Many people don’t realize the work and the strategy that goes into any successful career. The road to success doesn’t come easy even for actors who most people believe have gotten their fame the easy way. Greg Centineo, the father of Netflix sensation Noah Centineo, shares what it’s like raising a Netflix superstar. Greg says getting his son to where he is right now is not an accident. They strategized it and went after it, and worked on it. He narrates how Noah’s passion for art and his energetic aura fueled him to his big break and become what he is today. As a father who cares and loves his child, Greg advises parents to never tell your children the steps to take, but point them into a direction. He says it’s a great experience to see somebody who goes after their dream and wills it into existence.
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Raising A Netflix Superstar with Greg Centineo
I’m thrilled to have back a friend of mine as his second appearance on the show. His name is Greg Centineo. You probably remember him because he was one of my more compelling guests and that’s why he’s back. If you had to come up with one word to describe Greg, it would be energy. That’s what he described himself as. No matter whether it’s a business project or something he’s helping with, he revitalizes you just being in his presence. I’ve had the pleasure of being with him in person as well as on phone calls and Zoom calls, whether it’s a small business or a huge production, it doesn’t matter to Greg. He sees things that others don’t see in themselves and draws that out.
He literally pulls potential where others only see failure and when fresh energy is needed, that’s when Greg is called in. He said, “Potential is limitless.” He attracts all kinds of large numbers of people to common goals by creating a seemingly magical process of transformation or creation. He’s done it not only for himself and clients but for his own son. You might recognize him if I say, “Noah Centineo who’s a multi-movie star on Netflix, one of their top stars.” Greg has appeared on the Today Show with his son, Noah. He knows about how to have energy and how to make himself successful, his son successful and some of his clients. Greg, welcome back to the show.
John, thanks. That was a lengthy introduction, but I appreciate it.
You have a lot going on. I had a gentleman named Isaac Lidsky who gave a TED Talk. He was going to tell people three or four things about himself and see if people could guess which one wasn’t true. He’s blind and he was on a sitcom when he was a kid. He was a supreme court justice clerk and all this other stuff. He goes, “I’ll let anybody want to talk about me being a sitcom star.” I’m guessing that my audience are the same way. They’re like, “You’ve got Noah Centineo’s dad. I want to know about that first please.” Let’s not torture our readers and talk about what’s it like to raise a child who their dreams become true. They get to be an actor, have huge success and watch all that pain.
It’s an experience. Sometimes it’s surreal and then sometimes it’s very normal. A lot of times somebody asked me, “How has life changed for you?” Not a lot. It still feels very normal. Outside of certain elements, you’ll see him on the Jimmy Fallon Show or you see him on Kimmel. You’re scrolling through Netflix, there’s your son’s movie or you’re walking into Starbucks and all of a sudden, there’s a crowd around him. Those are what I call peripheral changes, but everyday life for us has been the same. It’s been a great experience more importantly to see somebody who goes after their dream and wills it into existence. That’s where it becomes exciting and I become proud that he’s had a chance to do that. It’s not an accident. He strategized, we strategized, went after it and he worked on it so it’s great.
Let’s double click on that. The fantasy of being discovered in Hollywood or someone is like, “I’m going to create the next Facebook. I have a dream. I’m going to start this company out of my garage if I’m an entrepreneur.” Many people don’t realize the work and the strategy that goes into any successful career. When did you and Noah start strategizing on his acting career?
The earliest introduction to his dream was when he was about eight when he decided to act in school and put a foot into that trajectory. It got serious by the time he was ten because he was gravitating toward it. He’s 23. A few years ago, it got serious where he was pursuing this but it didn’t stop. He wasn’t 100% focus on what he was doing in acting. He was playing soccer and he was playing baseball. He was in school and he had friends. He had birthday parties to go to. It’s all part of your life. Parenting, for us, was about isolating on both tails on my daughter and Noah and trying to find what their natural bend was and what they were gravitating to.
At that early age, it’s not one thing. No one would allow them to do one thing because here’s planet Earth and they don’t know, so you let them lead. By the time he was ten, he was taking lead roles in plays and shows in school. His personality was developing and he was very outgoing. His energy and his early charisma were evident to everybody. That’s a sign. I always encourage parents to watch their kids. You’ll see things. Noah, strangely enough, at ten would command a room of adults. He wasn’t Noah Centineo at 23. He was Noah at ten, but he had a bunch of auras about him and I recognize that. I started to realize that this kid got something. It’s a God-given or universe-given. He’s got something. Typically with those gifts, it’s meant to do something on a larger scale in front of larger people. That’s when we started to begin to strategize a little bit at the age of ten.
What is it that someone can do either for themselves or someone they care about, whether their parents or not or their own team that they manage? Do you have any tips on staying energized because a lot of people get burnt out? They are maybe working too many hours or they’re doing something they don’t love. Is there anything you can give around this energy? Children have lots of energy and passion, but how can we recapture that if we’ve lost it?
There’s a Springsteen song called No Surrender. It says when hearts grow cold, renew that fire back into its normal. To find what it is that you want to do in life, and I don’t think it’s myopic, it’s a pathway. A lot of times people think it’s doing something and a lot of times, it’s walking in a direction. If you stop focusing on what is it that you want to do, “I want to drive a bus, I want to be in transportation,” you want to move people from one thing to another, you want to move into the direction on what you’re feeling, don’t look for the specific. That’s where people sometimes get discouraged because they don’t know what it is. Walk in that direction.
An old line I used to give my kids that sounded very paradoxical was, “I’ll never tell you what to do, but do what I tell you.” That’s true and it sounds like a paradox. I would never tell them the steps to take, but I will point them into a direction. As a father who cares and loves them, I see things about them that they might not see themselves. I’m not going to tell them the specific, but I’m going to point them into a direction, “You should walk that way and you’ll find what you want.” It’s more holistic. It’s not a single thing, but it’s finding your path and walking on your path even if your dream doesn’t come to fruition in the first five years because you’re walking in your path.
From ten-year-old Noah, when was his real big first break?Rejection is perspective. It's all about how you view failure that matters, not how you see success. Click To Tweet
At twelve was his first break. Everyone thinks that when everybody knows him, that was the break. No, it was thirteen to fourteen years of grinding and energy put into something and doubt and then renewing of belief to keep going. At twelve was his first big break and it was when he was cast for a movie called The Gold Retrievers, which was an independent live-action film with Steve Guttenberg and Billy Zane. He got the lead and that was his first massive break. As a matter of fact, I will tell you that it’s the biggest break of his career. It’s always your first, not the one that exposes you to everybody. If you don’t have the first one, you’re never going to get exposure because you’re green.
You don’t know how to carry a movie, you don’t know what a set is. It’s too big of a risk.
The biggest break of his life was when he was twelve and he got the chance to do that film. I remember him walking over to me on set. He looked at me and he said, “Dad, this is exactly where I need to be. I love this.” What he was saying was he’s on his path and what he was doing was what was in him. There was alignment and he felt that alignment. As a twelve-year-old, he thinks, “I want this for the rest of my life.” When you’re aligned, you don’t want to change it. That was his first big break doing Gold Retrievers. Then that gave him at least something on his resume that was big and his film.
He had a list of actors that he was starring with and that matriculated itself moving forward, but it wasn’t the end. We’re still navigating his career from Florida. I was doing all this with his mom from Florida. We would strategize and so forth. As a parent and an entrepreneur, I look at everything more of a disruptive way. Everybody does this. I’m looking at what everybody does to become an actor and I thought, “The percentages are low.” It’s not because they don’t have the talent, the path or the drive, but it’s because it’s all about getting in front of people. There’s a lot of luck involved.
It’s fascinating because being a keynote speaker, it’s very similar to acting. You’ve got to get an agent, you’ve got to get footage of yourself. How do you get the agent if you don’t have the footage? What was your insight? You have this great ability to connect the dots and see things that other people don’t see. How did you get Noah that big break if you’re living in Florida and he’s not even in LA? How does he even get in front to audition for a movie of that caliber?
He was doing the work. He was grinding hard at ten and eleven doing school play and flying out to LA occasionally. We weren’t doing LA yet, but he was doing the work in Florida. He was going to acting classes in Florida. He was going through the motions he needs to go through. I came across something in my path that I was doing business in the animation side at the time and I had come across the live-action film that these producers were doing as well. When I heard about the movie and they were looking for a twelve-year-old lead, I said, “I’ve got a boy who’s acting.” They gave him an audition.
