TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine loves bringing new faces before our readership for their enjoyment. We recently were introduced to an astounding young actor who has over twenty credits to his name stemming back to the early 1990’s. Actor E.J. De La Pena has been in a number of television shows, movies, and television series wracking up some amazing credits towards his stardom. E.J., you first appeared in the well known television series, ER, in 1994. Please tell our readers the excitement that you felt to be in such a well known show.
E.J.- Well First off, thanks for that awesome intro! Actually, at that time, I’d been in the business a few years already working on commercials, student films, and several other things that aren’t listed on my IMDB – including one film with soon to be E.R. star Anthony Edwards. Being so young (I was 6 at the time I shot E.R.) I really didn’t know I was supposed to be excited. It had already become a part of my life. I did have a lot of fun throwing up all over Noah Wiley in that episode (the first Christmas Episode). And while waiting on set I would play hackey-sack with the cast – including George Clooney. This is before E.R. had become as huge as it was and launched him into stardom. What I can say is that it was a lot of fun and a great way to grow up.
TAEM- With many students of the Arts who follow our publication to ‘learn the ropes’, tell us how you learned your trade.
E.J.- I’ve actually been getting asked this question a lot recently. Honestly, the only answer I can give is to not ask that question, lol. Just do it. Don’t dream of doing it, do it. If you’re an actor, find classes and work shops to take. Apply for managers and agents and go on auditions. Work on monologues and put together groups of friends to read and act out scripts. Also, don’t limit yourself to one hat, so to speak. I also write and produce my own projects and therefore create my own opportunities. You have to these days. And, just as with acting, just do it. Don’t spend months reading self help books – no one can teach you how to write. Read the scripts to your favorite movies and then sit down and write the script. Then rewrite it – and when you’re happy move onto the next script. If you don’t write it, it’ll never be produced. But more important than all that – don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities. Don’t wait for someone to discover you. Take charge of your career and show the world what you can do.
TAEM- The following year you appeared in the TV movie Freaky Friday followed by The Baby-Sitter’s Club. Tell us about these early performances and how they built your confidence towards your career.
E.J.- Well by that stage I’d been a professional in the industry for 3 or 4 years (I started when I was 3) so by the time Freaky Friday rolled around I knew the drill. Not in the sense that I had nothing left to learn (I STILL have a lot to learn – and always will) but the industry had become my norm. And I think that’s what this whole period did for me. Aside from giving me a resume to work from in adulthood and teaching me the basic skill of acting, starting so young made being on set (and being a professional on set) normal – comfortable even. Which helps me put my focus on my internal workings to help give the best performance I can.
TAEM- The following year you appeared alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way. Tell us about your role in this film and your work alongside this famous actor.
E.J.- That was a fun shoot :-). I played “Saturday Night Live” star Phil Hartman’s son, Johnny. Phil was a great guy to work with, and it was so sad what happened to him a couple years later (his wife killed him in a tragic murder-suicide). My character was the one with the “good dad” who was doted on by his single father whom all the housewives wished was their husband and drove all the other neighborhood fathers insane with jealousy – especially Arnold’s character. Arnold was an obvious presence on set and, I have to admit, when little 8 year old me met him he was quite star struck! And shocked to learn that he smoked cigars! He was the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Fitness in the early 90’s and my age group was the one that was shown with all the publicity in public schools so when I first met him, and he was smoking, it made quite the impression! Most of the memories I have of him are just fun ones of having him on set. I remember, during some down time, bouncing a volley ball back and forth with him and the director and I hit the ball just right and it smacked into some power lines. When I did that Arnold declared “ITS ELECTRIFIED!” in his signature accent and (not having an idea of how electricity worked) I made a point not to touch the ball on the way down. I also remember him having me hug his daughter – who was about my age at the time. Only, the way he did it, as if it were an order (“HUG HER!”), I think I was more intimidated than feeling special! Since I didn’t play his son, we didn’t interact much more than that. That honor went to Jake Lloyd, who I was quite jealous of when, let in the shoot, he told me he was going to play Darth Vader in the new Star Wars film!
TAEM- You performed in three shows of the television series Boy Meets World the same year. This was followed by a spate of projects in 1997 that included Leave It To Beaver, Aquaphobia, and The Gregory Hines Show. Tell us about this aspect of your career and rise to popularity.
