Red Deer College alumnus making waves in Hollywood
One of his latest includes a part in the film Greater which was released last year, which chronicles the experiences of the late Brandon Burlsworth - an offensive lineman for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team from 1995 to 1998. Burlsworth was selected in the third round of the 1999 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts.
After attending a Colts minicamp, the coaches were impressed enough to pencil him in as the projected starter at right offensive guard. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident in late April of 1999 - just 11 days after he signed with the Colts. He was 22.
For Emerson, his involvement with the project (he plays Burlsworth’s nemesis) was and continues to be deeply meaningful.
“I was just sitting at home and I literally got a phone call from the director,” he said of how he was introduced to Greater.
“He had gotten my contact information through someone else, and he asked if I wanted to be part of this football movie. I then remember reading it - and the story is just heart-wrenching. But at the same time, it’s very motivating for people, too.”
Burlsworth wasn’t initially expected to go far, but in the end he exceeded anyone’s expectations.
“It also shows people that they aren’t alone,” he said. “The story transcends football or even what he would do on a daily basis. The success really was in how it affected people.”
Another recent project is Magic Hour. The synopsis reads, “During a hot summer in 1990, a young man, Ray, moves into his aunt’s Venice Beach home to find his direction in life. While there, he is befriended by some local criminals, a group of five brothers that soon become his surrogate family.”
Emerson said it’s a very intriguing story and was a load of fun to do.
Meanwhile, living in La La Land has been a fascinating change of pace for the Edmonton native.
“It’s definitely a culture shock,” he explained of LA, which he has called home for nine years now.
“You get used to it, but here’s what I’ll say about LA. The average person would look at it and maybe go, ‘It’s not for me, it’s very trendy and liberal.’ But the thing about Greater Los Angeles, is that it’s so big and there are so many people - there is literally a group for everybody,” he explained.
Other projects that Emerson has been featured in run the gamut from The Comeback Season, For the Love of a Child, I Love You, Beth Cooper, Jennifer’s Body and Dawn Anna (which co—starred Debra Winger and which was based on experiences of a mother of one of the victims of the Columbine tragedy).
For Emerson, there’s really no other path to take.
He is so passionate about every aspect of filmmaking, the thought of giving up never seriously crossed his mind. Many times when he’s not required for a particular scene, he’ll hang around the set anyways – soaking in the creative energies of the technical parts of a shoot. He said sets often take on a ‘family-like’ feel as everyone pursues the same goal. It’s one of the most attractive elements of being in the industry, he added.
As for his own start in the biz, he said he basically stumbled across it.
“I was sitting at the dinner table, and normally we were never allowed to have the TV on during dinner. This time, it just happened to be on,” he recalled.
“I remember looking at the TV and it was Oprah with Will Smith on it. There was something about Will - I couldn’t stop watching the show. I knew who he was, and remember this was 1999 - so had really started moving up. There was something about this guy,” he said, adding that watching Smith was somehow the catalyst that made him knew acting was what he was going to be doing. “This moment was just not an everyday kind of thing.”
The response? Not entirely encouraging.
“I might as well have told them I was going to be an astronaut.”
Emerson was in Grade 12 at the time and uncertain what the future held. School hadn’t been exactly an enjoyable experience, and Emerson found himself at a low point.
Soon he headed off to Red Deer College to take the film program, and it was foundational in many ways. He also struck up a solid relationship with one of the teachers - Larry Reese - who really encouraged him to pursue his dream further by moving out to Vancouver.
“Larry is such a good man, and he was such a mentor to me. We literally became friends. And as far as the industry went, we would also do things outside of school. He would come with me the odd time on auditions to be my reader - he was a very integral part of who I am as far as film goes.”
It wasn’t long before parts in shows and movies started to roll his way.
“I was on numerous CW and network shows,” he recalled. The move to Los Angeles was about three years after that.
Since then, Emerson has landed many roles including not just those noted above, but also on shows like CSI New York and NCIS.
Meanwhile, Emerson said much of the key to convincing acting comes from simply responding.
“I think the nature of it sometimes is that we train to perform when the exact opposite is what you should be aiming for,” he said. “If you are to be mad in the scene - get mad! Don’t present to the audience that this is how you act if you are mad. Just be mad.
“Just listen and react. It sounds so simple but it’s the hardest part,” he said.
Certainly the acting world isn’t the easiest to delve into. As Emerson points out, so many long for a break but aren’t able to nab one. It clearly takes a dedication and a tenacity to just keep going through the dry those spells when jobs are few and far between. “I literally say to people if you don’t know that this is who you are with all of your heart, save yourself the time,” he said. Even if you get your foot in the door, there’s still the audition process which can be a heartbreaker too if things don’t go your way. But the joys of landing those roles makes it all worth while.
“That chances of success are very slim. And even then, you’re still competing with successful people for those spots.”