Joshua Bolla is a 28 year old, Atlanta-based actor. He is an ex semi-pro powerlifter, and self-proclaimed nerd. Currently, Josh is involved in commercial, film, theater, improv, classical acting, voice-over, and motion capture work.
So tell me a bit about how you got into acting?
I guess you could say I was dragged into acting kicking and screaming honestly. I had my heart set on being an engineer through most of middle school. So with typical science-field arrogance I looked down on the arts.
Haha, I was on the Math/Science team at my school, so I kind of understand. What made you change your tune?
My Dad insisted I take a drama course in high school where I met one my best friends and mentors Mrs. Staples. A month in her intro to drama class, and I was hooked forever. It was like an addiction. I would get this rush of endorphins every time I got on stage. She became my mentor and quite honestly the mother that I never really had. From Mrs. Staples I learned to appreciate the beautiful and subtle craft of performing. She taught me to love the complex layering of pattern after pattern needed to form truly complex and dynamic performances. It was from her that I learned to see each character as a living, breathing thing, that was symbiotically attached through a lifeline of my own experiences that grounded them in our world. I deeply cherished those lessons back in high school and still go back to things she told me about acting today.
It’s so wonderful that she took the time to build into you like that. I think high school theatre teachers often don’t get enough credit for taking an interest and turning it into a passion. So did you go on to study acting in college?
I eventually went on to Georgia Tech to get a programming degree but I could never stop thinking about acting. After graduating I left the tech industry and its lovely salaries behind and went on to pursue acting in earnest. To this day I still regularly get lunch with Mrs. Staples and remind her that this whole acting thing is all her fault. Man.....I could have had my own condo and a 401k by now if I stuck with technology. And I never let Mrs. Staples forget how she "ruined my life" ha.
Ok, so you didn’t study acting in college. I had no idea you were a programmer! That’s awesome. Can you tell me a bit about what college was like for you?
The experience was....well it was extremely difficult. That school tested me like I had never been tested before. Fourteen hour work days were constantly required. It taught me endurance in a major way. I worked 80-hour weeks and developed what was called "phantom homework syndrome". (The inescapable feeling that you have work due despite the fact that you aren't currently in classes.) The price of these lessons of course was an intense bludgeoning of my emotional state and mental status. I could work harder than most but each day it dried me up a little more creatively.
That sounds horrible! I’m glad that’s not where your story ends! So after you left Georgia Tech, you went onto SCAD for your MFA. What was that like for you?
SCAD was a completely different beast. It didn't require the amount of work that Georgia Tech required. I found myself opened up to the world dramatically, I was better rested, my mood improved and I was able to actually be creative. The thing about SCAD is it will give you just as much work as you ask for. While I tried hard not to work myself into the ground, I found keeping busy was relatively easy. One just had to seek the work out. I found myself not really spending much time with the theater side of school and focusing more on short films, quickly building up a network. A network that got so large that my second year at SCAD didn't need to audition to get roles, I was kept extremely busy just by roles that were offered to me.
I think I really got the best of both worlds: A hard-working endurance challenge, and a school that gave me the opportunity to enhance and practice my craft on my terms.
That’s a really wise outlook. I love what you said about seeking out work for yourself. As performers it’s easy to feel like we have to wait for someone to offer us a role. I love that you went out and found ways to be creative and people to collaborate with. How do you think colleges, in general, could do a better job preparing performers?
Honestly I think colleges don't teach students how to be self starters. I think they could do well to try and teach students to try and find those opportunities. They can't try and find rehearsals in two places and then give up expecting the parts to just come to them. To be an actor you have to get out there and WORK. Sitting back waiting for the school auditions just won't make that happen.
I couldn’t say it better myself! I think that’s something that’s wrong with our education in general. Students are often spoon-fed information instead of having to go out and find resources themselves. But I digress, haha. Don’t get me started on public education or the rest of this interview will be me talking. If someone reading this blog was considering an acting career, what would you tell them?
