For as long as the profession has existed, a certain stereotype went along with the idea of being an actor, painting a picture of a self-involved, self-important narcissist that spends the entire day thinking about themselves- and Justin Baldoni of Jane The Virgin fame is swiftly stomping right over that generalization. The smolderingly handsome and talented star that fans have fallen in love with could easily have surfed the waves of fame, never bothering to care about anyone other than himself. He has proven to be equally gifted in both drama and comedy, always keeping audiences in stitches, and with a career on the rise at such rocket speed, there is no shortage of people wanting to work with him. But, the chiseled dynamo is a long way from the self-centered actor stereotype- in fact, he’s exactly the opposite.
When it comes to Baldoni and his acting, the entire reason he even does what he does is to be of service to others- and he reinforces this message by trying to teach others to do the same wherever he goes. Whether it be donating time and funds to children that are sick with cancer, or making sure that he is doing little things for others in his daily life such as helping a stranger carry something heavy, or holding a door open for someone, Baldoni is constantly dedicating himself toward helping others. He is attached to countless charities, and isn’t looking to just throw dollars at organizations for good press, but instead actively works with important causes to help people- like The Tahirih Justice Center- which works towards protecting women- specifically immigrants- from issues the law might not always protect them from, such as genital mutilation and arranged marriages. Baldoni gets deeply involved in everything he does, throwing himself in full-force- especially when that means helping people...but, in truth, he usually tries to intertwine service with everything he does anyway- and that is why the warm-hearted philanthropist is about to embark on his biggest creative adventure of all.
As he launches My Last Days, a docu-series that will run from August 17th through August 19th on The CW, Baldoni takes on many hats as he becomes producer and director in order to both help share his vibrant subjects’ inspiring stories, and to motivate audiences- particularly millennials and the net generation- not to procrastinate their lives away. A devout member of the Bahá’í Faith, Baldoni was inspired by a quote from his religion; “I’ve made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore doth thou grieve?” With that in mind, he sought to find six revolutionary people who were living life to the fullest, in spite of their terminal ailments. The actor turned entrepreneur and filmmaker made a movie so moving that it turned executive’s heads immediately, and gave these liberated individuals in his film a platform to spread their joy and motivate others who are wasting their precious time as they get caught up in the unnecessary and trivial things like Facebook likes. And the project has already proved so successful that it gave birth to a whole new network- The CW Good- a channel intended to give even more stars the opportunity to speak about causes that matter to them and give back! But, that’s just par for the course for Baldoni- who constantly makes sure every outstanding project he does is something of service.
As much as he seems to bite off, it never seems to be too much for the amazing star to chew as he not only gracefully dominates every avenue from acting, to directing, to producing, to app-making, to owning his own company, but he does so with both kindness and purpose, being a pioneer of a massive movement to help change the mindset of the self-involved people of today. And if anyone could do inspire people to change that mindset? It would be Baldoni.
Below, the dreamy do-gooder talks about working to change that mind set of audiences with the help of his amazing friends and stars of his incredible docu-series, what fans can expect from My Last Days, what else he has next on his full plate and so much more!
Talk about My Last Days a bit. How did it all get started and how has it grown? What can fans expect from the series?
