A Career to Remember: Shane West Shares the Secrets Behind His Biggest Roles

Shane West looks back on A Walk to Remember, ER, Ocean's Eleven and more in an exclusive interview with E! News.

By Tierney Bricker, Alli Rosenbloom Jun 16, 2021 7:47 PMTags
Watch: "A Walk to Remember" Turns 20 -- LOOK BACK!

Twenty years ago, there was a very good chance you were nursing a serious crush on Shane West.

Just six months away from his breakout performance in 2002's A Walk to Remember, West was one of Hollywood's hottest young stars, slowly but steadily racking up roles in teen movies, such as Whatever It Takes, and hit TV shows, including a quick appearance on Boy Meets World

But after A Walk to Remember turned him into a bona fide leading man, West, now 43, did something unexpected: He chose to diversify his career rather than capitalize on the success of the movie with more of the same. He starred in indies. He was the lead singer of the band Johnny Was. He joined the cast of ER, kicking off a long and successful string of roles on TV shows, including Nikita, Salem and Gotham

And his most recent performance in No Running, which premiered at The Tribeca Film Festival, may just be his most ambitious yet. Talk about the wild West.

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In addition to sharing his experience making No Running, West reflected on some of the biggest—and sometimes smallest—roles on his resume in an interview with E! News. He reminisced about his controversial kiss on Boy Meets World, filming that iconic poker scene in Ocean's Eleven with George Clooney and Brad Pitt and how his life completely changed after A Walk to Remember...

Boy Meets World (1996): "What a trip," West said of his quick but very memorable one-episode stint as Topanga's love interest. "My whole point was basically to make out with Topanga," he explained. "The show was big at the time and I did not know that I was the only person that kissed Topanga besides Cory. So there was a lot of flack for that and they re-aired it a lot and it became one of those things where people remembered it more than maybe they should have."

Backlash aside, West said he "kept in touch" with Danielle Fishel, Ben Savage and Ryder Strong for a bit, seeing them at industry events.

Boy Meets World: Where Are They Now?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1998): "It was very quick" West said of his brief appearance on the iconic WB drama. "I worked not even half a day."
"The thing is when I auditioned for Buffy they called me and told me I got the part. And I was really excited," he recalled. "And they said, ‘Well it's a different part.'"

Turns out, Wentworth Miller landed the role he auditioned for—Gage, a swim team member turned Gill Monster—but they liked West enough to give him a small part in the same episode.

"So I went and did it and I was only there for two or three hours," he said. "I don't remember a soul I met. But it was crazy, that was the easiest job I've ever had."

Once and Again (1999): West said the ABC family drama was "100 percent" a pivotal moment in his career pre-A Walk to Remember, describing it as "acting class" for him.

"I went from doing a bunch of one-line, two-line parts to suddenly being the son on the show and being green as hell," he explained. "I didn't know really what I was still doing. When I watch it now I'm like, 'Oh my god, I need some acting classes, what am I doing?"

West was able to work with actor Billy Campbell, who played his father and whom he described "as perfect," as well as Sela Ward, who won one of her two Emmys for this series. And because the adult characters were the main focus of the show, West said he "had time to truly feel like you were a working actor, but you were also learning what to do and what not to do, which is the most important."


Whatever It Takes (2000): "Man, those are some good times," West said fondly of the teen rom-com he filmed around the same time he landed his role on Once and Again, going on to admit he was surprised when he scored one of the lead roles because he didn't have many credits to his name—"I had a ton of two line parts in, like, Boy Meets World"—when he auditioned. 

"So to be able to play the guy opposite of Marla Sokoloff and Jodi Lyn O'Keefe and James Franco, that was pretty cool," he explained. "And to play the nerd, so to speak. I had to audition for that a lot. I had to prove myself a lot...It was tough, but I learned a lot during that movie and that was one of the coolest experiences I had. There was no way I was going to say no to that. You got to be kidding me."

West, who turned 21 while filming, also shared the milestone experience of his first role in a major movie with his then-roommate: Aaron Paul, who played class clown Floyd.

"A lot of times we just drove to work together," he said. "It was fantastic. That's never happened before, or since, for me."

That '70s Show: Where Are They Now?

