We had the good fortune of connecting with Erik Sopracasa and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erik, how do you think about risk?
Risks can be intimidating, terrifying, but also exciting and inspiring, but most of all it will always teach you a lesson no matter how it goes and it’s important to learn form that. It’s only by taking risks that you can aim for higher goals and achieve some of the things you are dreaming of. Risks do not always have to be on such a large scale that it’s a matter of life and death, it can also be small, every small step you can take towards your goal. If you think about it, everything we do in life involves taking a risk and when you realize that then taking bigger (calculated) risks becomes easier. It’s important to understand what you would like to achieve and what you will have to do to achieve that goal and how important it is for you to achieve it. Is it a promotion at your work, a career change, a passion you would like to pursue as a career, a sports achievement e.g. running your first marathon? Anything. When you know what your goal is and know what you will have to do to achieve it you will automatically also have an idea of what the risks will be that you might have to take. I hope I can inspire you with my story and how I dealt with risks in my life until now.
I still think about when I was 18 years old and didn’t take a risk in an important event in my life. My dream was to become a professional soccer player and I had trained and worked hard in the hope to receive a chance one day at a big club. That day came, but the club was on the other side of the country (I was living in Belgium at that time) and maybe I was a bit young to understand that such chances only happen once. My parents wanted me to study and get a ‘normal” job and were not really embracing the idea of me moving away to play soccer but if I really wanted to go they would have let me go. In the end I ended up not going. I guess I was afraid of jumping into the risk of not knowing what will happen. Not that much could have gone wrong, worst case I wouldn’t have succeeded and would have had to move back home, but as I was just 18 I didn’t think too much about that part and the fact that that risk could have actually changed my life. It’s that lesson I’ve learned back then that has made me take the risk to move to the USA 11 years later to pursue my dream.
While soccer has always been my biggest passion, I was also always interested in acting. I used to organize small theatre productions with friends when I was still very young and was still living in Italy at that time – I moved to Belgium with my parents at the age of 10 – but I never actually saw it as a career. I was just doing it for fun and later in Belgium I was always doing impersonations of teachers and famous people and it was just always fun to make people laugh and see their reactions. In Belgium there are not many schools for theatre or filmmaking. It’s a very small world and extremely difficult to get into it. It was actually the most famous school in Belgium, Studio Herman Teirlinck, that advised me to study abroad if I was considering a real acting career and they helped me find the best schools in the USA, UK and Germany. As I always wanted to go to the USA I immediately looked at those schools and one of them was The Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre in Los Angeles, Hollywood. And…..I started dreaming until I saw what it would cost to study in the US :-).
When I was researching about acting schools and programs I was just graduated form the University where I had studied marketing and had just started working at Samsung Electronics. I started working at Samsung because I had done my internship there in the last year of University. While pretty much all of the students took a safe path and applied at smaller companies where they got immediately admitted to an internship I always wanted to work at a big tech company if I was going to pursue a career in marketing. I took a pretty big risk to only apply at two companies, Samsung and Audi with both only 1 internship spot. Both offered me an internship. Because I like technology and saw that there were more opportunities at Samsung I chose to do my internship there. After my internship I was offered a job and stayed in the company for two years. I looked once more at the acting programs and as they were too expensive I decided to put it aside and maybe one day I would do it, not really thinking that day would ever come. It was only 3.5 years later that I actually looked at it again. I was working for a big bank at that time and had resigned because I didn’t like it at all. I realized that it was a chance to do something I really wanted to do. It was now or never that I might have the chance to completely change my life and career.
I started researching the schools again in the USA and I chose to study at Stella Adler in Los Angeles.
Leaving everything behind. Leaving behind a pretty good and easy life, a regular job and a decent income to take the biggest risk I had ever taken: moving to the USA. And not to pursue a “normal” job but a job in the arts, Acting. Only a few people that knew me very well- some close friends and my parents- didn’t think I was crazy :-). But most people thought I was. You will see that every time you do something different than the “normal”, people will try to not make you do it, or laugh or not take you seriously. It’s because they are afraid of taking risks. It is scary and it can go wrong. But I had that “what if” from when I didn’t take the risk of moving away to play soccer and I didn’t want to have it a second time. I applied at Stella Adler, packed my bags, booked my flight and flew for the first time to Los Angeles, Hollywood. And that’s when everything really began.
When I left I told my mother that I would not just go on an expensive vacation to then have to go back. I told her that this would be my new life and I would do anything to pursue it. You have an idea about the risk you are actually taking but you don’t know for sure what you will encounter along the way, that’s the scary part.
