An accomplished actor with multiple television and film credits (http://imdb.me/ericgoins), Eric Goins is also a professional improvisational actor. He is the owner of Compass Actor Services and Yes And Films, LLC. More info can be found at http://www.ericgoins.com, http://www.compassactorservices.com and http://www.yesandfilms.com.
Where are you from and how did you get started in acting?
I am originally from Tampa, Florida. I came up to Atlanta to go to Emory University where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. I was hoping to go to med school at the time, but circumstances changed my plan and I ended up working in the corporate world for quite a while doing all sorts of different things. I worked for marketing companies for the most part though. I ran golf tournaments for BMW. I traveled with Ringling Brothers for a year doing PR and event marketing for them. I worked at Home Depot for a short time. I had my own business for a short time. I was an emergency medical technician for two weeks. I was a real estate agent for a couple weeks. I just couldn’t find my way.
Then I walked into an improv theater for my birthday with some friends of mine. It was Whole World Improv Theater here in Atlanta, and a lightbulb went off. I thought, that looks like a lot of fun and I want to try it. At the time, I had to audition for the improv classes that they were providing. They auditioned 120 people. I’d never been to an audition before, and I just did what I thought I should do. I got chosen. And that was 16 years ago.
I’ve been there ever since, moved through the ranks to become a Main Stage performer and an emcee as well as one of the managers of the company. And from there, I bought into everything improv had to offer. It changed the chemistry of my brain. That’s the only way I can explain it. It opened up a whole new side of me in the creative realm and the emotional realm that I didn’t know I had before I started doing improv. The more I got to do it, the more I realized that I really enjoy being a part of storytelling. And the natural extension of that, for me, was to hopefully get into what was, at that time, the local commercial and industrial work that was in town. Because there wasn’t a lot of television and film 15 years ago. I got a call from one of my buddies, my roommate actually, Brian Chapman, “I’m at this audition and I swear they’re looking for someone just like you. Let me talk to Houghton (Talent Agency) and see if they’ll send you.” And so Houghton ended up sending me. I took a headshot outside where I was working. It was just a brick wall. I don’t even remember what I used to take a photograph because I don’t think my cell phone even had the capability at the time. I ended up getting a callback, and Houghton decided to sign me as an actor based on that experience. I’ve been with them ever since.
About ten years ago, I was laid off of my corporate job. I had decided that if that ever happened, that I would pursue acting full time. Before I got laid off, I had taken a year off of improv, and I found myself to be very unhappy. I told myself that if I ever had to make a decision between corporate work and what I had a passion for doing, that I would choose the passion. When I got laid off from my corporate job, I said this is God telling me something here. This is exactly what I needed to happen. And then I got a job offer at another place doing the same thing and making more money, and I actually turned it down.
The moment I made that decision, doors started opening. They weren’t huge doors, but they were doors. They needed an instructor for a kids summer camp at Whole World, and then my friend got me on as a bartender at a local pub so I could pay my bills, I’ve never looked back. Everything just fell into place since I followed my heart and not my bank account.
Every 4-5 years in my life, I’ve had to make some kind of pretty substantial decision. It is to go this path or go that path, and I feel like each and every time, I’ve tried to follow my heart and the result is I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I have no regrets, even though things could have turned out completely different in my life, I could be a doctor today, which would help me financially probably, but I don’t know that I would be as fulfilled.
Do you think that the variety of jobs and gigs you did before have helped you develop the mindset of a freelancer and an entrepreneur, and does that mindset help in the acting world?
100 percent. I didn’t see it at the time, but I think all those experiences I had gave me a real well-rounded view of the human experience, I’ve worked at the paint department at Home Depot, but I’ve also done CPR on a woman on the back of an ambulance for 25-30 minutes to save her life. These experiences have given me a different type of well to draw from. When I’m improvising or when I’m on set, acting has allowed me to figure out how to find the feelings that are associated with those experiences. Which is cathartic, in a way.
When you started taking classes in improv, you were not thinking really about making this a career but you just loved what you did. At some point, did you start thinking about maybe booking jobs with your acting chops?
In the beginning, I had no intention of this being a career. My friends told me I was funny, they told me I was entertaining to be around. I never had any inclination that it would be a career choice. The more I did it, the more I learned. Every time I do it, every time I have ever done improv or performed or done an audition or helped somebody else with their audition, I have personally found out something about myself that I didn’t know before I did it. For me, that’s what my life is all about – trying to figure out how to be the best me I can possibly be. The best version of myself, and I think by doing improv and being an actor, that’s my journey to find that. Because to do something, I have to find it within myself.
Alot of times we walk around this planet, and we’re not aware of what kind of emotional depth we have, what kinds of things we can draw on. I’ve gone from being not so sensitive to a very sensitive man, and I think that’s a really awesome thing. It’s changed me dramatically. It changed my chemistry as a human being.