DON'T DO IT, IT'S A TRAP RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. No, no, no, I kid. In my personal opinion, acting is something you do because there is absolutely nothing else you. It's not an easy life, not by a long shot, but if you love it it's worth it. Keep in mind acting is no harder to succeed in than it is to succeed at anything else, the problem is acting is kind of all or nothing. Either you're rich, or food money is scarce. Just remember being in the top of any field is tough, but if you're the type who doesn't settle then...being the best no matter your field is hard. My advice, find someone to be in your corner. They say having a partner early on can ruin your career but I say that's only if it's the wrong partner. The woman I'm seeing, Jennifer, has been the biggest boon to me. She has constantly encouraged me everyday and helped me find a way to keep my spirits up. Lastly, don't take auditions personally. You never know why the director didn't choose you, and frankly, it probably didn't have anything to do with your ability.
I agree about having someone in your corner. I would be a mess if I didn’t have my husband. Adler is my biggest cheerleader, and keeps me encouraged. I’m glad you’ve found that in someone too! I also think collaborating with others can help. Do you do anything with other actors or artists?
Any actor that doesn't collaborate is just a narcissist haha. Actually I always have my fingers in a few pies. I've been collaborating lately with a director on a short film about large men and the various prejudices they face. I've done a bit of fun with another artist in creating a fantasy character for a set of illustrations he has been drawing based on a Dungeons and Dragons campaign I am a part of. It's unconventional, but I had a lot of fun collaborating with the artist. Beyond that I have a few shorts in the works with various script-writers.
That sounds incredible. I’m really excited for the film about large men and the prejudices they face. That will be amazing. I can’t believe they didn’t ask me to be involved, haha, I kid. Can you tell me a bit about what it’s like to be an actor in Atlanta?
Atlanta is rather wonderful for place for new actors. The agents here are really set up to hire new talent and are willing to take on newbies and let them audition for a role in their stable. This however does create a bit of a vacuum for paying gigs that are just open to audition. Getting a paid gig is near impossible without an agent. Fortunately doing so is fairly easy compared to say New York or LA.
Yeah, it’s one thing to get cast in a film and another to get cast in one that pays. It is crazy that people with college degrees in acting are asked to work for free, or just for copy/credit. Of course, a lot of us do it because we want the footage for our reel or want the experience. I hope that part of our industry changes and the stigma that actors should work for free diminishes. You mentioned earlier that you were mostly interested in film work. Are there any film actors that particularly inspire you?
Liam Neeson. First off I love his work. I really enjoy the layers he brings to his characters, and he brings a level of gravitas and complexity to his roles that I genuinely admire.
I love James Spader for much of the same reasons. Another major actor that I really am following is John Goodman. I have always enjoyed him as a character and I find as I continue to develop my acting it has developed in a very similar vein. I love his comedic timing and the aggressive style that can come out of him, almost out of nowhere. The ability to change like that on a moment's notice is a really incredible skill.
Yeah I can see the similarity in your acting and that of John Goodman. It’s always good to find other actors you can steal from and emulate while still developing yourself as an individual. You mentioned that you did live theatre in high school, are there any plays you particularly liked?
Cyrano de Bergerac, I love that play with a fiery passion. I find people really miss the point of Cyrano. He is a tragic hero in some ways, but they always really focus on the balcony scenes and they miss the meat of his character. Cyrano is a brilliant intellectual and swordsman. He took his deformity and made himself mighty. Still, despite his achievements all anyone can see is his face. It creates a bitterness and hatred in him for the world that has cast him out of society. It's funny actually, how people only ever see him skin deep. He is a tragic character raging against the society that has declared him a pariah, refusing to be the wretch he is told he is.
Dang, that was deep. It sounds like you really empathized with his character.
I don't know...I've always kind of been an outcast myself and so a man that looks into the storm the world brings before him and screams "do your worst" has a special place in my heart.
It’s so lovely to find pieces that really resonate with you, like Cyrano. I think that’s the point of film, theatre, and art in general. We want to make people feel something, learn something, step outside of themselves a bit. Well, that’s a great note to end on, so thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! I wish you the best of luck with all your ongoing projects and can’t wait to see what this year brings for you!
For more information about Josh, check out his website at www.joshuabolla.com