Get Over It (2001): The cast of this teen comedy featured a who's who of emerging young stars, including Kirsten Dunst, Ben Foster, Colin Hanks, Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis. West recalled becoming friendly with the cast of That '70s Show because he would "visit the set all the time" with Kunis, which is how he "got to know" Topher Grace, someone he would unexpectedly be working with for his next project.

Ocean's Eleven (2001): For a small but memorable scene in the heist flick, West was recruited, along with fellow young up-and-comers Topher Grace, 7th Heaven's Barry WatsonHolly Marie Combs of Charmed fame nd Dawson's Creek star Joshua Jackson, to be in the middle of a high-stakes poker lesson from Brad Pitt's Rusty when George Clooney's Danny Ocean crashes the game.

"I do remember when getting the phone call, I was walking down Hollywood and Vine and I got a call saying that I had been offered to play myself, essentially," West recalled. "And it was just very confusing. The whole process was confusing. It was fantastic but confusing."


The scene took just one day to film and was "all improvised," West revealed.

"I'm not even sure it was written into the script," he continued. "The only thing written in was Topher Grace...he was the only person that had actually auditioned because it was a bigger part and then they thought of this. And then when we did that poker scene with Brad and George, it was all improvised."

West admitted he "ended up looking so dumb with not knowing how to play poker, it was because I didn't. And when we were sitting there, I was like, 'Oh no, oh no, I don't know. I don't know how to do this.' And then [director] Steven Soderbergh was like, 'Perfect. You're going to say 'hit me,' or whatever the heck is, and that's how it just all rolled."

Working with the other young stars, whom he knew "a little bit" prior "because it was like, young Hollywood at the time so it was like out about, events, parties, press," was "fantastic." But filming with Pitt and Clooney, "the two coolest guys in the world," admittedly "intimidated" West at the time.

While he believed the pair may have "had a late night" before filming the poker scene, West said they were "hysterical" and "amazing" to work with.

"George just wouldn't stop talking and asking questions about you and your life," he reflected. "You can understand why he has the charisma that he has."

Kent Eanes/Warner Bros/Pandora/Kobal/Shutterstock

A Walk to Remember (2002): When it came to his breakout role as Landon Carter in the tear-jerking adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' novel, West noted one memorable aspect of his audition process.

"I never saw anyone's name on the call sheet, I never had to freak out by going, 'Oh my god, I recognize this name and I'm competing against this person, this is terrible,'" he said. "None of that kind of stuff. They blocked us in a way where I think we had to our windows, so there was no pressure besides the normal pressure of trying to get the job."

West recalled only one audition for the movie, with director Adam Shankman bringing him and Mandy Moore, his top picks for the lead couple, in for a chemistry read.

"We sat around, I swear to God, for a couple of hours, reading a lot of scenes besides just the audition scenes, a lot of scenes from the actual script," he said. "And I think we were young, not paying attention, but I think he was paying attention to see if there was anything there since we were his favorites. And he wanted to make us look good in this audition so that when the studio looked at it that they would listen to him."

Kent Eanes/Warner Bros/Pandora/Kobal/Shutterstock

After its release in January 2002, A Walk to Remember became a surprise hit at the box office and helped turn West and Moore into household names, a transition from actor to celebrity West definitely was aware of.

"During the premiere, Adam Shankman pulled me and Mandy aside at the after-party…and he said, 'OK, prepare for the rest of your life to be changed. Prepare for it never to be the same,'" West recalled. "And it was kind of a creepy and an amazing thing at the same time. It was scary, it was exciting and all of the above and he was right."

See Mandy Moore's ''Sweet'' Message to A Walk to Remember Co-Star Shane West

While some actors may have proceeded to get comfortable after finding a role that suited him so well , he "felt the internal pressure to capitalize on not doing high school movies" and being typecast.

"So for me, the very next year, I finished up Once and Again and we did League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While I was testing for that I was testing for Terminator 3. And these weren't high school kind of films. I was growing up and at this point I'm 25, so it's like you might as well play it. I felt, it was more of, holy crap, [A Walk to Remember] was a lot more successful than we thought. It's difficult to go to Disneyland, it's difficult to go to Universal CityWalk, it's difficult to go to the mall or walk down the street, that kind of stuff. But I was very serious. I was very happy with the success of the film, but I wanted to make sure I was doing the projects that I liked and the right projects afterwards."

ER (2004-2007): Ironically enough, West would go on to join the cast of the hit NBC procedural that made Clooney a star. While it was three years after he had briefly worked with Clooney, West admitted he probably wouldn't have asked about the show anyway.

