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In the very last breath of September, actor Alexander Ludwig finds himself on a Zoom call some 956 miles away from me. He’s in Atlanta. He’s just moved there for the most recent filming session of wrestling drama series, _Heels_. I feel I could cut the tension with a digital knife. Why? Well, to be quite transparent, I nursed a minor crush on the then 20-year-old actor when I was 12; spurred by his role as Cato in _The Hunger Games_. The blonde hair, blue eyes, and chiseled bod contributed to an inevitable chokehold he would have on any young girl’s heart. Perhaps anticipating the conceited and ruthless Cato-demeanor, I’m quickly disarmed. Ludwig is contrarily lovely and kind.
Ludwig started acting at the ripe age of eight with a role in the third installment of the film, _Air Bud_. Amassing an on-screen desirability after starring in _The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising_ in 2007, he would continue to infiltrate the entertainment industry and would soon book his first TV series in 2014. “Why I became an actor in the first place and why I love what we do is to share it,” Ludwig expresses. “Like Bob Dylan said, the ‘highest purpose of art is to inspire.’” This sentiment is carried throughout our conversation as the actor unconsciously professes his love for creating.
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Fourteen years later, Ludwig finds himself reflecting on his career in the present, ironing out the consequences of an actor’s inconsistent life. A life, he says, where the only way out is in. “Take the most sane person in the world,” he demonstrates, “and have that person apply for 1000 jobs, but he gets said ‘no’ to every fucking time.” He adds, emphasizing how persistence is the only way he kept afloat, “Then make sure he’s broke. Give him his first taste of money, and ship them off to the middle of nowhere, where he knows nobody, and expect that person not to have an issue or not to take a drink.”
He explains to me how there is no wonder alcoholism and addiction runs rampant in the industry, whereby he has faced his own trials and tribulations. The inconsistency of the lifestyle holds weight, a weight that might be measured by how well you have mastered self control. Nearing four years of sobriety, Ludwig attributes his recovery to one simple human action—checking in with yourself. “It’s like living in consultation,” he explains, “and it’s going, ‘Okay, I don’t know what’s wrong right now, but something isn’t right. So let me go through: Am I hungry? Am I angry? Am I lonely? Am I tired?’” Although he’ll attest that at times prioritizing his mental health falls to the back burner, Ludwig values the importance of keeping your headspace protected, whether it be through meditation or a daily motivation session. With the bulk of his past work requiring long hours in the gym, working out and healthy eating has become somewhat second nature when looking after himself.
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“I had the pressure on _Heels_ of the whole wrestling community,” he says, referring to the aforementioned STARZ series. “These guys are really proud of what they do, and they should be because it’s nuts, what they put themselves and their bodies through... I knew that I needed to get to a certain level of fitness that I hadn’t been at for a long time, and I wanted him to be a bigger guy because most of the wrestlers that I saw were that way. I don’t think I’ve ever trained harder for a job in general. It’s just reminding myself of how lucky I am.”
With a strong commitment to portraying his characters accurately and thoroughly, a defining set of characteristics is clear: Ludwig is resilient and stubborn. He knows that each punch he takes will count in the end, because acting is all about sticking around long enough to prove your worth to yourself as well as others. “I’m always striving to be the best version of myself I can be, but I think that through a shit ton of rejection, you have to get to a place as a human being where you master your demons in yourself.”
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Among the things that Ludwig loves is Ireland. Not for the grassy hills or the quaint pubs, but for _Vikings_: a TV series on the _History Channel_ that began in 2013. He attributes the show to shaping him into the human and actor he is today. The outcome, for Ludwig, wasn’t predictable, and he never would’ve guessed that the show would ignite the light in him once again. With a six year contract (in other words, six years of his life) on the line, the stakes were high. “I said no three times, and they kept coming back,” Ludwig recounts. “The writer was like, ‘Let me just explain to you: This is the trajectory of your character, and this is where we want to start. This is where we want to finish. I don’t know if there’s any other actor who can say that they’ve played a character from when he was in his early 20s to when he’s in his mid 40s with four kids. This is a dream.’”
As a self-proclaimed member of the 1% of actors that are firmly proud of the projects they are making, Ludwig approaches acting with the grandiosity of the Super Bowl. A level of competence is earned during camera time, and he relishes in every minute of it. “I really fell in love with acting on \[_Vikings_\],” he says. “When I look back at my life, I’m so grateful for that show for so many reasons because it made me realize the difference between being good and being great.”
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Ludwig will next embody Emmett Sunday, an aging football player riddled with injuries in the forthcoming film, _National Champions_. This particular project instilled a certain calming and self-assurance that he warmly embraced. Sure, it was a welcome idea to be a part of a project that didn’t demand as much physical upkeep. But, it was the message that grounded Ludwig and reminded him of the reason he became an actor from the beginning. “These are the movies \[and\] stories I want to be a part of, and they don’t have the budget because you’re not making those big flashy films,” he says matter-of-factly. “Every NFL player wanted to be a part of the film because they’ve lived that story and they know the guys who didn’t make it. They know the guys who are still struggling, and that’s kind of the exciting part about the job.”
The movie, directed by Ric Roman Waugh, has a clear motive—expose the truth behind college football. The exploitation of players for billions of dollars is addressed, and Ludwig supports the lead in doing what’s right. “\[The NCAA\] had actually just recently came out and said, ‘Okay, we’ll let players profit off their likeness,’” he shares. “But... the problem with that is that in college football, there is maybe five players who could even do that. That doesn’t help any of the other guys who literally never end up going to school because they’re just playing D1 football. Their point is to just not fail and then just keep playing D1 football, and then lose the rest of their livelihood and are screwed.”
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Ludwig is a man I have found is full of surprises, but this particular secret he holds really knocked me off my chair. Hailing from Canada, the 29-year-old actor loves country music. While filming on set, he made sure his guitar was just a stone’s throw away—resting in the confines of his trailer. He’s accustomed to dive bars. Growing up around them from a young age, there is a familiarity with the scent of stale beer and elbows rested on sticky tables. Taking a seat next to the very man who taught him how to play the guitar, Ludwig trades out scripts for lyrics.
_Life’s getting better
And I’m jumping in
_His journey into the country
His journey into the country music scene hasn’t been easy. With a mindset that constantly asks, _Am I going to be 80 years old one day and regret not doing this?_ and an answer that is too hard to ignore, Ludwig seeks to honor the child inside, while expecting nothing in return. “I’ve always felt that the big mistake actors and musicians make in general,” he shares, “is they assume that when they’re transitioning into another line of work, they’re going to have the same success they had in their other respective fields.”
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Having one foot in acting and the other in music, Ludwig is committed to self-expression for the foreseeable future. His desire to prove himself to the tight-knit community of country music lovers runs deep. Almost as deep as the background he has in the genre. All the words he wishes he could say fall into the void, ready to be picked apart by anyone and everyone. “This is just fucking _me_,” he breathes, as if already fighting a lost cause. “Like, I love this. I’ve done this my whole life and I will grind it out like anybody else.”
Ludwig shares that he got his lucky strike in the aural arts one random day at an airport. As he prepared to board a plane back to Nashville, he was approached by two men dressed in all black. “They were like, ‘I just want to let you know that I was a big fan of _Lone Survivor_.’ I was like, ‘Are you guys a band?’” And in fact, they were. It was Jason Aldean—one of Ludwig’s favorite country artists ever. Out of pure coincidence, the hopeful actor-turned-musician was sat right behind the artist on the flight and shared demos he produced in Dublin. One thing leads to another, and Ludwig finds himself with his first record, _Alexander Ludwig_.
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Yes, his name gifts him an advantage, as well as a disadvantage, he shares. Regardless, he’s aware of the obstacles he faces and finds peace in the fact that people might only ever experience the final product. In recognizing his privilege as “some big shot from Hollywood,” he lets his passion speak for him. In a speech he would give to every writer in Nashville, Ludwig leads with what he is best at: being honest. “I’m not here for anything other than the fact that I fucking love this and I’m here for the long haul,” he says. “I don’t expect anything to happen overnight. I’ll tell you, there’s two things though. One, I will work my ass off. And two, I can do both.”
And he has.
_Letting the breeze blow us away Feeling good, feeling right
Got us all feelin’ like
Give me that 6-string baby_
After this conversation, Ludwig will drive four hours for a show in Douglas, Georgia where he will open for Easton Corbin. A show he will lose money on. What he says will stick with me forever: “If you just honor yourself, the universe will reward you in ways you can never expect.” I can see the flicker of excitement in his eyes, fully aware that the little bar a couple hundred miles away, with a sizable crowd, will be all he needs. Taking the spotlight next to his friend Jesse, the beginning of a new, more fully formed Alexander Ludwig intertwines with the vibrations of the strings. The smile on his face can only really mean one thing—he’s home.
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Photographed by: [Chrisean Rose](https://instagram.com/chriseanrose)
Stylist: [Gloria Johnson](https://instagram.com/styledbyglo)
Groomer: [Christine Vazquez](https://instagram.com/heyyychristine) at [The Only Agency](https://theonly.agency)
Stylist Assistant: [French Demeanor](https://instagram.com/frenchdemeanorstyles)
Flaunt Film by: [Matt Waitley](https://www.instagram.com/colourbusmedia/?hl=en)
Director of Photography: [Sidd Kel](https://www.instagram.com/siddkel/?hl=en)
Written by: [Lauren Castro](https://instagram.com/laur3ncastro)