Jeff Skowron is living the dream! Working in the industry since he was a child, he entertained audiences around the nation on stage and beyond. Just in time for the holidays, Jeff Skowron will hit the silver screen, alongside the legendary Billy Bob Thornton, in the highly anticipated sequel to “Bad Santa.” A true scene-stealer in the role of Dorfman, a duty-driven, inexplicably loyal security guard for the charity organization Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus(Tony Cox) plan to scam. He will stop at nothing to protect his event! It’s truly a breakout role for a multifaceted actor on the rise in Hollywood,
In addition to his work on the big screen, Skowron can also be seen starring as Greg Mondonski in the hit online series “Greg & Donny,” a single camera scripted comedy about two friends who have grown up and live in a small town in western Pennsylvania. Created and written by Jeff and Matt Yeager, “Greg & Donny” recently won IFC’s “Out of the Box” award at the New York Television Festival. The series just released the first episode of the new season (October 2016) and received nearly 200,000 views in just 24 hours.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Jeff Skowron to discuss his life in the entertainment business, his evolution as a performer and all the irons he has in the fire!
How did you get your start in the entertainment business?
I started out when I was 10 years old. I was a breakdancer! My sister and I were competitive breakdancers as children. Doing that introduced me to people who were doing theater in Pennsylvania, where I grew up. When I started theatre, that’s when I realized that it was really what I wanted to do. I started doing theater professionally when I was 12 years old. My parents were both schoolteachers and they had no idea what this was all about, although they completely supported it. I was really lucky to have that. I grew up working in that environment and it was just a very normal for me to be doing it. I went to Penn State for acting and then I moved to New York. Now, I live in LA. Acting has always been a part of my life. To be honest, I had no idea what I would be doing besides this! [laughs] It was my sole focus!
Who had a big influence on you and your craft?
Growing up, I had two music teachers in junior high school who really pushed me to start auditioning for theater. Since I grew up doing professional theater in Pennsylvania, I worked every summer with actors from New York. I knew all these adult actors and when I graduated from college and moved to New York, I had a network of actors I grew up working with who were helping me with the ins and outs of the business. I was very fortunate to have that advantage!
You can learn a lot from working in theater. What’s the biggest thing you took from that experience that applies to your work in film and television?
I have played so many different kinds of character roles on stage. Through that, you start to learn what kind of choices you want to make to portray the character. In film and television, you have to come up with a character much more quickly and you don’t have the luxury of the long rehearsal process as you doing theater. Having that background playing so many different kinds of characters in theater, when I started doing film and TV, I had so much to draw from. In other words, I had a stable of ideas which is handy when you have to make quick decisions.
What is your typical process for flushing out a character in your mind before you hit the set?
The process normally begins with me reading the script and getting an idea as a whole of what the story is about and how this character fits into the story. After that, I only pay attention to the things my character wouldn’t know. If it’s something my character doesn’t know in the script, I sort of just don’t pay attention to that and try to only focus on the information they would have and what they would know. I try to figure it all out from there!
Being a professional actor isn’t the easiest career path. Where do you look for creative inspiration these days?
I have family all over the country. People are different everywhere and I really like to draw from that. A lot of my stuff comes from people from western Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up. From doing theater, I got to travel all over the country. In doing so, you get to know the cadence, pacing and the personalities of the people of the places you visit. I love to draw from that because, like I said, people are so different no matter where you go. I try to pay attention to those differences and bring it into my work.
You have a new film hitting theaters this holiday! How did you land the role in “Bad Santa 2?”
Lisa Beach is a casting director who I met when I first moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago. She brought me in and said, “There is this role in ‘Bad Santa.’ The character’s name is Dorfman.” I thought she said doorman! [laughs] So, originally, I thought it was going to be the small role of the doorman. [laughs] She said, “I think you are right for this. They think they have to go with a famous person but if they don’t I think you will be right for it.” I had my agent look out for it and, when it came up, I saw it said Dorfman. [laughs] I went in for the audition and made the character from western Pennsylvania. I used the western Pennsylvania accent because I wanted to do something very specific that would hopefully make me stand out from however many other people were coming in for the audition. It worked! It could’ve gone either way! The producer and director could have easily thought it was just weird but they actually really liked it! I was talking to some of them last night at the premiere and they said the thing that they like about me was how weird and different my reads were!
You can take something away from every project. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from working on this film?
I was shooting for this film on and off for a month-and-a-half. It took a very sharp focus! I always have to make sure I get enough sleep because otherwise I’m no good! [laughs] With the long shooting schedule, I put myself on a very strict schedule — a sleeping schedule and eating schedule. I didn’t go out and I kept to myself throughout the whole thing so I could focus and be on top of my game everyday. So, I think the whole experience made me a little more disciplined.
Did you do much improvisation with your role in the film?
