"Nothing brings me more happiness than being on a set and contributing to the magic of creating
Eric Kwasnjuk is living his best and most exciting time of his life. He is an exceptional actor and free spirited, oddball comedian. He has performed with Zack Galifianakis and Dave Chappelle and has starred in International Award winning films. Grit, faith and determination are what motivates him to never give up on his passion for acting and entertaining and his enthusiasm for living. The eldest son of Dale (homemaker, South African descent) and Nikolaus (machinist, Ukrainian) Eric was raised in a blue collar, close-knit neighborhood in North Philadelphia. A shy kid with social anxiety he discovered acting as a way to make human connections. Growing up on Front Street he wrote and performed little plays with neighborhood kids often recreating scenes from classic TV shows. This continued into high school and the drama club. Rebellious as a teenager he was a frequent truant and dropped out of high school , later taking his GED. A frequent runaway he also began abusing alcohol as a young man who later embraced sobriety. Eric moved to New York City and studied theater at City College- Lehman in the Bronx. He performed in classical plays from Shakespeare to Chekhov to contemporary plays and musicals (The King in "The King and I") while he still had a full set of hair. Under the guidance of mentor Professor Shauneille Perry who was the first cousin of playwright Lorraine Hansberry "(Raisin in the Sun") and one of the first African American women to direct off-Broadway. She instilled in Eric a discipline and respect for the theater. He performed over a dozen times in various stage roles over the next several years. He also began studying at HB (Herbert Berghof) Studios in Greenwich Village under Victor Garber. Working countless odd jobs to support himself including singing telegrams as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. (very difficult to squeeze through subway turnstiles).
Health challenges interrupted his graduation goals. and he left school just shy of graduation. He began performing in a Improv Comedy group weekly in Manhattan and then on a dare doing stand up. performing all over New York with fellow budding comics Dave Chappelle, Zach Galifianakis, Jim Gaffigan among others over the next few years. Often broke and couch surfing at friends apartments he became burnt out living the gypsy lifestyle and moved back to Philly to become a real estate agent. in his 30's. Financial stability and being there for family were a priority. In 2012 he journeyed to Cape Town, South Africa to meet his mother's family for the first time. A chance meeting with the dean of a renowned film school called AFDA encouraged Eric to explore his storytelling abilities and attend. He graduated with a BA in Motion Picture Medium with Honors . Directing two feature length documentaries and wrote, directed and starred in his original sitcom pilot for SABC TV, titled "Who U Kiddin?" He also acted in numerous award winning films . One in particular was "Happy Earth Co" a dark comedy about entrapment in the not so distant future in which depressed citizens are forced to buy the latest technology to 'guarantee' their happiness. He began performing stand up again in clubs in Cape Town.
Directors began hiring him because they saw he could connect with a character in a story on an honest, dimensional level. Trust between him and the various directors was a major turning point for him and his growth as an actor as he was able to tap into his clear perspective of human nature combined with his personal evolution. Some directors began actually writing for him because they had knowledge of his talents and the vulnerabilities and strengths of his journey. The past seven years has been about training full time. The roles he has played have dealt with loss, regret, winning, introspection, wonder, crises, breakdown, drama, discovery, farce and dark comedy. Coming home to Philadelphia he began studying the teachings of Sanford Meisner for three years with "Play House West - Philadelphia" under the guidance of Tony Savant. In the fall of 2019 Eric made the decision to relocate to Los Angeles to pursue full time his career as a contributing actor and comedian. He can play the wacky, eccentric friend/neighbor, the sappy nonsensical co-worker, the dejected addict, the menacing law enforcement agent, the maladjusted guy in therapy, the unlawful offender etc. Bringing depth and heart to each project . Currently working out his acting muscles weekly with Alex D'lerma at the Cinema Gym in Burbank and performing weekly at the Comedy Store (multiple appearances on the number one love podcast "Kill Tony" with Tony Hinchcliffe) and the Improv on Melrose. The cliche still applies here, "acting is not a sprint, it's a marathon."
