Larkin Campbell (’91 Comm.) details his struggles and successes as an undiscovered actor in Los Angeles in his new memoir A View from the Middle. Here he talks about his time at WSU, writing his book, trying to land parts, and more.
What led you to write your book? Most of my friends down here are actors and directors and people that have worked in the business. And we were sitting around telling stories one night, and I told, I guess, one really good one. Or maybe I was funny that night. I don’t know what happened. But my friend who is a published author said, “Dude, you’ve got so many good stories. You’ve got to write them down. They’re inspirational. They’re funny. You know, your book could be like a how-to book and a motivational book, and an inspiration.” And his words kind of stuck with me. Since then, I’m so glad I wrote it because I really think a book like this would have helped me when I first moved down here.
Who is your target audience for the book? My target audience is anyone who isn’t sure if acting is for them or if they’re good enough to go for it or if they’re just trying to wrap their head around attempting to get into the movie and TV business. My target audience is also people who are just fascinated by this business, the same as I was, and who really would like to know what it is really like year after year, week after week, month, after month, birthday after birthday, to keep at this business and not let the enormity of it intimidate you.
What did you gain from the experience of writing it? I’ve luckily never had therapy in my life. But writing this book, without a doubt, was wildly therapeutic for me. The first draft was probably 7,000 pages long, because everyone I talked to and every book about memoir writing I read said you have to, if it’s a memoir from an unknown guy, get it all down. You better write down every single thing you can remember that influenced you—from high school drama teachers to WSU to everybody. And it really was very, very, very therapeutic. Then you have to start cutting stuff, and it’s hard to lose your favorite stories.
So many people of dream of moving to LA and making as an actor. Talk about how that dream took root for you. It starts with the amazing radio and broadcast journalism training that I got at Washington State from Glenn Johnson and the fantastic cast of characters that made up the communications and drama departments. All these wonderful people that I hung out with during college just literally changed my life. In high school, I thought I was the funniest guy in the room and I was the most clever guy. Then I got to WSU, and there were these guys who were really good on the air and really good at being a DJ, and they were better than me. There were all these awesome creative people, and they flat-out fine-tuned me and just made me better—whether they knew it or not. To graduate, you needed an internship, and my options were to go to Boise and work at a radio station or to go to LA, where I had a good high-school friend. He reappears throughout the book. Long story short, he said, “Dude, I have an internship at Entertainment Tonight. You won’t believe the stuff I get to do. Come down here.” So I went down there on spring break. And I was flabbergasted by getting to walk onto the Paramount lot every day, meeting celebrities, and just being around them. After seeing it, I thought, “Oh, my gosh, if I could find a foothold in this town, it would be quite a ride.” And so I made the leap.
What was that like? It’s not all sparkle and shine, for sure. But there’s still something magical about movies, and there’s still a mystery and a romance that people have with actors and the art of acting and the art of movie-making. And my whole life has been that. My wife is in the business, too. That’s what we do. And I still think it’s an honorable profession. People turn to stories to give them hope and to have an escape from what they’re dealing with. I think they’re hugely important. And in times like the pandemic, they’re even more important because they help you dream. They help you escape the stress and routine of life. I have a lot of credits to my name but people don’t really know my name. It’s kind of the sweet spot. Because, unless you want to be a celebrity, it’s kind of neat to be able to be a working actor and still have some privacy and not be swarmed by paparazzi. I’ll never be swarmed. There’s no doubt about that. There are years when I didn’t work. Then you get a high. You work with Clint Eastwood for two days, and it’s magical. And then the phone doesn’t ring for four months. For me, it was never about wanting to any kind of celebrity. I was just always chasing the next great experience. And if I got four lines, I was over the moon. If it was two, I was happy, too. If it was six or eight or two scenes, oh my God, that’s more than I could wish for. If the show aired and your part didn’t get cut, that’s a victory. I may have a lot of credits, but I could call five friends right now who have twice as many as I do. And you don’t know their names, either. The hustle, it never really stops.
