Joshua Bitton plays Chewy in the new CBS All-Access series One Dollar. The series is about how a one-dollar bill becomes the main focus of a murder gone wrong. Bitton is here to talk with us about his experience on the show.
ATM: How has this show One Dollar changed your definition of what a dollar means?
JB: This is an interesting question. I have never really thought about it this way. For us, the dollar bill is a gateway into a perspective about whoever is holding it. This is how it operates throughout the show. What is interesting about the show is that it has this look into blue-collar America and all of the elements about this: People struggling to survive, especially in a time where we are moving out of industrial work and feel like we are moving more into this technical world. People feeling like they are left behind. People feeling like they have no place…
In a way, every dollar count. Everyone in our show is really struggling, everyone is hiding something, and everyone is desperate to find balance in their life where they can just get by and breathe. Or fulfill a dream where it seems like it is impossible. Shooting in Pittsburgh and being in Middle America was a real eye-opener experience to some of the American men and women in these working-class communities are going through. The way they can have certain blinders on for certain issues socially but also because sometimes it is simply rooted in their struggles to just survive.
JB: Well, I will talk about my character in this regard. This is what I sort of wore the most and the perspective I had the most. I play this blue-collar guy nicknamed Chewy. I am a veteran who had been on the force for a while. I have a young African American female partner. Chewy is the kind of guy, perspective-wise, where he is a cop who is not wealthy, he is not doing so well financially or socially that he feels he has advantages. He has some racist points of view in terms of things like affirmative action, which he finds unfair. I think that for his simple perspective of the way his life goes, he looks and goes, “What is my privilege?” “How do I have white privilege if this is my life?” He does not really see outside the tunnel he is walking down.
Chewy says things that are completely racially and sexually insensitive (to his partner). For Chewy, he goes, “Well that is what I do, I am that guy.” He really does not stop to take in the effect it could or does have on her. They present this with a young rookie partner who eventually grows into this really able cop, who at one point or few points goes, “This is not okay. I am not okay with what you are saying.”
This show gives insight as to what this divide in our country is really rooted on. People have very little to no understanding of each other’s struggle. So many people are in a position in their life where they are simply struggling to get by and they never stop and think how their actions or other people’s actions affect those people on a personal and social level. Because who has time to worry about someone else’s shit?
I thought it was very cool how Chewy was unapologetic in these points of views. As much as I may disagree with these points of view, because of how and where I was raised, I liked that they wanted to put this out there and wanted to create a dynamic that was maybe not so easy for people to absorb and to watch. Maybe we give people some perspectives.
ATM: How were you raised? What morals or values were you raised by?
JB: I grew up in New York City in Queens. My father was an immigrant. He came from Morocco to Israel and met my mother in Israel, then moved from Israel to the U.S. He grew up insanely poor and came to the U.S with almost nothing and built for himself a small business. Eventually, he made a good living for himself. My mother was a school teacher and she is retired now. She works at the Tenement Museum in downtown New York. My mother is educated and was the child of two Holocaust survivors. They also came here with nothing. My grandparents were able to raise my mom so that she could go to college. My mother is really educated and quite liberal, as am I. I am a child of two immigrants. The immigrant story was a big part of my life. And watching people come here to this country whether legal or illegal, they are coming here because they are simply trying to create and find a better life for themselves and their families.
This was a big part of it, because my mother was a union worker. This is why she works at the Tenement Museum. It takes a look at a lot of these issues and the formation of unions in the U.S. Over 200 women and girls were burned to death because they were locked into their factory. These are the conversations talked about around my dinner table. These are the conversations my mom would have with me about equality and what was right. I have never seen my mother judge anyone whether it is for their race, for their sexual preference, or for their religion. My mother does not think this way. I am very thankful for this. She opened me up to a real humanistic point of view. I do my best to adhere to those values and care about these values.
ATM: As this show deals with post-recession America, do you remember where you were during the recession? And how did it impact you?
JB: I was in Los Angeles by that point when the recession hit. I took a huge hit financially. There were less TV shows being produced. I also run my own acting school in LA. I maxed my classes out of 16 students. I watched my class go from 16 to 14, to 12. I had to merge two classes so that I had enough students. This was because people could not afford it as much as they felt they needed for their class. A lot of people said, “Look, it is just a really hard time for me right now.”
