Celebrity Drive: “Vinyl” Actor P.J. Byrne

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Quick Stats: P.J. Byrne, actor, HBO’s “VinylDaily Driver: 2012 Toyota Prius (P.J.’s rating: 9.8 on a scale of 1 to 10)Other cars: see belowFavorite road trip: New Jersey to ColoradoCar he learned to drive in: 1988 Ford TaurusFirst car bought: 2001 Saab 9-5

Although actor P.J. Byrne is an SUV person at heart, he loves his daily 2012 Toyota Prius because it’s a great vehicle for the city, especially when he has to be back in New York filming the second season of “Vinyl.”

It makes for a practical daily driver as well as a more environmentally friendly option. “You can zip around all over town and park anywhere,” he says. “I think Silver Lake in Los Angeles has the highest quotient of Priuses anywhere else in America, there’s some crazy stat in such a hipstery area, I see everyone driving it and I’m like, ‘Am I missing out?’ Gas prices were so high and well, what’s the cheapest best thing and I think I’m going to have a kid soon. I wanted to get an SUV really bad but it’s tough to park in the city and we might go back and forth to New York a lot, so I went Prius.

Byrne loves the mileage he gets on the Prius and even though he also has a Mercedes-Benz GLA, this is the ride he takes out more. “It’s oddly pretty spacious. I love driving the Prius more because I can put the stroller in and out of the trunk really easily, that hatchback trunk. My wife sits in the back seat and has plenty of room with the baby, and we love it,” he says. “I popped some tan leather seats on it as well and put some black rims on it, and tinted the back windows a little.”

Byrne rates his Prius a 9.8 out of 10. “Oddly enough I drive a Prius, but my dream car is still a gigantic SUV,” he says, with a laugh. “So, since I do love SUVs wholeheartedly, but I don’t have one, I’m going to have to say 9.8 because I think a 10 would be a gigantic SUV one day. So when I get that, that’s going to get the 10. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m a grass is greener guy and this really is my 10. I don’t even know.”

Luckily, Byrne gets to drive his dream car on film sets at least. “I was shooting a movie in Detroit, and they let us get Tahoes and I had such a blast with a Tahoe,” he says. “I would love to get a Cadillac Escalade, so I think those would be like 10, but they’re just so expensive, so pricey.”

Byrne is also new to vanity plates, deciding to get one when the DMV staffer asked if he wanted one. “California reissued the black plates with the yellow lettering, so I love that. I was in that crazy moment at the DMV, ‘You can have a vanity plate’ and I panicked, and since my wife and I got married on 7/7/07 in Hoboken, New Jersey, I put 7. We also met in Hoboken at a place called Madison’s, so that’s why we named our daughter Madison,” he says. “Good thing we didn’t meet at Hooters, and my wife’s name is Jamie, so I went ‘7MadJam.’”

The one thing that would make his Prius complete would be more the safety alerts when he is about to hit into something. “I love the cars that beep now when you’re going to run into something anywhere,” he says. “I love those. On my Mercedes, which I love, when you’re going to go into another lane, it starts beeping if there’s a car in your blind spot. That’s fantastic, that’s my new favorite thing right now.”

2015 Mercedes GLA250

Rating: 9

“In my mind it’s a solid 9. I just wish it had a little bigger backseat, but as far as a city car, a city crossover SUV, it’s the best because I can bop it around anywhere,” he says.

The back is tinted so people can’t see in the trunk (a stock GLA250 is shown above). “I wanted an SUV but six months a year we live in Williamsburg because we’re shooting ‘Vinyl.’ It’s the perfect sized car to get around a city and you can still park in a parking spot. That’s why I love it and I like the hatchback trunk,” he says. “It’s so easy when you have to get strollers in and out of the car, or if you’re going to go to the beach and have beach chairs. As much as I would love a gigantic Tahoe or Cadillac Escalade, it’s tough to park those guys in the city.”

One of the only things about the GLA that he wishes it had, was a bigger back seat. Also, he said, “it doesn’t beep when you’re about to back up into something, but it does have a rear view camera, but it doesn’t beep if you’re going to back into something. Maybe that’s the version I got. Maybe I didn’t get the pimped out version.”

