A Type 1 Thespian: Catching up with Austin Basis

In May, Austin Basis had a good kind of problem. The actor, who has Type 1 diabetes, was all set to attend his local Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) gala out in Los Angeles, but work got in the way. His television show, Beauty and the Beast, was picked up for a third season, meaning he had to uproot to Toronto to film new episodes of the popular sci-fi/romance series. In a way, says Basis, little has changed in acting since Elizabethan times, when troupes roamed the countryside to find an audience.

“In a sense, most actors are nomads floating between one job and another,” he says in a phone interview with Insulin Nation.

But the announcement that the CW Network was picking up Beauty and the Beast for a third season signals a departure from Basis’s nomadic acting career, as he once again gets to reprise the role of of J.T. Forbes, a geeky scientist who is the best friend of the titular Beast, as well as a fan favorite.

In a small way, it might have been Basis’ philanthropic streak towards JDRF that helped keep the series alive. Beauty and the Beast has a dedicated fan base, dubbed the “Beasties”, who were instrumental in prodding network executives to renew the show after the first season. Conventional wisdom said the show would be axed after Season 2, but the Beasties undertook a massive social media campaign to keep it alive. This included raising money for JDRF in honor of Basis to show their support. The group set a fundraising goal of $10,000; it exceeded that goal in two weeks and ultimately raised $15,000 for cure research. Network executives, seeing all the Beastie fan activity, picked up the show for Season 3.

“The Beasties are the most dedicated fan base out there,” Basis says proudly.

They exhibit a kind of can-do spirit that Basis also shares. He was always competitive at an early age in school and sports, neither he nor his parents would let a Type 1 diagnosis slow him down. After the initial shock of the diagnosis wore off, his parents (a gym teacher and a health teacher) quickly helped him develop a routine to stay healthy. The goal has always been to not let diabetes get in the way of life, he says.

“To a degree, I’ve never seen the obstacles,” Basis says. “The daily obstacles become a little more second nature as I’ve gotten older and had (diabetes) longer.”

He pursued his love of acting with the same dogged determination he brought to all his pursuits. That attitude came in handy during his years as a struggling actor, when he watched many talented peers wash out of the profession. Basis believes the discipline he developed to stay healthy helped him to eventually gain success as an actor.

“It’s actually provided an extra incentive and work ethic to manage my career,” he says.

Since breaking into professional acting, Basis has made a habit of playing memorable characters in many popular television shows, playing funny roles and creepy roles in shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. He’s enjoyed an eclectic career, including playing a zombie artist in the “they walk among us”-themed movie American Zombie. Before Beauty and the Beast, he was a mainstay on the one-season cult favorite show, Supernatural. As he speaks of his career, it’s clear Basis has a soft spot for each role, but he says playing J.T. has been a great experience.

“It’s kind of given me everything you could ask for in an episodic TV character,” he says.
“It’s fun to basically play myself in heightened circumstances.”

Basis has developed the habit of informing those on set and connected with the show about his condition, and he keeps apple juice close at hand on set to deal with lows. Acting, if done right, can be a vigorous physical activity, one prone to surges of adrenaline, so Basis is always prepared to deal with blood glucose fluctuations. Luckily, there is a lot of downtime between takes, so he has plenty of opportunity to check his blood sugar and adjust as needed. Always the thespian, he favors apple juice over orange juice or milk to deal with real lows because it has less an impact on his voice during a scene.

“You want to be able to talk and do your job without interruption,” he says.

Basis credits his wife with helping him stay healthy in his adulthood, as she is the one who must prod him to test when he is low and irritable. He says his biggest glitch is that he hates to admit a low because he doesn’t want to be perceived as weaker or less capable than everyone else. Luckily, he and his wife have made a deal whereby she can demand he test when she suspects he’s low. The data from a meter helps him accept what’s happening and take action.

“If I see it on the screen, it’s a different thing,” he says. “Then I’ve got to eat something.”

Being on Beauty and the Beast has given Basis the opportunity to regularly interact with a dedicated fan base, and he relishes the chance to talk to other people with diabetes. Recently, he was contacted by a mother in England whose son was having trouble getting the opportunity to do all the things normal kids do because he couldn’t control his blood sugar levels very well. Together, Basis and the mother brainstormed ways to make him feel more independent, and she took his advice to explore the option of pump therapy. She got back in touch with Basis six months later to say her son was now on pump therapy; his blood glucose levels were much better and he could do more kid stuff. Basis says fan interaction doesn’t get any better than that.

“Even one story like that makes it all worth it,” he says.

Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard

This article has been corrected. An earlier version stated that Basis had asked the Beasties to fundraise for JDRF, when in fact it was the Beasties who took took the initiative. 

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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