I interviewed Erwin Galan (pictured right) last Saturday, and learned about the exciting, challenging, and highly interesting life of a professional actor. He was born in Madrid, Spain, but moved to the US (Winter Park, Florida) when he was two and a half. He attended the University of Florida, and studied business, but wasn’t truly happy until he decided to pursue acting. He works as a professional actor, but also works as a Spanish interpreter on a freelance basis. He is currently performing as Dar in the Invisible Hand, which will be playing at the ART (Artists Repertory Theatre) in Portland, Oregon, March 10-April 5.
When did you first discover an interest in acting?
I wanted to be an actor when I was seven years old, but I was afraid to act on it. There weren’t any outlets for acting in Winter Park where I grew up. There were a lot of outlets for sports. My parents definitely didn’t encourage anything in the arts. I never even saw a play until I was 21 years old. But I always wanted to be an actor. I just had it inside me.
What was the first show you were in?
The first show I was ever in I was 31, and it was at Live Girls! Theater here in Seattle. The show was called Tina Does Time.
When did you decide to become an actor full time?
Well, you don’t really decide to become an artist full time. You become an artist full time once you get enough work to make a living as an artist. Otherwise you’re always doing your secondary job out of necessity. I was like 25 when I decided I want to be an actor, period. I don’t want to do anything else with my life. And so I moved to New York City to train as an actor. But training as an actor costs money. I had to get a job, so I taught Spanish in high school. And that paid for some acting classes. And then I moved to Seattle, because Seattle has a much healthier vibe than Manhattan. Here I waited tables, and then started working as an interpreter, all the while wanting to be an actor. But I wasn’t good enough to get full time acting work. Most theaters and films don’t pay, or pay very little. It wasn’t till 2009 when I really made money as an actor. So, a long time. The careers like Tom Cruise’s? That’s very rare, obviously. Only 2% of union actors in the US make a living as actors. That doesn’t include community, small time actors; that’s just people who are in the union.
How did you decide to go to New York and pursue acting?
I felt like there was no hope for me ever to be true to myself unless I was pursuing acting. So, no matter how much money I could make, what relationships I could have, I would not inside, deep inside, be happy unless I was true to myself, and being true to myself was synonymous with being an actor. It still is.
What, or who, inspires you?
Actors who have made it. There’s a theater director in England who inspires me, his name is Declan Donnellan. He wrote a book called The Target.
What is that about?
It’s a guide for acting. It’s a guide for how to inhabit the space of the character in a way that is more organic and fluid, as opposed to mechanical. There are other techniques in acting that are very mechanical, which I don’t like.
In the past few years, what has challenged you the most in your work?
So many things. It’s constant. One of the most difficult things is dealing with the emotional aftermath after you work really hard to get a role and you don’t get it. That’s hard. Another thing that’s hard is when you’re in a play or film, you’re reconciling your own personal artistic values with the artistic values of the piece itself.
Would you say you’ve had to compromise your artistic values in some way?
I try not to compromise them. Sometimes I get in trouble for that. Like, sometimes, I’ve shot commercials and industrial videos with corporations, advertising companies, Microsoft, and the writing is really bad. And I speak out about it, and it creates a sort of friction or tension between the producers and myself. They’ll complain to my agent, “Oh, this guy is hard to work with.” Not plays, not films, that stuff is real storytelling; it’s easier for me to bring myself to it.
Talk about an experience that has really helped you get better at what you do.
Everything I’ve done has helped me become a better actor. Every play I do helps me become a better actor. Expanding my capacity to imagine and visualize, to see what the character sees, in any given moment. The practice of that in theater makes me a better actor.
What is your favorite thing about acting?
The life, the life flow.
What do you mean?
To feel the life flow rushing through your body, your being, while being with other people, while being in contact with other people, in an imaginary circumstance. It takes us out of our character structure, which really isn’t who we are anyway, just habits of walking. You see the way this guy is walking? He’s agitated, hurried, he’s taking huge strides, kind of coming down heavy. There’s a lack of mindfulness to the way he walks. We don’t really know who he is inside, but that external stuff of his isn’t really who he is. Of course, if I were to play him I would have to take that on. But, what’s really rich and meaningful isn’t the external behaviors as much as the inner life.
Is there any advice you have for an aspiring artist?
I would say, get started early. Don’t let your ego be your guide; let your feelings be your guide. And, try to clear up your personal issues. Don’t think art will clear up your personal issues for you. You have to deal with your personal issues.