Three years ago, Michael Evans Behling was running track at Columbus North and earning honor roll recognition as a senior for academics. Now, the 2015 North graduate is back in high school as student and football quarterback Jordan Baker on “All American,” a new series debuting on the CW network.
The one-hour pilot episode airs at 9 p.m. Oct. 10 on WISH-TV with television and movie veteran Taye Diggs in the role of Billy Baker, Jordan’s dad and football coach.
The series is inspired by the life of former NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger, who played six-plus seasons in the NFL, including four with the New York Giants, two with the Miami Dolphins and just three games with the Carolina Panthers. He hasn’t played since September of last season.
The show stars Daniel Ezra in the role of wide receiver Spencer James, modeled after Paysinger, a rising high school football standout and a student at South Crenshaw High. Yet, when coach Baker recruits him to join his team in Beverly Hills, family and friends convince him it’s a chance he has to take, according to the show’s publicity material.
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Behling has a supporting role in the show and has already conducted a range of extensive online and print interviews.
“It all does seem like it’s been pretty fast,” said Behling, 22, who got his television start last year in a bit part as a “handsome dude” on Fox’s “Empire” series.
Behling was cast in the “All American” series role March 8 and started shooting the pilot two weeks later.
“I have jumped in with both feet. But being on set every single day, everything has to be fast-paced,” Behling said, speaking from Los Angeles, where he is currently living. “And now I’m accustomed to it, because there’s nowhere to go but forward. And working with this great cast, they’re really pushing me.”
In online trailers for the show, Behling is shown in quiet scenes with Diggs at their home and in shots with Ezra in the character’s hardscrabble neighborhood. As the plot develops, Behling’s character is hardly excited to suddenly be sharing his coach-father’s attention.
But the biggest character adjustment for Behling, who played wide receiver as a junior at Columbus North, is the confidence factor.
“The toughest thing is being as cocky as Jordan is,” said Behling, described by his family as more relaxed. “He’s a verrrrrry cocky guy, and I am not. So getting into that mindset has probably been the toughest thing for me to do. But with the help of music (to psych me), I can get into it.”
Behling hasn’t been away from Columbus long, serving as recently as June as assistant director of Donner Aquatic Center before shooting on the TV show resumed.
Jim Lemke, Columbus Parks and Recreation Department’s aquatics manager, is proud of Behling’s success.
“I’m very happy for him, but not at all surprised,” Lemke said. “I have seen how much work he has put into this. So I knew, ‘Wow — this is serious.’”
As early as last year, Behling spent even brief breaks at work preparing for auditions and other acting-related tasks, Lemke said.
Following his high school graduation in Columbus, Behling attended Indiana State for a year and a half before deciding to instead pursue modeling. That led to commercials for entities such as White Castle and the brief appearance on “Empire.”
For his new show, Behling said he is already a fan of the practice and game scenes, which he said look substantially real.
“It gives you a ‘Friday Night Lights’ vibe,” he said, referring to another TV show. “The DP (director of photography) is very good at what he does.”
Behling, who once suffered a stress fracture in his right leg while participating in high school athletics at North, is humorously grateful that he’s “not taking any shots” in the CW series, leaving that to body doubles.
Mom Carol Behling of Columbus mentioned that her son has rarely demonstrated any worries about a career in acting, even after his finances ran low soon after he got to Los Angeles and he was sleeping on a friend’s floor to save money. He remained upbeat even when an air mattress he bought to make sleeping on the floor a little more comfortable inadvertently punctured.
“He’s just happy-go-lucky most of the time,” Carol Behling said. “He regularly acts as if everything is very sunny in his world.”
Her son is excited for the show to begin.
Seven episodes already have been completed during 12-hour weekday filming shifts. Michael Behling mentioned that his three siblings are flabbergasted by his early success. Family members came out to Los Angeles just last month and viewed the show’s pilot.
Michael Behling said he hopes the show is well received. But, when prodded, he acknowledged that he is also thinking beyond “All American” and the idea of scoring with additional projects.
“We can’t play (age) 16 forever,” he said with a chuckle. “I’d love to eventually dive into being an action kind of film guy,” he said. “And I’d love to dip my toe into some comedy. I’d even love to go into a heavier drama, if possible.”
For now, though, it’s nearly time for kickoff time for the biggest moments of his career.
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Education: 2015 graduate of Columbus North High School, where he played some football and ran track. Also ran track briefly at Indiana State University before leaving to pursue modeling, which led to acting.
Family: Parents Mike and Carol Behling, siblings Matt, Adam and Andrea Behling, all of Columbus.
Before leaving Columbus: Assistant manager at Donner Aquatic Center.
Acting experience: A variety of commercials, such as White Castle since last year. He had a bit part in Fox’s "Empire" before landing his latest role as star high school quarterback Jordan Baker in "All American" on the CW.
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"I’d love to eventually dive into being an action kind of film guy."
— Michael Evans Behling, Columbus television actor