He may have lost out on Survivor's $1 million booty — twice — but Colby Donaldson still has that winning smile to fall back on. In fact, the hunky Texan has parlayed those good looks into an acting career, recently landing a memorable guest stint on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. In the episode, the 29-year-old — playing himself — got into a heated debate with a Holocaust survivor about whose experience was worse. TV Guide Online caught up with Jerri Manthey's rival to chat about landing the plum gig, his acting aspirations and Hollywood's reality prejudice.
TVGO: How did you end up on Curb?
Colby Donaldson: I went in and auditioned with a bunch of other guys and was lucky enough to get it. They originally had thrown the part out there as a fictitious character from Survivor. Once I got the job, we shot it and my name was Steve or Andy or something like that, and Larry called me up and said, "This is ridiculous. Everyone knows who you are. You are popular from it. Why don't we just have you play yourself?" We actually went back and looped over the audio and I put in my own name, after the fact. It was a great opportunity and it was a lot of fun and, obviously, to get to be a part of one of Larry's shows was just a real thrill.
TVGO: How much of it was improvised?
Colby: All of it. You are never given a script [on Curb]; you are given a basic storyline before you get there that day. But then you really get to fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go. The fun part about that is that you can do take after take after take and just expand on whatever you want to talk about. And then at the end of that, if there is still something that Larry thinks would really help the show out, he'll come back and say, "Why don't we try doing it this way?" So you do get direction, but you are allowed the freedom of ad-libbing and making up whatever you like.
TVGO: So, was Larry as intimidating as he seems?
Colby: I was intimidated because I'm just such a fledgling in the business. But he was great. He was easy to work with and it was a lot of fun just to be in that mix.
TVGO: Were you worried about crossing the line with the Holocaust-Survivor comparisons?
Colby: No. I wasn't. I'm so unaware of so much of that. Being politically incorrect is something I probably do on a daily basis, so I hope no one took offense to it. But at the end of the day, I really do just plead ignorance to that sort of thing.
TVGO: Did you have to try hard to keep yourself from laughing?
Colby: That's a great question. The very first take we did was the dinner-table scene where the other survivor knocked Larry's hand with a gravy ladle and the gravy goes all over Larry's face and jacket. I literally forgot I was an actor on the set and thought I was at home watching an episode. I cracked a little bit and was quickly reprimanded by the boss. But it was so damned funny. I'm so used to watching the show and laughing my butt off that it was really hard to remind myself that I was being paid to be an actor and I can't stand back and be a fan.
TVGO: It's obvious that you have been taking some acting classes. How long have you been doing that and where?
Colby: I've been studying since I moved to L.A., which was sometime after the first Survivor. But I found the right coach and she's just made all of the difference. It is just like any other craft or, as far as I'm concerned, any other sport: You've got to practice. It is a craft that I work on daily. The business side of it has been very challenging. The acting side of it has been very fun. It is a chance to go play pretend, just like a kid.
TVGO: Is it hard for you to get casting people to stop thinking of you as the guy from Survivor?
Colby: There are two sides to that. There is a bit of resentment or a little bit of a barrier coming from reality TV, because there is just that negative connotation of someone trying to transition. However, the positive that comes from it is that when you walk into a casting office, the casting director's expectations are so damned low, you can't help but impress them. They really don't think you can act at all when they learn that you are just some guy from a reality show. It is a double-edged sword, but I'm dealing with it and I can't complain because I have been fortunate. I wouldn't be in Hollywood if it weren't for the doors that were opened by being on Survivor.