Today’s guest is Netflix and FX star Theo Rossi. Rossi is known for portraying Shades on “Luke Cage” and Juice on “Sons of Anarchy.” But what is he really like? He is a father of two and, in his own words, had a “rough go as a kid.”
Listen in as he discusses how he is a proponent of microdosing, or using small amounts of psilocybin, to better understand himself and manage his mental health.
THEO ROSSI can currently be seen on the popular Netflix limited series “True Story”opposite Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes. The series debuted at #1 globally for streamer and Rossi received great critical and fan acclaim. Other recent credits include Zack Snyder’s Netflix global hit feature “Army of the Dead” which also hit #1, falling into Netflix’s Top 10 films of all time and ending 2021 as one of IMDb’s Top 10 most searched movies of the year.
He next stars in the independent feature “Emily the Criminal” opposite Aubrey Plaza which was just announced for Sundance 2022.
Future credits include the independent feature “Dear Zoe,” where he stars opposite Sadie Sink. Other credits include Nate Parker’s “American Skin,” which won the Sconfini award at the 2019 Venice Film Festival and was produced by Spike Lee. Rossi co-starred opposite Demián Bichir and Eva Longoria in “Lowriders,” produced by Jason Blum and Brian Grazer, and in the Lionsgate film “Vault” opposite Don Johnson and Samira Wiley, as well as the Netflix release “Rattlesnake” opposite Carmen Ejogo.
On the television side, Rossi is well known for playing Shades on the hit Marvel Netflix series “Luke Cage” and Juice on FX’s cultural phenomenon “Sons of Anarchy.”
When not filming, he resides in Austin with his wife and two sons.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hey, everyone, I’m your host, Gabe Howard. And calling into the show today we have Theo Rossi. Theo can currently be seen on the popular Netflix limited series True Story opposite Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes. He is well known for playing Shades on the hit Marvel Netflix series Luke Cage and Juice on FX’s cultural phenomenon, Sons of Anarchy. Theo, welcome to the show.
Theo Rossi: I appreciate your Gabe and I appreciate the description coming in. That was very nice.
Gabe Howard: Well, we got to plug everything, right? Like that’s the deal. You.
Theo Rossi: Got to plug everything.
Gabe Howard: Yeah. You agree
Theo Rossi: Plug it all.
Gabe Howard: To bare your heart and soul on my show and I mention your job. That’s the. That’s
Theo Rossi: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t benefit. I mean, they can watch it. It’s great. I mean, I love that they watch it and I love those characters. Those are three I love the characters. So that’s three cool ones that you said. I like them.
Gabe Howard: I’m glad I picked the three that you like. Now, speaking of characters, your character that you played on Sons of Anarchy has a fairly famous quote. It was memed. The mental health community really loved it and it says, I just don’t like being alone. I’m not good on my own. My head gets so loud and shit doesn’t make sense. Nothing syncs up. I start thinking about my thinking and getting lost in the details of nothing and nothing can pull me out of it. Now, obviously, that was written by a writer and your character said it.
Theo Rossi: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: But how much of that resonates with you personally?
Theo Rossi: So then it resonated tremendously. Now it doesn’t.
Gabe Howard: What changed?
Theo Rossi: Everything. Everything and nothing. So everything. But not me. Physically, I’m still me. But I’ve learned to navigate me better since then. So that guy who I was, especially when I was playing Juice, could never be alone. He was having a tough go. I had been going through multiple things in my life. I was really obsessed with that character. I loved him. I was playing him six months a year. And in the other six months, I was very reminded of him because at that point, the show was this global whatever. We were all and still are all really tight. So we were always together. So he didn’t like being alone. What I’ve come to now through a multitude of reasons is being alone is the answer. Truly being alone and getting to know yourself has been the answer to all the questions I’ve been asking myself since I was young.
Gabe Howard: I know that you’ve had a tremendous journey in your own mental health, from your childhood to your early adult years and where you are now. Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. One of the things that you’ve described before is that you had a tough go as a child, and I believe those are your exact words. I had a tough go as a child.
Theo Rossi: Yeah. And it’s even more reflective now as I have two young sons, four and six years old, and I watched their go. I had a tough go because one of my earliest memories as a child, that was about the time when my father had left. My birth father had left. I was laying in my mom’s bed. She was either out or not in the room. And I had dozed off and then woke up. But I remembered that the scrambled was on the TV because back in the day TV wasn’t on all night. It was doing the whatever it did on the TV when you know that there was nothing else on the channel. And I could hear that. And she had these three oil paintings on her wall, and I’d seen them my whole life living in this house that we were in. And for some reason, they were minute in my mind, like something is going on in my head where the pictures weren’t the right size and it was my first anxiety attack or my first something’s wrong. And what happened subsequently from that was there was always a questioning of what’s real, what’s not, what is this, why is this? And there was always this deep thinking, this questioning of everything, of your surroundings and your whatever. So my tough go was not just all the stuff that was going on emotionally around me, which was a ton. It was the questions that I always had, the what of it all? And it was an incredible journey to be on now I can look back on it, but then it was scary as all hell. And the way I kept myself busy was I was drawing all the time. I loved drawing. That’s all I did. I was under the impression that was going to be a comic book artist. That’s kind of was my escape. And then my other big escape was I loved action figures, right? So I would go up in this room and I would create these worlds or these battles or whatever you want to call it. And I always say, I’m going to play with my guys, even though I’d be using some of my sister’s Barbies and the Barbie Funhouse and all, and I would create these large scale wars and worlds. That was what I did.
Gabe Howard: Did you ever talk to any adults about the anxiety attacks to try to get mental health help? Or was that just something that you kept inside?
Theo Rossi: When I hit my teens, I did, yeah. The first person I would talk to was Dr. Nick, who was a family friend. I think I was in my later teens. It was the first time I ever spoke because I’d also experimented with stuff when I was really young, meaning like I started drinking. I remember having my first beer when I was like 11 in the woods, drank a bud Nick. People probably didn’t know what they saw. They were like half cans. I smoked weed when I was like, 13, 14. And I would get these out-of-body experiences and see myself from up high. So I remember I wanted to speak with him to kind of see where I was at. Like, let’s check in here. And I’ve always had an interesting relationship with therapy because I’ve used it multiple times throughout my life. For me, it was always just someone who would listen and not judge you. Because no matter who else, you tell a friend, a best friend, a family member, maybe even someone in a point of authority, there’s judgment attached. So a therapist is non-judgmental. And I’ve always found that to be very relieving.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I’m most fascinated about as we talk is, you know, I’m very familiar with your character Shades on Luke Cage and he’s you know, he’s he’s he’s a badass. Right. I mean, he carries guns, he wears shades. And just and when you personally talk, you’re like, I play with dolls. I mean, you call them action figures. I know you’ve got the right, but yeah, like the Barbie Dreamhouse, I talked about my emotions. You even today, you talk about your emotions, your feelings, your there’s this part of me that wants to, like, hone into the stereotype and be like, Hey, I’m surprised that you, Theo, were willing to talk about that because you’re so cool and awesome. That’s clearly just ignorance of the highest level. But the question keeps popping up in my mind, like, Wow, this guy’s a lot different than I would have thought.
Theo Rossi: That’s the issue right there, because the thing is, is ignorance is an assumption at the highest level. The truth is we all have emotions. We all deal with them. I know that when you speak things verbally out loud, it makes them better, whether it be that there’s going to be a chaotic situation that comes from it and then a resolve or it’s just out there. But I think that the eating away, what I’ve seen people get sick, people have regrets, resentments, because they’re not saying what they feel. So my thing with emotions is what I do for a living. I’m so fortunate because I get to try to humanize these characters that I play. I have to go in and study all these different facets of the human experience. And with that, I’ve learned so much about myself, and what I’ve learned about myself is that I like you, Gabe, like everyone, are really complicated and that most of our thoughts are derived from what we’re ingesting daily.
Theo Rossi: But if we just sit quietly sitting alone, we get to maybe see what we are now. Put the trauma away, put the past stuff away, the stuff that has influenced you from day one and just be you with you and what you realize and come to find out is it’s all good right now in this moment. Oh, good. Everything’s okay right at this second, not the next second, not the second before, but right now. And if you keep doing that, that’s how you get to be able to talk about your emotions. That’s how you get to be able to get on a level. So I’m a creature of habit, meaning like I run every single day, seven days a week. I’m on like two years in a row where I don’t miss a day, even if I fly at five in the morning or whatever. It’s just something that I do. I do between four and six miles every day. I do it because it’s like breathing to me or like showering or eating. Another thing is many, many years ago I decided I’m not going to drink alcohol anymore, okay? Because I did that for a long time and I saw what that was like and it doesn’t work for me, so I’m not going to do that anymore. Right? The same thing when I used to smoke cigarettes. Oh, well, that that worked then. It was a season of my life. I’m not going to do that anymore. And then more recently, in the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to discover microdosing with psilocybin, which has been incredible to a level for me that has changed everything. I can’t even say it verbally. What it’s changed because I don’t think there is verbal words for it. I can just say that it’s like someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, Hey, hey, look over here. And I went, Oh, I didn’t see that. And now that has opened up a completely different pathway to me. And I know the way it’s looked at, I know the way from the war on drugs and whatever. And I get it. But for me and again, I’m just speaking for me, it’s been an incredible game changer in my life.
Gabe Howard: Well, let’s talk about microdosing, because it’s it’s emerging science.
And the science is is good. And the first thing that we should probably say as sort of a a warning is when we say microdosing, we don’t mean go to the local street corner and buy drugs off the local dealer.
Theo Rossi: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
Gabe Howard: This is much different. Let’s talk about exactly what you mean when you say you’re microdosing, because people are getting this idea in your head that Theo is hanging around in a dark alley somewhere, waiting for
Theo Rossi: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: They’ve got a movie in their head, and that’s not reality.
Theo Rossi: Yeah. If you go back to this is just a very, very, very small example. I mean, doctors used to do cigarette commercials. Athletes used to promote cigarettes. I think at one point even caffeine or coffee was illegal. I have multitudes of friends and more importantly, family members who have overdosed. So I’m well aware and I am also someone who has done pretty much everything when I was a kid and stopped well over a decade ago because I understand the destruction it can do. This is different. And I can just tell you again, from my experience of why it’s different, because you’re dealing with someone that I can’t even go near anything, including food, unless I have extensive research. It’s probably why I don’t eat meat and I haven’t since 1997. That’s just, again, my thought process with microdosing psilocybin is one of the active compounds in certain kinds of mushrooms, right? I’m not much of a mycologist, so I’ll just do my best to understand what this is. It’s played a tremendous part throughout our history as human beings, right? I mean, all you have to do is go watch fantastic fungi on Netflix, the documentary.
Gabe Howard: And we interviewed him on our show.
Theo Rossi: There you go.
Gabe Howard: Like we said at the beginning, it’s all about the plugs.
Theo Rossi: Please.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, it was a great episode. Go check it
Theo Rossi: And
Gabe Howard: Out.
Theo Rossi: Please listen to him. Please listen to that episode. And any time you can hear him speak. It’s wonderful. One of the things that he says is it’s your birthright. And it is because it’s my Sicilian that grows under the earth. It connects everything. Right. It has these incredible properties, right, that we know all different mushrooms, lion’s mane and oyster mushroom and all these different health benefits in this net. So all that being said, do what I did. I did almost two years of research to really understand Maria Sabina and learn what happened in Mexico. The first how psychedelic mushrooms even came over here. Learn about all of that. Before you even think about it. Now let’s rewind. When I was 14-15, I did try mushrooms, but like an idiot. And while they were fun, they were also scary and strange. And I was ill equipped for what I was doing. And I was like, most people do abusing things, especially in a young teenage mind that I had. Obviously, that all stopped. I wasn’t in the right state of mind. I was a young kid and I and I didn’t even know my own place or what I wanted or where I was. So in the recent years and I’m in my forties, you know, I did study it for two years before I even went near it. I met with a bunch of different mycologists, spoke with tons of people who had experienced microdosing.
Theo Rossi: And I tried it. I tried it the first time, and I didn’t do it again for almost six months. And the reason I did it is because I didn’t, because it had such a profound effect on me and an impact on me that I had to process it for almost six or seven months. What it did was it taught me that everything that I was fearing was not real to me, that it was just me creating them. So that was just the first thing that came to me. And then what it was, was it was like a teacher whenever I was experiencing it, it was like I was going to class with myself and I was just learning more and more and more and more importantly. It was opening up pathways of creation to me that were impossible for me to tap in what I was currently living my life with. Meaning like I know you can tap it through meditation. I’ve heard yoga, kundalini yoga or whatever. It’s through maybe laughter or relationship, I’m not sure. But for me, I was. I tapped into stuff that I couldn’t remotely tap into.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with television and movie actor Theo Rossi. Now, full disclosure, I’ve never done microdosing. So the thing that it’s like occurring to me is if you told me to go check out the new Mountain Dew flavor, I would have this idea in my head of, you know, Gabe getting in his car, driving to the convenience store, walking to the back, opening the cooler. But when you say, Hey, I tried microdosing, I don’t even like where do you get a microdose?
Theo Rossi: Yeah. So there’s obviously a lot of countries and a lot of states now in the United States that it’s fully legal. There is many different facilities, different therapists and pathways that you can clinically it depending on where you live. Right. Canada, you could walk in anywhere. Oregon is a place, a few other states in the United States, it’s becoming kind of like medicinal marijuana. Again, you live in such a connected world that the Internet is your friend. You can figure out ways. But I think that the first step for anybody that’s interested is the research. And if you’re past the research phase, then you just have to go into the finding phase. And the finding phase might be going to a state or country or somewhere where it is legal. And I know that sounds easier said than done, but there is ways. But eventually, eventually, it will be legal everywhere because they’re seeing the benefits are through the roof.
Gabe Howard: For you personally, Theo, you use microdosing for PTSD and anxiety. Is that correct?
Theo Rossi: No, no, no, no. I try not to label anything. I don’t know. I just use it for me. For creation. For creation of thought, for exploration of me, for confrontation of me, to be open with myself. And in that process of that, I find out so many things. I’ll give you an example. My birth father. I found out that he died when I went searching out for him in 2010 because we hadn’t spoke in many years. And I found out that he died in September 29, 2009. And that was a very rough moment for me because there was a lot of things left unsaid and there was things I wanted to know. And that turned into anger. And then there was just a lot of baggage that was going on with that. I would say at this present moment, 12 years removed, I am closer with him now than I’ve ever been in my life. There has been answers. There has been a whole different thing. Now you can say, Well, how does that exist? He’s not here. There has been an incredible peace with the entire situation. I can’t explain it because I don’t think there’s a way to explain it. I don’t have the capability or probably the brain power to make that make sense to anyone. But I’m at full peace in every way and have a better relationship with him now than ever I did when he was here.
Theo Rossi: And the reason I brought up those pictures in the beginning with in my mom’s room, that was the world. I had seen it for a second when I was young. I had seen it a ton of times when I was young, and I see it through my kids. There’s an imagination and a world that is created through that children and animals and an innocence I tapped back into when I am, for example, microdosing. And now I don’t need to write because I understand the two worlds. There’s the world that I watch my kids operate in. I watch the animals operating. I watch innocents operate in. And then there’s the other world, which we all operate in daily. I’m now aware of both, and I can live in both. So it’s made the one that is a little harder to deal with, way less stressful.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you said is that it it helps make you more creative. And the reason that I’m I’m singling in right on that point is because it’s sort of a a stereotypical story, right? The artist, the writer, the actor has to be high in order to give his best performance. And I know that’s not what you mean.
Theo Rossi: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s the way to paint the outcast. First of all, art is in everything. There’s lawyers who are artists. There’s politicians who are artists. They’re faking the funk at all times. They’re acting in a way. There’s law enforcement and veterans that I know who have to put on a certain front. So there’s an acting that comes with it. Okay, so let me explain where I’m going with this. Everything is creativity. Everything is creative. Getting up in the morning is creative. We have to create our life. That’s creation. To say that it’s made me more creative.
Theo Rossi: What I probably should have said is it made me more in touch with myself. And to know yourself is to be able to express yourself. You can’t express yourself if you don’t know yourself because then your expressions are not true. They’re not coming from a true place. I’ve gotten to know myself and in knowing myself, I’m able to handle certain things better. I’m able to when I’m playing a character, for example, I can go deeper into, okay, let’s use somebody as an example. Gene on True Story, right? Okay. Well, why? Why is Gene obsessed with Kid like this? Why does he? Oh, okay. He lost his sister and he lost his sister and she loved him because his mom had drank herself to death. This is all the stuff that I’m creating to make him more four dimensional, to make him more accessible to the person that’s watching it. In doing that, I’m creating Jean with who I’m playing in this TV show. That’s not art, that’s creation. So if you’re a lawyer or a podcaster or an interviewer or a psychoanalyst, you have to figure out your best way to get to the goal. The way you’re going to do that is by knowing yourself in the situation that’s about to come. So that’s what I mean by it’s helped me, my creativity, it’s helped me to know myself, which has been really wonderful for me, not just as an artist, but as a father, as a human being, as a person, as a driver on the road, as a, as anything. It’s just helped me know me.
Gabe Howard: Theo, I definitely appreciate you being honest with your experience with microdosing, and I love that you talk about your emotions. I think that more people need to do so, but it just so many times we hear men our age. I am also in my forties and they never seem to want to discuss that. Yeah, they get scared, worried, bothered. They have trauma from their past. So I appreciate you breaking down those stereotypes.
Theo Rossi: Oh, yeah. I mean, listen, the only facts in life that we know of for sure is that we are not going to be here at one point. So if you spend your life avoiding things that have occurred or emotions that you have felt, if you spend your life avoiding those like a video game, eventually you’re going to lose that game. But if you face them, you keep going to the next level. I know people use that term level up. It kind of bothers me. But I love I used to love video games when I was a kid. But it really is unlocking the next level because you’re just putting something to sleep where you go, okay, I really had this issue when I was young with my family. Am I going to spend my whole life thinking about that or am I going to confront it in the best way I can? But I have to get rid of that because that level I keep playing that same level in this game. I got to get past that level or I’m never going to see the next one and the next one and the next one. And you have such a finite time. You have such a finite time. So it’s kind of your only duty in life, right? But if you keep sitting in the same place, you just sitting there and you deny whether it be men in their forties, whether it be people from a different era. Right. Who were taught to just shut up and don’t say anything and tough it out. What does Alan Watts say? Pull yourself up from your bootstraps. Impossible. You can’t do that. You would be on the floor the whole time. So it’s like you have to confront and every situation that comes to you is how you handle that situation, whatever it may be. The worst news in the world. The best news in the world. How do you handle it? And that’s I guess, if that makes us outliers. Well, then, Gabe, you and I are outliers.
Gabe Howard: I like being an outlier. I mean, why not? Who wants to be the same as everybody else, right? The world would just be so incredibly boring.
Theo Rossi: You know what Kurt Cobain said, right? Kurt Cobain said. They make fun of me because I’m different and I make fun of them because they’re all the same.
Gabe Howard: I adore Kurt Cobain and I adore that quote. Talk about somebody who left us way too soon because he had problems that he couldn’t get addressed. And that’s sincerely, Theo. When I talk about people using their platform and openly discussing mental health, I think of all of the people who we have lost. And I mean, yeah, Kurt Cobain was famous and a big one, but there’s, there’s, there’s, there’s tens of thousands of people who we have lost because they didn’t know how to talk about it. They didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know that they could. And even if they were able to speak up, the people around them didn’t know what to do for them.
Theo Rossi: Yeah. And I think thing I can say is just try your best to find anyone that you can just speak to. Right. Speaking words out. If you don’t have someone to speak to, write it out. You know, record it out. But you have to get it out. You’ve got to release it from yourself. Just get it out. And whether that be going for long walks, whether it be headbanging to a Slayer song, whatever you need to do, you need to get it out and you need to figure out an outlet, you have to address it because carrying that stuff around is the is one of the biggest detriments to mental health. And what I’ve found and I’ve lost so many people that didn’t have the ability to address things, is it will start to bleed into other stuff, whether it be alcoholism, whether that be drug abuse, whether it be just abusive relationships, whether it be whatever. So thank you for what you’re doing, because the reason why mental health is such an important topic now is because we’ve spent so long not talking about it honestly.
Gabe Howard: Well, I appreciate your kind words. It’s always great when people on television are like, Gabe, you’re awesome. Like, I live for these moments, so.
Theo Rossi: You are, but you are.
Gabe Howard: Oh, thank you.
Theo Rossi: And here’s the thing, Gabe. You really are. And the thing, Gabe, is what you’re doing is making a difference. Because even if you spark one person’s brain into thinking a different way in a lifetime, you’ve made a tremendous difference. Yes, we’d like to spark millions, but one changes the course of everything.
Gabe Howard: Truer words have never been spoken. Theo, thank you so much for being here.
Theo Rossi: Yes. I appreciate you. Go enjoy the rest of your day and stay well. Stay kind.
Gabe Howard: And a big thank you to all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon or you can get a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free and hey, do me a favor. Recommend the show to your friends, family members or colleagues. Recommend the show, it’s how we grow. I’ll see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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