Graphic by RPP/ Photo by: David LaPorte
Every actor has a dream role. For Robb Skyler it has always been portraying legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell. This summer the world can witness the veteran actor's fantasy come true, as Robb plays Howard in the upcoming biopic Hands of Stone. Killing two birds with one stone (pun intended), during this production he also got the chance to fulfill another acting dream - working with the one and only Robert De Niro. Not bad, right?
We caught up with Robb to discuss what it's like playing an icon while working with an icon, and so much more...
RP: Thank you so much for your time, Robb! I truly admire your work.
RS: Thank you, Robert!
RP: It's really cool that you got your start touring as a stand up comic. How do you think your background in stand up, which is very much a "roll with the punches" art, has influenced or helped your acting craft?
RS: Stand up comedy prepares you for anything on a film or TV project. As a stand up comedian, you are the director, writer, producer and the performer. It’s like a high wire act without a net. So that experience has helped me handle all the variables that come with acting.
RP: I'm sure! What was it that finally gave you the courage to quit that and follow your true bliss - acting?
RS: There was a little crossover, in that I attended film school while I was touring as a stand up, as well as doing some community theatre work when I was not on the road. So it was a more gradual transition as opposed to “cold turkey”.
"You always develop the character from the inside out."
RP: Gradual is good. When you transitioned into being an actor, what was one of the first things you did?
RS: When I transitioned into acting, I took some roles in very bad low budget independent films. But it did give me the experience to grow and gain confidence, so I guess playing the “barbecued” victim in NAIL GUN MASSACRE paid off!
RP: Ha - It certainly did because look at you now! Congratulations on landing the role of Howard Cosell in Hands of Stone! I read that you had always wanted to play him. How did it feel to be cast?
RS: Thank you! I had always wanted to play Howard Cosell, as I had grown up with him, since I was always following boxing & other sports as well. Having the chance to play the most iconic broadcaster ever was a dream come true.
RP: Howard is the most iconic sports broadcaster in TV history. How did you go about approaching the role and tapping into his essence? Did you watch videos of him?
RS: Yes, he is the most iconic broadcaster ever! I was very familiar with him. I didn’t need to do any research. I just had to make sure I didn’t do an “impression” or caricature of him. When you understand the character, obscure or iconic, you just tap into the essence and the inner life will come. You always develop the character from the inside out.
RP: What was the most challenging aspect of tackling Howard for you?
RS: The most challenging aspect of the role was a technical one. A lot of my scenes were when Howard was ringside with a microphone headset on. The only problem was that this headset wasn’t on - it was dead, which meant I couldn’t even hear myself speaking. It’s hard enough to speak normally without the benefit of hearing yourself, but trying to do that for an iconic acting role was something I overcame by just trusting my abilities and going with my intuitive instincts.
"Robert De Niro is the consummate professional."
RP: The movie has an amazing team. Specifically, I know you look up to Robert De Niro immensely. Can you put into words what it was like to work with him after so many years of admiring him?
RS: Robert De Niro is the consummate professional. The most impressive aspect of Mr. De Niro’s craft is how hard he works. Watching him work was truly impressive and inspirational. It showed me why he has remained at the top of his profession for so long. One usually has to love what they do to maintain such a commitment of hard work. It most certainly is reflective in his diligence. It showed me that talent alone doesn’t cut it - you need the passion and hard work as well.
RP: Definitely. You've worked with plenty other incredible talents throughout your career, like Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, just to name a few. Have any "acclaimed" actors every offered you a piece of advice on acting that you really took to heart (not that you need it)?
RS: I have been very fortunate to have worked with many “acclaimed” actors that have won Academy Awards and Emmys, but the most influential advice I ever got was from an actor I never met nor worked with. When James Gandolfini won his first SAG award, in his acceptance speech he said: “This is a hang in there business. Hang in there and don’t get discouraged. It can change real fast”. He was obviously talking to all the out of work actors listening. He was certainly talking to me.
"You have to write your own book."
RP: You certainly work hard, what do you attribute your success to?
RS: My success is based on hard work, passionate pursuit, and being able to handle rejection. And a little luck never hurt!
RP: That's so true. Any other upcoming projects you'd like to share?
RS: I have a few scripts that I am personally developing right now. They are mostly in the writing stages.
RP: I look forward to hearing more about those! To end on an inspiring note, what would you say is your best piece of advice for an aspiring performer?
RS: We all are collectively creative souls, but what we forget sometimes is that we can, and also need, to be creative in the business aspect of show BUSINESS. My motto is: If you do everything "by the book", all you have to show for it is having read someone else’s book! You have to “write your own book”! Think outside the box and don’t wait for the phone to ring!
Catch Hands of Stone in theaters August 26th and be sure to follow Robb on twitter @RobbSkyler.