Some people go through a mid-life crisis when they hit 40. Warwick native Erik Russo, on the other hand, had an epiphany that has landed him on a rapidly evolving path to stardom in Hollywood.
Six months ago, Russo packed up everything he owned – donating or giving away everything else he had – and ventured on a cross-country trek from Rhode Island to Los Angeles.
“I left in the middle of January and it was 10 degrees that day,” Russo said. “Looking at the snow and ice I was like, ‘Yeah I’m making the right decision.’”
The trip took about five days, with Russo driving in nine-hour intervals and hitting up spots he had always wanted to see along the way, like Luray Caverns in Virginia, Nashville, the Rocky Mountains and Las Vegas. He also filmed his excursion, which he’s trying to make into a documentary.
Russo arrived in LA, where he had some family to settle in with. He immediately began what he believes to be a rite of passage for all the migrants who travel to California in the hopes of making a living in the film industry – he got a terrible job to pay his bills (at LAX, in his case) and registered at Central Casting to start hopefully getting gigs as an extra in anything that would hire him.
“Every day in California they’re always shooting a movie or a television show or there’s something always being done on film,” Russo said. “Everyone banks on that and joins a cast. That’s what I started doing right away.”
His determination and outgoing personality – he said that, between being a Rhode Islander and Italian, he has no lack of self confidence or desire to chat with people – paid off almost immediately in the city of stars. In a short period of time he has landed multiple roles as an extra, including in acclaimed shows like “Silicon Valley,” “Westworld” and “Shameless.”
Using his charm and affinity for networking, Russo kept putting himself out there for any and every role he could get – pay or no pay, whether he was in front of the camera or doing production assistance work behind it.
“That’s the first rite of passage I think, just getting the background acting. And then you expand from there,” he said. “You realize you want to talk to people and express yourself through acting. That’s how you start getting into short films and student films and the paid projects. You go through Craigslist and Facebook and all different websites to find different gigs. You become a working actor.”
Acting doesn’t pay all the bills just yet though, so Russo moonlights at a luxury hotel to reel in the necessary money. His boss commented once that Russo has already become more successful than a high percentage of other, younger dreamers who have picked up and moved west, simply due to his work ethic.
“I made that promise to myself to do one thing a week,” he said. “I have to be an extra in a movie, be somewhere on film or have something to do with the entertainment industry. I made that promise and I’ve kept that promise every week I’ve been here.”
Russo is most excited about an upcoming role in a series still in development, called “L.A. Undercover,” where he will have a more prominent role as an antagonistic character in a show based on real events that occurred in the early ’90s in Los Angeles. Russo will play the role of an internal affairs officer butting heads with the main cast consisting of special forces within a police crime unit.
Russo can’t say which network is picking up the show, but he says that they are a “major” network and the writers have already penned eight episodes and have financial backers.
A graduate of West Warwick High School and Rhode Island College with a focus in graphic design, Russo wears many hats in California. He has performed work in production, acting, odd jobs and also has done graphic design work as well, which is what he was doing prior to his epiphany to move out west to expand his opportunities in video production and acting.
A large piece of his heart, however, still resides in Rhode Island. He misses the fall foliage, stuffies and quahogs and, of course, a good pizza from Caserta’s. He gets a little frustrated that he has to explain often that Rhode Island isn’t a part of New York, nor is it even particularly close to the Empire State.
While he will continue to grind towards his goal of stardom in LA, he plans on coming back to Rhode Island in late August and Early September to shoot footage for his production company that he hopes to be picked up as a television series, called “One for the Rhode,” which would feature Rhode Island locations, people and happenings.
“I’d love to bring something back to Rhode Island,” he said. “I came out here [California] and I want to be able to bring something back to put Rhode Island in the limelight; something positive, something fun and good that brings the community together.”