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Wingman Wednesday

Brian Stepanek

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The Nickelodeon animated series “The Loud House” was not created for adults, but those with children will understand just how rare it is when shows for kids can also be enjoyed by the parents seated alongside of them. Often we, the grey-haired and crow’s feeted, are the unintended eyes on a program, forced to not only watch something, but watch it over and over and over again. Thankfully, “The Loud House” plays like a sitcom from the 1980s, complete with a catchy opening theme song, making us quiet fans of the Loud family.

We recently sat down with cartoon patriarch and actor Brian Stepanek to discuss his character Lynn Loud Sr., why he loves being a voice actor, and the reason his 16-year-old self needs to chill out.

TrunkSpace: Those of us here with kids can attest to watching far more of “The Loud House” than was probably ever intended for adults, but that being said, it’s actually a show that we can enjoy with our children. There’s something nostalgic about it… almost like an ’80s sitcom. Have you found more adults taking to it, finding something in it themselves, than you would have ever expected to happen when you first signed on to be a voice of the series?
Stepanek: I haven’t spoken to many parents about the show but I completely see the nostalgia for adults. The show reminds me of Charlie Brown at times. These characters really like and support each other. I come from a large family and so the Loud family is very familiar to me in that regard.

TrunkSpace: Oftentimes we’ll hear actors say that a film or television series felt “special” while they were shooting, serving as a premonition of the success to come. Does animation have that same feel as well? Did you have any indication before its premiere that “The Loud House” would find an audience?
Stepanek: Sometimes. With animation, the actors are such a small part of the production process, it’s difficult to get a read on how the show will do. There are just too many decisions about the look and feel of the show that we aren’t privy to. But I will say the scripts are always fantastic. Lots of laughs and plenty of heart.

TrunkSpace: For the entire first season, your character’s face (as well as that of the mother’s) were concealed in creative and silly ways. What was the idea behind making the adults faceless (was it an homage to the classic “Peanuts” cartoon, which you mentioned above?) and why was it ultimately decided to reveal them later in the life of the series?
Stepanek: That is a question for the creators. I loved the reveal though.

TrunkSpace: Lynn Loud Sr. is the kind of father who thinks he’s the coolest dad in the world, but his kids may not necessarily agree. (Our kids can relate to that!) How did you go about finding him from a performance standpoint – both his voice and his personality?
Stepanek: I looked in the mirror. I have three kids that are pretty awesome. Lynn just loves his kids. That’s it. Every episode that is “Dad-centric” is always about Lynn loving his family. It all starts with that.

TrunkSpace: There’s a movie in the works. Can you give us any insight on what fans can expect from the Louds going cinematic in structure? Will it have a different feel than the series itself?
Stepanek: No idea. But I can’t wait.

TrunkSpace: Do you take a different approach to performance with voice acting than you do with on-camera work? Does it allow for a more heightened sense of reality when you’re working in animation?
Stepanek: I find it a lot more fun than on-camera. The writers let me have fun and improvise. The environment at Nickelodeon is fantastic. But as far as technique, I prepare the script exactly as I would an on-camera role.

TrunkSpace: You also star in the Nickelodeon series “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn,” and have spent a large portion of your career appearing in projects created for kid and teen audiences. Was that by design or did life put you on this path unexpectedly?
Stepanek: When I first got to LA I was doing a lot of dramatic guest star roles and then I booked a recurring character on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and my career shifted. The high stakes performance style in kids programming comes pretty naturally to me (I came from musical theater), so I’ve always had work in that genre. It wasn’t by design but it’s been fun.

TrunkSpace: If you could sit down and have a conversation with your 16-year-old self, would he be surprised by the trajectory of your career, and if so, why?
Stepanek: That kid didn’t know squat. The 16-year-old me would say, “Why don’t we have an Oscar yet?!” And I’d tell him, “I own a house in LA. I made it. Chill out and enjoy the ride. Life is short.”

Stepanek with the cast of “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn.”

TrunkSpace: You’re also writing and producing your own projects, including one that is currently in development called “My Substitute is an Alien.” Does writing scratch a separate aspect of your creative brain that acting can’t reach?
Stepanek: Yes. I have always wanted to have a larger role in the storytelling process. I have so much respect for writers. Writing does not come naturally to me but it is extremely satisfying when you finish a script. I’ve started directing television as well and love being involved in the big picture.