One year when I was doing my taxes, I realized my income had dropped by $37,000 from one year to the next. This was about a 40% decrease. At the same time, I was preparing for the auditions and doing what I needed to do to try and get work. I realized there were fewer opportunities. At the end of the year, I am looking at my bank account going, “I am nearly broke.” Those feelings and the fear were such a real thing.
This business of being an actor is a difficult one as it is. Getting work is hard anyway. All the sudden it seems like 1-3 auditions a week, it might be one every ten days because they are producing so much less. They moved so many productions to Canada, Atlanta, and New Orleans because states started giving out massive tax incentives because they needed to draw work. Hollywood is going, “our bottom line has really taken a hit.” We are going to leave LA and cast local actors. Good for the local actors. I did not discourage anyone from getting a job. When it is what you do for a living and you find 30 or 40 percent of auditions left, it is scary.
ATM: Do you think during the recession people realized how much it affected people working in Hollywood as well? A lot of people categorize you all like the rich and famous and feel you all always has money. What you just described is that it also affected you.
JB: This is not the perspective, and this is not how we need to paint the picture. This idea of these “coastal elites” is a real idea that is pitched. Yes, we have a lot of famous actors in LA, but at any given moment, 93% or 95% of SAG workers are out of work, and this is during regular time, let alone the recession. Most of these people are blue collar people trying to get by. I do not think that people recognized this. I think also because people, not everyone, look at being an actor as a frivolous choice. “Well you chose to go do that.” At the same token, I have a Master’s Degree at the fifth best acting program in the country. I put my time in and invested in myself to do this. So, it was not a frivolous choice. I realized it was something I could do. It can be more fun than some jobs. I do not think people think of what we do in this way. Maybe I am wrong and hopefully I am wrong. This is the sense that I get.
JB: Absolutely, it has to be. I just bumped into a fried for lunch. I had lunch with my brother and she happened to be sitting at another table. We started talking. She had gone through a rough year. One of the roughest years of her career. She was really scared. She said about a year ago, she cast for a television show, which would have been a really big break for her. They came back and said, “we are not casting her because she is better than the lead.” This was why she did not get it, because they thought she might outshine the lead actor on the show. They thought this might be a problem. The reasons that you do not get jobs will sometimes blow you away.
So, if it is not something you feel like you need to do, [which] is tell stories and bring them to life, then absolutely go do something else. If it is this passion, then you have to recognize there is probably going to be a lot of heartbreak, and potentially many years of frustration, questioning of yourself, “Am I doing the right thing? Is there a place for me here?” All this kind of stuff. Not a lot of people give it that much thought. A lot of people discover this is the reality when they show up in LA or New York or Chicago or London or Sydney, or other acting hubs and go “Oh, shit this is not as easy as I thought it would be.”
ATM: Tell me about the first time your eyes landed on your dog Mickey.
JB: This is the best question ever. My brother and I had owned rescue pit bulls for years. They are the only dogs we will ever get because they have such a bad reputation of the being violent or aggressive. They are the ones that need a home most desperately. I had a dog named Cane who was one of the largest pit bulls you have ever seen. When he sat, his head came to about my waist. He was tremendous, gentle, and loving. All of my friends had a beautiful and intimate relationship with him. After having him for 13 years, he passed. I was devastated. I really did not know when I would be ready to get another dog.
My birthday came around and I had a roommate at the time. I walked into the dining room of my house and they handed me this folded up piece of paper and it said, “Happy Birthday.” I asked, “What is this?” They said open it. In it was a rescue pit bull and it said, “This is a birthday present for you. If you are not ready, we understand. We thought maybe it was time.” I contacted the company. The actual pit bull in the picture was not available. They arranged me to meet a litter of rescue pups who had lost their mother. She was a stray. There was this little blue nose pit bull. All the other dogs in the litter were jumping and going crazy. He gently walked over to me and started nibbling on my shoelace and pawing me. I was instantly in love. My older brother was with me. He looked at me and looked at the that guy and said, “That guy.” He goes everywhere with me.