If Altadena native Brian Elerding looks familiar, that’s because he’s starting to show up on TV and movie screens a lot. He took a star turn in a hot Super Bowl commercial, has appeared in several indie movies and TV shows, and has three projects coming up: an episode of the new NBC series Parenthood, which just shot here in Pasadena, a small part in the upcoming John Malkovich movie Jonah Hex, and a role in an upcoming Hallmark movie, Love Will Keep Us Together.
Elerding, 29, started performing informally at Sequoyah School in Pasadena, moved on to more serious acting at Oakwood, then earned a Presidential Arts Scholarship for acting at George Washington University. He’s now living in Silver Lake, but his heart remains in Pasadena.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve had to do to get noticed as an actor?
That would be the story of how I accidentally got my first agent. A friend told me that there was an “open call” at a commercial agency in Hollywood. We decided to go over together, audition together and, we assumed, fail together. Turns out my friend was wrong. Instead of being an open call, she’d been specifically invited by the agency after sending in her headshot. There had been some sort of misunderstanding, and she thought it was just an open call, so she invited me.
I didn’t realize this until I went to sign in and there was a space next to my name labeled “invited by.” I panicked and thought, “I should just go home. They don’t want to see me.” So of course I did what any desperate actor would do in that situation — I wrote a scribble in that blank and went ahead with it.
It turned out that they didn’t care that I wasn’t invited. I did my audition without a hitch. The cruel irony is that in the end, I was the only one of the two of us invited to sign with the agency.
You’re a member of the Huntington. Why? Do you have a favorite spot there?
I’m actually a second-generation Pasadenan, and I suppose I got my appreciation for the Huntington through legacy. My father grew up in Pasadena not too far from Huntington and used to study there when he was a kid. He brought me there when I was young, and I loved it then. I went through the obligatory phase in high school of disparaging everything like the Huntington for being old and stuffy, but then came back around and realized that it is, frankly, awesome. My favorite spot is, and always has been, the lawn on the west side of the main house, just east of the rose garden. Equally perfect for reading on or rolling down.
What has stayed with you in your adult life from the education you got at Sequoyah School?
Here’s where I always start to sound overly sentimental. Sequoyah encouraged an intrinsic desire for learning in a way that was really visionary. We had fluid grade boundaries, and there were no letter grades for tests or papers. Teachers were focused more on critical thinking and encouraging general curiosity about the world. I think that’s really the point of education, but it sometimes gets lost in the desperate lead-up to SATs and college admissions.
One of the other things that I’ll always be grateful for is my appreciation of the outdoors. When I was at Sequoyah we went on two or three camping trips every year. And we’re talking serious camping trips, where we hiked to campsites, cooked our own food, cleaned our own dishes and hiked back out. I may have whined about it at the time, but those trips have stuck with me in ways I probably won’t ever fully appreciate. And I already appreciate them a lot. I hope they always make camping an integral part of the education.
You’ve ditched your hometown for Silver Lake. How do they compare?
I’d actually probably live in Altadena or Pasadena right now if I didn’t have to spend so much time driving to Culver City, Santa Monica and Hollywood. Silver Lake reminds me a little of how Old Town used to be, back when it was the E Bar, Le Sex Shoppe and a few art galleries. Silver Lake has somehow gotten to be massively popular and, at the same time, maintained its ma-and-pa appeal (mostly), where Pasadena has gone towards Tiffany and the Gap. I think Pasadena is on its way back in that direction, though, and the more that people shop locally, the more that sort of homegrown business will flourish.
Think you’ll ever return to Altadena or Pasadena?
Absolutely. I’ve got my eye on you, AltaPasadena.
You get to choose a location for your next movie, anywhere you like in the greater Pasadena area. Where and why?
I’ve always found the story of the hotel on Echo Mountain intriguing. I think it’d be interesting to do a period piece about that old place. All we get to explore today are the ruins of what was once a fascinating marvel of engineering, and it might be a great time to bring that back to life. I saw a picture once of the hotel from the outside, and dozens of people were dressed in their finest suits, bowler hats and bow ties, standing out on the deck of the building. That’s gotta be the first or last shot of the film. Music swells. Credits roll.