Yeah! There was quite a bit of improvisation. The director had us do a few takes exactly the way the script dictated and then he might feed me some alternate lines. I would do those and then he would say, “OK, now do whatever you want.” Then we would go off! Not all of it made it into the movie but I did get the opportunity to do some good improv with Billy Bob Thornton, which was really fun! It was really fun to do that with him. I would go along with him and he would go along with me! It was a pretty cool experience getting to work with him. I love Billy Bob Thornton and he’s always been one of my favorite actors. To not only be able to act opposite of him but to be able to improvise with him was a really, really cool experience.
As you said, you built this character with elements from people you know from your past. Are there elements of your own personality we may see shine through in this character?
Yeah. When I do a role, I always feel there is a percentage of me and the percentage of the character. This one is probably 80% the character and 20% of me. It’s funny because nobody recognized me last night at the premiere! [laughs] I have a different haircut, I’m clean-shaven and I think I’ve lost about 15 pounds since doing the film. I said hello to the director and it took him a minute to recognize me! [laughs] I saw it click and he was like, “Wait? Jeff?!” [laughs]
You have quite a following from your work on “Greg & Donny.” How did you and Matt Yeager cross paths and how did the series come about?
Matt and I grew up right down the street from each other in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He is my best friend, we grew up together and did theater together growing up. Back in 2006, we were part of this group in New York, right around the time that Internet sitcoms and web series first started. We were in the show that was actually pretty popular called “The Burg,” which was about Williamsburg hipsters. We got involved early on in that whole creating content process. He said, “Why don’t we do one about people from Johnstown?” That is when we came up with “Greg and Donny,” who are two friends who have known each other their whole lives, not that different from ourselves. The show is about the minutia, problems, issues, topics and trends that people are going through in western Pennsylvania. We started doing it and we were initially in different parts of the country because I was always away doing theater somewhere. We decided to shoot it as if they were talking on video chat, so that I could shoot my end of things on my computer and vice versa. Then we would edit it together as if they were talking on video chat. That sort of became the format that the fans liked. Then we added a character played by my wife, Gina, and our other friend, Missy. Then there were four characters and they would talk together on video chat. That made it really easy for us to make these episodes and put it online.
We decided, at one point, that we would shoot an actual eight-minute pilot and break out of that mode and shot it as a regular sitcom would be shot. We submitted it to the New York TV Festival and IFC bought it. They gave us a development deal and we shop a pilot for IFC in 2012. It didn’t do well in testing, so it didn’t get picked up as a serious but we decided because the character I’m doing in “Bad Santa 2” is a derivation of Greg of “Greg and Donny,” we started a new online season. The role in “Bad Santa 2” is sort of the Greg character but a little bit more of an asshole! [laughs] It’s been good! The first episode we got around 200,000 views in the first 24 hours, so our fans were still there and glad to have us back!
You have been DIY with this project. What are the biggest challenges you faced?
The biggest challenge has probably been consistency. Matt and I are both so busy with other projects that finding the time to actually write, shoot and edit is difficult. Matt and I are both meticulous about editing. We want to edit the show in a very specific way, so the biggest challenge has really been consistency about putting out the content.
It’s cool to see guys working together who click on so many levels.
Yeah! We have the same sense of humor and we know each other so well. We have had our ups and we have had downs and we know exactly how to negotiate working together, so it is very, very easy. He is definitely the one that keeps things on schedule because I am easily distracted. [laughs] He is sort of the one who says, “No. We have to do this now!” That helps me! We are both very supportive of each other’s careers and have carved out a really nice working relationship through the years. Like I said, we grew up together so we are like brothers and it’s a great relationship to be a part of.
You have come a long way in your career. Looking back, how have you most evolved along the way?
I think my biggest evolution comes from confidence and trusting in the fact that I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old, so I feel I have lost the need to get permission from a director or whoever it may be to try certain things. In other words, I have the confidence to not always be seeking permission to try new things. I think that’s the most valuable thing I’ve gained along the way.
You’re creative in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes. What else should we be on the lookout for in the near future?
Matt and I are working on a couple new scripts that we hope to sell in the next year or so. As I mentioned, we are bringing “Greg and Donny” back online. Right now, we have two scripts that we are developing and we will hopefully get those sold!
Do both of these scripts fall within the comedic realm?
Yeah! They are both comedies!
That’s terrific! You can inspire a lot of people with everything you accomplished. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I think with the ability to put things together and have an audience online with the Internet, it’s a great time to be creating your own content. I wouldn’t be here today talking to you or be in “Bad Santa 2” if it weren’t for the fact that Matt and I decided to make our own show and put it out there for people who might like it. You always hear people say, “Create your own opportunities.” We did that and it actually worked. So many of the things I’m involved in now stem from the decision to get out there and try it. Creating your own content and putting it out there for people to consume is a viable avenue to make things happen for yourself!
Well said! Thanks for your time today, Jeff! I wish you continued success and can’t wait to see what you come up with next!
Thanks, Jason! Talk to you soon!