E.J.-For me it was just a fun time growing up. I was having a lot of fun on set and getting all that attention. I was too young to do much press or anything so that didn’t really factor into it. Though, I was finally getting old enough to be aware of the fact that it was kinda cool being on TV and a fun feeling to watch myself on the screen. My family talked about how cool it was and occasionally someone at school would ask me if that was me on TV and think it was cool, or on the rare occasion get star struck, but for the most part my life stayed the same. I went to the same public schools, came home to the same middle class family life, etc. There were some perks – like how when I worked with Randy Quaid and Michael Cera on a the show “Grubbs” (a sitcom that filmed 13 episodes that were, sadly, never released) I got to interview Randy Quaid for my “Day On The Job” presentation for my sophomore year Career Planning. But luckily my parents were smart and worked hard to spare me the insanity that destroys so many child actors. They made acting just another part of my life – something I’m grateful to have enjoyed and watch grow into a true passion. But it was always me helming the ship. If I wanted to quit I always could. And had a life to go to.
TAEM- This was followed over the next four years with appearances in eight television shows and films that included Encore ! Encore!, Run Ronnie Run, and Malcolm in the Middle. With an acting career well in hand tell our readers what genre did you most favor, and why.
E.J.- Honestly, as much as I love comedy, the genre I most favor is the one I’m finally able to work in now that I’m old enough to take more ownership of my career. I am a HUGE sci-fi nut and am currently involved with several sci-fi projects which makes me incredibly excited. Especially considering the fact that I’m getting to work with people I grew up admiring. As much fun as it was to work with Arnold, Phil, Randy, and so-on I never got to work with the people who were the face of the characters I worshiped as a kid (with the exception possibly of Randy – “Independence Day” was awesome!). Currently, I play the lead in Starship: Rising alongside an excellent cast including Claudia Wells from “Back to the Future” (another childhood favorite) and I’m the creator/executive producer behind “Nobility” a new sci-fi pilot that’s staring Star Trek’s Walter Koenig (I’m a huge Trekkie!!!), Stargate’s Chris Judge and Torri Higginson, Falling Skies’ Doug Jones, Heroes’ James Kyson, Lexx and Napoleon Dynamite’s Ellen Dubin, Xena’s Adrienne Wilkinson, and more! Ok, so there’s a bit of fantasy fulfillment in my casting choices – so shoot me!
TAEM- This year started off with the production Mystery Born to Rock and The Richy Show. Please tell us about these projects and the characters that you played in them.
E.J.- HAHAHAHA – those were fun! “Mystery Born to Rock” was actually an accident! Well, perhaps not an accident but a happy unexpected occurrence. My friend Neil Johnson (who directed “Starship” as well as “Nobility”) was helping a friend of his, Steve Ravic, shoot a music video for a young Australian band called Mystery. He called me up and said he promised his Australian buddies an honest to dog yee-haw American hick. Not in those words but you get the idea. Anyway – since I’ve always had a bit of, shall we say, “Western Culture” in me he asked me to tag along and ham it up a bit. So I did. My new-found Aussie friends enjoyed it so much they asked to get a few shots of me for their video and, since I was having fun and am always up to do more acting (as I said earlier – GO OUT AND DO IT!) I said sure and POOF! A music video was born!
But there was a lot of challenges on that shoot as well. Some of the band members were climbing on of the hillsides when a boulder rolled down and smashed one of their fingers – very troubling since he was their basist. Thats’ where the idea and all the footage of them getting hurt came from – that was actually him getting hurt and having to take care of him!
As for me I made the mistake of drinking a TON of caffeine on the way out there. Caffeine dries you out. And then I went into the desert. Real smart move lol. I got pretty dehydrated and kinda just stopped there for a bit. A few days later I was speaking with the doctor and, turns out, it was good I rehydrated when I did because, apparently, I was about two steps away from dying…
As for The Richy Show, we were doing a ton of publicity for “Nobility” and Richy contacted us requesting an interview. I said sure and our folks set it up and I was then told to call a specific number at a specific time. Next came one of the most entertaining 2 hours imaginable! Richy and I literally just talked and shot the shit. We talked about “Nobility”, life, the industry – you name it. I think the expanded conversation is on his website still. Was a lot of fun and can’t wait for next time!
