Interview with actor Russell HodgkinsonDecember 19, 2015
With years of experience acting in theater and indie films as well as other endeavors in the industry such as a prop builder and scene painter, Russel Hodgkinson is the true definition of an artist. Recently we had the chance to talk to him about his life as an actor and what it’s like to be part of Syfy’s popular television show Z Nation.
So did the acting bug hit you at an early age or was it something that became more interested in as you got older?
After my first play in seventh grade, The Wizard of OZ, I knew I wanted to continue to do theater. It was fun, I loved the process, I continued acting throughout high school. It was also a way to make friends.
Serving in the military seems to be an odd place to practice your acting chops yet you did just that. What was it like trying to juggle both at one time?
I was a company clerk in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. It was peace time, I had my day job so my evenings were free to audition for shows on and off base. My commanding Officer was very supportive. It was an amazing time for me. I worked with a lot of wonderful, talented people. It was my ‘on-the-job training’ as an actor.
Was the passion always there to act or did there come a time that you thought about doing something else?
I’ve always been artistic. I’ve worked as a scene painter, paper mache artist, props builder, food stylist for commercials. I apprenticed with a sign painter for several years, but I always did theatre at night. Acting, especially in theatre, doesn’t typically pay a living wage, so you need to find another source of income. I had lots of different jobs.
You’ve done theater, TV and movies. Do you have a favorite medium to work in? Why?
Theater, no question. It’s the actor’s medium, unlike film and television. There is simply no comparison. Having a live audience is so much more gratifying. The only thing that might compare is a sitcom, filmed before a live studio audience, but even then you have a safety net.
Movies such as Star Leaf offer opportunities to be involved in projects far away from the cookie cutter machinery of Hollywood. What is about the independent films that you, both as an actor and a f
Independent films are usually ‘labors of love’. You rarely make any money to speak of, typically working with aspiring writers and directors who are passionate and resourceful. I’ve had wonderful experiences doing Indie films. You never know where the next Napoleon Dynamite will come from.
Do you believe that the sort of ‘trial by fire’ that you experience working in theater is something every actor should experience?
If you’re interested in being an actor, there is no better place to start than in theater. There are wonderful community theaters across the country. You don’t have to live in New York or LA, theater is everywhere.
What was your reaction when you first read the script for Z-Nation and what was the audition experience like?
I didn’t get to read a full script. I saw a character breakdown with an outline of the story. I was given a scene to work on. My first audition was not great actually, I kind of blew it. A couple weeks later they asked me to audition again. This time I taped myself on my iPhone. It was an emotional scene, but humorous too…Doc is stuck in an airshaft with a zombie. I felt confident that I couldn’t have done it any better.
Why do you think fans are attracted to not only your character on Z-Nation but the show as well?
I was never a fan of the genre, so I don’t fully understand the fascination with zombies. Maybe people enjoy our show because we don’t take it too seriously. We also have a clear cut mission, it’s not just about survival. You can also identify with the characters. Doc provides much of the humor and I think people can relate to him.
How would you explain to the average fan how hard it is to make a living as an actor?
Well, not to dash anyone’s hope, but you have a greater chance of getting hit by a satellite then making a decent living as an actor.
You’ve been in the acting profession for a while now. What have you seen change since when you first started and has it been good or bad?
I never wanted to be a struggling actor in Hollywood, so I never tried. I never paid much attention to “the business”, I just continued to do theater and Independent films in the cities that I wanted to live in. I remember noticing when ‘reality shows’ started popping up everywhere. It seemed to change the dynamic. I heard complaints from LA actors about limited acting opportunities…
What advice would you have to anyone who was thinking of making a career out of acting?
You can be an actor without making it your career. I was completely content having a day job and doing theatre at night. It’s a great life. People would say “so, you want to be an actor?” I would say, “No, I am an actor”.
Who were your biggest influences growing up, the people or events that made you want to be an actor?
I remember watching Gilligan’s Island thinking, that guy is having so much fun…I want to do that too. I was always attracted to the comedians. I grew up watching sitcoms like, The Munsters, Hogan’s Heroes, Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, the list goes on. These shows were full of wonderful character actors who I admired. I also loved the old variety shows like Carol Burnett, Laugh-In, Hee Haw. TV used to be so much more fun.
Could you tell me what projects you have coming up in the near future?
Well, I’m excited about the possibility of doing a sequel to Star Leaf. It’s a unique opportunity, using the Horror/Sci-Fi genre to bring awareness to the benefits of medical marijuana. Richard Cranor is a really interesting film-maker that I enjoyed working with. He has something to say.
I want to thank Russell for taking the time to talk with us
Star Leaf is now available on these platforms:
Google Play: http://bit.ly/1lFS3zc
Z Nation will return for a third season in 2016