As soon as he graduated from Penn State University, Jeff Skowron moved to New York and started racking up Broadway shows. I first met him when he was doing the original Broadway cast of The Grinch with my husband. The next thing I knew, he had moved to LA, and has been rocking it out ever since, earning theatre awards and nominations, along with numerous TV and film credits. I had the pleasure of working with him myself in SoCal in the first regional production of Big Fish. His story is one of knowing his worth, and framing setbacks as disappointments, not failures. Here's Jeff on walking out of dance auditions, finding discipline in LA, and one fantastic Christmas.
The City Audition (CA:) Where are you from originally, and when did you move to New York? When and why did you decide to move to LA?
Jeff Skowron (JS): I'm originally from Johnstown, PA. I moved to New York after I graduated from the Penn State Theatre Dept. I had unknowingly been taking on a unusually high number of credits each semester, and I was told I could graduate early. In 2011, the network IFC bought a show my writing partner (Matt Yeager) and I had been producing online. They gave us a development deal, and doors opened for me in LA so I moved here, gladly.
CA: What was your first paid acting job?
JS: My first professional job was The King and I when I was a kid. It was at the Mountain Playhouse in Pennsylvania. I ended up working there every summer until I graduated from college. Most of my education was from that place. I worked with some great actors over about 10 years.
CA: Tell me you were Louis in The King and I.
JS: Ha, no I was Prince Chulalongkorn. We thought nothing of it at the time.
CA: What was your first AEA gig?
JS: Zombie Prom, off-Broadway. It was this giant audition where they kept cutting people all day, and when they got to the dancing part, I got frustrated and actually left the building. The casting director ran down the stairs after me and told me to come back because I was probably going to book it and to not worry about the dancing. At the end of that day there were four of us left, the four guys they ended up casting. They put us in a cab and sent us to the general manager's office, where I signed a contract and joined Equity. I'm not sure why there was such an urgency that day, but it was my first gig in New York and it was exciting.
CA: Tell me about an epic failure.
JS: Honestly, I don't consider anything a failure. Disappointments? Yes. I was disappointed when IFC sent Greg and Donny to Nielsen testing, and it didn't do well, and we weren't picked up to series.
CA: Fuck Nielsen testing! Tell me about an epic win.
JS: Most recently it was when I was cast in Bad Santa 2 opposite Billy Bob Thornton. I didn't think much about it after my first read, and then suddenly I was getting emails saying Miramax was really into me, and if they decided the role didn't have to be played by a famous person, I was probably going to book it. Then on Christmas Eve, they called to tell me it was mine. It was a nice Christmas.
CA: Who were some people who helped you along the way?
JS: My parents, most certainly. Casting directors who believed in me and championed me. My first manager. Directors who 'got' me. Theatre companies who continually hire me. Close family and surrogate family members. And my boyfriend, John Pinto Jr.
CA: Did you have any bad habits that hurt you, either as an actor or as a person, or both? What did you do to overcome them?
JS: I used to be much more into my social life than being serious about my career, but I suppose everyone goes through something like that at some point. New York was an entirely new world for me. I've become much more disciplined the past ten years, and I love it. I also used to wait for jobs, now I pursue them or create my own opportunities with our writing. I used to pay more attention to my "critics" than my "fans". I've come to realize some people just simply won't get you. (And those are stupid people, haha.) Paying more attention to the people who get you and who are fans of your work is much more beneficial and changes your focus.
CA: What did you feel not particularly well prepared for when you started your career?
JS: I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back, I didn't know how to audition.
CA: Tell me about it, neither did I. I think a lot of people don't. That's why I started this blog.
JS: Now I audition as though I booked the job already, or like I'm actually filming the scene. I got rid of the 'trying to impress' factor. That only distracts you.
CA: That's great advice. Did you ever want to quit? What kept you going?
JS: Sure, I've thought of quitting before. I think talking it out with my mom always helped set me back on course. And then something good happens that makes you forget you ever wanted to quit. I love how everything can turn on a dime at any moment.
If you live in LA, you can go see Jeff in Man of La Mancha at La Mirada Theatre from June 2nd to the 25th. Meanwhile, he'll be shooting a new pilot with his Greg and Donny writing partner, Matt Yeager. We wish him all the best! Thank you for talking to us, Jeff!