TAEM- You have also had roles in Starship: Rising and Starship: Apocalypse. Was this a new experience for you to star in a Sci-fi genre and how did you feel about this new change ?
E.J.- Hahahahahaha I think I sort of answered your question a couple of questions ago. I’m a HUGE sci-fi nut! So when Neil Johnson, the director of both films as well as “Nobility”, offered me a role I jumped at the chance and had a BLAST! It was one of the most fun sets I’ve ever been on. Very relaxed and the lead cast got along fantastically. And I got to pretend I was in Star Trek a couple of times spouting techno-babble about shields and weapons and “brace for impact”. At one point, Neil had to tell me to stop saying “Engage” so much like Riker (from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”)! It was definitely and new – and welcome – experience.
TAEM- We learned that all your acting experience has paid off handsomely and you have used it to create your own sci-fi series. Not only are you the Executive Producer but you have also written the story and screenplay for it. This new project is entitled Nobility and it has been the buzzword around Hollywood. Please tell us the theme behind the production and what influenced its creation.
E.J.- “Nobility” has been such an incredible journey – and, as a sci-fi nut – definitely had a bit of fantasy fulfillment involved. The basic concept is “Firefly” meets “The Office”. In 700 years, the world government, desperate for legitimacy, has decided to showcase their flagship to prove what they can do for humanity – not quite realizing that the crew of the “Nobility” were, well, anything BUT noble. As the tagline goes “These aren’t the heroes you’re looking for!”
The concept originated back in 2012 when we were gearing up to shoot Starship. I was piddling around the bridge set getting a feel for my Starship character, Torgus, and was thinking about the suggestion someone made that I write a comedy. Then it hit me – “Modern Family in Space” which later evolved into “Firefly” meets “The Office”. It had never been done before! I immediately fell in love with the concept and, once Starship wrapped, told Neil about the project. He fell in love with it too and I began writing it and forming the cast and production team that we have today.
As things evolved, I realized that, for the comedy to mean anything, the stakes of the story had to be real – as did the characters. Because of this, the tone became more than just a simple comedy. It became a collection of real people, existing in a real world, with consequences for their actions. Because of this, the tone became much more like “Doctor Who” and “Firefly” than like “The Office”. It has the quirkiness and mockumentary feel of “The Office” but the feel of the show, the stakes of the story, and the balance of comedy and drama is much more like “Doctor Who”, “Firefly”, or “Galaxy Quest”. Hence we refer to the show as a dramedy rather than a straight up comedy.
TAEM- Tell us about the exciting cast that appear in this film and the characters that they play.
E.J.- As a sci-fi fan myself, I’m personally really excited about the cast. Many of them are folks that I grew up thinking how cool it would be for me to work with them. Each one of our amazing cast plays a quirky, of the wall, character of some sort. However, when I began designing these characters and gave them their “quirky” behavior, it was important to me that their personality quirks were caused by something. Yes, the engineer (played by Walter Koenig of Star Trek fame) is a jerk who drinks on the job and almost never speaks except to angrily mumble. And yes, there’s a lot of comedy there. But WHY is he that way? As time goes on we find out that he always wanted to be a ship captain but was never given the opportunity. His dreams crushed, he slowly dissolved into bitterness and alcohol.
Another example would be Doug Jones’ (“Falling Skies”) character – the ships psychiatrist. You know – the one who ought to be in therapy himself. We’ll discover that he was never truly able to connect with people and so desperately wants to do so that comes on SO strong that the result is HILARIOUS – as you’ll see in our soon to be release trailer.
TAEM- When can audiences expect it to appear and where can they see it ?
E.J.- We should be finishing post around December or January. We’re currently speaking with several different groups as far as where it’ll be distributed so I can’t go into too much detail just yet but pay attention – the announcement could come at any time!
TAEM- Are there any other projects that you are preparing for the future and where do you see your career going ?
E.J.- Nobility’s taking up the majority of my time at the moment – it’s important to me that we bring it to completion and share it with the world. But I see myself splitting my time between writing and acting as soon as we get the pilot completed :-).
TAEM- E.J., it looks like your star will be rising high in the film and television industries and you have your career well in hand. We want to thank you for your time with our interview and wish you sincere luck in all that you do.
E.J. – Thanks for all the kind words! A pleasure answering your questions – I hope your audience can take something positive away from my answers!