Car he learned to drive in

Byrne grew up in Old Tappan, New Jersey and learned on the two family cars – a purple, manual 1988 Ford Taurus and his 1990 four-door Cadillac.

“My dad had his big Cadillac, he’s a big guy at 6’4. I missed the gene, I’m not that tall,” he says.

Byrne’s gym teacher was also his Driver’s Ed teacher, and had an interesting way of teaching students. “He had that special car with the pedals to the right, and if you screwed up or anything was debatable, his greatest thing, he would slam on the brakes and go ‘Bang! You’re dead! Bang! You’re dead!’” Byrne says. “Everybody in town went through this guy, everybody in town had him as a driver. So you would hear stories about this, about ‘Bang! You’re dead! Bang! You’re dead!’”

When it was Byrne’s turn to drive, he hoped he would be the exception to the instructor’s tough teaching style. “When you go to him, you’re like, ‘I’m not going to do anything, I’m going to live, I’m going to make it through my driving class with him,’ and I died like 10 times,” he says, laughing. “I knew it was coming at me, ‘I’m going to get through this class, I’m going to get through him teaching.’ And we would just run errands with him, so we’d go get his laundry, or his dry cleaning, or his pills, and we would die. Bang, you’re dead! Forever.”

One time Byrne tried to drive the Taurus by himself. “I ruined my father’s transmission,” he says.

He could drive it around in a circle. “It was a one mile perfect circle, so I used to take the Taurus out and I still was not good at stick shift, and I just completely ruined it. I just ruined his Ford Taurus transmission and I didn’t get to drive the stick too much more after that,” he says, with a laugh. “I just crushed it, just destroyed it. I thought I could muddle my way through it, but unfortunately I didn’t. My dad got a big bill and God bless that man.”

First car bought

After Byrne got out of grad school, the Theater School at DePaul University, he started doing commercials right away and was able to buy his first car, a 2001 Saab 9-5  (a stock 9-5 is shown above). “It wasn’t a full on hatchback, maybe that’s where my hatchback problem started. It was a pseudo hatchback car that had four doors,” he says.

He made money from a national Sprint spot he did with a fellow actor Brad Wollack also featured on it. “It starts off with me, I’m all beat up and I’m on a farm and I look terrible and he comes up to me and he goes ‘What happened?’ I go, ‘I thought you said, a potato was coming.’ He goes, ‘No, tornado, not a potato. A tornado.’ And that was the joke of it.”

Byrne leased the Saab for two years at first and then loved it and decided to buy it. “I’m like, I treated this car beautifully, I’m not going to let someone else have it, and then I bought it and that’s where I made the mistake,” he laughs. “That car was just a money pit for the rest of my life. It worked great for two years and then everything kept going wrong with it. For four more years I put so much money into that car and one day I just thought, ‘I’ve got to let it go. I’m walking away.’”

Byrne loved the Saab though initially because he felt it was the perfect car, matching who he was. “It felt cool, it just fit me. I was a preppy kid, so it felt like a preppy car, he says. “I went to Boston College, it was a preppy college.”

As an actor, Byrne considers the car he had before his Prius, his 2012 BMW 328i Modern Line, as his splurge car. Although as a finance major at Boston College, which is where he caught the acting bug by accident, and by the urging of a professor who saw his talent, he is still always well aware of the bottom line.

“I treated it like gold and my parents ended up buying out the lease because they love it and they have in now. The wood trim is actually ribbed, it’s not your normal wood, like glossy, it feels like real wood in the car. That might be my favorite car to date that I’ve ever had,” he says, with a laugh.

Unlike with the Saab, when it comes to buying a car now, he always leases them. “I am down with finding the deal,” he says. “Since as an actor I’m incorporated, I have to drive around to different auditions multiple times a day, so I’m allowed to get it through my company, and if you have a company it behooves you to lease the car. So it’s a better write off. The second thing is I love looking for a deal, so when I’m looking for a car, you don’t know who’s going to be having a deal, so I opened myself up to three models I’m going to be into.”

He scans the papers and always goes for the dealer’s demo car so that there’s already a price drop on it.

