Echo Kellum is one of the brightest and most down-to-earth actors working in the entertainment industry today. Born in Chicago, Echo moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in comedy and entertainment. His dedication to his craft and passion for creative growth lead him to study with The Groundlings, I.O. West and the Upright Citizens Brigade. It wasn’t long before Hollywood too notice! Echo soon landed roles on the Fox comedy “Ben and Kate” and NBC’s “Sean Saves The World.”
However, his skill set isn’t limited to comedic performances. In 2016, the multifaceted actor joined the DC Universe as Curtis Holt in The CW’s “Arrow.” The popular series tells the story of billionaire Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) who returns to Starling City after being stranded on a deserted island for five years. Seeing corruption and crime, he attempts to clean up the city by becoming vigilante The Green Arrow. Curtis is a key member of Team Arrow as a hacker and coder with skills to rival that of friend Felicity Smoak. In the DC Comics, Curtis is named Michael Holt and is better known as the legacy hero Mister Terrific. Echo’s character is a pivotal diverse role as he is one of the first openly gay characters in the comic book realm. “Arrow” returned for season five on October 5, 2016.
In addition to Arrow, Echo will be seen in the feature film “Girlfriend’s Day” alongside Amber Tamblyn and Bob Odenkirk. Echo portrays Madsen, a colleague of Ray (Bob Odenkirk) who loves writing cards and is a slam poet. “Girlfriend’s Day” premieres on Netflix on February 14, 2017. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Echo Kellum for a quick chat to discuss his passion for creation, his role on the CW’s “Arrow,” his musical side and upcoming projects.
Let’s start at the beginning. What got you into the arts early on in life?
I have an older brother and sister who were doing musicals and plays when I was around 3 or 4 years old. Watching them was my first influence. Then, when I started watching “In Living Color” I saw Jim Carrey, which was really exciting. I also saw Will Smith on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” That’s really what solidified me wanting to go forward in terms of being a comedic actor and just going for it in general.
Was there anybody behind the scenes giving you an extra push?
I felt like a lot of my teachers at The Groundlings and UCB were really pivotal in that regard. They would push me to stay focused and moving forward.
Where do you look for inspiration these days?
Right now, performing live has been a big piece of the puzzle for me. I feel like it keeps you on your toes. I do a lot of improv, sketch and some standup as well. Another thing I have really been doing to push my creativity and keep myself focused is writing a lot more and working on music.
You have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment. One of the biggest is your role on the CW’s “Arrow.” How did you get involved with the project?
I started working with Warner Brothers a couple of years ago. I did a show called “A to Z,” which kind of put me on the radar. Then I did a pilot for the CW. The pilot didn’t go but they thought I would be a good fit for the show, so I went in to audition for David Rapaport. I did the audition and the rest is history!
What was it about this character that intrigued you?
You know, he had a lot of similarities to myself. I worked at Geek Squad for a couple of years and I just love how highly intelligent he is and how much of a steadfast friend, which is something he came off as. That’s something I hold really dear to my heart in life. I like to have people around me and friends who are positive and have your back but also, at the same time, aren’t yes men. I really felt like the character of Curtis enbodies those things and that’s what attracted me to the role.
What did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the written page?
The writers really do so many wonderful things. I think I definitely bring a sense of spontaneity to the role with my training in improv. Sometimes I can go on a tangent or play around with some of the lines they give me but really their writing encompasses so much about the character. The writers put together some really brilliant scripts and it really makes it easy for me as a performer.
How does a show like “Arrow” compare to the series you worked on in the past?
For one, the fan base is really passionate. So passionate! There’re very vocal and I think that’s a really good thing. I think it’s a sign you’re working on something really good if the fans are passionate about it. It’s definitely something I haven’t experienced before with the projects I have done in the past.
What is the biggest challenge of this role so far?
His dialogue is pretty wordy! [laughs] Sometimes it’s challenging to get all the technical jargon down pat. It can be daunting but I think I do a pretty good job on attacking it! It’s definitely something I have to study and bone up on before a shoot, so that can be challenging at times.
