Born in Montreal, actor Tod Fennell launched his career when he was only a child, snagging his first big role in 1997 as Jeff Mackenzie in Lassie. Since then, he has appeared on a multitude of shows, such as Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Mental Block, The Festival, The Bethune and The 4400, and worked with some of the greatest talent in the entertainment industry, including Morgan Freeman, Billy Bob Thorton, Beau Bridges, James Brolin, Roy Dupuis, Kirsten Dunst and Mary Louise Parker. He also branched into the voice-acting world for the video games Assassin’s Creed II, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and Thief.
Now, he’s featured in the second season of Dennis Quaid’s new show The Art of More, airing on Crackle this November 16th, and appeared on the show Natural Born Outlaws, a show that profiles some of America’s most notorious criminals and the law-enforcement officials who brought them to justice. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Fennell about what it was like to be a child actor in the entertainment industry, his upcoming role in The Art of More and his love for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Check it out below!
As a child actor, what was it like growing up in the entertainment industry?
Growing up in the industry was nuts, in a good way. It demystified so many things for me. I learned to appreciate all the work involved in the creation of visual media, whether in film, television, video games or commercials. It’s a crazy environment to grow up in, but it’s stimulating, and you learn very fast. There were some years where I spent more time on set than I did at school and so I built some pretty strong relationships that are still strong today with some of my costars. As a dad, people sometimes ask me if I would want my son to get into. I say, “If it’s what he wants, then I’m all for it.” It’s a very creative environment, and you get to learn a little bit of everything.
What were some of the first things that you learned, and what were some of the challenges that you faced?
I learned pretty early on not to get too self-critical. When you’re performing, it’s easy to get caught up in negative self-talk if you start making mistakes take after take. The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse it gets. I had to learn how to take a time out when that starts happening, take a deep breath and go at it again with a fresh perspective.
Another challenge is re-inventing yourself for each audition. It’s easy to get pigeon-holed if you’re not careful and on your toes. It’s important that casting agents are aware of your range and ability to play different roles. I like to go in for everything, even if I don’t get it, it’s a chance to stretch myself creatively and to prove to myself and to the casting agencies that I can play all kinds of different characters.
How did you come to get involved with the show “The Art of More”?
I actually auditioned for a role in season 1, but I’m really glad I didn’t get it, the guy I play in season 2 is way more fun!
What appealed to you about the character Cliff Kerbis?
I had played a lot of serious roles, like detectives, cops, special agents and soldiers, so when I got the breakdown for Cliff’s character, I was like “Oh yeah, I’m getting this one!”. It was so refreshing to go in for something completely different. I busted out my beats headphones, put on a hoody and embraced my inner Silicon Valley startup billionaire. I think, deep down, we all have a Cliff Kerbis inside us. He’s just so full of confidence with a little bit of arrogance mixed in there, and oblivious to what everyone else thinks. I drew from some of my experience game developers in the video game industry.
Can you share anything about what your character’s role this season will be?
Nope. Sorry, but you can definitely binge watch on November 16th 😉
What is your favorite memory from working on that set?
Getting to work with Kate Bosworth, hands down.
What drew you to the show “Natural Born Outlaws”?
I have family and friends in Law enforcement and have gone on a few ride alongs. The pace and the world these people live in is unreal. Needless to say, it’s really exciting to play that adrenaline rush they feel when they’re hunting down criminals. So when I had the opportunity to play Melvin Purvis (the FBI agent who caught three of the most notorious gangsters of all time, I jumped at the chance)
In addition to working on television, you’ve also been a part of multiple video game franchises, such as Assassin’s Creed. Was voice-acting something that you adapted to right away?
I had always done a little bit of voice acting growing up, but when I got into video games, that’s when my career in voice acting really took off. I love being in a sound studio, sometimes even more than when I’m on set because I can play characters that look nothing like me. I wouldn’t say I adapted right away; the learning curve was a little steep, and I’m still learning and adapting to the new and innovative technologies they use to record facial expressions while recording voice.
What kind of preparation is required for doing motion capture work for video games?
A warm up is essential. You never know if you’ll be casually walking through a crowd, or jumping out of cars and being thrown out of imaginary helicopters. Or how many times you’ll have to play a character getting shot to death, falling to the floor in every way imaginable. Because there’s so much tech involved, we have time to mentally prepare for each scene and get accustomed to wearing those mo-cap suits and facial recognition helmets. It’s not so obvious to make moving around in those things look natural.
What shows, books, movies, etc. bring out the nerd in you?
Let’s start with the nerdiest and move on from there. I used to play a lot of “Diablo 2” and “Diablo 3”, so much so I had to cut myself off. I’m also a pretty big fan of first-person shooters like “Call of Duty” and “Borderlands.” I played “Magic: The Gathering” until I was… well, I still bust out the cards every once in a while. Growing up, my dad introduced me to “Star Trek TNG,” and it’s still my “go to” whenever I’m feeling down or exhausted. That scene when Picard goes back to see his brother after being assimilated by the Borg still brings me to tears every time. I’m a huge fan of “Space X” and “Tesla” too. I also got to go to NASA Goddard for a press event back in 2014. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see the preparation for some of the missions up close.
Make sure you catch season two of The Art of More on November 16th on Crackle!