TrunkSpace: What is something within the industry that you have yet to accomplish in your career that you have your sights set on? If you could write your own future, what would it look like?
Stepanek: I just shot a movie called “Green Book” with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. If I could do projects like that for the rest of my career I’d be fine. And I’d like to be directing on a regular basis.

Did you hear that, 16-year-old me? Keep it simple!

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Wingman Wednesday

Graeme McComb

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Photo By: Shimon Photography

“Legends of Tomorrow” fans will recognize Graeme McComb as the more youthful version of Martin Stein who the heroes stumble upon through their various time traveling exploits. The Vancouver native most recently starred in the Nickelodeon film “Tiny Christmas,” playing a fish-out-of-water elf who shrinks a pair of children, and naturally, holiday hilarity ensues.

We recently sat down with McComb to discuss the fun of playing Santa’s elf, one of his favorite holiday memories growing up, and how he approaches playing the younger version of a character who is already being portrayed by another actor.

TrunkSpace: There have been many great elf characters to touch down in Christmas projects and leave their mark on pop culture. In Nickelodeon’s “Tiny Christmas” you’re playing an elf named Elfonso. How does Elfonso rate in comparison to other elf characters who have come before him? What makes him fun and memorable?
McComb: Elfonso is memorable because at the start of the film, he has never left the North Pole and is terribly frightened by children. It’s amusing to watch his journey throughout the film and how he adapts to the real world and how he overcomes his fear.

TrunkSpace: When you’re working on a Christmas-themed project, does it feel like it comes with a bit of a built-in audience given that there is always a set of eyeballs who will tune in for some holiday cheer? In a way, it’s a bit like a brand, is it not?
McComb: Absolutely! I always loved watching Christmas movies as a kid and it was always a part of our holiday tradition. I’m very excited of the potential of creating some festive cheer through film.

TrunkSpace: We touched on a bit of what makes Elfonso great in comparison to other elf characters, but what made him interesting for you in comparison to other roles you’ve tackled in the past? Did you get to do anything as Elfonso on screen that you have yet to accomplish with previous projects?
McComb: He was interesting to play because I was able to incorporate my physical theater training to the screen, which was really fun for me as an actor. This was also my first experience with prosthetic ears, which helped me transform into character.

TrunkSpace: “Tiny Christmas” has the potential to become a part of the holiday traditions of future generations. Is there a particular holiday tradition from your family/upbringing as it relates to pop culture that holds a particularly nostalgic place in your heart?
McComb: My family and I would always watch “A Christmas Story.” I would act out scenes from the movie. At a certain age I actually wanted a BB gun and when I asked my mom for one, needless to say, I never got a BB gun.

TrunkSpace: Cause you’ll shoot your eye out! (Laughter) Moving on, you also recently returned to DC’s “Legends of Tomorrow” to once again portray a younger version of the character Martin Stein, played in the series by Victor Garber. How do you approach the performance of a character who is currently being portrayed by another actor in a different stage of his life? It sounds very meta!
McComb: It was a challenge but also very rewarding. When I got the audition, I was lucky enough to have Professor Stein material to study from “The Flash.” I spent a lot of time studying his speech patterns and movements and when it came to the shoot, I tried to relax, have fun and speak from the heart.

TrunkSpace: You first appeared in “Legends of Tomorrow” way back in the pilot. Did you have any idea at the time that you’d be returning as Martin Stein throughout the course of the series?
McComb: I had no idea! When the first episode came out, I had some really great feedback about the character from fans, which made me think that there was a chance he would be back on the show.

TrunkSpace: Comic book fans are very passionate about their properties and characters. How has appearing on a show set in the DC universe impacted your career? Did it open you up to the fandom at all? Have you felt the impact through social media?
McComb: I for sure have. Last year I did an AMA on r/legendsoftomorrow on Reddit and had amazing feedback and questions about the show and my career. It’s really cool to connect with so many passionate people.

