“Here's that tricky spot,” Scott Speedman shouts back at me as we trot down an abrupt section of granite trail carved into the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles. “That’s just down and death right there.” Speedman, a boyish 41 with close-cropped hair and blue eyes, is in the middle of filming the second season of Animal Kingdom, which sounds like a Discovery vehicle for late-night bong rips but is in fact a grimy TNT surf drama shot in Oceanside, California. “Every time somebody asks me about it, they ask me if I’m the host,” he jokes. “I get all offended. I’m like, ‘No! It’s a metaphor for a crime family! Do I look like a host for the Discovery Channel?’ ”
Speedman, whose insanely athletic Scottish parents found love at a track meet before moving their young family to Toronto, spent the first 16 years of his life training up to five hours a day to be a 1,500-meter freestyle swimmer. He finished ninth at the 1992 Canadian Olympic Trials before flaming out and starting to date a dancer. “It was all about rhythm,” he says. He now finds that he still needs those long, hypnotic workouts. So when he wants to sweat, he hops in his Audi and zips up Highway 2 into the Angeles National Forest to run long, steep trails with film scores from chase scenes pounding in his headphones. That’s where we headed after I met him—charcoal-and-kale smoothie in hand—at his Silver Lake home, an airy midcentury Robert Byrd creation.
Now Speedman is leading the charge, skirting cliff edges, stomping through the clear-flowing Arroyo Seco creek beneath a shady canopy of oaks, and making small talk. “It hasn’t been like this for years. So green!” he says of the area, which was badly burned in the 2009 Station Fire and subject to ongoing drought until last winter. “The rivers and waterfalls are back.” And it’s true. Though Switzer Falls is known as a popular picnicking spot, the area feels more like wilderness disturbed only by a couple of hikers and some fresh deer tracks.
Stopping at a waterfall that drops into a large swimming hole, Speedman glissades down a natural waterslide—notably leaving his shirt on. His transition from bare-chested heartthrob to criminal mastermind became a riff on the Late Show last year when he told Stephen Colbert that he’d been instructed by a director to remain clothed for a scene in season one of Animal Kingdom.
“You fight to keep your shirt on sometimes,” Speedman tells me of his evolving career. “It’s getting slightly more sophisticated.”
As we finish off the last climb to the parking lot, Speedman pulls ahead by 40 yards and passes a couple of South Asian guys walking the other way. As they go by, one is saying to the other, “You would recognize him for that.”
“That” could only be Speedman’s nagging pigeonhole as boyfriend Ben on Felicity, the WB show that ran during the late nineties and which I vaguely remember girls in my college dormitory gathering shoulder to shoulder on twin beds to watch.
“You do a good job in something and that’s your box for a minute,” he says. “It’s up to you to keep reimagining that box.”
On Animal Kingdom, Speedman’s duplicitous character, Baz—somewhere between a father figure and an older brother—has the most depth of the cast by far. And to keep up with the highly physical shoot schedule, he has given up drinking, doesn’t go out much, and has taken up the “steak and vegetables program, for so many old-guy reasons. Rolling out to work if you’ve had even a couple of drinks—it’s not part of the plan anymore,” he says. “The makeup artists aren’t happy.”
Speedman, it seems, has grown up, but he still has plenty of ambition. “It gets easier as you get older, settling down. That wild streak is gone,” he says. He’s in a steady relationship and likes to disappear to Big Sur or Kauai between productions to get out of L.A., which he calls a “business town.” And he’s starting to train for a role as a UFC fighter. He also undoubtedly still has some leotard envy at being passed over early in his career for the role of Robin in one of the Batman movies. I asked him if he’s getting the jobs he wants. “I mean, the answer is no. I don’t think I’m doing what I should be doing movie-wise,” Speedman says. “I love movies so much. I would love to do it all. I would love to do a big movie—a Marvel movie.”
Back at the car, we towel off and Speedman tries gamely to explain why he’s got a pair of Rollerblades in his backseat. Something about falling in love with speedskating while working on a biopic of Canadian gold medalist Dan Jansen. He assures me that the Animal Kingdom guys are relentless when he breaks them out in the parking lot of the cast’s hotel in Oceanside.
After an hour-long run, it’s only 9:30. “I try to get my friends to come up here, but they think it’s an all-day thing,” he says. “They’ve got kids, and I’m a 41-year-old man-child.” OK, so maybe he’s not grown up. But he’s thinking about growing up. Sometime in the near future.
We pull out of the lot before a female park ranger flags us down. Another Felicity fan? Failing to purchase a park pass? Neither. His water bottle is on the roof. As we head back to Silver Lake, Speedman wants to know if I like dogs. He’s thinking about getting one. “Labs or cattle dogs?” I ask. (I’ve been training Labs for the past ten years and can’t get enough of them.)
“Labs.” (Phew.) “This girl I’ve been seeing is on me to get a dog.”
“You know what that means, man.”
He laughs and shoots back: “Don’t tell me what that means!”
Freedom is a tough habit to kick.
Grayson Schaffer (@graysonschaffer) is an Outside editor at large.