So, we have to go back about five years. I had reached a point in both my life, and my spiritual life where I realized I wasn’t being of service to humanity the way I could be. Growing up in The Bahá’í Faith, we’re told that work is a form of service, and it should be a form of service to humanity. And, I will never forget- one night I was at my computer desk and this idea hit me- it actually came from a quote in the Bahá’í writing; “I’ve made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore doth thou grieve?” And I just thought; “Wow, here is something that is talking about death becoming joyful!” And that kind of blew my mind. So, I was thinking about all the problems that existed in the world, and I was thinking about social media and how it was really taking off and how everyone was constantly talking about themselves and chasing likes on twitter. And I just thought; if we could get people to fall in love with amazing individuals who are dying, but living amazing lives, then maybe we could influence the way that the viewer is as a whole. And the other thing is that young people today are procrastinators- the millennial and Z generations wait till the very last minute to do everything. But, the problem is that we’re also waiting till the last minute to live the live that we want to live. So, I remember that night, these words came through me- they weren’t mine, they came through me- My Last Days; A Documentary Series About Life Told By Those That Are Dying. So, my good friends at SoulPancake had just launched their company and they were looking for really interesting YouTube content, so I suggested this and they thought it was crazy and cool, and they decided to go ahead with it. So, they put the first season on YouTube and thought no one would watch it, because everyone figured audiences would think it would be a show about death and that it would be depressing, and that nothing longer than four minutes would ever go viral- it had to be youthful and filled with edgy cuts, and I just thought it was a massive generalization of an entire demographic and that we were really underestimating the capacity for young people to watch meaningful content. So, we made them each 12-20 minutes long, and it wound up becoming one of the most watched documentary series’ online ever. From there, I started my company Wayfarer which focuses on what we believe makes a difference in the world, and we hope the project helps people remember who they are and how beautiful life is.
And now it’s branched out even further! Through My Last Days, The CW has launched a side network, CW Good- an amazingly beautiful idea, especially seeming as though youths today can be a bit caught up in themselves.
Yes, I’m so glad. Here is what happened- as My Last Days started to grow, I got Jane The Virgin- and at that time I hadn’t acted in a couple of years because I had been so focused on directing my company and doing commercials and documentaries. So, one of the very first things I did when we got picked up was I met with the head of The CW, Rick Haskins, and told him that my company creates digital content and we had enormous success online with virality and we truly believe we know what millennials and Gen Z want. So, we showed him My Last Days and he loved it! Rick thought it was a big risk, but he thought that as a network, this was the kind of thing they needed to be doing. So, after season one, right after my daughter was born, I literally left a week later and went off and shot all six documentaries. I was gone for a month. So, my daughter was born, and then I spent a month with six different people who were dying. And the last year we spent in editorial and really building them, and Mark Pedowitz saw them and reinforced that it really needed to go on TV. And, at the same time, we had pitched to The CW this concept called CW Good- so CW Good became a partnership between Wayfarer and The CW, and My Last Days is kind of the poster child for what that platform is- which is all about giving CW celebrities a platform to give back in any way that feels right for them.
You have said that this is a happy and inspiring show because it showcases people facing their mortality and celebrating their lives, rather than it being a depressing show. Can you talk about that a bit? Was it depressing for you, having known you were going to lose these people that you had become close to?
Yes and No. So, there’s so much pain and darkness in the world. You can’t look anywhere without seeing some form of fear based advertising. So much of what is being thrown at us is being thrown at our lower nature. It’s so much easier to have fear than it is to have hope- I think it’s just part of being human. It’s so much easier to look at life and see all the darkness, rather than seeing all the light. And, it’s very easy with the subject of death to go toward the darkness and despair. But, what I wanted to do was create a show that did not focus on the dying. We talked about it, but it’s not the story- because these people are alive. They are not dead. So, we’re not going backwards and telling their story, we’re telling their story now. And the beauty is that these people are not thinking about their deaths every single moment- they are thinking about living. So, what I found was that being around these people, I wasn’t depressed- so there was no way I was going to make a show that was depressing. These people are amazing and happy- way happier than I am! They are inspiring. They’re free. And they know that they don’t have time to dwell on the happy parts of life, or think about all the sad things, they have to focus on the moment that they are in and being as happy as they can. It’s exactly like the quote; “I’ve made death a messenger of joy.” And I hope I don’t find this out until I’m very old- but there’s something for these people about finding out about the fact that they’re dying that truly frees them and gives them permission to be themselves and allows them to live to their greatest potential, so, they don’t have the attachment to things that I think so many people have when they don’t know when they’re going to go. And that vibrancy and zest for life radiates through the screen, and if we could find a way to bottle that and give it to the world it would change everything- and that’s what this show is. I hope this show is a prescription for the ailments that have taken over the world. And, for the other part of your question, it is very hard for me in a sense- because I’ve fallen in love with these people and they have become my family and I have a vested interest in them succeeding. Of course, the naive part of me thinks about the more hope that I can help them have- maybe it will cure their illness, or maybe it will alleviate their pain. And when some members of my new family passed away, this is a big thing for me- I can’t text them anymore, and I have willingly and gladly put myself in that situation to at least have known them. But, the truth is, I go home at nights and I’m a mess and I tell my wife that I might need some therapy from all this- but I’m too busy telling the stories to go! So, it all works out in the end as sometimes these people wind up being my therapist, even though it may seem like I’m theirs.
Talk a little bit about being inspired by the quote from your Bahá’í Faith; “I’ve made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore for doth thou grieve?”, and how that philosophy, as well as your religion really played into this project. Were you raised Bahá’í?
So, my faith has been a huge part of this show. My friends that have helped me are Bahá’í, Rainn Wilson is a Bahai, and so much of what we’re told in The Bahá’í Faith is this really progressive message that we are all one and that there is no difference- the only difference between human beings is that we are at different stages of our spiritual development- and that’s the core of all the religions as well. And what we should be doing with our lives is service. In The Bahá’í Faith, there’s a lot of talk about where we go when we die- the afterlife, and the purpose of suffering and pain. And if you look at this world and the way it was created, there’s nothing that doesn’t require an element of suffering or pain or being uncomfortable in order to grow. My daughter is thirteen months old- she has to grow and she’s teething- that’s painful! Metal has to be melted, gold has to be put in the fire, diamonds have to be cut, muscles have to be torn. So everything that requires growth requires some form of pain. So, the purpose of life isn’t to have an easy life- it’s to grow, because we need all these things for wherever we are going next- just like the baby in the womb. In the womb, a baby is developing eyes, ears, nose and legs- but it doesn’t need them for the womb, it needs them for the whole world that is six inches away, and one day that baby will be born into that world, the same way we will be born out of this world and into another. Just like the baby, we don’t need our physical arms and legs where we are going next because we know we’re not taking them with us, but what we need are the spiritual version of those arms and legs- and that comes from growth. So, as a Bahá’í and knowing all that, My Last Days was my first really big creative idea because it was everything into one- talking about the heroes journey, and that growth and pain, but also talking about how you could use that for the better of humanity and live better and teach people at the same time, because the one thing we know is that we’re all going to go one day. So, when we watch a show about people that are dying and doing amazing things, it’s impossible not to think about ourselves and our own mortality- and the minute we get into that mind frame we begin to realize that we don’t have forever and that we have to do something with ourselves.
Another member of The Bahá’í Faith is your good friend, Travis Van Winkle. The two of you are just the most phenomenal people and give so much of yourselves to charity- it is truly inspiring. You travel the world to speak to youth and companies about how to make work a form of service. One charity in particular you are a part of is I Am That Girl, and you’ve even devoted your production company; Wayfarer Entertainment, to service. Talk about all these charities, how people can get involved and why it’s so important to use your platform to elevate human consciousness.
So, service is one thing and charity is another. Charity is a group of people that have come together to raise money for a specific cause, while service can literally be any moment of your waking life- you don’t need to have a charity to do service. You could be of service in everything that you do; as the valet, a teacher, a janitor, an actor- whatever it is that you do, you could be of service. Service is about a mind set and shifting the perspective of what you do with every breath that you take and looking outside yourself and seeing how you could be a benefit to others. Service is also about empowerment, so, if I’m a service to you, then I’m looking to empower you into being a better version of yourself- I’m not just giving you a dollar, or donating money to a cause I don’t care about. So, I think there’s a big difference and we have to be mindful when speaking on service and charity. Charities are incredible, and there are organizations that are doing phenomenal things and people who have dedicated their lives to service have founded these beautiful organizations. One of which is I Am That Girl- a beautiful and empowering organization that focuses on bringing girls together in a community and empowering them to see the best parts of themselves. And another great organization I’m involved in is The Tahirih Justice Center- which is actually a Bahá’í organization that inspires young women and girls- specifically immigrants, and protects them in court, against things like violence, and from arranged marriages, genital mutilation, and a lot of things that the law doesn’t always protect them from. But, I’m involved with many, and there are so many wonderful organizations that need love and support. The best thing that I can do in my daily life is to find small ways to be of service- because if there is one message I could give to people is that you don’t have to be involved in a charity in order to help the world. You can just smile at people, and make sure you hold open a door for someone. If you see a homeless person, you don’t have to even give them your change- but you can have a conversation with them- because wherever you’re going? It’s still going to be there when you get there. You’re never in that big of a hurry to not be human toward someone. So, I think that is where it becomes important in recognizing the difference between charity and service.
And you are also now an app entrepreneur, creating The BellyBump App with best friends Travis Van Winkle and Travis Clark. How did that come about, and how has it been going?
The BellyBump App was just a fun idea I had when my wife was pregnant with my daughter. I wanted to create a time-lapse movie of my wife’s growing belly, and I realized it was really hard, so I thought that if I made it easy with an app that maybe other people expecting children would want it too. And I grew up in a marketing world, my dad was one of the founders of the product placement business and so I always grew up around that advertising mentality, so I thought it would be really fun to have that Three Men And A Baby kind of app. So, I really saw the marketing before the app. So, I called up my friends Travis Van Winkle and Travis Clark, and they were both in, and we went and built it. And it’s doing well- right now it’s .99 Cents, and I think we’re going to turn it into a fremium model soon with in-app upgrades as we just want as many women as possible to be able to use it- because it’s really such a fun thing for them. Or, in my case, I just used it to shave my hiatus beard- so you can really track anything [laughs.]
You do so much. What else would you love to get into? Are there any specific acting roles you would love to take, or people you would love to work with?
The next big thing for me is that I’m going to be directing my first studio film. We’re making a movie with Warner Brothers about Zach Sobiech’s life- he was in the first season of My Last Days. And I also found out that my second studio movie is in development as well, so we have two different films in the works- so that’s really what I wanted which was to direct feature film- and it’s happening as we speak! I’m excited to also be directing an episode of Jane The Virgin as well, but it’s a big thing to be able to direct a movie. I’m really excited for that challenge and to be able to create a story that honors Zach, and that will hopefully really touch some hearts. In terms of acting, I love playing my character, so things have been pretty good on that front as well. I would love to one day maybe act alongside George Clooney. I love Russell Crowe- I think he’s fantastic. Truthfully, I would also love to act alongside my wife on a project, so I’m always thinking of things that her and I can do together. I would also love to play an action hero. I’m a big superhero fan- so of course, every third actor’s dream in LA is to be in a DC or a Marvel movie. I would really love to be able to use my body for things and save someone’s life on screen. I think that’s been every young boy’s dream since he was a little kid. And I would also just love to do stories that resonate from the heart- The Notebook was one of my favorite movies of all time, so I would love to do something along the lines of that which people can really connect to emotionally.
And of course, let’s not forget about Jane The Virgin. Any scoop on the upcoming season that you can tell fans about?
All I can tell you is that it’s going to be crazy! Season three is going to be crazier than season two, which was crazier than season one...so get ready!
With an extremely loyal fan-base that would be ready for whatever ride Baldoni took them on, there’s no doubt that audiences will surely not only follow along with the new season of the fan favorite hit- but every other good-hearted venture the actor, burgeoning filmmaker and business superstar will take them on- including My Last Days!
My Last Days runs August 17th through August 19th at 9PM on The CW.