Over the last 25 years, actor Patrick Renna has brought iconic characters to life on the big and small screens proving, from comedy to drama and action adventure to romantic comedies, he can do it all. Born in Boston, Renna moved to Los Angeles at a young age with his family to pursue acting. At 14 years old he landed his breakout lead role, starring in 20th Century Fox’s blockbuster hit film “The Sandlot.” Twenty-five years after its release the film is still a cult classic and Renna’s character Hamilton “Ham” Porter remains an icon -!with one of his token catchphrases, “you’re killing me smalls,” still used by kids and adults today.
In 2018, Renna will be on season two of Netflix’s award-nominated comedy series “GLOW.” Produced by Jenji Kohan, “GLOW” follows Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a struggling, out of work actress in Los Angeles in the 1980s, who eventually creates the first women’s wrestling TV show. Slated to premiere season two summer on June 29th, he’s is sure to steal the show with yet another memorable performance. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Renna to discuss his unique career path, celebrating 25 years of ‘The Sandlot,’ his highly anticipated role on Netflix’s ‘G.L.O.W.’ and what the future holds for him!
You are a familiar face to audiences around the world. How did you get involved with the arts?
I’m originally from Boston. I think I did things that all normal kids do when growing up, like school plays and everything like that. Early on, I found I had a knack for it and I really loved it. I moved out to Los Angeles when I was 13 years old. My mom had a job out here and also knew that I really loved to act. It was a dual reason for her to take the job and bring me out with her. I moved out here and the rest is history! It just happened pretty fast. “The Sandlot” was basically my first audition and first job. It exploded from there and other movies and TV shows came after that!
What do you recall about that first audition for “The Sandlot?”
Ya know, it was definitely a bit intimidating. It’s certainly not a process I was used to and the audition process, in itself, isn’t the most welcoming! You’re in a room with a bunch of people who are all trying to get the same role! Most of the time it’s friendly but, at the same time, it’s highly competitive. At 13, I went in and met the director and casting director. I auditioned for a scene that I had put a lot of work into. Even at that age, you can tell when the director is responding and the audition is going well. I kinda get the sense that it was, even at 13. After that, I had a sort of meet-and-greet with the other right cast members. I was actually the last person cast for that movie! From my recollection, I only had one audition and the second audition was more of a meet-and-greet. I was even told beforehand, “Hey, you don’t have this job yet. It’s kinda dependent on how you mesh with everyone.” Luckily, I got along with everyone!
Who influenced you early on as an actor?
For me, my “Sandlot” was probably “The Goonies.” That was my top movie growing up and I couldn’t get enough of it. I also loved “The Karate Kid.” I was 13, so the films that inspired me then are certainly different than the films that inspire me now. My favorite films now are “The Godfather” and “The Godfather 2.” I don’t even give “The Godfather 3” as hard a time as some people do! [laughs] Those are the ones that really hit home for me in my later years.
I imagine you have terrific memories from your time on “The Sandlot.”
Yeah, absolutely! It was a great experience. It was so long ago but I recently got to see almost all the guys, aside from Mike Vitar. I had seen a few of them over the years but all right of us hadn’t been together in 25 years! It was a bit of a junior high reunion! When we were doing the movie, we spent about a month together playing baseball together in Los Angeles and then went on set and filmed for two months and then we had the publicity tour. So, we spent about six solid months together and hanging out. When we got together this year it did have that reunion feel and it was nostalgic to see all those guys and reminisce. The times spent filming that I remember the most are the bigger scenes from the movie. Those scenes are the ones that lasted so long, so I always remember filming them.
For example, the “Big Game” scene, which isn’t really a big game as we slaughter them! After the stuff where we talk trash on the field, the next scene where I’m catching and each batter is coming up is one I remember a lot! None of it was written and it was all kind of spur of the moment. The director was behind the backstop or in one of the dugouts with video village. Each batter would come up and he would get on the bullhorn to scream out some sort of insult! [laughs] Everyone would giggle for a second! You also have to realize this was during the days of film, so this was probably an expensive shoot day because he was rolling the whole time. There were no cuts, digital or free! He would yell an insult over the bullhorn and the whole cast and crew would crack up! I would too and every once in awhile I’d say, “Really? You want me to say that?” He’d say,
“Yup” and I would say something like, “Is that you sister out there in left field? She’s naked!” We’d just roll with it! [laughs] That is definitely one of the moments that truly stands out in my mind all of these years later!
It seems “The Sandlot” is talked about and quoted more with each passing year.
Ya know, that’s a good point and I totally agree! The movie was very popular when it came out and it was still great in the years to follow. I’ve lived with it for the whole time but, for the past 10 years, it’s gone to another level. I think, having talked to a lot of people about it, it comes down to the people who watched it back then and loved it are now having kids. People who watched the movie back in 1993 are having kids and introducing it to their kids 25 years later and it probably means even more to them now. It’s really reaching a new generation, which is really cool! You know what else I think it is? In this day and age, with everything that’s going on in this world, I think what “The Sandlot” represents to people is that it takes you back to a simpler time. Some of the other guys said it in interviews — “It’s how America should be.” That is fine and I don’tbdisagree but I think it’s also a movie without iPhones and videogames. It’s about getting your butts out on the field and playing a sport with your friends. There is something great about that! I think with this new generation, it’s important to show them the great things about not sitting on the couch with a tablet in hand. I think that makes this new generation of parents want their kids to see it!
