This article has been edited for length
About a week ago I got the chance to talk to actor and writer Steve Olson, who is the star of the newly released movie, Fishbowl California. After we spent some time debating whether Ohio counts as the East Coast (it’s doesn’t) and how great Washington, D.C. is, we got into the good stuff.
Meg: So let’s just go ahead and get into this like you’re Batman. Tell me, what’s your “Batman Begins,” your origin story?
Steve: Well, I’m from Ohio. Akron, well, Cleveland, or as I call it, the Mistake on the Lake. Basically, it boils down to I graduated college and started auditioning for stuff. I was out here in Los Angeles and started getting into commercials. My first real acting job was a commercial for Taco Bueno, which is a regional chain in California. I haven’t seen one in LA, but I promoted them without knowing anything about them. That was my first job and I was ecstatic about it. I thought I was famous. As It turned out, I wasn’t. But then I started getting more commercials. The first, I guess, sort of legitimate movie I did was this ridiculous Showtime movie called Ninja Cheerleaders. Wow, I can’t even recall the plot – there were like cheerleaders and some of them were ninjas? It was hilarious and ridiculous, but it was my first movie.
*Interviewer’s note: I WILL FIND THIS MOVIE TO WATCH.*
Meg: Wow. Okay then. I remember when I was trying to make it as an actress, I took some really “fun” jobs trying to pay the bills – Disney princess at children’s birthday parties, singing for people at a long-term care facility and bartending gigs. So how about you? Any fun/weird gigs aside from your Taco Bueno commercial?
Steve: Yeah, I pretty much went the standard route; I started with the catering thing. I was working at the Pasadena Convention Center with two of my buddies, which was great. But I think we only lasted about 3 months. There was a black tie event one night, really upscale. We were in this gigantic convention hall, and, for some reason, we decided to throw dinner rolls all the way across the whole room, way above everything, while someone was giving a speech. We were not asked to continue working there.
Another one we had was at the Culver City mall, working at one of these pop-up Sprint booths. Well, those phones are tethered to the kiosk, so our logic was, “Well, we don’t have a boss here, and the phones are tethered to the thing, so really, what do we need to be here for?” So we went swimming, had some drinks and when we came back like five hours later two of the five phones had been stolen. They also did not ask us to return.
Steve: Yeah. The irony.
Meg: Say a prayer of thanks every night. Where did you go to college?
Steve: Yeah, I started at Kent State in Ohio and I transferred to Cal State my sophomore year. I started in Ohio, where I’m from, and then I finished in Los Angeles, studying Finance.
Meg: Was that kind of because you were pretty sure you wanted to go into acting, so you needed to get out to California, or did you just need a little break from beautiful Ohio?
Steve: No, no, no, no. Why would I need a break from Ohio? It’s the best! But they offered this exchange program through Kent State that let you transfer to like 12 schools across the country and I thought, what about Cal State? At the time I had been reading Bruce Campbell’s book, “If Chins Could Kill”.
Meg: OMG, Bruce Campbell? I love him so much. Oh, my god. I own everything he’s ever done, I think. I have Brisco County Jr., Burn Notice (including the app on my phone). We just watched all of Ash vs The Evil Dead.
Steve: He’s the best. I don’t even know how to explain it. He just looks like a movie star. I don’t even know if he’s the best actor, but he just looks like he’s supposed to be a movie star. He’s one of my idols, Bruce Campbell.
Meg: Right. Oh, I’m putting this part in the article, for sure.
Steve: Wow, I actually totally forgot about that! I forgot that book he wrote, about how they made The Evil Dead and it was such a grassroots thing. They shot it in Detroit and it was just piecemealed, you know, the budget was piecemeal through friends and neighbors and they were just knocking on people’s doors for money.
I was like, oh, that’s so cool. And I could relate to it because he was midwest and Detroit. I mean, I guess it’s a pretty common dream for people to want to be an actor, but for some reason, that book really hit home with me and so I really think that’s what pushed me, what inspired me, to make the move out here and try it for a little while.