In October 2019, Eric won Best Performance of Fest for his lead role as John in Happy Earth Co. Happy Earth Co is a story about entrapment in a so-called "free world." Based in the not-so-distant-future; 2050 to be precise. A man named John, lives in the heart of a smog filled, polluted megacity of depressed citizens. John works in the drab, dull Sales department of Happy Earth Co. The Company releases their new product, the "Ecstatic 1000," a device that guarantees happiness to anyone who uses it. It's an instant success. However, little known to John, his co-workers and the rest of the deranged city, Happy Earth Co's real intentions aren't as sincere as everyone thinks.
We invited Eric to join us for an interview. Here's his story.
Eric, congratulations on your excellent performance in Happy Earth Co! The film itself is unique and wonderful, but your performance elevates it to a whole new level. Is this your first collaboration with director Hylton Jandrell? What was it like working together?
Thank you. I played a small role in Hylton Jandrell's film "Clean" prior to taking on the role of John Brim in "Happy Earth Co". Hylton had seen a documentary I wrote and directed titled "The Cape of Good Humor". In this documentary that deals with humor and its healing ability in Eric's personal life and life in South Africa as a country. He approached me about my own personal struggles in life with addiction etc and we bonded over my honesty and vulnerabilities. He actually wrote my role in "Happy Earth Co" based upon our long talks about my journey as an actor and comedian and we formed a deep connection.of trust. My relationship with this director was a incredible turning point for me as an actor and we had a deep understanding about what we both wanted from each other on set. We also had allot of fun and became close friends.
When did you come on board, and why did you want to take part in this story?
I came on board as soon as Hylton was green lit for the script etc. I wanted to take part because of its powerful statement it makes about corporate greed. The brainwashing brought on by excessive technology and how its addiction to it dictates future generations emotions and how dependence on these products are actually stealing away human beings authentic connections.
What was the most challenging part for you when portraying John's character and how did you prepare for this role?
Aligning myself with the sadness and rage John feels as he is exposed daily to a society splintering and becoming increasingly fragmented as the world of computer screens and social media take over authentic human connections. I spent time preparing by disconnecting from my phone and computer for a period of time and allowing myself to feel the emptiness of being "disconnected" . It created in me a forbidding sense of loss and loneliness which I brought onto the set. I spent a lot of time alone, only speaking to a few people in a very limited capacity. I was deeply isolated and depressed when filming began. Hylton and the crew took great care of me. When John implodes in rage I equated it with a bomb full of suppressed feelings inside my body that can no longer be contained.. The explosion of rage was equal to a primal scream to wake up humanity.
Was there any improv on set?
Very little. Hylton had a clear vision of the story he wrote. He is a great director. Extremely passionate and concise.
What was your favorite scene to shoot, and what was the most complex one?
My favorite scene was when I tried the latest computer product myself. That Happy Earth Co designed to guarantee happiness of you stared at it long enough. Throughout the film my apartment ceiling had a slow leak. As I am hypnotized by the latest computer design I become manic with happiness and then mad laughter. During my laughing fit after staring at the screen all night long my ceiling opens up and a flood of water cascades onto my head from the slow build of pressure from the ceiling leak. A symbol of society drowning. The most complex scene was calling my 5 year old daughter to say goodbye after I decided take the activists offer to set off a bomb to destroy Happy Earth Co. Knowing a lot of people would die along with myself. Very emotional knowing my daughter would not have a father and I would not be there to see my daughter to grow up.
In the movie, Happy Earth Co is a company that sales a device that guarantees happiness. If there a real device like that, would you purchase it for yourself?
I have to be honest. There are products that I use that release a bit of dopamine when I get a text, a facebook message to a post, a compliment etc. I am conscious of this sometimes and sometimes I forget. I can get swept up in the reliance of how they make me feel. But I am aware and make a concerted effort to engage in face to face connections with others to have authentic conversations because they are vital to my mental well being and spirit and to others around me.
Let's talk about your real happy place, which is... acting! What makes you passionate about acting, in general?
