Ask an Alumni Anything: Eric Gustafsson, '13 BA

Actor and alumnus Eric Gustafsson gives advice on a career as a full-time actor, how to pursue the field and much more.

02 March 2021

By the end of his time at Augustana, Eric Gustafsson had graduated with a major in physical education with minors in studio art and drama. He moved to Vancouver, BC the following year and was fortunate enough to land an agent there in the first few months.

Since then, Eric has worked in various acting roles in Canadian and American productions. He's had the esteemed privilege to work alongside some wonderful people and some seriously talented actors, directors and film crew in all departments. He mentions that if it wasn’t for an option credit at Augustana that needed filling, he's not sure where he would be, or how long it might have taken him to get to the career he is in today.

Q: How do you find an agent? I don't even know where to get started!

A: Great question. An agent is an essential part to an actors career; however, in the beginning it's not as important as people think. Here is the list to focus on.

1. Classes - First thing to do is get into class. No agent (not one worth your time that is) is going to represent you without any studies under your belt. Even if you are a theatre major graduate with a BFA, a decent tv/film agent will still ask you to get some tv/film study class experience first (there is always an exception to this, but generally saying). So jump in some weekend intensives or weekly classes. 

2. Get some professional headshots taken - This is important. When applying for an agent you are asking someone to work for you. So when you apply for talent agencies you need to look as professional as possible. iPhone will not work. You get what you pay for when it comes to headshots, so don't cheap out. 

3. Application - Search around for talent agencies in your area. Find a few you are interested in, write up a cover letter (just like any job application), attach your new amazing headshots and continue on with your day-to-day routine (A.K.A. don't dwell on it). If an agency is interested they will respond within a week. Take meetings with those interested in representing you, but don't be afraid to take multiple meetings if they arise.


Q: How do you find work as an actor without moving to Van or LA?

A: Every location has projects coming through. Everything from commercials to large budget studio features. Every place is different, though, and if you are serious about the career then moving needs to be at the top of your list. 

Hot spots in Canada:

  1. Vancouver
  2. Toronto
  3. Montreal
  4. Halifax
  5. Winnipeg
  6. Calgary

If moving is not an option and you'd like to still try the industry, you can always join a background talent agency and work as a background artist in projects that come through a town close to you. 


Q: How has the pandemic affected your ability to work?

A: In the beginning it was rough. Everything shut down (much like everywhere else) and everything that was set to shoot in the spring and summer got pushed to the winter. So, in general terms...there was no work to be had. However, things are now up and running at full capacity under new rules and guidelines. 


Q: What's the most amazing thing about Augustana's drama class?

A: This is a loaded question...oh boy. Well, heaps to be honest. There are heaps of great things. Taking a dramatic arts class can be incredibly daunting and terrifying for most people (I was one of those people). Expressing the full array of human emotion to peers and sometimes strangers is wildly vulnerable. So one of the greatest things about the drama classes at Augustana is the safe and encouraging environment the instructors offer. I can safely say if it wasn't for the kind and supportive nurturing nature of Kristine Nutting, the strong will and structured words of Kevin Sutley or the loving and approachability of Paul "Sparky" Johnson, I would not be where I am today. If you are even curious about the classes, go and support the department and watch a production. That's what I did, and David Arial's raw, alpha, jaw dropping, call-your-mom after watching because you're full of inspiration level performance kicked me into the gear of "I gotta try that". Worst case scenario, you have a great time, support the art program and decide acting isn't for you. 


Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter your field?

A: The most important thing to understand is why, why do you want to do it. Your "why" needs the be the strongest element of your career. You hear what feels like endless "no's" from countless people. I went through 83 professional auditions (that's not including student work auditions) before I booked my first professional union-paying job. It's extremely hard on the heart, and if you don't have a strong "why" to do it, it may not be the field for you. However, if you have been dreaming of a career in film...think about it non-stop...can't imagine doing anything else with your life? Then it might just be the most beautiful career full of trials and tribulations that make you, you. 

Long story short, have thick skin, a light but passionate heart and a deep and unbreakable work ethic. 


Q: How do you handle the stress of auditions?

A: It's funny, I don't find auditions to be stressful anymore. Stress is an interesting topic that usually follows preparedness. In the beginning, yes, auditions stressed me out heavily as I didn't really know what I was doing. But it's just like any skill...the more you do it the easier it becomes. Like I mentioned in the previous answer, understanding the "why you are doing it" is the most important thing. You have to love the process of being an actor...not just acting. As being an actor is much more than standing on your mark in front of a camera. That's actually a very small portion of the job...but don't get me wrong, that is the most important one.