It’s those warm introductions that cut through the clutter. Whether you’re trying to get your startup funded. You know that you need that introduction to an investor to have a little bit of sensibility and what you’re saying is relevant and things like that. Let’s fast forward a little bit because no matter how successful you are in any industry, you’re going to deal with rejection. Even Meryl Streep didn’t get everything she auditioned for, I’m guessing. How did you help Noah and how do you help your clients deal with rejection?
Rejection is perspective and it’s all about how you view failure that matters. It’s not how you see success. Failure is the major ingredient to success. If you’re not failing, you’re never going to succeed. That’s the problem. If you don’t fail, you won’t succeed. Most people don’t want to fail so they don’t try. It was about aligning Noah’s perspective of failure and success together. He was rejected. I might be wrong with the number, but I think it was something in the high 80s, where he auditioned and nothing was falling for him. He would get chemistry reads and then go and get it. He’d go to an executive level at Disney right to the top and right to the last minute, they chose somebody else.
I knew things were working for him, but he wasn’t getting the right role. His confidence level was sinking very quickly and he was having it affect him. This was going on for months and this is normal. I sat him down and he said, “I think I’m going to quit.” At seventeen he said, “I think I’m going to quit.” I said, “Why?” He goes, “I don’t know, dad. I probably need a plan B.” You get rejected. I understood that. This is a seventeen-year-old. I looked at him and I said, “Why do you audition?” He said, “To get the role.” I said, “That’s wrong. You audition to generate awareness. The chances of you getting a role when you audition are 1,000 to 1 if I’m kind. It’s not because you’re not good at what you do, it’s because they’re looking for something very specific. The chances of you being that specific needle in that haystack.” Chemistry reads with the star is everything that matters.
I said, “When you walk into a room, your job and your business is creating awareness for yourself.” Who’s in that audition? A casting director, a director, sometimes a producer and a camera person who’s doing that every day in the industry. When you look in that room, your job and role are to make yourself memorable so then when you leave, everyone in that room remembers you. That casting director is going to be casting for something else. That director is going to be directing for someone and one day, they’re going to go, “No,” because you were memorable.
He did something memorable. I work with clients all the time. I’m telling stories when they’re pitching to get them hired. That’s with La La Land. Do you remember that character Emma Stone played? She was a no-no until she told the story about her grandmother in Paris. If you have a personality in a story that makes you memorable outside of just reading the lines and the charisma that’s there back to the energy, then people pick up on that energy. It resonates with them and they go, “I want to be around that person’s energy in addition to the energy and talent they bring whether they’re on camera or in front of the audience as a keynote speaker.” There are so many similarities there on shifting that mindset and not being afraid of failure. Let’s talk about some of the clients that you’ve worked with Duncan Studio in particular, a lot of companies struggle. I’ve got this successful brand and maybe it’s not foreseen anymore as hip and new as it was and there are new competitors coming out. How have you worked with Duncan Studio to help them reinvent themselves?
It goes right back to mindset and everything is energy. Ken Duncan, one of your great animators in Disney history left as an artist-animator in 2007 and said, “I’m going to do my own studio right in the heartbeat of a recession.” He’s an artist. Artists aren’t typically entrepreneurs, but he does this with guts and he creates an amazing studio. His studio did Mary Poppins for Disney. His studio did Mary Poppins and all the animation. Here’s a guy for the last few years who succeeds in a CG animation studio and also they do a 3D hand-drawing animation, but he wants more. He’s got bigger dreams and he couldn’t get that they’re not happening.Failure is a major ingredient of success. Click To Tweet
He succeeds in service. They’re doing films for other studios and so forth, but he wants to do his own and all these goals and all these dreams he had. We’ve been friends for many years. He said, “Can you help me?” I came in and helped. It was about changing the mindset. He’s thinking a certain way and you get what you think. Einstein said something very important. He said, “Everything is energy.” That’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics, Albert Einstein. Energy is a mindset. Energy is a belief. You changed the mindset.