Meg: When I did a little social media stalking last night, it looks like you were attached to the movie pretty much from the beginning – one of the first people cast.
Steve: I think I was the first person cast. Well, actually I was cast with the other lead actress who plays June, the older woman that I move in with in the movie. The final audition was a chemistry test and we had amazing chemistry together, so we were basically both cast together. And then they’re putting together the rest of the cast, people like Quinton Aaron from The Blind Side. He came on right after I did. Then, as the movie got closer to the actual filming date, Spring 2017, they were able to pull in some of the more big name actors because they’re schedules are sort of harder to manage, so they tend to come in towards the end, based on their availability. So that’s probably why I was the first one involved, really, because I was the most available.
Meg: I watched the trailer and I think I got the gist of it, but I kind of want to hear about it from your perspective.
Steve: Ok then. So, Fishbowl, it’s a feel-good comedy. Oh, and I like to make the distinction, I don’t know if I heard it somewhere or if I came up with it on my own, or if it’s some combination of the two, but the distinction of it being a film versus a movie. A movie to me is like Milk Duds, Miller Light tallboys, Jujubes – it’s just fun. It’s like, think Back to the Future, that’s a movie, don’t call it a film.
And Fishbowl California is definitely a movie. It’s a feel-good comedy with sort of an Odd Couple set up. I play the main character, Rodney, he’s lighthearted but also just a down and out directionless loser. But, he forms an unlikely friendship with an ill-tempered, cantankerous drunken widow, and they’re sort of these two lonely directionless people and their friendship or companionship ends up mutually solving their respective issues.
Meg: In what ways do you think you’re the most like your character or not even a little bit like your character? On the scale of Rodney, where would you put yourself?
Steve: Well, Rodney is a flat-out loser by definition. That’s how they wrote him. So, I don’t wish that I was more like him in that way. I think, you know, the way they wrote him though, he’s very outspoken. He’s sort of got verbal diarrhea, you know those people with no filter?
Meg: Ah, yes, I’ve been accused of that a few times.
Steve: I probably have too, so maybe I am like him in that way. Hmmm. But really, it’s like he’s one of those people that are so outspoken that they really annoy you at first, but, because they’re so unfiltered, it starts to sort of grow on you that they’re not a sugar-coated type of person. And he really annoys this old woman, June, at first. She has this terrible temper and I’m this disrespectful little asshat kid and I’m bugging the shit out of her and trying to get a free room because I’m basically homeless at this point in the movie. But then this strange sort of dynamic starts to build between us – she’s this lonely widowed lady and we sort of become buddies even though we annoy the shit out of each other.
Meg: In this movie, we’ve got a couple of bigger names. We’ve got Kate Flannery from The Office and Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock… What was that like? I mean that had to be kind of amazing.
Steve: That was amazing. I mean, who doesn’t love The Office and hasn’t seen every episode like a zillion times.
Meg: Yes! I just re-watched the entire series, and I’m sorry, but Meredith (Kate Flannery) is one of the unsung heroes of that show.
Steve: She really is. It’s just that there are so many good people on that show that people forget about her. She had her moments, she gets her moments. But Kate Flannery, Katrina Bowden, they’re absolutely unbelievable to work with. They come in and they’re perfectly prepared. They know their lines and they’re ready to go. Kate actually improvised quite a bit during her scenes and it was hysterical. I mean, we definitely go through a take of the scripted version and then sometimes you keep going because Michael, the director, wouldn’t yell cut and so she would just keep going.
Meg: Who does she play in the movie?
Steve: Rodney goes on a series of job interviews that turn out disastrously and she’s one of the people who interview me.
Meg: And Katrina Bowden, is she your girlfriend that you’re living with at the beginning of the movie?
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Meg: Ok, wait a minute. This loser you’ve described, he lands Siri from 30 Rock?
Steve: Ok, hold on, back it up. I mean, he’s a pretty good-looking loser.
