I saw Skateland at SXSW and it’s a cross between Sixteen Candles and Dazed and Confused. I liked the movie a lot and Shiloh was a big part of that reason.
He’s got a really good story on how he got started and how he got the role of Ritchie Wheeler in Skateland.
He was such a nice guy, loves the craft of acting and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about him in the future.
So tell me about your character in Skateland.
Shiloh Fernandez: It’s funny because I’m the worst person at explaining things. Well, I guess that’s not funny (laughter). That’s terrible. I play a kid named Richie Wheeler, I think he’s like 19, 20. Just kind of complacent in his life. He’s had this job at the skating rink since he was 14. He’s become the manager and it’s kind of an easy life. He doesn’t have to deal with the hassles of responsibility in any kind of widespread arena. But he is a talented kid and he’s got a good heart. Everybody around him is kind of rallying to make him understand that he should test the waters outside of this small town in his, not mundane, but his normal life. And I related with some of the, there’s some family problems, some friends, friends that want to stay in town, friends that have gone off. I guess I kind of identified with that.
How do you approach a role?
Shiloh: This was a part where I felt really connected to this kid. A lot of the parts that I’ve gotten in the past were very, not necessarily one-dimensional, but the go-to for me to get the job was to be very intense and kind of, not hardcore, but just… I don’t know, not super light-hearted or friendly or smiley. If that’s a word. And so, I really just wanted to bring a lot of who I am in real life. I mean, at the same time it takes place in East Texas and I’m from Northern California. Obviously Tony, the director, whenever I felt kind of out of place or like I didn’t know what I was doing, I’d look at him because he is similar to Richie Wheeler. So it’s good to have your director to look at. It’s like this good old boy, he’s funny and he’s friendly and he’s genuine. So just trying to bring out the best traits of myself. Ashley Greene plays my friend/love interest, so that wasn’t hard.
What I like to do is create circumstances around myself that help me fall into character when I’m doing a film. Richie’s kind of an outsider, and these guys, the director, his best friend and older brother, they all wrote the script together, and they were producing it. They were a very tight knit group and they would completely invite people in. And I tried to stand on the outside of that just to be able to show up on set and not feel as connected and to make sure that Ashley really likes me but that I’m not so available and not that she didn’t like me that way, but at least so that I could feel that in my own head.
So for me it’s just really creating circumstances around myself that help me fall into character. But also when I get a part, I mean, I go through the whole script, every single line, every scene and I find out what it means. But I’m still learning a lot. I learned a lot from Ashley. Ashley’s really subtle. But she, when you watch the performance, it’s filled with subtleties and nuances, and that’s what’s beautiful about it. I play Adrien Brody’s little brother in the film, and when you watch him prepare, not that I got to see his preparation, but on set, was kind of something that taught me a lot as well. Just being open and trying new things.
You’ve worked with some great people on this film. Do you steal stuff from them, afterwards?
Shiloh: Yeah, yeah. I think so. I screen-tested with four different girls for Ashley’s role, and when she came in it was that give and take that really worked. And this kid, Taylor Hanley who plays Kenny, the first scene I did as an actor was Cold Case, and episode of Cold Case and he was on that episode. It was 4 or 5 years ago. And we had that bond already. It was very open, friendly. But you’re right. I learned a lot. I learned more on this film than I’ve ever learned about acting in my life.
You’ve already done some great stuff. You said you’re from Northern California. How did you get your start?
Shiloh: After high school, I played football from like 8 to 18, and then I played baseball. And I was thinking about maybe going to college to play sports, but I applied to some schools on the East coast and the school I wanted to go to was a private school so I couldn’t afford to go there. So I ended up going to Boulder, Colorado, which was my safety. So, I went there until I was 19, my first year. And I had a girlfriend in L.A., and I wanted to be with her. And I just didn’t know what I wanted to do really, so I moved to L.A. and we broke up before I got there, and I decided to live with somebody who I didn’t really know. And I really didn’t know anybody, but I felt like in my life I had some interesting things happen and the actors that I respect… the actors who were my age had kind of been acting their whole lives. And I was like the actors that I like or that I like in terms of their longevity in their careers is the fact that they’re real, that they’ve experienced real things and they’re interesting people. And that’s what I thought I could bring, so I’m in L.A. and I’m supposed to go to school. I deferred for a year. But I’m working in a Chinese restaurant washing dishes, and I’m working at a BBQ place flipping ribs and I’m a vegetarian. I’m working at a farmer’s market just to make my rent.
I lived in this courtyard in Venice Beach, and my neighbors were a casting director for Nickelodeon and her husband was a writer/director for Lifetime. So, their nanny started working for a manager. And she was like do you want to come in? And I was like yeah. I didn’t have any reel. And I knew they were going to ask me for reel. I hadn’t done anything. So, I read the book Basketball Diaries and prepared some monologue from there, went and did it. They were like cool, that was amazing. Here’s four scripts, you have two auditions today and two tomorrow. So I went to these auditions and I blew it. I sucked.
And the manager was like, yeah, that’s about enough. But the assistant was nice enough to stick with me. She brought me to my first agent, who’s still my agent. That’s when I got the Cold Case thing. And I’ve really learned for film by doing it.
What’s your advice to young actors or up and coming actors?
Shiloh: I think I had a lot of confidence when I started. I lost that, not completely, but just like when you’re waiting around for the phone to ring. Somebody who’s been working, I think that loses some of that spark. Just be yourself. When I walk into a room, I was like you know what? I want to be here. And it’s meant to be. I’m the right person for the job. In terms of acting, I feel like everything lines up where it’s supposed to. You really have to be yourself. With Skateland, for instance, I went and before I had the audition, I was like listen, I relate to this person for these reasons. And that was probably kind of bold, but because they were seeing every kid in town, I felt like I had to separate myself in some way. And I’ve always been somebody from the beginning, when you get a chance to sit down with somebody, not just audition, you’re gonna have a better shot. Make sure that you know why you relate to the character. Make sure that you know your feelings about it and convey those. Maybe they might not be the same as the director but at least you have a choice and you’ve made it. I’ve never been asked that question before (laughs).