TrunkSpace: What’s fun about “Legends of Tomorrow” is that it all takes place in a world where anything is possible. Does that allow you to approach performance from a different perspective?
McComb: It does in a way because the first episode I appeared in was in the 70s, the second in the 80s and the third in the 90s. Being able to play the same character over three decades has definitely given me a different perspective on acting for sure.

TrunkSpace: We read that you originally wanted to play professional hockey for a living. Are there any similarities between pursuing hockey and pursuing a career as an actor? Do they intersect anywhere?
McComb: To be successful in hockey you have to have strength, skill, precision, resilience and imagination. You also need all of those attributes to be successful as an actor.

TrunkSpace: If someone gave you a blank check tomorrow and told you to go off and develop any kind of project you wanted for yourself, what would you greenlight and why?
McComb: I would love to see a “Band of Brothers” type episodic show about Canadians during WW2. Canadians were involved tremendously during the war and telling their story would be pretty cool.

Feature image by: Shimon Photography

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Wingman Wednesday

Nicole Alyse Nelson

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Photo By: JSquared Photography

Nickelodeon has an incredible track record for recognizing young talent and serving as a springboard to the pop culture mainstays of tomorrow. The recent generation of megastars spawned at the channel have included Selema Gomez and Ariana Grande, and if history continues to repeat itself at the home that tweener’s built, Nicole Alyse Nelson of the series “I Am Frankie” will be another future success story who got her start at the network.

We recently sat down with Nelson to discuss how she grew up idolizing Nickelodeon, what she loves about her character Dayton, and why juggling a career at her age feels perfectly normal.

TrunkSpace: “I Am Frankie” has been airing for about a month now. Where has it impacted your life most?
Nelson: It’s been a fast and furious month. I’ve really only seen an increase in social media. I still haven’t been stopped in public or anything, but my family and my friends have been extremely supportive. All I’m hearing is really good responses about how the show is impacting kids in positive ways. It’s just a lot of really, really nice feedback.

TrunkSpace: Were you somebody who grew up watching Nickelodeon shows?
Nelson: Oh my gosh, yes! That is one of the main reasons I was so thrilled about even going in for this project. Growing up, I was actually always more like a Nickelodeon kid. Of course, I watched Disney Channel, but my heart really lied with “Drake & Josh,” “Zoey 101,” and “Ned’s Declassified.” To be on a network that I truly idolized as a kid is absolutely insane.

TrunkSpace: It’s kind of like paying it forward. They entertained you, and now you’re entertaining a new generation.
Nelson: Exactly. And another thing that I’m trying to do with that is, when I was really big into it, social media wasn’t really a thing like it is today. If I was in love with Ashley Tisdale or something, there was no way I could see what she was doing unless I bought a magazine. So now social media being the way that it is, I’m really trying to have a relationship with my fans and like all of their content, and be able to send out autographs and do stuff that I always wished I could have done when I was that age.

TrunkSpace: You mention Ashley Tisdale, and you look at the people who have come out of Nickelodeon shows, from Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez and all of these big, huge stars. Do you ever think about what you’re doing now in terms of what it could become for your future career down the road?
Nelson: Oh, absolutely. That’s the goal. I truly love what I do, and I hope that it continues for years to come. A lot of these stars as well are very talented singers. My goal isn’t so much to be a pop star, but continue along like the Emily Osment path, or Jenette McCurdy. Really just focus on acting, that’s the goal.

TrunkSpace: What was it that first drew you to Dayton as a character?
Nelson: The second I saw the breakdown for Dayton, I was in love. The breakdown had three females. It had Frankie, Dayton, and Tammy. Tammy’s kind of a mean girl, Frankie of course is a robot, and Dayton is just unapologetically herself. She is confident, she is intelligent. She is the expressive, charismatic best friend. She’s just a fun role. She’s the kind of character that I knew, upon reading four pages of the script, that if I book this I would never know what they would give me the next day. She’s the character that does crazy stunts and spits out food. She’s just insane, so she’s a lot of fun to play.

TrunkSpace: Does the comedy aspect of performance come natural to you in terms of timing and delivery?
Nelson: Comedy has always come pretty natural to me. I’m not going to say that I haven’t had to train and study, because comedy is all about timing and the way you say things. I did have to learn that, but it’s really been a natural instinct. I naturally have a really sharp tongue, meaning I’m really kind of quirky in the way that I use my hands a lot, and I naturally make reversals in my voice. I was always told growing up, even my theater teacher was like, “I’ve never seen a style as sharp as yours.” It’s kind of perfect that I got into kids multi-cam, because that’s really where the style is able to shine.

