This month, actor Ian Hopps will join SOSS to read “The Hermit’s Tattoo” by Leslie Kirk Campbell, part of her short story collection The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs. Our casting director Jessica Laskey talked to Hopps about his multiple talents, lucking out and the most challenging character he’s ever played.
Jessica: Ian, I know you’ve been performing since you were very young growing up in Southern California. How did the theater bug first bite you?
Ian: The earliest I can remember performing, I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet. I had seen my older cousin in a school musical and I remember thinking how cool that looked, to see her onstage knowing that was my cousin but also falling into the story—it sucked me in. I started in school doing skits in elementary and middle school. I went to a Lutheran Christian school and every Wednesday they’d have a class do a skit or performance in chapel to make it interesting. In older grades, I did all the Christmas musical shows and in 7th and 8th grade, the big thing was the middle school musical. I pretty much knew at that point that I wanted to do this as a career.
Jessica: What do you love about theater?
Ian: I love getting to play a character other than myself. I’ve always loved stories and entertainment, but actually doing theater, it’s so much fun to put on other clothes, do the makeup. The excitement of being in the lights, waiting for your cue—I love the feeling of it.
Jessica: But I understand you tried to get into college as…a jazz drummer?
Ian: When it came time to pick schools, I had applied to three CSUs—Humboldt, San Francisco and San Diego. I applied to all of them as a theater major, but then for whatever crazy reason I decided I wanted to be a jazz drummer, so I auditioned for the jazz program at San Diego and bombed it. They told me I could still come to the school but I’d have to be undeclared, so that left me with San Francisco State. I went because I had to, but I’m really glad I did ultimately, everything worked out.
Jessica: Were you already a musician when you decided to audition as a jazz drummer?
Ian: I had always done music very casually. I was in the band elective in elementary and middle school. I started with the coronet but the band needed low brass players, so my band teacher convinced me to play the baritone horn. I was a very small kid—I could fold myself into the case for my instrument, but I lugged that thing around from 3rd grade to 7th grade. In 8th grade, we got a new band teacher and I convinced him to let me switch to percussion. I had already taught myself guitar and had started teaching myself drums, but I wanted to learn them formally. I’ve always had a weird knack for learning by ear, so I’ve taught myself quite a few instruments. I still love tinkering around with the guitar and midi keyboard, I find it very relaxing. I’m actually glad I didn’t get into the jazz program because it meant that music was never a pressure, it’s just a fun thing that I like to do.
Jessica: So what brought you to the area?
Ian: I finished school in 2013 around the same time that rent in San Francisco was going insane. My roommate and best friend wanted to go back to LA and I really didn’t want to move in with a bunch of roommates and work three jobs while trying to find theater jobs in San Francisco, so I moved back home to Santa Clarita. I just wasn’t into the scene—I’d have to leave work and drive two hours to do a three-minute audition and then never hear anything. I didn’t have the drive, to be perfectly honest—it’s hard to admit, but I just didn’t want to be unhappy in that way.
In college, I’d had a lot of classmates from Sacramento but I landed first in Davis when I got involved with Davis Shakespeare Festival. I did a couple of summers with them—and barely scraped by—but I really liked it and I liked the area. What little I did see of Sacramento I thought, this is pretty cool. After the second summer, Davis Shakespeare asked if I would consider moving up to help as an associate producer. I had nothing going on in LA and I love adventure, so I thought, why the hell not?
Jessica: How’d you transition from Davis to Sacramento?
Ian: When I moved here, I knew I would get to work with Davis but only in the summer at the time, so I thought, let’s see what the scene is like. My friend Casey Worthington told me to check out Big Idea Theatre, which is the first place I worked in Sacramento. I loved the vibe and the people. I also Googled every possible theater in the area and emailed them constantly checking for auditions until I’d get a bite.
Jessica: And now you’ve worked extensively at many of our professional theaters.
Ian: I feel very lucky to be in a privileged position. I want people to hire me, yes, because I’m good, but also because they want to work with me. That’s a huge part of why I’ve gotten to keep working—I’ve worked hard to establish that reputation of being easy to work with, to get the job done with no drama besides the play.
Jessica: Speaking of drama, you’ve played some very interesting roles over the years. How do you get into character when you’re playing someone so different from yourself, like the protagonist of “The Hermit’s Tattoo”?
Ian: I start as a blank slate and just read the script or story a few times and let whatever ideas and feelings come to me from the text—I really like to focus on the text and look for clues there. Once I feel like I’ve established a foundation for the character based on the text, I like to layer in if I can relate my own experience to the character or pull in anything contextual, like where they’re from, if there’s an accent or physicality I can play with. I also let myself be influenced by my favorite performers—I love the old comedians like Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello and Charlie Chaplin.
Jessica: What’s been your favorite role and most challenging role?
Ian: I loved playing Jason in Sweat (at Capital Stage in 2018). He was a really cool character to play because he had a lot of layers and changed so much through the course of the play and he’s very different from who I am. It was fun to step into that and embody something that I’m truly not. Pass Over (which runs through Apr. 17 at Capital Stage) has been the most challenging because of the nature of the subject matter. It deals with a lot of racism—one character I play is a police officer who gets very violent. I have to say and do some really awful things. The other character I play is a more unassuming white guy, but he’s definitely reminiscent of a plantation owner. While that character is a little more “fun,” in quotation marks—I get to do more clowning—I have to give a direct address to the audience. To look the audience in the eye after everything they’ve seen and everything I’ve just done, it’s one of the scarier times I’ve had to do that. It gives me a lot of weird feelings.
I’ve done shows that are physically demanding where I’m sore afterward, but this is the first time where it’s really emotional to have to do it over and over. It’s so antithetical to who I am, it’s interesting how that affects the body and the mind. I’m actually starting therapy because of this show—I’ve needed to do it for a long time, but this has pushed me to finally do it.
In addition to being a professional actor and casting director for Stories on Stage Sacramento, Jessica Laskey is also a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in Comstock’s, Sacramento and Sactown Magazines, as well as in The Sacramento Bee, Inside Sacramento and OUT North Texas.
More information at jessicalaskey.com