Q: What made you want to be an actor?

A: I have always been in awe of storytelling. Where did the story come from? How did it happen? What was the moment like right before the story happened? This all stemmed from the time sitting around a campfire on trial, or camping or at the farm growing up. I've been privileged to have met some incredible storytellers through my education and personal travels, which made me sit and think about what it really meant, being so drawn to the storytelling element of things. I've always been a large advocate of "pay attention to what you think about" as that is the real you trying to tell the current version of you something. So, with storytelling and narrative being such a large element of my day-to-day, I sat down and tried to figure out where I may be best suited in the form of storytelling...and go try it. I've worked as a writer, director and actor, all of which have a very different element and hand in the full arc of a story. Directors and writers tell the story, while actors are the story, so the best way to figure out what I was maybe best at or what suited me the best was experience. There is no shame in trying something, failing, learning and then adapting and moving on. Failure isn't negative, failure is the process of learning. How you react to failure is where negativity or success is derived from.


Q: What are flexible jobs you can do to support yourself while trying to find acting gigs?

A: The most common job in the beginning is bartending and serving. Both happen outside of audition times (COVID is the exception) and you have many team members that can cover your shift if needed. As you get more settled into the lifestyle, you will start to feel where you can fit different types of jobs when the opportunities arise.


Q: What medium (film, television, theatre) do you enjoy working in the most?

A: I am a huge Broadway nerd. I absolutely love it....however, that is a goal of the future. Television series have become a go-to for many actors as it is a steady job for at least 6 - 8 months of the year, whereas most feature films only range from 1 - 3 months (unless it's a $50 million budget, then it will likely be a longer shoot of 6 months - 2 years). So, to answer your question, television is where it is at for the current moment but I wouldn't shy away from a feature film either.


Q: I am currently a first-year student, majoring in physical education and minoring in music. May I ask how you were able to manage taking two diverse subjects in your years at Augustana? And would you still seek chances to take part in different events outside school?

A: Oh boy, this is a tough one. It wasn't easy...from 4 a.m. studio evenings trying to finish paintings for an 8 a.m. class, cramming for anatomy or trying to finish a chapter for Lorenz's sports study social life was miniscule at times. It all boils down to a series of priorities, time management and utilizing the time you have. I am assuming you are an athlete with a healthy passion for music—this is good. Over the years after university I quickly realized that your brain operates under a steady stream of RPMs (engine talk), and keeping that RPM as steady as possible is incredibly important. Creativity (music) increases brain RPMs as it forces your mind to push beyond its adapted boundaries, while a structured element (physical education) forces your mind to become more efficient. This is literally why majors and minors exist (in my opinion). It's why "creatives" often appear to be messy, unorganized and have poor penmanship, and also why it is so hard to major and devote your life to a creative artistic endeavor.

Oh boy, let me reel this in....what I am trying to say is that, the most important element of your education is maintaining your personal integrity. As I've said before, pay attention to what you think about. There will be times you know you need to put "fun" things to the side and focus on the less fun things because they are more aligned with a common goal (between your heart and your head). Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do, in order to do the things you love. That's life. However, sometimes you yourself know it is important to put that stuff down and utilize your time in making some memories with friends. Your mind is a tremendous tool, and once you start listening and understanding how it operates for you the rest will sort itself out.

As I've said before, I learnt incredible amounts of things pertaining to my majors and minors in university, but the most important thing university taught me was how to think. 

Enjoy your time at university but don't forget to get what you paid education.


Q: What was your reaction to getting your first big acting job?

A: I'll be honest...I thought I made it. Quit my job (serving), was thinking about how fun it was going to be being a full-time working actor, when I would make the move to LA...and then reality set in for a long eight months where I didn't book another acting job and quit my day job. One of the dumbest moments of my life. 

But in a positive element, it was incredible. I had done a few small student films and independent projects up till this point but they were nothing in comparison to the professionalism of a million dollar project. I'll remember that first day on set for the rest of my life.


Q: Is working in a Hallmark movie as magical as it looks?

A: It most certainly is! Hallmark films are a completely other skill set as well. We shoot a full-length feature film (1.5hrs) in 15 days.....instead of three months. So the days are long, fast paced and filled with an extremely hard working crew. One of the toughest elements, however, is the timing of the films. For Hallmarks to hit their release date, we often have to shoot out of season (AKA summer in winter and winter in summer). Now, there is something special about shooting a Christmas movie in August, but Christmas sweaters in sweltering heat is less than ideal. Due to COVID this year, I actually shot a new Christmas movie during Christmas. Having the Christmas spirit, at Christmas and filming a Christmas movie?! What more can a person ask for?