You also have another feature film role on the way. What can you tell us about “Girlfriend’s Day?”
I play a really good friend of Bob Odenkirk, who is the lead. I’m a beatnik poet and a card writer. The movie is about Bob Odenkirk’s journey back to being one of the most famous card writers in the history of card writing. That holiday is when they ask amateur writers to write. His character goes into support him. Then they get into some funny situations.
Coming from a comedy background, I imagine it’s a big deal to work with Bob Odenkirk. What did you pick up from working alongside him?
He makes everything look so effortless. The nuances in his acting are really inspiring. I’ve actually had the opportunity to work with him a few times in the past. He actually helped me write an SNL character audition, once when I was just coming up. That was really cool to have him to help with that. There is so much you can learn from how believable he plays it and how he doesn’t put too much on it and really lives in the character. I really think watching him while filming the movie made me a better actor.
What projects from your past had the biggest impact on you?
I feel like I take a little something away from every project I work on. When I first started out, I was not used to working in this industry. Being able to watch some really talented people work, like Nat Faxon, Sean Hayes or Dakota Johnson, and how they approach their craft has had a big impact on me. I don’t just mean what they are doing in front of the camera. Seeing how they approach the crew and everyone else behind the scenes really taught me how to really step into the realm of acting and be humble, nice and professional, it has also taught me about making the words my own and comedic timing. Every time I’ve worked with somebody it has been really beneficial for me as an actor. I definitely try to take something in from every project I work on because there are so many wonderful and talented people out here and you can learn so much from everyone.
When you look back on your work as an actor, how have you evolved along the way?
I think there have been some milestones along the way. I definitely think I have evolved. I think one of the most recent milestones for me was when I had to do a scene where I had to cry. To be honest, I don’t know if I could have done that a couple years ago. I did that recently and it was a very rewarding experience. I was really able to engage those emotions and go to a dark place and have that come out in a really nice way on film. It’s things like that where you hit little milestones and can gauge your revolution in the craft.
Do you see yourself exploring the world behind the camera in the future?
Absolutely! I would love to direct one day. On “Arrow,” I am always checking in with Gordon [Verheul], who is our director of photography to see what type of shots they’re using. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the nuances of the camera. I also love writing but directing is something I definitely want to dive into in the future.
What else is on the horizon we should be on the lookout for in the near future?
In addition to “Arrow” and “Girlfriend’s Day,” I have been doing some voiceover work on “Rick & Morty” this upcoming season, as well as on “Elena of Avalor.” Also, look for my album next year!
I want to touch on your musical side. How did music first come into your life?
My brother, who also influenced me when it came to acting, was also a hip-hop artist. That really influenced me to want to do that as well. I grew up very much into hip-hop as a teenager and I was a hip-hopper in high school. I freestyled, wrote graffiti and was into breakdancing so it has always been a part of me. Right now, it’s a project I really want to work on and push my creativity to the next level.
Where are you in the creative process at this point in time?
I’m still kind of in the early stages. I have about five songs that I really dig but I feel I need to get a producer in and rework it along with an engineer. I figure if I continue on the route I’m on, I should be able to get something out by next summer!
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
I think the best lesson that can be learned for me is that persistence is key in this industry. You definitely can’t judge anyone else’s career path on your own. We all have our own path and way to go. If you have a wherewithal to stay with it, to stay grounded and stick with it, you can definitely make a living in this industry. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be Will Smith making $20 million a movie but you can still do what you love and make a decent living for you and your family if you are persistent. I think persistence is definitely the key.
Do you have causes close to your heart we can help shine a light on?
Definitely! The Michael J. Fox Foundation is one I definitely support with their research on Parkinson’s disease. I also support CODA, which is the Children’s Organ Donor Association. They’re both organizations I feel people should definitely take a look at and they are doing amazing work!
Thanks so much for your time today, Echo! We can’t wait to see where the journey takes you next!