This year there are three words that easily grab my attention: This Is Us. When I received an e-mail with the subject line "Interview with NBC This Is Us actor" I had already decided I would interview whomever the e-mail was about. When I found out it was actor/playwright, John Pollono, who's show Small Engine Repair got rave reviews not only from critics, but from lots of people I knew, I was even more excited!
John's new show Lost Girls, a hard-hitting drama about three generations of women struggling to rise above their limited prospects, in a world indifferent to their struggles, to prevent history from repeating itself, is currently playing at Theatre Exile's Stuido X in Philadelphia, PA (1340 S. 13th Street (13th & Reed Street) through March 12. Click here for tickets!
For more on John follow him on Twitter @JPollono!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright/actor? Reading plays. I didn't grow up going to the theater, the first play I was in, was only the third play I'd "seen." But I was in an acting class when I was in my mid-twenties and we did scenes from plays and it was like discovering a whole new world. I dove in deep, discovered my voice as a writer reading and writing plays.
2. What made you want to write Lost Girls? After SMALL ENGINE REPAIR, which was male-driven, I wanted to explore the same themes from a female perspective. I knew the characters so intimately, drawing them from real life people I grew up with, that they came to life in my head and I knew they had beautiful things to say.
3. Lost Girls is the story of three generations of women who struggle to rise above their limited prospects, in a world indifferent to their struggles, to prevent history from repeating itself. What are some struggles you've had to rise above? My biggest struggle was having the courage to do what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't grow up in a very artistic community and I was terrified to admit that I wanted to be an artist. I had to overcome that fear and learn how to accept rejection and really put myself and my writing out there.
4. The story seems to go in line with a quote one of my spin instructors, David Held, told me that has stuck with me since I heard it. "You can't move forward without rewriting the past." What is something you keep doing over and over again that you feel maybe preventing you from moving forward in some aspect of your life? I fight the voice in my head that tells me I suck, that I shouldn't be working so hard at this point to make shit work. But the best work comes out of doubt and struggle and fighting to make it work. It's a process...I always want to stick the landing and be brilliant my first draft. To wow with as little effort as possible. But it's the work that makes the difference.
5. Lost Girls also explores this families strengths, scars and flaws as they battle teenage pregnancy, bad relationships, alcoholism, and making ends meet. What is your greatest strength? What is your biggest battle scar? What are some of your flaws? I think one of my greatest strengths is my willingness to collaborate with people I trust. My favorite part of the process is listening to actors and directors and producers who push me to be better. My biggest battle scar was, early in my career, working with people who were toxic but confident because I thought I needed their confidence in order to do what I wanted to do. My flaws are sometimes to want to push away from the desk and say "fuck it" I'll write something else because I let the negative voice in my head take over. But it's sticking with it in the darkest times that leads to deeper work.
6. Piggybacking on this question, how did you make ends meet prior to your writing/acting taking off? I've had hundreds of jobs. I had a landscaping company through high school and college, then worked construction, was a mover, installed irrigation systems, worked at a butcher, then was in a mailroom, a PR assistant, then a PR agency Supervisor working on video games...all to pay the bills while I wrote and auditioned. Been only four years that I've been able to make a living doing what I want.
7. Director Joe Canuso, has said he wants audiences to leave Lost Girls with a sense of hope. In these trying times we are living in, how do you continue to find hope? My family, having kids and seeing how smart they are and good they are. How they are going to do better than my generation did...I hope. I also have a very diverse group of friends and they really open my eyes to so much. It's very bleak out there right now, so much division and hate. And there's a shitload of work to do in terms of really listening to each other and realizing that there are a lot of people in this country who aren't treated fairly. And they need to be heard.
8. You have so much going on these days, from Lost Girls to the spring release of your film Stronger, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, about the Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman's story, plus you are developing a new half-hour dark comedy My First Black Friend, created with playwright Kemp Powers, fro Color Force & FX Network. How do you stay grounded when having so many projects going on at one time could make someone else insane? I struggle with time management. To me, it's about having a routine and putting in the hours. Never enough time, but if I focus on giving myself a schedule then I'm usually okay.
9. What made you want to tell Jeff Bauman's story? Why did you have to write Stronger? I just connected with his story immediately, and I was raised about half hour from where Jeff grew up so we have a lot in common. I found the story to be so moving yet very raw and gritty...sort of my sweet spot. And I spent a lot of time with Jeff and Erin and their family and fell in love with them, flaws and all, and wanted to do them justice.
10. What can you tell us about your developing series My First Black Friend? Working on this project with one of my closest friends has been a joy. It deals with some really hard truths and has opened my eyes to a lot I never thought of. Not sure what's going to happen with it, but I already consider it a success since I've had such a profound experience developing it.
11. You were also on NBC's hit show This Is Us. What can you share about your time on the show? Amazing show, with one of the coolest cast and crews and writers I've ever worked with. They pull a lot from theater crowd and it really feels that way. The actors are top notch. Especially Sterling K. Brown, who I worked with most extensively. I saw him on stage in FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS and was blown away. Then seeing him in OJ and now this show, he's one of my favorite actors out there right now. Really learned a lot watching him work. And just an incredibly cool guy. He's the star but he just disarms everyone, makes you feel like a bud from the second you walk on set.
12. I lived in and around the Boston area for a few years. I loved hanging out in Back Bay, the South End, Harvard Square, and Copley Square. What are some of your favorite Boston hangouts? I grew up going to the Boston Garden and Fenway. Those places have the most memories for me. I love Haymarket Square on weekends, South Boston for hanging with friends, but my favorite area is the North End. The food, the architecture, the vibe. Just love walking around there.
13. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I could spend less time on my fucking phone, especially when I'm with my kids. It's a tough addiction to crack. I'll try to get one percent better with that every day!
Thanks, Adam. Love your website-- keep killing it!
John Pollono is a playwright, actor and writer from New England. His play, Small Engine Repair, which he wrote and starred in, won the LA Ovation and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) Awards for Best Play for the 2011 LA production, for which he also received the LADCC Award for Best Writing. The play also enjoyed a critically-acclaimed, extended run Off Broadway with MCC Theater Company (NYTimes Critics’ Pick.) As an actor, John has appeared in one of the most talked about shows on TV this year, This Is Us on NBC, as well as Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, Masters of Sex, Major Crimes and Mob City. John is also a founding member of Rogue Machine Theatre in Los Angeles, which produced Small Engine Repair as well as his plays Lost and Found, Razorback and Lost Girls. His script for Stronger, Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman's story starring Jake Gyllenhaal, will go into production in Spring 2016 for Mandeville and Lionsgate – and debut on movie screens in fall of 2017. And he also is developing a half hour dark comedy My First Black Friend, created with playwright Kemp Powers, for Color Force and FX Network.