: The Musical to the prerequisite guest spots on NCIS, CSI and 90210Lights Out feels like his big break. And yet, the actor is always wary of popping champagne just yet. “Everybody seems super excited about it,” he says, “but for me it’s kind of make-believe until it’s not. I’m like, what if some sort of alien attacks Earth before this comes out?”

The fickle nature of the film business may have conditioned DiPersia to be reticent about preemptive celebration, but for every dream that dissolved with a last minute setback, there’s that other scenario—the one that upends life in a whiplash instant. Case in point, for his role in Lights Out, DiPersia says, “I found out I got the part on a Friday night, and we started shooting at 5:30 a.m. on Monday. I didn’t know ahead of time, but that first day I had to have my clothes off. I was not the guy who worked out for two months before being shot in my underwear. It was like, come on guys, I ate Indian food yesterday!”

Vindaloo or no, Sandberg says that DiPersia proved himself more than capable of finding his footing in the 11th hour. “The movie is actually a lot of fun and much of that comes from Alex’s character,” he says. “On-screen and off, Alex has a natural chemistry with his co-stars, and that’s something you can’t direct.”

Perhaps because of the tenuous nature of acting work, DiPersia says it’s never been hard for him to keep a clear view of life when he’s not performing. Having been a self-described “suit-and-tie guy,” selling life insurance before committing full-time to acting, he still thinks sideline professional endeavors are important. Over the course of the past four years, DiPersia has built a name for himself as a fine-arts curator for upscale building lobbies, which he says lends some stability and perspective to life.

“Artists, writers, actors—there’s no clear trajectory for any of it,” DiPersia says. “There’s so much doubt. As an actor you hear a lot of no’s. The nice thing about having this art business is that I get to make some of my own decisions. There’s a little part of control that’s lacking in the rest of my life. And I get to see things you normally wouldn’t—a Picasso in your hands, or a Richter. You might never be able to own a $20 million Richter painting, but maybe you can live with it for a week. It’s pretty awesome.”

Despite anxieties about his impending prominence, if DiPersia’s knack for recognizing the permanent value of other artists’ work carries over to the big screen, we can only reason that his own efforts will have comparable staying power. When it comes to DiPersia’s more imminent plans, however, he’s looking forward to one thing in particular. “I’m just excited to sit in the movie theater on opening night and hear someone scream.”