African American actor Echo Kellum, chats hit series Arrow, LGBT community, and working with starlet Sami Isler
By: Rachelle Henry | PHOTOS COURTESY Lesley Bryce
- Los Angeles, California
African American actor Echo Kellum chats exclusively with We Blab about his role on the hit CW show Arrow, and doing justice for the LGBT community. Also Echo share his memories working with young rising star Sami Isler on NBC's Sean Saves the World.
You grew-up in Chicago Illinois, and moved to Los Angeles in 2009 to pursue acting. How did you first get started in the business?
I was in the commercial realm and theater realm in Chicago and when I moved out to LA I really dived head-first into improv. Improv was something that blew me away and I fell head-first for it. It taught me that I wasn't just an actor, but a writer and director and that I had all these intricate parts to my art. I was so grateful for that and it's something that I really credit to an enlightening, or awakening, in my career.
During your lush career you've been cast in roles including Arrow, and Comedy Bang-Bang. Which do you find more challenging: Comedic or dramatic roles?
They both have their own unique challenging aspects to them. I think I would just say dramatic roles, only in terms of television, just because you shoot longer. Your days are usually longer and it's a more time consuming process. But when you do comedy, there's the pressure of actually being hilarious and funny, and delivering on lines with great timing and whatnot. In drama, you just really have to hone in on what's happening around you and touch deep with some emotions while 25 people are watching you and setting up the shot. So they both have their own difficulties.
You actually play the first openly gay superhero character on television. Do you feel any pressure to do that role justice for the LGBT community?
My entire life has been heavily influenced by LGBT members of my family and my friends, so I feel an obligation to play this character in a non-stereotypical way. People in the LGBT community have lots of different layers and they are all kinds of different people, so I definitely feel like I have to do it justice in that way of letting him be a human who isn't defined by his sexuality. He's a person first — none of us live our lives strictly through our sexuality — so I think it's important to play him as real as possible and not put any flourishes or anything like that on him and just let him be as realistic as we all are, because that's what people in the LGBT community are: they are all of us. They are your friends, sisters, moms, cousins, nephews. It's great that we have more characters like that on television and we haven't made it to the promised land yet, we're not all the way there, but it's great that we're making progress.
We often talk with up-coming actors who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give aspiring actors/entertainers?
To never give up. You don't know when your time is going to come, you don't know what audition is going to change your life. Never give up. Continue with the craft, and if you do, they will find you. You might not make Will Smith's $20 million a film, but you can definitely find a place in this industry where you can do what you love and still live in a safe environment — a house or apartment — and just do what you love. So never give up.
Congratulations on the recent Netflix film "Girlfriend's Day" starring Bob Odenkirk. Can you tell us about your role as Madsen?
Madsen's a beat poet who really tries to help Bob Odenkirk's character get back into the field after his divorce and losing his job. He's there for support, he works with Bob's character, but he's really into beat poetry and being there for his friends.
In 2013 you co-starred in the NBC sitcom "Sean Saves the World", with one of our favorite actresses Sami Isler. Do you have any favorite memories of working with Sami on set?
Oh man, I really do and I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Thomas Lennon had a Tesla and I fell in love with Tesla. I want a Tesla one day! Sami was so cool... on my birthday she came up with a toy car Tesla that had my name on it and I was like "oh my gosh, this is the best!". I'm so proud to see her career blossoming and blooming, and seeing that she's getting recognition. She's definitely someone that I knew back then was going to be a star one day — and she was a star then — just that there are more and more people being able to take in her talent... I'm just so happy for her. She's such a great young lady.
Actors tend to get overwhelmed when seeking out representation. How did you find the right agent?
I did one of those casting workshops where you can meet a lot of agents. It was just by happenstance. I went in once and did a monologue about Katrina, and then this agent saw that I had comedy experience and said he loved my monologue! He came to see my show at UCB; he thought I had some talent and so I signed with him and was with him for about 6 years.