HELLO AMERICA!—Be on the lookout for Elijah Rock who is an astounding, compelling serious actor, singer and comedian. He is one of those gifted artists who arrived in Hollywood unafraid of hard work and a since of reality that it takes to be successful in the toughest game in the world.
MSJ: Looking at your reel, you have an enormous rage as an actor-entertainer. When did you first realize that you had such a need, a passion to perform in film or on stage?
ER: I started performing when I was very young, in my community church, in Cleveland, OH. That’s where my mother first noticed that I had a gift and passion for singing. Reinforced by the music teacher in my elementary and junior high school, I was accepted into the Cleveland Opera Children’s Chorus and the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus. Meanwhile at school, I was performing in Choir and even played Snoopy in the musical “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” This diversity of experiences was the foundation for what has followed. As a youth, I never thought much about film. That evolved much later in my career. Singing and acting on a stage was my home away from home.
MSJ: Who were some of the entertainers or actors who influenced you most when you began your career and why?
ER: My greatest influences are Paul Robeson, Bert Williams, Step and Fetchit, Sammy Davis, Jr. Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, James Brown, Franco Corelli, Al Pachino and Denzel Washington. I know this sounds like a crazy range of entertainers, but classical music was a huge influence in my life. I even played classical guitar and cello as a youth. I’ve always had a passion for Vaudeville and the history of the theatre artists across the board: music, stage and cinema. And being a classically trained vocalist in bel canto and in the theatre at the Cleveland Karamu House, I would always be drawn to the great performing artists of past generations.
MSJ: Realizing how difficult it is to get doors open to an actor, did you at first hesitate and then decided to simply go for it.
ER: I was fortunate to excel in the arts while being a youth. I was able to attend Interlochen Arts Academy for two summers in high school before going to The Cleveland Institute of Music where I studied voice. When I decided to make a go of it professionally, I had no reservations because I organically felt that I had what it took to succeed to be a working entertainer. I think I knew it was my purpose before I understood the full meaning of what having a strong purpose was all about. I just knew that I wanted to develop into a well-rounded artist who had a diverse skill set, like an amalgamation of the kinds of talents my influences had. I truly had a strong idea of who I wanted to model myself after and almost unconsciously, that is what has happened in more ways than I can even articulate at the moment. I am grateful that my talents allow me to create in very diverse ways, which makes the kinds of characters I am attracted to very exciting.
MSJ: What was the first show you appeared in and how did it make you feel? And what kind of roles are you drawn to? I ask this because of the enormous dramatic and comic range you definitely have.
ER: Wow, well since I went to an all-boy elementary school, the first amateur show was Charlott’s Webb in the fifth grade. And yes, I played Charlotte! I felt proud and affirmed in my ability to convey a conflicted spider. LOL It was the first time I experienced the extraordinary sensation of storytelling. I am drawn to complex characters, whether dramatic or comedic. Being an observer of humanity and living my own life, there is so much to draw from. I just want to be challenged so I can continue to grow as an artist…I suppose that will be the case for the course of my life. Like many actors, I was the class clown, thus comedy comes pretty naturally. I approach Drama in the same way…LIFE has all the answers.
MSJ: How hasHollywoodchanged your perspective as an entertainer? Are you forced to accept assignments that you feel are beneath you as an actor or comedian?
ER: I realized early on, that entertainment is a business. It’s the business of SHOW. So, I knew that to be successful enough to make a healthy living, I would need to learn how the biz works. As much as a fine artist I am, I know that for an artist to economically sustain and grow in their business, monetization is a requirement. I think I get the fundamentals of howHollywoodworks which happens over time by being here and navigating the waters. It’s a tricky place to be if you don’t have a strong purpose as an entertainer. They say that as many people arrive today to pursue a career inHollywood, the same number of people are packing their bags to leave. During a rehearsal in one of the first equity shows I did at The Great Lakes Theater Festival, inCleveland, an actor said to me, “Remember kid, overnight success inHollywoodis ten years.” There’s a lot of truth in that, and his words have stuck with me. I never take on a role or create in any way that I feel is beneath me because I only work in the spirit of excellence. I will pass on a project that I feel is not where my heart lies. To do so, would be an injustice to myself and to my craft. For me, it’s about building a body of work that I can be proud of and inspired by. I believe in creating with intention.
MSJ: What kind of challenge are you still looking forward to handle as a performer? Is it more as a comic or as a dramatic actor since it is obvious that you easily can handle both?
ER: I just want to play the characters that I’m supposed to play with the talents and skill-set I have. I want to be challenged to do great work with the amazing artists in cinema and on stage. Great storytelling is where it’s all at for me, from a film to communicating the lyric of a song or melody, this is the spirit truly living and what we as humans need to soulvive. I say “soulvive” because art touches the SOUL in the most profound ways. It’s part of our human nature. Thus when we walk outside and experience the beauty of the trees, flowers, ocean, wildlife; they naturally connect with our inner being. Our job as Artists is to reconnect people to their feelings and that’s what keeps us in touch with “feeling” alive…our reason for living. We are here to Be our natural selves but the Artist is most responsible to reflect life back to the living.
MSJ: Have you changed very much since those earlier days hoping to be recognized as some one special? If so, how so?
ER: I think I’ve grown as an Artist for sure and of course I’ve thought along the way at times, “When and Where will my talents be recognized at the next level?” For someone who loves his craft, I think I just wanted to stay busy creating, even though it was also tough dealing with the inconsistencies of my financial domain. I’d heard people say, “Acting is for rich kids who can be supported by their families for the years it takes for them to make a living.” I think that’s why so many people quit, because it’s just too difficult to undergo the stress of financial starvation for years, before things start to really happen. I empathize with them because I get it. I am grateful I found ways to stick it out and for the support I cultivated around me. I’m not where I envision to be yet, but I feel exciting opportunities coming ahead. I think a big change happened a few years ago, when I wrote down my mission/vision statement. Somehow it gave my career a direction and blueprint for me to follow.
MSJ: When are you the happiest? Is it when you are facing an audience or creating a character in front of a camera?
ER: I love it All. I’m happiest, creating in the moment, nothing like it in the world. It’s like being water with no directional path. Simply water that is allowed to flow. Both disciplines are unique and thrilling in their own ways. They are just so very different. Nothing compares with a live audience in terms of immediate feedback. It is in some ways the most organic, relational experience you can have with the receiver of your story; it is the raw essence of storytelling in all of it’s purity, since the very dawn of humanity. Film, is a first cousin and embodies nuances that are remarkable. It’s amazing how film can touch us in visceral ways as well. You have a moving picture accompanied by sound. In film, the camera reads the intimacy of your thoughts. On stage you have a fourth wall to play to.
MSJ: Check Elijah Rock out. He is quite a guy — an extraordinary talent!
By Michael St. John