I had to help them change him as a leader and his team their mindset from the energy they were giving off. The level was matching their reality. If you want this reality, we’ve got to change the mindset and we did. It goes from mindset and it changes in the culture of your company. Your culture shifts and it’s that same frequency. If it disseminates out to your organization, then the culture begins to change. That energy begins to rise to that frequency and then the vocabulary change. Cultures have vocabularies. It goes from mindset, culture and then to vocabulary. What ends up happening is your frequency now has risen and so is your reality and it changes everything.
I like that it’s based on quantum physics, metaphysical or whatever you want to call it. If you change your mindset and you’re changing the culture, the culture can be for huge companies or it can be your own one-person show. Noah is a brand and you constantly have to work with him, I’m sure. Even at 23, if he’s anything like you and me when we’re at 23, we’re still figuring some things out. We still need lots of support of, “How do I handle this or have I made it now? What is my brand? What do I want to be known for?” One of the things I’m very curious to ask you about, whether it’s a client like Duncan Studio or helping manage Noah’s career. Is part of the culture or the brand easy to work with? Are you a diva on the set? Are you demanding as a keynote speaker that you have twenty million things you need before you can come and give your talk or are you easy to work with? What are your thoughts around that, Greg?
There’s no question about it. There are some people who don’t have great qualities about them or aren’t kind or aren’t nice or successful. It’s not across the board, but it is a big part of who you are. Success is not money. Success is not fame. Success is you becoming the person you need to become. We never altered that with Noah. When Noah was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen on the set of Disney doing Disney shows, I remember pulling up in the parking lot and he’d get out of the car. We’ll start walking. The guy who sits in the little security house in the parking lot, Noah would walk over and shake his hand and say, “What’s was going on, my man?” He knew him. Noah knew the lighting people and the PAs. He would help. If somebody is pushing a cart up, he’d run over and help them push the cart. It didn’t matter if he was famous or not famous. He brought on to set the energy of kindness, of authenticity and of love.
When he blew up, he blew up not because he’s a great actor. He blew up predominantly. At Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy said, “You’re growing 300,000 Instagram followers a day.” That’s on his way to eighteen million. Noah said, “There were a lot of people in the movie. It wasn’t just me.” He said, “Nobody else is growing to eighteen million.” It’s not that I’m demeaning any other actors, but I knew once Noah got a platform of awareness and the world had a chance to witness what we have all witnessed for 22 years of his life, the world would love him too. If he was known with 100 people at thirteen, 98 of them loved him. I just thought that if it meets 1,000, 996 will like him and the numbers keep going.
What blew him up was his interviews as well. When he would interview, people were picking up his kindness. They were picking up his gentleness, his love, his authenticity and people fell in love with him. As a matter of fact, on the morning of the Today Show, he also had a New York Times interview that day. I flew into New York to be with him, I met him at his hotel and we had breakfast at the hotel. This is my studies. He’s 22. He’s all over the place, the media and everything is going on. I looked at him and he looked just an inch awkward for a minute like taking the crowd of people outside the hotel. Sometimes it happens. I looked at him and I said, “There’s no pressure on you.” He looked at me and he said, “What do you mean?” I said, “They love you for who you are.” He said, “What do you mean, dad?” I said, “It’s not like you ended up playing in the Hudson.” Everybody loves Sully because he saved 200-plus people’s lives because he landed a plane in the Hudson as a hero. They love him, but then they had to get to know him. The pressure on him was like, “Will you like me?” He went from not being famous Sully to being famous, but now he had to maintain that. I said, “You didn’t land the plane in the Hudson. They like you for who you are. Continue to do what you’ve been doing. Be yourself.”
That’s great advice because I see that sometimes with Olympic athletes. They win a medal and then they get in front of a camera and they’re not used to being interviewed. There’s no personality and they’re deer in headlights. Being on camera on set is very different than being out. The thing that strikes me about both you and Noah that I see why you both have such huge followings on Instagram and other social media platforms is the accessibility. There are a lot of people that are striving to be authentic, but it’s still through a window. You’re looking in through the glass window with their lives. You and Noah pull people in. You make it accessible like, “Come on, let’s have fun.”