"Look, I'll be honest, I didn't know who was on E.R. when I got it," he said with a laugh. "I kind of did, but I didn't watch the show. Of course I knew of it. When it started, I was in high school and I wasn't acting. So, it was this huge show but I didn't know."

Patrick Ecclesine/NBCU Photo Bank

Because the long-running series was looking for a "new young doctor," West had a general meeting with the producers, forgoing the standard audition process to ask about his life, including his band, Johnny Was, a conversation that would inform the backstory of his character, Dr. Ray Barnett.

"I had just played a couple of shows so I might have still had like black nail polish on or whatever it was, and I can see that, in retrospect, I can see the wheels turning. And so when I left the meeting and we decided to do this, it was a three-year contract at the time, they threw the band thing right in there. They just basically listened to my life and copied it."

While he initially started out as "a rock and roll doctor," West and the producers over time realized "it was a little much. If we want him to be more of a not lovable, but enjoyable character, at some point he's got to drop the band thing because this is almost impossible."

Still, even though they tailored the character to him, West said it was "very nerve-wracking" to join such an iconic series in its 11th season.

"I like to do a lot of research as much as I can and prep before I start a project but this, I didn't know how," he explained. "Besides, back then, getting a bunch of DVDs and watching DVDs. I was on IMDb writing down like character names to the actor and the actress so that I didn't make a fool of myself because I got the wrong character name and put it to the wrong person. I didn't want to do that."

West continued, "One of the guys that really helped me out was Mehki Phifer, who I really love." Phifer offered advice on how to memorize the medical jargon-filled dialogue, a difficult task he was jokingly warned about by series star Noah Wyle.

"He was like, 'Well, know your lines or we'll move on without you,'" he recalled. "We talked about this later and he apologized, which was hilarious because I was like, 'You don't need to apologize, it was true.'"

Sesfonstein Prods/Wonderland Sound And Vision/Warner Bros Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock

Nikita (2010-2013): Several years after his time on ER ended, West decided to join The CW's adaptation of Luc Besson's French film La Femme Nikita, choosing television over movies after seeing where the industry was heading.

"After [ER], I took some chances on a few movies that didn't really blow up or, you know, get out there," he explained. "It was only a couple of years after I did that where Nikita came along and I decided to give TV that chance with The CW, which I never really been a part of."

And West was grateful yet somewhat surprised for the role he was given on the action drama.

"The fact that they were interested in me, at 30 years old, to play the main love interest," he said, "and, maybe not the main villain, but the second command, which I always thought would maybe be mid-to-late-30s, was pretty great."

No Running (2021): "I hadn't really read or seen anything really like this," West said of his most recent film, which made its world premiere on June 11 at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of the its Juneteenth programming section.

West plays Sheriff O'Hare in the indie sci-fi thriller about a Black teenager who is wrongfully blamed for the mysterious disappearance of his biracial girlfriend. As he attempts to prove his innocence, the teen uncovers supernatural abductions that have plagued his community for decades and shines a light on the corruption that's been plaguing the sheriff's department.

Defiant Studios

"What's fun about this movie is it talks about serious themes while also having this supernatural element to it," West explained. "But being racially profiled and all that kind of stuff being such a prevalent part of the film is such a big part of society. I think it was a great way to talk about it a little bit without preaching."

While the movie was filmed in 2019, before the death of George Floyd sparked the widespread Black Lives Matter protests last summer, West said No Running still examines the responsibility of law enforcement in society.

"It is kind of amazing that we did do this pre-BLM and pre-2020, but I think what we tried to do is err on a little bit of the prejudice, but not 100% on to that," he said. "But we'll definitely add into the fact that this entire Sheriff Department is pretty corrupt or at least in the sense that they don't care as much. And that's always a bad thing when it's when it's a job in a profession that is supposed to protect and serve. So to be able to play with those issues was very important."

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And the story in No Running has the potential to continue, whether it's with a second film or a series, something West would very much like to be involved in.

"They came to me and I was very blessed to be a part of it," he said. "I'm glad it's getting recognition and we did this towards the end of 2019 and of course the world changed [going] into 2020. So, it's just exciting."

No Running is available to stream on demand as part of Tribeca at Home through June 23.

—reporting by Alli Rosenbloom

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