Besides enjoying getting a deal, Byrne also just likes cars. “I like the technology of cars. It’s one of my favorite things in the world,” he says “I try to be frugal about the houses I buy, or where I invest my money. That’s the still the finance kid in me. That’s just who I am.”

Favorite road trip

If Byrne has to go to Las Vegas or Mammoth, he’ll often drive rather than fly. Locally, his favorite street to cruise is one that passes by some of the local landmarks in downtown Los Angeles – Grand Avenue, which he sometimes does on a scooter.

“You start by the performing arts high school, and you come off Sunset Blvd., you make a right at the high school, you pass this incredibly modern arts high school, then you go over the 101, and to your left is the Cathedral and then to your right is the opera house and then the Mark Taper and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the new Broad museum,” he says. “That’s my favorite street in Los Angeles.”

Byrne’s favorite road trip memory was the time he drove from New Jersey to Colorado the summer between freshman and sophomore year in college, with his buddy from high school.

“We saw America, and we ate steak,” he says. “We lived in his parents’ condo in Colorado, but we drove out in his Jeep Cherokee, from New Jersey to Breckenridge Colorado and we videotaped moments. That was the first time we videotaped ourselves and we were making jokes and we showed our family and friends our little video that we made and people laughed at me, like, ‘oh maybe I can be funny,’ but I never thought that would be a career.”

Byrne still thinks about a stop somewhere in Pennsylvania during that road trip that was one of the best fast food experiences. “We stopped at the greatest Wendy’s I’ve ever been at in my life and we had a Wendy’s chicken sandwich that to this day, I’m still haunted by how incredible it was,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the most perfectly, crispy crust around a chicken sandwich, and the lettuce and tomato is so magical,’ that I literally took a bite, finished it, and went back into the Wendy’s and I go, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this but, why was this Wendy’s sandwich so good? This is the best Wendy’s sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.’ They’re like, ‘This happens all the time, this is a training Wendy’s. We bring people from all around the country to train here, that’s why your sandwich was so good.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, of course it was!’”

He talks of it as if it were yesterday. “It might’ve been the best breaded chicken sandwich I’ve ever had ever,” he says.

Photo: Patrick HarbronHBO’s “Vinyl

Byrne plays lawyer Scott Leavitt on HBO’s “Vinyl,” which stars Bobby Cannavale, produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. “I put in my contract now that when I go to work on any project, I have a minimum of two icons on my show, so they got Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger to show up,” he jokes.

It’s a show about the music industry in the 1970s with the backdrop of a gritty New York City. “A time period where the volume is turned up on everything, from the music to the drugs, to the clothing, to my facial hair,” he says.

Byrne grew mutton chops during the length of filming. “I look ridiculous and those mutton chops are real, so I had to wear those mutton chops in everyday and I did that for you America. I did that for you,” he says.

He also had to wear platform shoes as part of the look back then. “I do have so much empathy now for women who wear high heels,” he says. “My ankles were killing me everyday, believe me, I get it. And from hopefully me speaking for all men – You don’t have to do that anymore, you don’t have to do it for me. You can maybe for other men or for yourselves, but I get it, that really hurts to wear high heels. You don’t have to do it for me anymore.”

Photo: Macall B. Polay

Byrne says even he was born in 1973, much of what he recalls was the late 1970s. “My parents would love going to the city and it was an awesome scary place at the same time, you couldn’t get over the size of the buildings, but you’re dad was holding your hand a little tighter on certain streets. It was awesome,” he says.

Vinyl” has been picked up for a second season and Byrne said he has loved working on it, especially with all the preparation they get to do as actors. “We do our homework like crazy, we’re over-prepared and we give it our all every single day, and that’s an incredible way to go to work because I love the work and I love researching, and learning about characters,” he says. “And I love rehearsing my butt off and being prepared and then going up on set and leaving it all out there. “

In the 1970s, it was a time where anything goes, Byrne says when describing the era his character lived in. “I can throw up on my shirt and wear it out and people are like – Hey that’s interesting choice because you can wear anything out,” he says, with a laugh. “And you can listen to any music and just be who you want to be. I think people I encounter, people seem to really get it and enjoy it. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it because we bust our butts for it and it just makes us so happy and obviously we love doing it.”

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Photo: Macall B. Polay