Meg: So basically you landed Katrina Bowden because you are a super cute loser.
Steve: Well I just think TV/movies tend to misrepresent reality. It’s like would Kevin James be with Leah Remini? No. At least, not in real life, but in TV, for some reason, people think that’s entertaining. I don’t know, maybe it makes the audience feel better. Wait, or would that make them feel worse? I don’t know. I don’t know what that does, but I do think they should be setting it up more equally so that people can more realistically manage their expectations in life.
Meg: I saw that Fishbowl California actually was selected for the Columbus International Film Festival. So you got to go back home to Ohio for the premiere. Was that at all surreal, like going home and just being able to say “Haha, I did it guys?”
Steve: Well, except it was 160 miles away from my actual hometown – dammit! But actually, that was a total coincidence that it premiered at that festival. It was amazing, actually. I got to have my family come down, which I was so appreciative for. We had screened it in a few different places, so I’d seen it before on the big screen but it was still really exciting. It was kind of bittersweet, being in Ohio, but not closer to my hometown – but my sister and her husband went to school in Columbus, and they brought lots of their friends.
They put us up on the marquee. It’s this little old school movie theater called The Drexel. It’s this classic building with things like 1984 PacMan arcade games and it’s so cool, as opposed to a commercial movie theater.
Meg: Is it at all weird to sit in an audience and watch yourself on screen? Are you more paying attention to the movie or to the reactions around you? Like, “Oh my god, people didn’t think that line was funny” or, “people thought that line was funny?”
Steve: It’s definitely the weirdest thing that could ever happen to you. Well, ok, it’s in the Top 10. It’s nice to hear when people are laughing, that part’s good if it happens. But it’s a weird combination of being embarrassed but flattered at the same time. You’re embarrassed, like “I’m sorry, I’ve been taking up 90 minutes of your time to watch me do this.”
Meg: You’ve been in quite a few commercials. You’ve done Dorito Thief, Pepcid, Dr. Pepper, is there anything out there that you would just love them to call you up and be like, “We want you to be the face of this campaign?”
Steve: Oh god, that’s such a great question. I’ve done a lot of commercials. I don’t want to sound like I’m not grateful for that, because I am. Believe me, that’s paid my bills. But, I think the Geico commercials are the funniest thing on TV right now.
Meg: Well, one of the questions on my list is if you could work with any two actors, who would they be? I’m going to put Bruce Campbell in there, obviously. Anybody else who you’re just like, “If I could work with that person, I can die happy?”
Steve: OMG, there are just so many people to list… I just saw Three Billboards, so Sam Rockwell I think would be on it.
Meg: One last question! I know when I am doing theater I hate being asked, “What’s next?” but I’m going to ask you anyways – any idea what’s next for you? Any projects in the works or do you think you’re just going to kind of ride this wave for a while?
Steve: That’s absolutely a possibility. I’m not going to rule that out. Right now I’m guest starring on a sitcom called Those Who Can’t. It’s a hilarious show. It’s on TruTV, it’s their first scripted sitcom. It’s like an Always Sunny in Philadelphia kind of vibe, I’d say. And then, there’s a movie called Trouble with My Business that just came out on VOD, But really, I think the big things are the guest star role on Those Who Can’t in June, and Fishbowl is available on May 1st.
Meg: And I can do that video on demand on my iTunes?
Steve: iTunes, Amazon, you can buy it if you have a Family Video. You can catch it any of those places. Also, if I physically throw a copy at you, you can catch it that way.
Meg: I am a part-time Sommelier, so I’m going to create a special Fishbowl cocktail for you.
Steve: Oh, I love that! Ok, yes, I’m into it.
Meg: It’s going to be delicious. I’ll tweet it to you and the next time I’m out in California we’ll get together and we’ll have one, okay?
Steve: YES! Let’s do that, that’s a perfect idea.
Photo Credits: Paulo Macedo (Photographer) and Sierra Barton (Stylist)