As you said, this film was popular when it came out. Was it difficult for you to deal with its success and becoming instantly recognizable from your role?
I don’t know that it’s been difficult because it is a character that I love! One of the things that is so great about Ham is that he’s the protector of the group. He’s brash, in your face and says what’s on his mind. Obviously, there are negative parts to a personality like that but it’s also such a fun character to play. I enjoy playing something that has that sort of personality in it. I’m a character actor, so I love to play all sorts of different characters. With that said, I’ve been lucky to do that in my career and I haven’t been pigeonholed into one type of character. No two characters are the same, so there are always differences. I have found that my role as Ham has only added to my career!
You’ve done a lot of work since “The Sandlot.” What are some other roles people might want to seek out to get a glimpse of your range?
It’s hard to say. Obviously, as I grew up, I did even more movies. I did “Son In Lawn” and “The Big Green,” which were a lot of fun. There was also a movie of the week that I did called “Blue River,” for something that I thought was a little bit different. More recently, in my 20s, I did a recurring role on “Boston Legal,” an episode of “The X-Files” and I produced and acted in “Bad Roomies.” I did a film called “Fear, Inc.” right after that. The latest thing is that I have a multiple episode arc on Netflix’s “G.L.O.W.,” which premieres this June. I’m pretty excited about that because it was a great show to work on and a great experience!
We’re big fans of “G.L.O.W.” and can’t wait for the new season. How did you get involved?
I think I was just right for the part and my reps got me involved. I had a meeting with the team and they liked what I had, so it was just the normal Hollywood way. It’s such a fun show! I had never seen it before but when I booked it my wife and I binge watched the first season and I was blown away. Alison Brie is next level — all of the ladies are! They are all so talented! I just really fell in love with the show. It’s really cool to have the opportunity to be on the show that I loved watching so much!
What is your process for bringing a new character to life? Has it changed through the years?
I always try to create something that’s a bit different. One thing I’ve learned over the years, especially through producing and starring in the movie, is how important the written word is. It can make or break something. You don’t gain an appreciation for the other parts of filmmaking as much as you do as when you do what I did on “Bad Roomies.” You see every aspect of it come to life. My appreciation for writing has really come up. Now, going into a new role, I really expect what has been written as opposed to me trying to change it or trying to fit into what I have going on. Whatever the writers have created in their mind, I try to bring that to life. Of course, I try to add my own flair to it, but I try not to detract from the writing anymore because that is what makes it so good. When you have a show like “G.L.O.W.” that is so popular and so loved, why reinvent the wheel? So much of that love comes from the writing. That’s something I’ve really learned in the past few years and something I’m sticking with. There’s also a whole arc that the show goes through, so if you try to jump outside of that for whatever reason it can take away from the overall picture. It’s truly a team activity! It’s kind of like sports in a way. You can score all you want but you could still lose. The most important thing is that you win and that your team is strong. Most important thing is that the show is good and what comes next is if you are great in it, ya know!
Absolutely! Netflix likes to keep things under wraps but what can you tell us about the character you play in the series?
They are pretty tight-lipped over there about plotlines for the next season. I think that’s because it is such a popular show that they don’t want to give anything away. What I can say is that I play a character named Cupcake who is a super fan and that’s all I can say! [laughs] They are tight-lipped, and I’ve never been on the show that was like that. It’s kind of fun because they have to protect their next season from spoilers, so that fans are still excited to see it when it is released. Like I said, the cast of gals is so great and so are the guys. You can tell they are really having a good time and I think you can tell that from watching the series. I think that’s why it’s so popular. I think that’s why “The Sandlot” ended up being so great because we really, truly all loved each other and got along so great. The director had a great relationship with us and was like our coach. I can see that on “G.L.O.W.” as well. They all get along and it’s work but it’s not, ya know?
You mentioned “Bad Roomies” and the impact it had on you. Are there any other passion projects in the works?
I’m developing a TV show with the writer from “Bad Roomies.” I guess it’s loosely based on my character from “Sandlot.” There are some of those elements to it. We are developing a show right now and hopefully, at some point, we will go to Netflix and talk to them about it. I think it’s a pretty good idea, so stay tuned for that!
You and your wife recently welcomed your first child into the world. How has fatherhood impacted you?
Yeah! It’s definitely adding elements into this show that I’m creating. There is a lot of hilarity that ensues from being a parent and the trials and tribulations of having a child but it’s the best thing ever! It’s an experience I’m so happy to share with my wife! He just turned one! He’s definitely giving us a run for our money but he’s a cool dude and we are beyond happy to have him in our lives!
Making a living in the entertainment industry isn’t easy. What are the keys to longevity?
You’ve got to be smart with your money when you do get it. Realize that it may not always be there. That’s one thing. I know that’s something they really push in the sports world, like the NFL, but it’s the same thing when it comes to acting. You’re young and you get all this money then you just blow it. That’s a mistake. However, anytime you hear about these guys who were really smart and do well with it and they can keep going. Then you can pick and choose the projects that you want to do. I think that’s my best advice financially. As far as continuing, nothing is more important than loving what you do. You have to keep going and never give up. So many people give up and so few keep going. At least you have that working in your favor! You are part of a small percentile if you stick with it! It will hit if you work hard. It will! There’s no way that it won’t as long as you stay true to your goals.
Thanks so much for your time today, Patrick! I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate your time! I’m sure we’ll be talking again soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.