Tommy Dewey gets to wake up every morning and remember that Mindy Kaling once took his arm and announced to a roomful of her friends, “Everyone, this is my boyfriend.”
Of course, Dewey wasn’t her boyfriend. But he starred as Josh Daniels, who was her (well, her character Mindy Lahiri’s) boyfriend, for nine episodes on season one of Kaling’s hit show The Mindy Project. It was a role that Dewey says made him a better actor. “With any character an actor plays, humanness is the most important thing to convey,” he says. “At first glance, Josh might be considered a jerk, but through exploring his neuroses and his real affection for Mindy, we (writers, actors, directors, etc.) were able to present a multi-dimensional character with whom audiences could empathize, even if they didn’t always like him or agree with his decisions. I also learned that Mindy Kaling is as multi-talented and hard-working as they come. Watching [her] wear all the hats on this show was a real education.” It was one of the breakout roles for Dewey, a Mountain Brook native and graduate of Mountain Brook High School. But it’s also just one of the many roles that has shaped him as he’s built his acting career. And all of them have led him to where he is now—starring as Alex Cole, the main character of the Hulu original show Casual, as well as recurring character Dr. Mike Leighton on CBS’s Code Black.
Dewey moved from Birmingham to New Jersey to attend Princeton University in 1997. Though it was admittedly a bit of a culture shock, he says it was an important move that prepared him for those to come. “In college, a teacher and mentor (also an actor and director) named Roger Babb said to me, simply, ‘You know, you should do this,’” Dewey remembers. “By ‘this,’ I assumed he meant acting, and I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to pursue it had he not said that to me so genuinely. You did mean acting, right, Roger?”
And pursue it he did—wholeheartedly, though that was difficult at times. After Princeton, he lived in New York City; London; Vancouver, Canada; and Los Angeles. His first major appearance was on the daytime show Guiding Lightand in 2003, he co-wrote and performed a two-man play with Greg Bratman called Natalie. “The positive response to that show made me feel as though I belonged in the entertainment industry,” Dewey says. That success, coupled with some commercial experience and roles in independently produced TV and film, gave him he push he needed to move to LA in 2004. “The LA move was a little scary,” he says. “I hadn’t spent much time there, and I worried about being so far away from friends and family on the East Coast and in Birmingham. After about five months in LA, I was lucky enough to land a regular role on the (now extinct) WB’s drama series The Mountain. Although it only ran for 13 episodes, and there was a dry spell that followed, I had at least shown myself that it was possible to build a career out here.”
With Roger’s words ringing in his ears, he kept going. He appeared in a host of TV shows and films, including Grey’s Anatomy, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Mad Men, Step Up Revolution, and 17 Again. In 2010, he co-created and produced a show for Fox called Sons of Tucson, which led to more work writing network pilots. In 2012, he was cast as Josh on The Mindy Project, which has been called his breakout role. But Dewey’s favorite role yet is his current one as Alex on Casual. “The writing and storytelling in Casual is second to none, in my opinion, and season two is giving me the chance to explore new corners of Alex’s complex personality,” he explains. “I’m also excited and encouraged by the fact that people continue to find the show, and are responding to what we’re doing. Hulu has given us every chance to succeed, and we’re working hard to do so.”
Dewey is hesitant to call the Josh role—or any of the others—his big break. “It’s been a slow and steady climb for the most part,” he says. “There have, however, been several opportunities to demonstrate different things creatively that have opened new doors. Co-creating and selling Sons of Tucson to Fox allowed me to write more regularly for television; starring in the little-known TV comedy Roommates led to more opportunities in comedy (when my last series had been a drama); and, more currently, Casual has been a boon in too many ways to count.” His career, he says, has been built with the same hard work and dedication that builds any successful career. “I’ve heard it said that the career of acting is ‘all about luck.’ Luck factors into it, of course, but craft, professionalism and self-starterism are also very important components of a full and consistent career,” Dewey says. “My parents and grandparents were fine examples of both hard work and fairness, values that I try to bring to whatever I’m doing.”
Dewey says he is excited to continue to hone that craft, an ever-evolving challenge that changes with each new role. “The biggest challenge, aside from landing the job, is finding the truth in any given scene. The camera is very good at detecting a false note, and an actor’s most important job is to support the material by pulling the audience through the emotional journey of a character,” he explains. “The best part about it are the days when cast and crew are synced up and firing on all cylinders—when the jokes are falling in just the right places, and the actors seem to be authentically communicating through their characters. This doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it is something special, akin to the adrenalizing experience of playing in a big game.”
Though he’s not sure what exists for him in the future, he’s excited to get to it. But no matter what roles he lands, he’ll never feel like he’s “made it,” he says—and for good reason. “There’s a lot more I want to do,” he says. “I’ve had an exciting career thus far, but the idea of having ‘made it’ feels dangerously close to complacency.”