There is an art to being a working character actor. It is something that is nowhere near as easy as it seems. Their job may appear on the surface to be thankless, but really, they are the ones that hold the ship together, keeping it from drifting into utter chaos. Their absence is noticeable. If their job is being done correctly, they seamlessly are allowed to blend right into the world that’s been constructed around them, without ever becoming too jarring, no matter how ridiculous the character may be.
Every actor wants to get noticed. That’s literally everyone’s dream, not just as an actor, but as a human being. You just want to be recognized for the work you do. For a consistently working character actor, it is surely something that is bound to happen over time. Take Mark Proksch, for example. He’s an actor whose played recurring characters as The Office, Better Call Saul and Son of Zorn, with guest spots on Bob’s Burgers, Animal Practice, Portlandia, New Girl, Comedy Bang! Bang!,Modern Family, A.P. Bio, and This is Us. He’s popped up on the hottest shows of the past 10 years. And the more it happens, the more you’re going to notice.
Chances are you saw him once and said “This guy is funny.” You see him again and say “I like this guy a lot.” By the third time, it all starts to click, and every subsequent time he makes an appearance amidst your favorite show, you find yourself yelling out “There he is!” You still may not know his name, but by God do you know his face.
No two character actors are the same. Each one has their own special sauce they bring to the recipe. “I think what makes a good character actor,” Mark tells us, “is you really have to have a very specific thing to offer. Like Don Knotts had this hyper, nervousness that he offered. And Jack Benny had this kind of holier than thou character that he offered. And for me it’s kind of this arrogant idiot in a lot of the stuff that I’ve done. This person that, because of their own ego or delusion of themselves, gets in over their head.”
“I think where some people may get tripped up,” he continues, “is they come in and they want to really shine. But I think the whole secret to it is just to blend in and know what the show is and know what you were hired to do.”
His entire career started as a result of Youtube. He performed this character Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser, who would go on morning shows as the world’s greatest yoyo-ist. But only Mark Proksch can’t yoyo to save his life. “We thought ‘What if we got him on a morning show and if we did it correctly, we could appear on ten morning shows. And if you watch them all in a row, you could kind of get 10 storylines out of it.’ So it’s just this sort of weird way to tell a story.” This, as most things do these days, blew up on the internet and he quickly became a viral sensation. “It blew up around the sixth or seventh appearance. And we were really bummed out because we really wanted to keep it quiet. And as soon as it blew up, they were canceling future appearances.” It was through doing K-Strass that the folks at The Office knew they needed to write a part for him and track him down to do the show.
After all this time being there to support the lead, Mark has now become a regular cast member on the new FX series What We Do in the Shadows, based off the 2014 Taika Waititi/Jemaine Clement dark comedy of the same name. The premise is simple, as the series revolves around the lives of four vampires that came to the U.S. to conquer the new world hundreds of years ago, but somehow never made it past Staten Island. It is a sure thing for any actor, starring on a show based off a cult movie. But for Mark, who makes his living popping up on shows, signing onto the series initially would have sort of hindered that.
“They wanted me as a regular cast member,” he tells us, “but there was going to be such a long time between the pilot and when the show would possibly be picked up that if I had signed on early, I would’ve missed certain opportunities in between. Because the way it works is they try to hold you until they make the decision on whether or not they pick up the show. So for me I just felt like it would take way too long to be exclusive just to FX. And so for the pilot, I signed on as just a guest star, and when it got picked up, I signed on as a regular cast member.”
Mark’s vampire, is probably the most unique of them all. He’s an energy vampire. This is the sort of person you are bound to encounter in every day life. Everybody knows one. “Either at the office or on the bus,” says Mark, “they’re just people that bore you so much and drain your energy with endless stories about their family or their love life or their illness or what have you. The people you try to avoid in the morning, otherwise your day is shot.”
Colin Robinson, on the surface, may seem like the most ordinary person on the planet. You think that is the joke. He doesn’t really fit in with the others, and you assume the show is going for the Marilyn Munster “He’s not like the rest of us,” sort of thing. But the show takes it a step further. While not a traditional vampire, he actually manages to be the most powerful vampire of them all, as he has abilities none of the others have, or possibly would want to for that matter.
“He’s not a blood-sucker, and he can walk in the sun. He doesn’t have to avoid the sunlight. He can actually drain the energy of the other vampires, which is kind of unique. So in a sense he wants to be friends with people, but he can’t because every time he opens his mouth he starts killing them, slowly. In a cardigan sweater. [Laughs].”
What would Mark do if he, like Colin, was assigned to conquer the world?
“I think I’m doing that in real life which is T.V. I think I’m courting the pants off of people through mass media. [Laughs]. That would be the road that I think Colin would also take. I think that conquering the world doesn’t really apply to me as much [on the show]. Because I don’t really follow their leader. We’ve never really established who my leader is in this world. But yeah, if I were to bore people, I would do what I’m doing now and go on T.V. [Laugh]. I mean, it’s working. I’m getting through and I’m boring people with my performances.”
When you watch a show like What We Do in the Shadows, you start to understand just how far we’ve come. The idea of a vampire, naturally, isn’t anything new. Dracula first haunted our lives in 1931, after all. But to think that, 88 years later, we are still finding a new spin on the vampire premise is insane. But that says more about the horror genre itself.
“Most genres don’t evolve the way that horror has,” he comments. “Look at rom-com’s. The only thing that has really changed with rom-com’s is they swear more now in them. But other than that, it’s basically the same format. And same with action movies, they’re basically the same, too. But horror has actually evolved, and it’s really exciting, I think.”
“I was never that into the slasher movies,” he continues. “The Shining was a huge part of my adolescence. I saw it when I was 10. I had 3 older brothers, and so I kind of watched what they wanted to watch. And that terrified me. It scared the hell out of me.”
For someone like Mark Proksch, someone who clearly grew up for a passion with movies, who unexpectedly wound up in the world playing characters that are infused with the one that started it all, K-Strass, a character that he created sitting around with a bunch of friends, you imagine it never gets old.
“It feels surreal. All the time. I met my wife on The Office. She was a writer on The Office. She had just started on the show and she was the one who figured out who I was, because I had taken down all my contact info and any videos I had done before that on the internet, so people would think that this guy was real. So not only did I get my career, I got my wife and the life I now have. It’s insane to me.”
What We Do in the Shadows airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST