Back in college, Dan Fogler was told that he was a character actor and character actors don't really start working until their mid thirties. Thankfully, for him, things got going a little sooner.
Fogler won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in 2005 for his portrayal of William Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The New York actor used that success to help him make the leap from stage to the silver screen. But even though he has several films headed to theatres, Fogler plans on returning to the stage often.
His first starring role comes in Balls Of Fury which hits theaters this month. The film also stars Christopher Walken and was directed by Robert Ben Garant of Reno 911! fame.
"I would describe Balls of Fury as Enter The Dragon or The Karate Kid except instead of karate it's ping pong," explained Dan Fogler. "It's got a sort of Mortal Kombat aspect to it too! It becomes this ping pong tournament to the death in Christopher Walken's mansion. He's the bad guy.
"It's very funny and silly. I saw it the other day and it really feels like one of those action movies. One of those crazy, kung-fu, action movies and then suddenly they're playing ping-pong incredibly seriously like it was a martial art!"
Fogler plays Randy Datona, a star in the underground world of table tennis competition who saw his fame decrease and his luck turn bad. He attempts to recapture his former glory but is soon confronted by the FBI and asked to go undercover to smoke out a notorious criminal and ping-pong lord called Feng (Christopher Walken). He teams up with a blind ping-pong sage and Maggie Wong (Maggie Q) to complete his secret mission.
The cast was trained by Olympic ping-pong players and became so good they would be able to hustle people in ping-pong clubs (yes, there really are such things).
Working with Robert Ben Garant was a great experience for Fogler. He had been a fan of the director's work from the days of The State, a sketch comedy show that ran on MTV from 1993 to 1995. Garant also created Viva Variety before launching Reno 911!
"I've been a fan of his and Tom Lennon for a long time and when I found out they were doing this movie I thought it would be fun and it was," he said. "The directing was great, they really know what they're doing."
The film's trailer reminds you of films like The Karate Kid and when you see the titles of future films from Fogler, it's easy to see why fans of 80s cinema will be seeing a lot of this guy soon. Two other films in the works include Kids In America which follows the adventures of a recent college graduate, his twin sister, and his best friend as they try to figure out what to do with their lives. The film is set in 1988 and features an extensive 80s soundtrack.
Fogler is also starring in Fanboys, a film that's not set in the 80s but tells the story of a group of Star Wars fans who take a road trip to Skywalker Ranch to fulfill the wish of a dying friend to see Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace before the film's release.
"I think it's sort of a kizmet kind of thing," explained Fogler. "My decision to do those movies had to do with paying homage to the movies that influenced me when I was a kid. I loved Star Wars and Kids In America - I must have danced and made out to every one of the songs in that movie. The '80s were when I was a kid; that's when I grew up; that was the time that influenced my growing years."
Before breaking out as a hot property with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Fogler was anything but a household name and was beginning to worry if acting was going to take off or not.
"It was a lot of stagnant water for a while and then there was a fuckin' rush!" he said. "Usually they tell you that a character actor doesn't really start working until they're in their mid 30s, so that was my goal. If by 35 I'm not doing anything or I'm not getting a little bit of action here then I'm really going to have to put my passion aside to maybe focus on something else or come back to it later. And, at 27, it came a few years earlier. Thankfully, because my parents were about to stop paying some of my bills!
"It's always been my goal to get to film, but I think that now that I'm doing both there's something about coming back to the live theater - especially for a comedy. When you're doing film a lot of the time you can rely on the editor to gauge your performance, but you really keep it fine tuned when you can do it live and keep people engaged. I think it's very important to go back and sharpen your tools with the live theater."
Fogler says he learned from watching actors like Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Nero and more comedic actors like Robin Williams, John Belushi, and Jackie Gleason. His goal is to emulate the career of someone like Orson Welles with plays and films and making creative decisions like Welles did. Fogler started the theatre company Stage 13 and will hopefully return to the stage each year. Stage 13 is also a film company and Fogler is currently editing their first film, a horror/comedy called Hysterical Psycho.
When you win a Tony Award in your very first Broadway role it makes sense to shoot for the moon. After all, you reached it once - why not again?
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.