TrunkSpace: The concept of the show is a fun take on a classic idea. Does that fun translate to the work itself to where you have to pinch yourself to be reminded that you’re doing work?
Nelson: Oh, yeah. It’s so much fun, especially because a lot of the time things are just funny, lighthearted, and there’s a bunch of jokes on set. Working with Alex (Hook), who has to play a robot, is something really interesting. As an actor I forget just how much what the other person gives you matters, in terms of your performance. She gradually gets more human, but towards the beginning she was so robotic, it was just a weird thing to experience, because I was pushing so hard to make all of the energy happen. Then towards the end of it, it became so natural. You never knew what they were gonna write for you, or what was gonna happen. The whole process was just a blast, to watch it all unfold and experience it.

Photo By: JSquared Photography

TrunkSpace: And this is the longest period of time – 20 episodes so far – that you have ever spent with one character. What is that experience like?
Nelson: I loved it. That’s the only thing a performer can really ask for, something they can really sink their teeth into. When I first got the role and I went to Miami and we started shooting, they pretty much handed us 750 pages and were like, “Okay, have fun.” At that moment I realized everybody trains you for how to get the role, but nobody tells you what to do when you get the role. It was this moment of being like, “You know what? I have so much to work with, I don’t even know where to start, in terms of breaking this down.” Of course, I figured it out, but at the very get-go, it was very overwhelming. It’s a lot of material.

A person changes a lot over the course of 20 episodes, in terms of what they learn and how they view the world. It was also confusing. We didn’t really shoot in order, so I would have to train myself to remember, “Okay, what we’re shooting right now is episode 7, but right after this, we’re doing episode 15. This is where I’m at mentally by 15, and then we’re going back to episode 2.” It was completely all over the place, and that was one of the hardest parts.

TrunkSpace: Other girls your age are focused on school and life, and here you are throwing career into the mix as well. Does it ever feel overwhelming or are you used to having a career and making it all balance out?
Nelson: I’ve made it feel pretty normal. When I first moved out here and I was like, “This is what I’m gonna do, this is what’s gonna happen…” I fully jumped in and committed to it. It was overwhelming at first, but it’s something that I’m so passionate about and I truly love it. There isn’t ever a moment that I’m like, “Oh, I’m not sure if I can handle this,” or “I just wish I was back in Texas,” because I’m from Texas. I’m really, really happy with what I’ve decided to do and with where my life is going, so, no regrets.

TrunkSpace: Has word come down yet if “I Am Frankie” will get a season 2?
Nelson: Nothing has been confirmed, but we’ve only heard really, really great things from the network. So that’s exciting!

Catch the first season of “I Am Frankie” on Nickelodeon or watch full episodes here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Ashleigh Ross

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Photo By: Alex Kruk

Recent Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards winner Ashleigh Ross is a true multi-threat. While many people refer to her as a “social media star,” in reality she’s so much more than that. She’s a dancer. She’s an actress. She’s a singer. But which one is she the most passionate about?

We recently sat down with the Australian native to find out!

TrunkSpace: Out of everything that you’re focused on in a creative space, which one are you the most passionate about at this particular moment in your life?
Ross: At this time in my life it is definitely acting. Ever since I was three years old, I would have said dancing, but just recently, in the last couple of years, it has definitely been acting. Acting is my main passion and I absolutely love it. It is pretty much what I’m focusing on at the moment.

TrunkSpace: What was it that pulled you away from dancing and towards acting? Was it a particular project or performance?
Ross: I never used to like watching movies, which is so weird considering I want to be an actress now, but when I was around 11 years old I started to watch all of these movies and I just fell in love with characters and stories and just the way that movies made me feel and how they made other people feel. It was just incredible and I knew that I wanted to do that as well.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been in LA taking classes and honing your acting skills. Is there something that you’ve learned in that time that you have found to be particularly valuable and that you’ll take with you throughout your career?
Ross: Every acting class teaches me something, which is absolutely incredible. It’s so amazing how acting continues to grow and change, so I’m learning something in every single class, which is incredible and I love that.

