We spent some time catching up with an old friend of Thunderdance Eric Kole, to talk about his role in The Sky and CANAL+ production of Django. A miniseries based on Sergio Corbucci's 1966 film.
I'm not sure I can say. I'll tell you, I was working on a TV series for one of the more famous streamers… I think that's about as much as I can say. I also did a little thing last year, last summer, I think it's coming out this year, I don't have the exact date, but it was a period drama, World War II. Gosh, I'm going to have to go through the contract to see what I can actually say here... Sorry!
Absolutely. The project is a Spaghetti Western series called Django, a retelling of Sergio Corbucci's 1966 film. I played one of the three sons of a primary character, John Ellis, who is portrayed by Nicholas Pinnock. It was an engaging experience, and the shoot was extensive, spanning eight months in Romania.
Despite never having visited Romania before this project, I was excited for the opportunity. It's common knowledge that many films are shot across Europe, with the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Hungary being popular locations. Romania seemed a logical choice, but what truly surprised me were the landscapes. The drive from the airport to the hotel was an eye-opener - the surroundings were perfect for a Western, and it was clear why we were there.
John Ellis, my character's father in the show, constructed a town named New Babylon. The unique factor here was its location - inside an extinct volcano, entirely barren with just rocks. Ellis envisaged it as a sanctuary for the ostracised - individuals from all races, sexualities, or anyone perceived as 'different' in society. However, with the harsh environment where nothing grows, food scarcity and lack of money create unhappiness among the inhabitants.
The production team discovered a real extinct volcano where they built the entire set. The setting felt surreal and very true to the narrative of the story, which gave it that "wow" factor when I was actually on set. Felt surreal.
When asked about the process of landing the role, I recall that I simply sent in a self-tape and then completely forgot about it. My agent was like "Remember that Western? Well, it's back on." to which I was like "Ah, no shit?" Surprisingly, they got back to me about four months later to check if I was still available. It was just a week after that when they confirmed I got the role.
Truthfully, this approach is one of the reasons I don't discuss auditions or tapes I'm working on. The more people are aware of it, the more they can potentially remind me about it, which interferes with my ability to move on quickly. It's an odd balance because while auditioning is exciting, it also comes with its own stress. If you build up your hopes only to be let down, it can take a toll on you over time. I wouldn't go as far as saying it affects mental health - I'm certainly no expert on that - but I do believe it hampers your motivation and enthusiasm for future auditions. It becomes more difficult to fully commit to another audition when you're constantly reminded of the ones you didn't get, despite putting your all into every one.
Undoubtedly, one of my most inspiring experiences was working with Nicholas Pinnock, who played my father on the show. His performance was simply captivating; just observing him work on set taught me a great deal. Interestingly, one of the scripts I had written featured a character loosely based on a role Nicholas played in the first season of 'Top Boy.' That character dynamic had always fascinated me, and to be able to work with Nicholas himself on 'Django' was a pinch myself moment for sure.
What I learned from Nicholas extended beyond just acting. His presence on set and the way he carried himself were instructive. We often hear the saying, 'Children will do as you do, not as you say,' and I felt that perfectly captured our dynamic. Without explicitly mentoring me, Nicholas' actions and demeanour subtly guided me. Even the evolution of my accent throughout the show was influenced by him. We had a dialect coach initially, but as the shoot progressed, I found myself increasingly aligning my character's accent with Nicholas'. After all, wouldn't a son naturally mimic his father's speech?
This was something I found myself doing subconsciously before I recognised it. I would mimic how he pronounced certain words, subtly incorporating elements of his character into my own. Ultimately, I learned an incredible amount from simply being around him, and I'm deeply grateful for that experience.
My favourite aspect of working on this production was the opportunity to shape my character's development. Although my character had limited dialogue, the producers were open to my interpretations and suggestions, so I pushed for some creative liberty with my character and it was granted. Despite having fewer lines, I found it empowering to craft a meaningful narrative arc through non-verbal cues and subtext. It was a unique challenge, but I think it helped shape a compelling story for my character.
On the flip side, the challenge of this freedom was the uncertainty and the slight trepidation it bred. As a filmmaker, I understood the importance of the actor's input, but I was also aware that my suggestions could be turned down. The fear of overstepping my bounds was definitely present. However, two aspects bolstered my confidence. First, my financial independence meant I wasn't solely reliant on acting for my livelihood, lessening the fear of job loss. Second, my long-term goal of making a feature film gave me the assurance that even if things didn't pan out as expected, I had a robust plan to fall back on.
So, in essence, my least favourite part of the experience was navigating the tension between creative input and job security, which can sometimes hamper creativity. However, the empowering freedom to contribute to my character's development far outweighed these concerns.
To be honest, I don't believe I've had that 'big break' nor, based on the progression of the last decade, do I anticipate one. My journey has been one of steady, incremental growth, with each project, such as Django, representing another step along that path. It's not as though I'm inundated with high-profile offers or opportunities.
However, I do recognise a shift. I recall a time when I auditioned for substantial projects, knowing that I was likely one of hundreds, with only the top tier of applicants truly garnering attention. Currently, while the projects may be less renowned, I am confident that I am genuinely being considered, which feels like a significant stride forward.
Despite this progress, I'm not yet being approached by major studios like Marvel. It's an advancement, but it's not that transformative 'big break'. I appreciate my current path and actually prefer this steady progress. However, whether a sudden leap or gradual growth is better largely depends on the individual's maturity level. Assuming my career trajectory continues in the same vein, whether I reach significant success gradually or suddenly at 50, I hope that my maturity at that age would enable me to navigate either scenario effectively.
At 18, if I had been in my current position, I might have developed an inflated ego, believing I was exceptional and behaving as such. Maturity, it seems, has provided a beneficial perspective on success and recognition.
You can watch Eric in Django on Sky Go, Now TV or buy it as a download on Amazon Video and Sky Store in Europe and the United States.