The angry roars. The methodical analysis of “normal” human behavior. The panic attack at the shopping mall.
Seth Green has been in the entertainment business for more than 30 years, but he’s never played a character quite like Zack, the brilliant IT specialist in the new coming-of-age indie comedy The Story of Luke.
Zack has autism, as does the protagonist of the film, Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci of Evil Dead, Thumbsucker). The Story of Luke, out in theaters and on demand this week, is timed to National Autism Awareness Month.
Director Alonso Mayo, in his first feature film, treaded carefully on the subject—thoroughly researching the neurological disorder and drawing on his experiences with his mother’s school for kids with disabilities in Lima, Peru. Far from Dustin Hoffman’s savant in Rain Man, Luke and Zack are both high-functioning 20-somethings with quirks, held back by a sheltered upbringing. Luke longs for independence, which he defines as holding a job and getting a girlfriend, and Zack helps him work toward those goals, at the same time becoming empowered as well.
Green, 39, was also cautious in bringing to life a character with autism, taking care not to exaggerate preconceived notions of the condition. “You don’t really want to be showy about any of the things you’re doing because people who have legitimate differences—it’s not as broad or as extreme as someone might interpret,” Green told The Daily Beast. “So that was really the thing that I tried to do, to make sure anything I was doing was subtle and more from an internal place than some kind of outward physical detail.”
Green said he’s been lucky to be able to be selective with his acting choices over the years and has tried to avoid being typecast. When he had just finished the 1998 teenage rom-com Can’t Hardly Wait, in which he played a wannabe rapper, he got a call from super-producer McG asking him to star in The Offspring’s music video for “Pretty Fly for a White Guy.” “I said, ‘I don’t think me doing back-to-back wigga dudes is the right move.’”
“You just have to be smart about the choices you make as you make them,” Green added. “And then you look back and realize that you’ve had a versatile career if you’re lucky.”
Green’s success story is relatively rare among former child actors. Gossip sites salivate over every misstep by Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls) and Amanda Bynes (She’s the Man), but Green fortunately managed to stay out of the spotlight during his formative years. “For me, I wasn’t famous at a young age—I was just successful,” he said. “So by the time anyone knew my name, I had already been acting for 20 years.”
“With somebody like Lindsay,” he continued, “I feel for her because she’s really a terrific actress and she’s just had such consistently bad influences that she’s never really taken initiative to take control of her life, and that’s what it takes.”
Driven and ambitious, Green had his first audition at the age of 7, pushing ahead with his acting career and even occasionally butting heads with his parents—whom he said were “passively supportive” at times—over his choice of vocation. He landed a role in Woody Allen’s 1987 film Radio Days, and in the late 1990s he starred as Oz, the lovable werewolf caught in a bittersweet romance with Willow (Alyson Hannigan) in the cult TV hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Hannigan first met Green when she was 12 and he was 13 on the set of My Stepmother Is an Alien. The two had a mini-reunion last year when he made a guest appearance as a creepy old college buddy of Hannigan’s Lily and Jason Segal’s Marshall on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother.)
Since 1999, Green has been lending his crackling voice to the character of socially awkward Chris Griffin on the Fox cartoon Family Guy. And Green’s love of toys and animation led him to create—along with co-creator Matthew Senreich—Adult Swim's satirical stop-motion animated series Robot Chicken. The show revels in mocking pop culture conventions with tongue-in-cheek humor and action figures. Green plays an active role in the show, writing, executive-producing, voicing, and even directing some of the episodes. It was announced last October that the show had been renewed for a seventh season.
WTF podcast giant Marc Maron jokingly called Green the “Nerd Prince” during an interview earlier this year. Perhaps it’s a fitting title—he’s attending his 17th San Diego Comic-Con this July and has a fervent following. “I’ve been in it since I’ve been at the panel, not on the panel,” said Green. “I just think about it in those terms, like I’m actually in it, so I’m not trying to sell anyone a false bill of goods. Instead I’m the man of the people who’s in a position to make stuff, and I just try to make stuff for all of us.”
One Green project that has been put on hold is Star Wars: Detours, a comedic animated series he created with George Lucas based on the Star Wars universe. The series featured the voices of Seth McFarlane and Joel McHale, and Green, Senreich, and Todd Grimes created 40 episodes for the show. But it was announced last month that Disney had postponed the cartoon indefinitely. Lucas had conceived the idea of Star Wars: Detours long before the decision was made to launch the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, and the studio felt a parody of the show didn’t fit well with the new plans. Green said he agrees with the move.
“I had people tell me that they introduced their kids to Star Wars via Robot Chicken and Family Guy, and I just think that’s incredibly irresponsible and ultimately confusing to your kid because you’re introducing an ironic, comedic interpretation of something before someone has had the ability to see it sincerely, with gravity,” Green said.
But he said he has fond memories of his “awesome” and “indescribable” experience working on Star Wars: Detours with Lucas. “If nobody ever sees this show, I will still have had one of the most satisfying professional experiences of my life,” he said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Robot Chicken uses Claymation, when it does not. The show also airs on Adult Swim, not Comedy Central, as was previously stated. The article has been updated.