Life in Japan, using humour as a mechanism to cope with bullying, and being part of a barbershop quartet are all topics of discussion as actor Robert Rice joins us on Close-up Culture.
Q: When did your love for performing begin and was it in any way a difficult decision for you to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
A: My love for performing officially began in 6th grade when I was cast as the Big Bad Pig (a twist!) in the elementary school play and felt the joy of live theater. After that, I did at least one play or musical every year through college.
Pursuing an entertainment career was not en easy decision for me. Despite being addicted to theater and also being a singer and a pianist, my family wanted me to pursue a practical profession. So, I majored in business and Japanese in college, lived in Japan and sought employment in international companies.
As it were, none of that panned out the way I or my family thought it would, and I ended up with a job in children’s theater in Albany, NY where I’m from. I figured if I’m working in theater at home, why not just move to NYC and do it there? So, I went! And, the rest is history.
Q: You’ve had roles on comedies series such as ‘Moms Anonymous’, ‘Funny Or Not Here We Come’ and ‘Sketch Marks’. What draws you do comedy and what do you enjoy about being part of these series?
A: I fell in love with acting in 6th grade because I was doing things on stage that made the whole audience laugh. I was bullied terribly throughout my childhood, and that was honestly the first time I had ever experienced people being on my side.
Honestly, *cue sappy music* discovering that I could make people laugh with me instead of at me helped me get through school.
Over the years, I’ve found that entertaining people, and in particular making them laugh, brings me tons of joy. I will happily resort to any kind of comedy for this – wit, puns, dad jokes, satire, slapstick, etc. – you name it I’m game.
Funny Or Not Here We Come (now retired) and Sketch Marks (still running!) are sketch comedy groups. I hadn’t done sketch much before moving out to LA and I’ve found it to be a fun and satisfying outlet for creativity. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy writing and shooting funny stuff with like-minded people?
Moms Anonymous is a comedic web series about a mom support group, and what I enjoyed most about that experience is it being the first time I got to work with my husband, Tim O’Leary, on a bigger project. And, even cooler, I got to play a gay man in a loving relationship that is pursuing adoption. It was remarkable in just how unremarkable the characters’ gayness was.
Q: Do you have a comedy idol?
A: Tough question! I have a habit of getting obsessed with a comedian and/or actor, watching their stuff to death, and then moving onto the next. I guess you could call me a serial monogamist of comedy.
So, to answer your question, here’s a selection of comedians/actors I’ve watched lots and lots of clips of: George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg, Sarah Silverman, Robin Williams, Eddie Izzard, Jeanine Garafalo, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon… I could go on!
Oh, and Anthony Carrigan’s weird Chechen mobster on Barry (HBO) is my new favorite thing.
A: You’ve alluded to it already, but one of the standouts skills on your resume is your ability to speak fluent Japanese. Can you tell us more about how and why you learnt the language?
A: It’s my favorite party trick! I’ve always had a love for languages and I needed something different to enjoy while in college while slogging through business classes, so I leapt into Japanese. My professor was awesome, quirky, and also a theater/TV/film nerd so we got along immediately. In fact, I ended up double majoring in Japanese and Business.
I had no idea what to do with myself after college so I applied to the JET Program, where you teach English in Japan. It’s a brutal application/interview process, but if you’re accepted you get a salaried job and an all expenses paid trip to Japan. Win-win!
They decide where in Japan you get to live and work, and I ended up in a little-known place called Tsushima. It’s a teeny-tiny island off the southern coast of Japan that’s mostly a fishing/farming community. I was one of nine non-Japanese people on the entire island so needless to say I had to get good at Japanese to communicate. And now I’m fluent!
Q: Do you have plans to ever act in Japan or elsewhere internationally?
A: Your lips to Gods ears! While I was in Japan I traveled constantly, so any chance to get back there or anywhere in the world while doing what I love would be absolutely incredible. I shall put this on my vision board.
Q: As well as acting, you also sing and perform in a barbershop quartet. Can you tell us about that and the creative release it gives you?
A: Yes! Singing has always been a huge part of my life. I sang all throughout grade school. My college, University of Rochester, was affiliated with Eastman School of Music, so I would take the bus every week to sneak in voice lessons in between business classes. I also was part of a musical revue group called Off Broadway on Campus.
When I first moved to NYC, I pursued musical theater. I worked as a performer across the country for about 5 years before coming out to LA, and through that I met so many other talented actors, singers composers, etc.
In 2012, I got involved with barbershop by way of a professional Christmas caroling company in NYC. Caroling is a whole industry (here in LA, too — I sing with The Music Companie) that is a great work opportunity for performers during the holiday season. Our musical director, Chris Wade, also ran a number of other performing groups he looped me into, as well.
In particular, I became part of the core group of #TheAccidentals, the barbershop quartet.
We did all kinds of gigs in NYC, and then it just so happened that Chris and I both came out to LA, along with another singer Dave Albulario. We ended up doing more barbershop gigs, bringing in a great local singer named Josh Munnell and thus the “official” group was born!
Since then, we’ve gigged all over Los Angeles, done five or so commercials (including a national spot coming out in 2019!) and we’re developing a 45-minute show to sell as a guest act on cruise ships.
Q: How do you look back on your journey in the entertainment industry so far? Have you faced any notable challenges so far?
A: I’m honestly quite proud of how far I’ve come since I decided to pursue this career many years ago. I’ve made a lot of major strides and truly believe things will only go up from here.
However, I think it’s important to be honest about what the day-to-day is like, though – every year brings rejection, disappointment and heartache, not to mention the constant juggling of finances, time with family/friends, and being present as a husband and dog dad (yes, I’m a total cliché).
The notable challenges tend to come from the “things that got away.” Roles, jobs, opportunities that didn’t come through like I’d hoped. Sometimes there are long periods of no auditions (or very few) which can be extremely disheartening if you don’t keep yourself occupied with other things.
And that’s the big thing I’ve learned in looking back over the years and in looking forward. This career is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to allow yourself to live a full life outside of this. Yes, you have to constantly hone your craft, stay focused, and keep your head in the game, but you also have to spend time with people you love, do fun things, and take good care of yourself, mentally and physically.
Q: We’ve just said goodbye to 2018. What was your highlight of the year?
A: I got married! My husband and I had a lovely wedding in April surrounded by family and friends. We couldn’t have been happier with how it all turned out.
Professionally speaking, I booked my first network co-star role (CBS’ Pink Collar Crimes) and a national commercial coming out in 2019. As a result of those and a few other projects, I am now a proud SAG-AFTRA member.
Q: What are your hopes for 2019? Any upcoming projects you can share with us?
A: Aside from the commercial I mentioned, my husband and I have a few projects in the works — we’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign for a fun new digital series called DemonHuntr and developing a microseries about temp workers. I also am continuing to work with Sketch Marks and an Instagram comedy group called Wait What Comedy.
And, hopefully, 2019 will bring a lot of new and exciting work I don’t even know about yet!