After 4 months at Stella Adler in Los Angeles I met my girlfriend who was living in NYC and I decided to audition for the conservatory in NYC. As the conservatory in NYC is very classical and high paced I thought it would give me a great experience and I might be able to work or intern at a theatre in NYC. After I was accepted I decided to move to NYC to attend the two year conservatory there. It has been a big investment, all my savings are in it. Moving to a different continent, school, cost of living and many sacrifices. It’s a big risk to say the least. But I made it, and I graduated form the Stella Adler conservatory in NYC in the summer of 2019 as the first Belgian actor.
In the beginning of the second year of the conservatory I had applied for an internship at The Acting Company. I wanted to have an experience at a New York Theatre and they had a spot so I took my chance. The Acting Company is a very renowned theatre company in NYC and all around the USA. It was founded 47 years ago by Margot Harley and John Houseman with the very first class of Juilliard. There I’ve been working closely with artistic director Ian Belknap and associate artistic director Devin Brain. Two of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
At The Acting Company I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet and work with Morgan Freeman and Walter Bobbie, who I now have the honor to consider a friend. Sometimes taking a risk is just taking the courage to ask. The worst you can get is “no”. One day I had to bring a script to Walter Bobbie for an upcoming reading so I went to his house and when I saw him we had a chat and with my enthusiasm and motivation I showed how much I wanted to work with him. The day after during a production call I received the news that they wanted to work with me. Believe me, I’ve been here 4.5 years and I’ve received more “noes” than “yeses” :-). But if you don’t ask, if you don’t take a risk, you won’t know and you might lose an opportunity. It’s because I risked to maybe get a “no” that I was able to have the experience to work with one of the best actors in the world and one of the best Broadway directors.
Unfortunately the world had to stop in March 2020 because of Covid-19. Theatres closed, productions got canceled. I was surprised to see how many artists started creating work online and with The Acting Company we started producing several online plays and concerts. As a theatre company we had to take the risk to reinvent ourselves as the whole season was canceled. I was also able to shoot a short film a few months ago and was able to sign with a management company in LA. But the pandemic has had an impact on all of us and will continue to have. In any industry. It forces you to take risks to be able to survive financially, look for opportunities, to push yourself even further and create work you didn’t even think about was possible before. In these years in the US I have encountered many moments where I didn’t know how I would make it and what will come but every time I was able to find a way and a solution. I believe that is God’s work because there have been too many times that I would have not been able to continue this journey without something bigger that would have kept me on that path. Taking a risk requires a lot of discipline, it’s easy to get distracted and leaving the path for something easier. Something that doesn’t make you work as hard. But will that bring you to the same end goal?
If I didn’t take the risk of leaving everything behind 4.5 years ago to move to LA to start this journey I wouldn’t have been able to graduate from the Stella Adler Conservatory as the first Belgian actor and hopefully inspire many Belgian actors to do the same. I wouldn’t have met my best friend and love, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the best directors and actors in the world, I would’t have had the experience to live in two of the most amazing cities in the world: Los Angeles and New York City, (I’ll let you decide which one comes first). I’ve learned many lessons the hard way by meeting people who are here for the wrong reasons but also met great people who are now very good friends. Taking that risk has changed me as a human being.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
In 2016 I decided to change my life and career and move to the USA to study acting and pursue a professional acting career. I was living in Belgium at that time and was working for a Bank and as I really didn’t like the job I thought it could be a unique chance to pursue my dream. I decided to apply at The Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre in Los Angeles and got accepted.
I think my previous work and life experience helps me a lot in this business. For some reason, there is this perception of this industry that becoming an actor is something that just happens. This is wrong of course. But this is mostly because we see actors magically appear in movies, tv shows or on stage, ready, in their character, but don’t see all the work that happened before. All the big actors you see, actors who have careers that last for decades, have all studied and trained very hard for years. Being an actor is very similar as being a professional athlete. You need the same discipline, the same perseverance and train every single day or you will not make it. Both are a combination of craft, talent and business.
First time to the United States and the first time to Los Angeles, Hollywood. I felt like I was in a movie. I was going to study acting at one of the best schools in the world, where some of the best actors like Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Mark Ruffalo, and many many more studied too. In the center of Hollywood, right there on the Hollywood Blvd. I remember when I arrived, it was already night and I went immediately to the strip to see the stars and the Dolby Theater. I remember every day walking to school on the Hollywood Blvd and looking at the stars, the blue sky and the sun. The school is amazing, Stella Adler is not just an acting school, it’s a family, a home. I met the best teachers there, both in LA and in NYC and I’ve learned so much. Stella Adler said that to become a better actor, you have to become a better human being first. Something that fits very much in the present day.