There’s a playfulness in some of the posts, whether he’s climbing a street sign or something and he was like, “I could maybe do that. Maybe I can be a little more playful in my life.” When people see themselves in the story, that’s when they go on the journey with you. You have demonstrated that for him on how to be yourself. The thing that I think you’ve done most wonderfully is giving him the sense of who you are is enough. You don’t have to do anything else. You don’t have to be a hero to be liked. Who you are as likable. If more people had that mindset going around that they wouldn’t have to try so hard to be liked, that’s when the magic happens.
It’s the beauty of being authentic. To be authentic, you have to be self-aware. To be self-aware, you have to be alone with yourself. To be alone with yourself, you have to love yourself. That’s the problem. Most people don’t like themselves.
Let’s take it to the business world one more time. One of your former clients is Washington Mutual Bank. People go, “There’s nothing likable about a bank. There’s no warmth there.” Yet, you were able to transform them again with your word of mouth marketing brilliance. Tell us that story a little bit.
I still don’t like banks but Washington Mutual at the time was America’s premier bank. I got into the bank at that time. I had shifted. I was a minister. Most people don’t know that about me. I was a pastor for over a decade and decided to acquiesce out of that for reasons that I felt like I needed to explore the biggest spiritual ideas than containment. I thought religion was a little too containing. That was a big shift for me. I ended up working with Washington Mutual. I brought in the same thing I brought into every part of my life.
It doesn’t matter what business is to you. I say that in my bio. It doesn’t care what business. I’m Greg Centineo. I’m not a pastor. I’m not a coffee shop guy. I’m not a Michael Jackson hologram guy. I’m not an animation studio. I’m not Duncan Studios. I’m Greg Centineo. Wherever I go, I’m going to bring transforming energy. I’m going to try to succeed with what I’m doing. In what I do, it’s more important to me who I’m doing it with and what I’m doing. That’s the first principle in life and business. Segregate business any more from life, that’s what the Millennials are teaching us. They don’t want that segregation. They don’t want that dichotomy. It never was a dichotomy. It’s all one.You can do good things alone, but you can't do great things alone. Click To Tweet
There’s a great quote you reminded me of from Wayne Dyer. He said, “If you squeeze an orange, you always get orange.” It doesn’t matter what time of day, whether you squeeze it in the corner or not. Sometimes we become different people when we’re squeezed into a corner under stress. I think what you’re saying is you’ve got to be authentically yourself all the time, whether you’re “on or off” camera, working or not working, that’s what people connect to.
That should come naturally. You don’t turn it on and off switch to authenticity. You just be who you are. I gave you that process. You have to be self-aware and to be so self-aware, you’ve got to be willing to be alone with yourself because you’ve got to understand yourself. To be alone with yourself, you’ve got to like yourself and love yourself. That’s where the issues fall in. When I got to Washington Mutual, it didn’t matter that I was dealing with the financing, the structure of finance and lending. I just brought myself to the table and study to understand structured finance and then find how I can bring value to my clients. I turn the startup for myself in that bank into a $200 million company. We did that by building my teams.
It wasn’t what I was doing. It was who I was doing it with, the teams I was building and people around me. That’s where the community of fun, the love, the kindness. If you’re going to show up somewhere to spend nine to ten hours a day working with people, it would be better than your family. I build community in what I do everywhere I go and people say, “What’s the ingredient to your success?” That’s the ingredients to my success because humans are involved and if humans are involved, they all have the same exact needs. They want a sense of belonging. They want something bigger than themselves. They want to be loved and believed it and they want to love and believe it.
That’s the perfect ending to the episode, which is your quote that’s on your website, GregCentineo.com. Greg says, “You can do good things by yourself, but you still will never accomplish anything great alone.” You gave us a good example of that. Building a community inside the company and then you build a community on social media. That’s why you and your son have such huge followings on social media. Greg, what a joy to hear your success and your son’s success. Anybody is fortunate enough to hire you to help them get part of that magic. Your energy is contagious. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
John, thank you. I love coming on your show. I love talking to you. You’re a great one.
- Greg Centineo
- Greg Centineo Guest – previous episode of The Successful Pitch
- Isaac Lidsky – past episode
- Ken Duncan
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