How do you deal with the rejection? I don’t want to sugarcoat it and say I’ve never been down. I have. I had eight auditions in one week a couple years ago. That’s almost two a day. One day there was three of them. And I’m racing all around town and I’m changing in the Starbucks, then I don’t get one call back and I’m like, “What am I doing?” I’ve been rejected 512 times. Five hundred and twelve times people have said I wasn’t the right guy or I was too average-looking or that I wasn’t funny enough or whatever. But the 47 or 48 times that I got the job, that keeps you going. I think it’s like golf. If you make a great shot in golf you’re screwed because now you’re probably going to play golf for five or more years before you get another great shot. The rejection does sting at times. Then you get a job, like you get one line on Criminal Minds. So that’s awesome. You get to have fun on set all day.
Do you think Coach Shane on The Office is your most recognizable character? Yeah, I think so. I’ve gotten recognized a few times from it. It’s just very random, though. I mean, there are 10 amazing characters on that show. And I’ve even run into one of them. I ran into the actor who played Toby in Santa Barbara. I didn’t have a scene with Toby. But I went right up to him and said, “Hey, I was Coach Shane in this episode, and he said he remembered it. Or maybe he was just being nice. The handful of times I’ve gotten recognized from that show, it’s more like, “Oh, dude, you were in The Office.” It was a giant part to get. Anybody and everybody in the world wanted to be on that show. I was a little bummed, I’ll be honest, when I got the part and they said I wouldn’t ever get to (the set of) the office. My scenes were all outside with Steve Carell and Ed Helms. But The Office has definitely helped my career—without a doubt.
What are some of your favorite roles? I got a part in a movie years ago called Mystery Men, and it had this amazing cast: Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush. I was kind of a wannabe superhero. My name was Supervacman. I had a homemade mask and a cape and, I got to act across from Ben Stiller and Paul Reubens, who’s Pee-wee Herman. It was the greatest. I got to do it for two days, and we did multiple takes. But if you read my book, you know my whole scene got cut out of the movie. A lot of times, with my size parts, you’re there for a day and, if you’re lucky, you’re going to do a scene with the main character, like Kiefer Sutherland or somebody like that. For The Office, it was me and Ed Helms and Steve Carell at a college baseball field. That was glorious. Another one I really, really loved was CSI: NY because I was on set for five days and I got to hang out with Gary Sinise. He’s one of the greatest American actors there is, and he such a sweetheart of a guy. My character dies in the show, and they made a prosthetic of my body. We’d sit at the monitor and look at my dead body together. There was also those two days working with Eastwood. Those are my main highlights, for sure.
What are your hopes for your book? If my book does its job, the message is clear. It’s inspirational. It’s a book of hope. If you’re trying to be a filmmaker, if you’re trying to be an actor, if you’re trying to be a photographer in LA, there’s a game. There’s a game that’s played down here. For the guys that don’t get that big break, I’m trying to show them there really is no road. You make your own. And I can tell you in detail what worked for me.
What’s next? Late last year I got to work for one day on the new Steven Spielberg movie called The Fabelmans. It’s Spielberg directing a movie about his own life. I get this call from a friend: “Larkin, I got you work on the new Spielberg movie. And I got you a bunch of lines.” And the next thing I know I’m on set with Spielberg. And it’s like this light turned on and I’m like, “God, I love doing this.” And there’s a resurgence in my energy and a resurgence in my career from this great credit that was just handed to me because of years of hustling. And I’m still hustling. I’m trying to sell a screenplay. I’m working on another book with my daughter. We’re writing a children’s book. I want her to be able to have a book in her hand that we did together. So that’s a fun little project. It’s been a great ride, and that’s why I decided to write it all down for my kids to know what it was like for Daddy to slug it out in a very competitive business.
Read a review of Larkin Campbell’s memoir.