Wilson Bethel roamed the woods of southwest New Hampshire and skied the mountains in the winter, but he says he wouldn't call his upbringing "typical." His parents, both creative types, were divorced when he was young and he bounced between their worlds, each one full of distinctive creativity. His mom wrote books in Keene, his dad built a yoga center on his farm, attracting all sorts of cultural figures from Buddhist monks to African drummers.So, naturally, Wilson wound up in Hollywood. Although he's probably best known for his role as Ryder Callahan on "The Young and the Restless," he's been breaking big recently, winning plum roles in upcoming films including "The First Ride of Wyatt Earp" portraying a young Doc Holliday. This month he appears in the heavily promoted new CW Network show "Hart of Dixie" with a young attractive cast headed by Rachel Bilson and produced by the team that brought us "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl."Congratulations on your role on "Hart of Dixie." Are you a good southern boy or a bad southern boy?I'd say I fall somewhere in the middle. I'm one of those guys you either love to have him or hate to love him. I equate him to some of the archetypal Paul Newman roles like Cool Hand Luke. He's carefree and does what he wants to do when he wants to do it at all times - looking out for number one. But he's also a character with a lot of charm and character. I think people will like him, even if he does some questionable things. At the CW they are always trying to pitch the romantic angles, so I'm sure they will be casting me is such a light that at least a few 16-year-old girls will find reasons to giggle.Kind of ironic that the theme of the show is a Northern fish out of water in the South. Did you have any trouble with accents or attitudes?One of the things that drew me to it was that I strongly related to the character of the town itself. Granted, it takes place in Alabama, but it resembles small town life I remember from NH, growing up in Hillsborough and Keene where my mother lived. It has distinct qualities of the South, but it's about small town life anywhere. I'd never been down in the Deep South before, but I went down about a month ago and spent a week on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. I loved it and found some real strong parallels with growing up in Keene and Hillsborough.The location didn't quite click for me until I went down there. It's not like I was pretending to be Robert Downey Jr. and getting deep into the psychology of my character, I just wanted to see it and feel what life is like down there - the tone and pace and color of it. Having traveled a lot of the world, it astounds me how quickly you can get a feel for a place, just talking with people, maybe going out fishing with some of the guys. Then the work is translating that sense of place into the show. The flip side is not to make a place a caricature of itself. As far as I can tell, that's been very tactfully done in the episodes so far. It's actually very subtle, with character portraits defining the various nuances.One of my reservations was that this didn't become a parody of the South and it's really not. It's cool how seriously the writers are taking their jobs.Accents have always been super fun stuff for me - I'm always trying to pick up new accents. There are so many cool local dialects in NH.They shot the pilot in North Carolina - why is everything shot in North Carolina?They have a lot of really strong tax incentives and once the infrastructure and the talent pool is established it makes it easier to keep going back. Anyway, they film on location there and then the builders have to take those locations and recreate them on the lot back here in the valley.So what made you think you could move to LA and become a star?Well, the jury is still out. The truth of the matter is there really wasn't a feeling of that kind – I kind of wound up here accidentally. My car broke down in LA when I was 18, so I stayed and started teaching tennis lessons. One of my clients got me some of my early breaks into the business.I grew up acting in elementary and middle school. I went to this amazing alternative school in Peterborough, the Well School. They really emphasized the intellectual and cultivated a sense of wonder. They had these amazing theatre programs, 11- and 12-year-old kids doing full productions of Shakespeare and "West Side Story."It seems to be working out pretty well for you.It's always interesting to watch and feel around as an acting career develops. You don't really ever know what might be the thing to break your career or step it up to the next level. The idea of stardom to me is not particularly appetizing in general - It's not something I'm actively seeking out. I'm more interested on a day-to-day level about doing good work on interesting characters and working with fun people on a project I don't find obnoxious or abhorrent.I'd like to think I'm still in a relatively early part of my career. You have to keep a fluid sense of yourself in the larger picture of things. There's nothing concrete about this business, no climbing structure. That being said, I really do feel like this show has the potential to be a stepping stone at this juncture, partially because this character is that kind of Paul Newman or James Dean type of guy who has people rooting for him, and partially because I'm on this show with a bunch of great actors.The order for 13 episodes is pretty standard and there's no telling if anyone will be watching. We'll shoot the 13, or most of them, and once the show is airing and looks like it's doing well and the network is supportive, they'll order what they call the back half - an additional nine episodes. I think there's a good shot at it and if they do, I'll be thrilled. That's about nine months of work. As an actors that's about the same as 50 years of job security in the outside world.Tell me about your NH life.I don't know if it was typical to NH except maybe the winters. My parents got divorced when I was pretty young so I spent a lot of time bouncing back and forth between Hillsborough and Keene. I have so many fond memories. Skiing at Temple Mountain, Pat's Peak and Sunapee. Most of my family is still back there and I adore going back. It's a kind of hallowed place. I distinctly remember Canobie Lake, but mostly for the heinousness of the bathrooms. I was a big tennis player and played little league and soccer. Both my parents were artist types, but it was a pretty normal childhood. My mother is a writer of books, magazines and newspapers.You were a final contender for the title role as Captain America. How much did you want that?More than just about anything I ever wanted in my life, and it was incredibly hard when it didn't happen. But it was one of those kind of milestone things where I started seeing myself as a contender for major projects. It was worth it if only to be able to say I was once on a sound stage dressed up in a Captain America costume.By the way, I definitely did save photos of me in that suit.It was a process that lasted for several months of uncertainty. I was training and doing everything you could do in the somewhat impotent position of an actor trying out for a role.I will be going to see it, though I have every intention of going - a little tipsy - with another friend who also tried out for the part. We plan to heckle Chris Evans. Not really. He seems like a pretty decent guy.You have some great movie roles coming up for you. Dish me some intel on Val Kilmer and James Jagger.Both projects were a blast to shoot. The Wyatte Earp project was a little surreal in that I was playing the part Val Kilmer made legendary in his own right, but I had an absolute blast doing it doing it - being in a western and playing a legendary character was amazing. Val pretty much gave me free reign. I was grateful I didn't have to feel I was insulting someone or having to ape someone's previous role.The film with James Jaggar was wacky and amazing. We were shooting in Argentina for five weeks. He's as ordinary a 26-year-old kid trying to make it in the arts as anyone. He probably has a little more money in his account or at his disposal than you or I. He's a cool guy, also a musician - A good British bloke. We got on pretty well.You're a DJ and you collect vinyl. Old stuff or mostly dance music?My vinyl collection is almost exclusively old stuff. My real passion is stuff from the '60s and '70s. I have lots of bizarre music from around the world, Brazil, Africa, Turkey, wherever. I always end up looking for records and I find amazing, weird psychedelic funky record from that time period all over the world.Does Ryder Callahan still have an arrest warrant out for him in Genoa City on the "Young and the Restless?"If I was to posit a guess, I'd say yes, but as the world of soap operas go he could also be living in Malawi goat herding, so I just don't know. There are probably a lot of viewers out there a lot more invested in the answer to that question than I am.So when you get cast in "Captain America the Reboot," you'll grant us another interview?I promise.
This article appears in the September 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine