When Ken Baumann started acting on “The Secret Life of The American Teenager,” he was a mere lad of 18 — playing earnest, innocent Ben Boykewich, the high school boy who fell in love with winsome Amy (Shailene Woodley), despite the fact she had gotten pregnant in one thoughtless encounter with the school rebel (Daren Kagasoff) at band camp.
Now it’s five years later, and Ben and Amy and their crowd are leaving the air June 3 — after the show has racked up numerous breakups (including theirs) and hookups, the births of two babies, a miscarriage, a plane crash, several weddings and about 6,050 references to sex. (That figure is based on an estimated average 50 references per show, which we tracked when the “Secret Life” drinking game was at its apex and episodes were hitting 60 and 70.)
Baumann himself is now a full-grown man of 23. He’s married to actress Aviva Farber. He’s a book publisher with his own Sator Press imprint. And he’s an author. His first novel, Solip, is just out this month. At the moment his literary life is in primary position, while acting is taking a back seat. We talked to the erudite hyphenate about the big “Secret Life” finish and other matters:
Q: So, the end is near. How does it feel?
A: It’s actually been quite awhile for us — we wrapped in November. It’s a little unnerving, but at the same time, I’m excited for people to experience this.
Q: Will the finale give fans a sense of closure?
A: Yes. The cancellation was definitely a surprise, but the writing staff and Brenda (creator Brenda Hampton) especially are very, very fast and clever writers. So I think that they pretty quickly wrote a very emotionally satisfying finale and I think it’s one people will think about after the show for quite some time.
Q: That sounds satisfying for the actors as well.
A: It was. But that last day was just rough for everybody. There was so much crying it was stupid. God, it’s sad. I think it’s a rare thing in Hollywood to work on a set where everybody gets along so well. There was no major bad apple, nobody really disagreed. We all just worked so seamlessly together I think it was particularly hard to leave, because, you may never get that again — such a sweet, humane, considerate cast and crew. As far as structuring the show to give people their evenings rather than shooting 15 hours on a Tuesday — we’re probably not going to have that again.
Q: You all came of age while doing the series.
A: Exactly, which is what made it all the harder — watching the birds get pushed out of the nest for the final time. I do think that it was very hard to film, but I think it was fine that we were all crying on set. I think it probably added a little extra magic to the last few scenes that we got the privilege to put in the can.
Q: Congratulations on your novel’s publication this month. It must be exciting.
A: It’s hard to describe. I worked so deeply and intentionally on that book. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to be a good enough and disciplined enough writer to get a book accepted and published somewhere. Every time I look at it — and I’ve got a stack of copies on my shelf — it blows me away.
Q: What is next? You’re not giving up acting for the literary life, are you?
A: No, I mean, not in the immediate future that’s for sure. But I’ve been writing, writing, writing and I definitely feel that’s filling up more of my time, especially as I’ve become an unemployed actor.
Q: Are you going to be going out doing signings and such, pumping it?
A: I’ll be doing a little of the pumping stuff. I’ll be in New York doing a reading on June 15th, at the KGB Bar with some old friends and comrades, some writers I’m reading alongside. A couple of things in New York. I’ll do a reading in San Francisco. All these are not scheduled yet, but that’s the plan. You know, readings are funny. I try to make them the best they can be. I try to do the best performance I can. I try to find reading spaces that are cool and magical. A lot of readings are boring, to be honest. Ask anybody, even writers, and they’ll admit, yeah, most readings are boring.
It’s weird — I’m both trying to do readings and be careful about — I don’t want people snoozing in their chairs. I want to be entertaining, play it cool, find the fun magical ones the ones that have sort of a vibe on their own, you know? I had a reading in San Francisco, actually it was from Solip, the book that’s coming out now, and I think it’s on You Tube actually. It’s in an abandoned apartment in San Francisco. It’s all derelict and there’s construction equipment strewn about, busted two-by-fours, nails. There’s a mound of dirt in the center of the living room with these big bay windows behind you, but there’s no electricity so the guy who organizes it has it candle lit. So you walk in and immediately everybody is being quiet because it’s an illegal space, and, you know, it’s candle lit, it’s beautiful, it’s weird, it’s creepy. I’ve got to say, that was incredible space. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what readings should strive for.
Q: Perhaps some of your series “family” will show up?
A: Wouldn’t that be something? I’m gonna basically blackmail them and if they don’t show, I’m going to give them tons of hell, and I’m going to force Daren Kagasoff at gunpoint to buy a book. Who knows when the last time he bought a book was, but ummmm yeah! Ha. They actually have been very supportive already — they’re always commenting and texting me. I’ve become a book pornographer lately, taking pictures of the book — ‘Look how pretty this thing is.’ They’ve been great. I just like to talk a little sh@!.
Q: “Secret Life'” it’s a big part of a lot of people’s lives — the ending is bound to get some pretty nice ratings.
A: I know, sometimes I forget that and then I’m reminded all over again — oh wow, it wasn’t just me that had this wonderful experience. It’s going to happen for millions of people, which is nice. I’m really happy with how the show ends. I think it’s a very graceful way to go out.