After two terms in LA, I decided to apply for the full conservatory at the Stella Adler Studio Of Acting in NYC. The two schools don’t work together anymore since Stella Adler died. So I had to audition again to enter the conservatory. After I was accepted, I started in the “class of 2019” and graduated as the first Belgian actor in June 2019. The Stella Adler Academy in LA and The Stella Adler Studio in NYC are two very unique places that will always have a special place in my heart. They are my family now and I’m very proud to be a Stella Adler Alumni.
In New York, the conservatory is a bit more classical than in LA, with curriculums of the highest level that are very similar to the other conservatories in the city like NYU and Juilliard. We had e.g., ballet and two years of Shakespeare, and the pace….. well, it’s….. New York-fast :-). We had to learn so many monologues, scenes, choreographies, plays, and for international students there is also a very strict focus on American Accent. We had two years of American Accent Class where we learned to create an accent that is as neutral as possible. This is great because having an American Accent is very important if you want to make a chance to be considered by agents and casting directors and work in tv, film or theatre.
It was certainly not a smooth road. When I moved to LA, I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to move to the United States and start this new career. If I want to pursue a career as an actor or simply in the entertainment industry, the US is the best place to live. It’s simply the biggest market. The entertainment market in Belgium is basically non-existing so for me, this is simply the best place to pursue this career.
I was used to living in Europe where you can easily move from one country to another. I speak four languages fluently, have a university degree and some good work experience. But once here, I started realizing how difficult and complicated the system is in the US, which actually makes it almost impossible for people to move here. That causes the most stress and. that constant stress of thinking about how to pay for the bills and how to transfer every time to another visa is really tough. It’s hard to explain and hard to understand if you are not experiencing it. It feels like a huge weight on your shoulders 24h a day. You need a lot of patience and perseverance.
I believe we need artists and actors from all around the world. In the end, actors represent the world we live in, in stories that can be based on true facts to the most imaginary stories that make us all dream. The power and strength of our groups I both LA and NYC was the diversity in age, race, beliefs, nationalities, cultures and languages. The amount you learn and the experience you get by just working all together is incredible and you can really see this.
I think my previous work and life experience helps me a lot in this business. It helps me to stay focused and to see the longer picture. For some reason, there is this perception of this industry that becoming an actor is something that just happens. This is wrong. This is because we see actors magically appear in movies, tv shows or on stage, ready, in their character, but don’t see all the work that happened before. All the big actors you see, actors who have careers that last for decades, have all studied and trained very hard for years. Being an actor is very similar as being a professional athlete. You need the same discipline, the same perseverance and train every single day or you will not make it. Both are a combination of craft, talent and business.
Something I’m proud of is that I was the first Belgian actor to graduate from The Stella Adler Conservatory in NYC. I hope it will inspire many young actors to do the same and pursue their dream.
There are many lessons I’ve learned until now. It has been a very humbling journey. I moved to a new continent and country to study acting and had no idea what to expect or what it could be. As an actor I’ve learned to see the world with a non-judgmental approach which you need to be able to understand and play a character. That is also useful in our daily life as we usually judge very quickly before we actually know a person or a situation.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
There are many spots to visit in both LA and NYC of course. In NYC my Italian blood would suggest to visit Lollino. To me It’s the best Gelateria and Espresso bar in the city. The chef, Lorenzo Franchetti, is there every day and makes everything in an artisan way, The cornetti taste just like in Italy and that is really hard to achieve. The windows behind the counter provide a view into the lab where patrons can see Franchetti crafting the gelato. It’s a small and hidden gem in NYC! Unfortunately they had to temporarily close because of Covid-19, but the chef said that they are reopening soon in 2021 and I look very much forward to that! In LA there are so many things to visit from restaurants, museums and nature. I love the beach so I always have to make a stop in Santa Monica :-), further I would of course take them to Griffit Park, or last time we visited Calico Ghost town, a real cowboy ghost town :-), it was very fun and you can try your luck and find some gold in their gold mine. And if you like theatre try to catch one of the plays at the Stella Adler Academy located right on Hollywood blvd. Not a lot of people know there is actually a theatre there with performances almost every month. Tickets are very affordable and you not only support the school but also get a chance to see some of the best upcoming actors perform in one of the plays. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to give a shoutout to Ian Belknap, the artistic director of The Acting Company, for believing in me and always supporting me in my journey as an actor. It’s thanks to Ian that I have the opportunity to work with The Acting Company and have had the chance to meet some of the best actors and directors in the world. He’s not just a very talented director, artist and mentor but he’s also a kind and amazing human being and friend.
Other: IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm11350581/