Did you take any other classes too after doing improv?
No, I’ve only been doing improv. That’s it. I’ve taken maybe 3 or 4 weekend workshops with casting directors and done some private coaching with reputable coaches. That’s been more over the last five years than anything, but I’ve never taken any organized long-term acting class. I think that might be atypical but I don’t know. I take on a fundamental actor’s approach to my improv. And I read a lot.
What do you mean by “fundamental actor’s approach?”
I try to find emotional connections in all the improv work that I do. Improv, in my opinion, can be separated into two approaches. One is cerebral, so it’s the very wittiest of improv. Very witty, having real quick, sharp, funny comments. And then there’s also the emotional. Over my time as an improvisor, I’ve chosen to try to find all the emotional connections to improv that I can. Trying to look beyond what’s on the surface to find the human experience that’s happening on set or on stage as opposed to just the surface detail of what the audience has given.
If the audience tells us we’re locked in an elevator and I’m in there with a stranger, rather than just taking that on the surface level, I try to look at it, “Well, what am I feeling towards this other person in this situation? What is the human experience?” I have an energy and they have an energy, and if they come together in this literally closed environment, what happens?
Could be because I have a science background that I think that way. Now that I’m saying it out loud. It sounds like a scientific experiment if you think about it.
Every time I’m on stage, I try to look for the human experience and I bring that to the front because I think that’s what people are interested in. They’re interested in how two human beings or three human beings respond to a given set of circumstances, as opposed to talking about the situation in which you find yourself.
I really dug my heels in really deep into that experience and I’m fortunate enough to have a wife that’s an actor as well as an improviser. I met her at the theater. So we have in depth conversations about all these things. I get to fine-tune my philosophy and really do some deep thinking about acting and improvising. My classes have become in-depth discussions with people around me.
Do you teach improv too now?
I do. I teach improv to beginners and I also teach improv to working and student actors currently in the industry. If anybody wants any information about my improv, the best thing to do is just send me an email at email@example.com or I have a website, http://ericgoins.com.
You said you do continue to supplement your income with other things. You do tapings and other coaching as well?
I do. I just started a company called Compass Actor Services (www.compassactorservices.com). We do audition tapings, private coaching, demo reels, improv training and various acting workshops. My wife and I have a video production company, Yes And Films (www.yesandfilms.com), and then my wife also has two other improv-based companies. She does improv parties for kids and she does improv corporate workshops through Brain Storm CIT (www.braintormcit.com).
What do you do in terms of marketing and networking?
Never enough. I have my own personal website. I’m up on all the casting websites. I make sure my IMDB page is up to date. I’m a SAG member. The most important thing about networking for me is that my goal, my personal goal I’ve set up for myself, when I started doing this seriously probably about seven or eight years ago, is I made a pact with myself that my goal was to be the easiest person to work with in the industry. And that’s arguably unattainable, right? But, it keeps me always being friendly, always working hard, always saying yes, always being easy to work with. Those are the kind of people that people want to work with. That’s probably my best networking approach of all because I’m a big “the proof is in the pudding” guy, and so I can tell people all day and market myself as having skills, but when I get on set or I have the opportunity to be in front of a casting director, I want to be the kind of person that people want to work with, and that’s the best networking that you can do.
Every opportunity that I’m given– an audition, a workshop, a booking– I do not go out of my way to meet every single person on set and schmooze and make sure everybody knows what my name is. What I do is —- I have a good attitude. I do my job the best I possibly can, and then I make sure that I’ve exceeded the expectations that everyone had for me.
I did hire a PR person last year for Halt and Catch Fire, and she helped me a great deal. Made some connections in LA as well as got me some interviews with some industry people that made sense, like in the tech industry. She was great, but I had seven episodes of the show supporting that, and that’s why I did it, because I wanted to leverage it as much as possible beyond what I could do. I may do that again in the near future.
What made you decide to join SAG-AFTRA?
I joined last year (2014). There are a couple reasons why I joined. Specifically, I joined because I was heading out to LA to talk to some industry representatives out there, and I thought it was important for me to be in the union when I talked to them. I also did it because when I looked back on my auditions over the last 12-18 months, there were probably close to 90 percent union auditions. I joined the union because my work history showed that I was mostly auditioning for union work.
Obviously it’s a goal that every actor desires. I thought about it for a long time. I consulted with trusted mentors. I didn’t do it half-assed. I did it after serious consideration and discussing it with friends and other members of SAG. What’s great is that the union doesn’t pressure you in any way, shape, or form to join. They just give you the details. And then there’s coming off the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, I thought it was important to join.
I’m a big look-at-data-support for decisions, for the most part. And having a wife and kids, sometimes that does that to you. I like to have good consideration about decisions like that because once you join, for all intents and purposes, you’re not supposed to go backwards. You’re not supposed to drop out, so it’s a big commitment, but it felt right for me and in hindsight, I think it was absolutely the right decision.
What else do you do in terms of trying to stay aware of what’s shooting in town, who is casting what, industry news?
I’m pretty well dialed-in. The first thing I do is I trust my agent. I read industry newsletters. I’m on Facebook so I read all the industry updates that are up there. I belong to GPP, Georgia Production Partnership, which is a great resource for people. It meets once a month, and part of that meeting is going down a list of all the things shooting in town. I’ve found a really good relationship with my agent where I can have those conversations.
Now you’ve booked a recurring role here. Do you think it’s hopefully going to lead to bigger things right here in Atlanta or do you think you might have to move out to LA to be able to get bigger roles?
In my opinion, the Atlanta market is growing as to the opportunities that are being allotted to actors here in town, and I think that will continue to grow as time goes on. We’ll always have a natural tie to LA but the opportunities are rising for Atlanta actors who are really prepared and have the proper experience to have larger opportunities on set to book larger roles. That will continue. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t.
What do you think actors in Atlanta need to do to make sure they are up to the mark?
Be on a constant search for their authentic self. All of us, including myself, need to always be learning who our authentic self is and then standing by that person, making no excuses or compromises. They shouldn’t change to be the character. The character should be different because they are doing it.
If I do something authentically me, it’s never been done before. And it could never be duplicated because it’s authentically who I am, and nobody else is me. Finding that, and having the confidence to communicate that in an audition or on set, is paramount. Because that’s what people want to see. They want to see authentic human beings who are different than everybody else. Obviously, learning the technical aspects of doing an audition is critically important, but in the absence of having an agent, improv is a critical skill that everybody should have because a lot of people don’t really understand what it entails. Improv is an important tool to put in your arsenal. Find that authentic self and learn to bring it to every single role you read for, to the point where you may do something different than the character description because it’s the way you do things. The worst they can say is no. We all need to stop trying to fit into someone else’s box.
Trust that at some point there’s going to be a fit between who you are and what they’re looking for, and it will work out?
One of the first things I tell people I work with on a one-on-one basis is, “You are already enough. What you have and who you are is already enough. Just show me who that is.”
Do you have representation outside Atlanta?
No, I do not have official representation outside Atlanta.
How do you stay positive and motivated?
I don’t hang my happiness on the amount of bookings I have or the amount of auditions I’m going to. I hang my happiness on the real relationships I have in my life, my family, my friends. That’s where I hang my happiness. That’s how I stay positive. And then believe it until you achieve it. Fake it until you make it. Do all the things that you know you need to do, and carry yourself as if you’re successful.
I also understand that when I do an audition, my goal for the audition is to present the best version of myself. If I was in the moment, I was present, that was the best me, that was the best me I could present right now today, then I’m satisfied and I’m happy and I’m confident and I walk away and I don’t worry about it. If I didn’t book that one, it’s not devastating because, in my opinion, this career is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. Everybody has a different path to take in this career, and no one knows what their path is going to look like. I can’t compare my path to someone else, because we’re on different paths.
It comes down to hanging your happiness on important things that matter in life and for me that’s God, family, and friends. I don’t value myself based on the success or failures of my career. My value comes from the way I treat people and the love that I’m surrounded by.
Your bio says you practice hapkido?
Yeah. It’s a Korean martial art. There’s a lot of improvisation that comes with martial arts too.
What do you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your career, and if you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
I wouldn’t have done anything differently because I try to live my life without regrets, so everything that’s happened to me has gotten me to where I am today. I wish that somebody, at the beginning of my career, had told me that everyone you meet in this industry, that is the decision makers in the process, all want you to succeed, and they’re all on your team, and they’re all rooting for you.
And there’s no reason to be intimidated, scared, or have a lack of confidence when you’re in front of them because they’re all on your side. If you would just have some confidence in yourself, then you’re going to succeed. It took me a while to develop the confidence I needed to go in there and be me in an audition or on a set. It took a while, and I wish I would’ve gotten to that place faster.
The casting directors want you to succeed, they want you to solve a problem. They have a problem. They need to cast this role. They want you to walk in and do it that way they can move on to the next role. The directors, they want you succeed because they want to have a great movie. Your teachers want you to succeed. Your acting coach, all the people you go work with at workshops, they want you to succeed because they want to push successful actors out into the world. Everybody wants you to succeed. And fortunately, in my circle of friends, almost all my friends are actors, and we all want each other to succeed, even if we’re auditioning for the same role, we all want each other to succeed.