From Bartender to Mayhem Man: Talking to Dean Winters
Dean Winters is living that dream. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, he was a NYC bartender pursuing an acting career. He worked all over town and everybody knew him. He was and still is one of the good guys. In the mid ‘90s he broke out big with numerous TV roles. His Ryan O’Reily character on Oz had me tuning in for years. His Johnny Gavin on Rescue Me kept me glued to the set. Now, because of a TV commercial deal that he almost turned down, he is recognizable to everyone. He is Mayhem, that Allstate gremlin of a man that shows us how dangerous and unpredictable our world can be. He knows a little about that. He had a near-death experience in June 2009 that left him little short in some areas but certainly long in experience and self-awareness. He has always been a friend and supporter of mine, and when he sent me the following e-mail, I gladly gave him this space to tell us all about it:
"Hi, I’m a big supporter of The Heroes Project and I’m excited to finally share the campaign we’ve been working on. I just launched a Wish on Facebook Causes to support the organization. The funds raised will go toward The Heroes Project’s upcoming Indonesia climb with US Army Retired Sgt. Noah Galloway who lost his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee in an IED attack in Yusufiyah, Iraq. You can check out the Wish page and donate here. This project is near and dear to my heart so I’m trying to get the word out wherever possible. Any love you can show on Facebook or Twitter would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Dean"
How did you get involved with The Heroes Project?
I was introduced to ‘Big Tim’ Medvetz by my L.A. family Richard and Laurie Stark, creators of the Chrome Hearts dynasty, a couple of years back. Tim and I immediately became fast friends. He had been a bouncer at Hogs ‘N Hefers back in the day and a former Hell’s Angel. A number of the Angel’s had been on Oz and I had bartendeded in the clubs so we had immediate common ground. The guy is built like a brick shithouse: 6’5" at around 250lbs – the kind of guy you want on your side, no matter what. Cher, who is also a member of the L.A. family, was an early advocate of The Heroes Project as well, so all of their passion for this project was intoxicating. Having a climbing background as well provided this whole experience for me to be a no-brainer.
What can people do?
People can simply go to The Heroes Project website and donate 10, 20, 50 bucks, any amount helps really, to help fund Tim’s next climb. It is Tim’s sole mission to help restore the confidence in America’s finest young soldier’s after they have suffered these debilitating injuries, by getting them to face their worst fears realized and helping them to climb these peaks all over the world. Watching these young soldier’s summit with prosthetic arms and legs has been a life highlight for me. I’m hoping it will be for other folks as well. Like so many others, you were a bartender in NYC chasing a dream to be an actor. I guess nowadays you are recognized as “that Mayhem dude.” Tell me how you worked at being an actor, your breakout, your career, and where you are going? Also… do you miss bartending sometimes?
I have had a very rewarding and a very peculiar career, one that I could never have come close to predicting. I have been fastidious to a point of nausea by trying to remain a NY actor. I like L.A. but only for a quick wind sprint, but I also realize that that is really where the business is so I am planning to spend more time there in the future. When we did Oz, which was the first drama series on cable, it was so raw, in-your-face, and new that I think we were all scratching our heads when it was over and thinking “now what?”
Tina Fey and every single faction of 30 Rock has been an absolute gift to me; that cast is one of the fiercest casts in the history of television. So with Oz, 30 Rock, Rescue Me and Law and Order: SVU, I have been spoiled in NYC. Everyone in this business knows that to be spoiled as an actor in NY is the Holy Grail. When Allstate first came to me with the Mayhem campaign, I was reluctant. My smartass answer was no because I became an actor so I wouldn’t have to put on a suit and sell insurance. My dumb ass. My managers – Bill Butler and Sandra Chang – quickly steered me in the right direction. I’m lost without them, and this campaign has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. One of the smartest decisions anyone has ever made for me (wink*). The sheer talent behind the people at Allstate and Leo Burnett (the ad agency out of Chicago led by Britt Nolan) is mind boggling. The creativity in the campaign is beyond what I would ever have expected.
As for bartending, I worked in 17 bars and clubs in the ‘90s. I do miss it sometimes. The music back then – the actual clubs – nothing like that will ever happen again in NY. You can thank the real estate market and a few no-fun politicians for that. With bartending came a certain amount of power and control – two things I am missing in my career these days. It was fun to be the captain of a crazy ship every night, never knowing where your actual destination was or where you were going to possibly be shipwrecked. Wouldn’t trade those days for anything.
I still run into you on occasion at a club or an event. Where do you like to go and what is it about the night that still draws you to it?
It’s always a pleasure to run into you Steve. I feel like I’m not the only one looking around wondering “what happened?” It’s different now, yes, but you have to admire the moves these young guns have made. Richie, Scott, Jason, Noah, Satsky, Ronnie, The SL crew. I mean I remember when those guys all reported to you. Now they have legitimate empires. Very impressive. I’m an old house-head and that music is slowly disappearing into this new horrible cesspool of dance music. You couldn’t fuck with the likes of Junior, Danny, Frankie, Little Louie, Victor, Boris. And sometimes they all played on the same night at different clubs around the city. Insane. I’ll dip into Provac or Pacha for the house. Ritchie, Scott, Noah, and Jason seemed to have pinned down the baby giraffe crew.
God bless Amy Sacco and David Rabin, true warriors if there ever were any in NYC. David was actually the first club owner I ever worked for, back at Rex. I’m also real happy in my hood. A pint of Guinness at Ear Inn suits me just fine these days. Don Hill was a very close friend of mine and his passing rattled NY nightlife to the bone. I truly miss that man. NY is NY though; it is the greatest city on the planet, nothing even comes close. I am very proud to be from here; I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.