I've always been a sensitive person. I have observed people's behaviors since I was a child. Someone close to me once said I was an "empath" (a person with a paranormal ability to understand and embrace the emotional state of another individual). This scared me when I was younger. I turned to drugs and alcohol to numb those feelings because they were so intense. I have acted since I was a teenager. I have always enjoyed being an actor. My passion has become stronger as I've grown older. especially after I got sober years ago. I believe God gave me a gift. To allow an audience to feel and connect to emotions they may not experience in everyday life. It has taken me a very long time to fully embrace and harness my strengths and my vulnerabilities. I am fully connected to the world around me today. I feel deeply. I am grateful to be alive and in this business. Nothing brings me more happiness then being on a set and contributing to the magic of creating a story. Pure bliss.
Let's go back to the start. What is your background?. Do you feel your childhood and youth in North Philadelphia shaped your acting personality and if so, in what ways?
My father is Ukranian and my mother is South African. I am the first born of 6 kids. Mixed race. We grew up on a dead end street in North Philly next to the railroad tracks. Hopping freight rains. Running and playing in the streets..We had allot fun. I also experienced allot of abuse as a kid both verbally and physically. As a result I would rely on my creative imagination to cope. Acting was a way of pretending to be someone else. At the beginning it was pure escape from the blue collar poverty and anger I witnessed all around me. Every corner had a bar and I felt the hopelessness of many living around me.
When did you first get into acting, and what were some of your early roles?
I would put on little skits in my backyard. Then in high school I performed in my first play, "The Mouse that Roared" . I moved to NYC in 1990 and attended college in the Bronx. I majored in Speech and Theater. I loved college. In 4 years I performed in about a dozen plays. The King, "The King and I" , (when i had hair- actually a mullet) Othello, The Three Sisters-Andrei , etc.
You previously worked with Zack Galifianakis and Dave Chappelle. Can you elaborate a bit about these experiences? How did that come about?
I first did stand up in 1995 at Hamburger Harry's in Manhattan.. I was recently faced with life threatening illness and while recuperating I discovered comedy as a way of forgetting, laughing and healing. At the time I just wanted to laugh. I met Zach right away. We started at the same time, and performed together on many shows over the next 6-7 years. Both moving to Los Angeles in 97. Dave Chappelle and I performed at most of the same open mics and did spots together throughout Manhattan. We were growing and developing our acts at the same time. My addictions were also taking control of my life. So I was not as consistent as Dave or Zach. I slowly drifted away.
In your opinion, what's common mistake film directors do when working with actors? What advice do you have for them?
Not trusting the actors instincts enough, or allowing them to voice ideas for their characters. Listen to your actors. Understanding the actors sensibilities also helps the director make the best film possible.
How do you normally prepare for an audition, and is there a difference in the way you prepare for a callback?
Writing a strong back story for the character helps bring him to life and gives me dimension and perspective about the person I am auditioning for.. Deciding what the character wants. I spend allot of time emotionally preparing.. I also spend time with a coach exploring the scene and making authentic choices for both the audition and the callback. I will research the type of character or circumstances he faces. .
If you could pick any director to work with, who would that be, and why?
Jordan Peele, he has a great, intriguing storyteller. Roy Zafrani- got a good feeling about that guy.
Tell us about your upcoming projects. What's planned for the rest of the year, and what's planned for 2020?
I recently moved to Los Angeles this September. (2nd time) I just finished "Neon Fangs" Directed by Mark Janavel. That will be released in 2020. Currently pursuing good representation. -management. Looking forward to auditioning. Writing and performing at the Comedy Store, The Improv on Melrose. Doing the business legwork and letting go of outcomes. Enjoying the journey. Conserving my energy for cool new acting opportunities. Creating solid relationships .Working out weekly on acting workshops. Cinema Gym in Burbank.
Is there anything you wish to add, or anyone you wish to thank?
I'd like to thank God, Mentors- Cynthia Simpson, Erika Wain, my family who encouraged me to leave real estate in Philly and pursue acting full time in LA. I am so grateful for the Actors Awards for selecting me as Best Actor. It is a wonderful feeling. Very encouraging!! I am so excited about what the universe has in store. Living my best life.
Where can our readers follow your work?
kwasnjuk.com (my website)