Honestly, I’m just taking any bit of information that I get and applying it to my acting to see if it works for me or if it works for how I portray the character. I just take on anything that I can get.

TrunkSpace: You spent most of your life dancing and in that, there’s an incredible work ethic involved. Dancers train so hard and for so many hours, all in the hopes of continuing to improve and perfect their skill set. Do you apply that same work ethic and mentality to your acting career now?
Ross: Absolutely. I’ve been dancing since I was three years old and being in classes pretty much every day for about four to eight hours… it very much disciplined me as a kid. I definitely take that into my acting.

TrunkSpace: And what’s cool is that you’ve been able to combine both of those skills thus far in your career by having landed roles that highlight your dancing abilities.
Ross: Yeah. That has honestly been such a lucky thing for me. I love it when there’s a role that involves dancing as well. And when I go to auditions where they’re like, “Oh yeah, it would be great if you could dance as well…” I get so excited because I love combining the two. It’s a dream come true.

TrunkSpace: One of the terms often associated with you is “social media star” and we’re just curious what that term means to you?
Ross: Social media is crazy in this day and age. I still cannot wrap my head around it. The fact that I even have the following that I have is absolutely insane. I definitely cannot wrap my head around it.

I do not see myself at all as a social media star so it’s so funny when someone writes it next to my name or I go somewhere and they’re like, “Oh, you’re the social media star!” It’s so crazy. It makes me laugh. I do not see myself as that at all.

TrunkSpace: In acting, it’s always said that an honest performance is what resonates with viewers. And yet, in the world of social media, it seems like the same idea applies. Those people who are honest in what they’re saying on their various social media platforms seem to be the ones who bring people to them and it can become a very powerful tool.
Ross: Absolutely. Just recently, people have really started to take social media seriously. People used to laugh at social media and think that someone was only famous because of social media or things like that, but people are just starting to realize how important social media really is and how much it does affect acting and singing and dancing and all of the different types of performing arts. It is really important and it’s so good that people are starting to recognize how important it really is.

TrunkSpace: And from a business standpoint, it makes sense for a television network to tap into the existing fanbase of the talent they’re casting for their shows. For example, if I were an executive and I was choosing between two actresses, yourself and someone who only had a few hundred followers, it makes way more business sense to cast you in the hopes that your followers would also come and watch the show.
Ross: Yeah. I’ve been for auditions in LA where in the first five minutes of the audition, they ask how many social media followers I have. Which in a way is a plus for people who have social media followers, but also, I love when castings really stick to the art and the performance and that whoever fits the role the best, gets the role. I love that.

TrunkSpace: That makes total sense. You want to build your career on your talent.
Ross: Yeah. Absolutely.

TrunkSpace: You’re from Australia and in LA now. Where have you found the biggest differences to be when it comes to home and here in the States?
Ross: Well, actually, just two days ago I got home to Australia. I love being home, but being in America is absolutely incredible.

I mean, they’re so different… even just coming down to little things like food and shopping and things like that. They’re so different, but I absolutely love America and I love being home in Australia. They’re my favorite places to be in the world.

Photo By: Alex Kruk

TrunkSpace: And don’t forget that amazing Los Angeles traffic!
Ross: Oh my gosh, my mom and I were literally just driving yesterday and we were like, “Why is it so quiet?” And we were like, “Wait… this is actually just normal.” LA is just so crazy. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You recently won a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice award. What did that mean for you?
Ross: Being nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice award was absolutely shocking. When I found out that I had been nominated, I was so gobsmacked, I could not believe it. I was sitting with my mom and I was like, “This has to be a joke… this cannot be real.” I could not believe it.

And I was up against some incredible nominees… like people that I look up to, which was so humbling and so incredible. I was so happy. And then to win the award… it was just another level of shock and happiness and excitement. I was so stoked. I had butterflies in my stomach the whole day of the Kids’ Choice Awards and then when they finally announced it, I could not believe it. I was like, “Did I hear that right? What is going on?”

It was so exciting and I can’t wait to just keep doing what I’m doing!

To learn more about The Ashi Ross Gold Turnboard, click here.

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