Jake Epstein joined Series 3 of the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy as Alphonso, with the red carpet and Netflix premiere both in June this year. With The Hardy Boys Series 2 being released in April, Jake can be seen playing Mr. Munder across all episodes, and in 2021, he appeared in feature films Candy Cane Candidate, Eight Gifts of Hanukkah and The Danger Next Door. Having an extensive screen career, Jake’s projects have included playing Brian Altman in a number of episodes of Suits, playing Chuck Russink in Designated Survivor and he starred as Craig Manning in Degrassi: The Next Generation, which saw him win his first acting award at the Gemini Awards in 2003. Also having a stage career, Jake made his Broadway debut in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as Alternate Peter Parker/Spider-Man, was in the original Broadway cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical as Gerry Goffin, and in 2019, he appeared as Jack in the world premiere of Dear Jack, Dear Louise at Arena Stage, DC. With his own autobiographical show Boy Falls From The Sky, Jake has recently held a run at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. We caught up with Jake about playing Alphonso in Series 3 of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix, starring as Craig Manning in Degrassi: The Next Generation and being in the original Broadway cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.
You play Alphonso in the new series of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix, what was it like joining the cast in Series 3 and how was it attending the red carpet premiere in June?
I was massively excited to join the cast because I’ve been a fan of the show since Season 1. It’s a surreal experience to have spent hours watching and loving these characters, and then suddenly getting to be in scenes with all of them. But the experiences did not disappoint – the cast members were all incredibly gracious and fun to work with.
Getting to attend the red carpet premiere was a whirlwind experience. I attended the event with my wife – Vanessa Smythe – who kept me very grounded and reminded anyone talking to me that I was the guy in the show with the ‘weird face’.
What is Alphonso like to play and how was it getting into character for the first time?
It was an interesting experience playing Alphonso because of how much it kept changing. I auditioned for the part with a made-up script that didn’t exist in the show. And I had no idea that they were planning on turning my face and body into a melting marshmallow! So as soon as I saw the design for Alphonso, and put him on for the first time, it very much changed the way I walked and talked and that helped dictate who this strange dude was. The first time I put on the character I actually couldn’t stop dancing – there was something very freeing about dancing with a body like that. I loved it.
Earlier this year, you started your role of Mr. Munder in Series 2 of The Hardy Boys, what is the show like to work on?
It was a fantastic experience. (SPOILER ALERT – if you plan on watching Season 2 you should skip this answer…) I was told right off the bat that I was the ‘big bad’ of the season, but they hadn’t fully figured out my plan yet or how it was happening. So it was fascinating because I knew I had this secret on set, but didn’t know exactly what that secret was.
What do you enjoy most about playing Mr. Munder and why would you recommend watching the series?
I really loved filming the scene in the final episode of the season with Rohan (Campbell), who plays Frank Hardy – it was this nine-page long exchange where he wakes up tied to a chair and my character, Adrian Munder, explains why he’s done the things he’s done and how he didn’t have a choice. It was one of the most challenging days of filming I’ve ever experienced and it was thrilling.
The show is really well done – each episode ends and you can’t wait to immediately watch the next one. I think I watched Season 1 in one sitting because of how fun and captivating it was.
In 2021, you played Parker in the Christmas film Candy Cane Candidate, Daniel in Eight Gifts of Hanukkah and Ben in The Danger Next Door, can you tell us about working on these films?
All three experiences were fun and unique in their own way. Candy Cane Candidate was so exciting, not only because of the Asian representation in a Christmas movie, but also because of the well-handled love story between two young Asian men. I was proud to be part of telling that story.
Eight Gifts of Hanukkah was very special to me because I’m Jewish and it was the only Hanukkah movie made that year during the Christmas-time slate of holiday movies. I had a lot of fun with that character and adored working with Inbar Lavi.
The Danger Next Door was very satisfying to work with the director Bill Corcoran, who directed me when I was 13 in a Disney Channel movie called Quints. And also, getting to work with one of my real-life friends Hannah Anderson made the shoot incredibly easy and enjoyable.
Having starred in a number of other Christmas films including Christmas at Maple Creek and A Merry Holiday, how do you find the experience working on Christmas films?
I grew up loving romantic comedies and when I was a younger actor, I predominately acted in dramas. But anyone that knows me knows that I’m a complete goofball and a total romantic. So it felt like a good fit to get to tell these heartwarming stories in December and make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Can you tell us about your character Brian Altman in Suits and how was it developing the character over the years?
When I initially got the part of Brian, it was a one-scene part. I’d been a fan of Suits for years and really wanted to be part of it in any way I could. Lucky for me, the one scene involved this Louis fantasy moment where my character is asking for a couple days off to attend the birth of his child, and since Louis desperately wants a kid, he imagines Brian mocking him for not having children. Our director Silver Tree asked me to improv and I just lost my mind mocking Louis and saying all this weird stuff that never made the cut! What I didn’t know was that Aaron Korsh – the creator of Suits – was behind the monitor watching. He came up to me afterward and thought it was a great scene. And soon after, I got a call that they wanted to turn my one scene into a multi-episode arc. It was completely unexpected and I felt like a total underdog, in the best way, the entire time I was there. I had nothing to lose. I had a lot of fun creating the character of Brian and getting to be in these fantastic scenes with Rick Hoffman (who played Louis) and Amanda Schulz (who played Katrina).
You played Chuck Russink in Designated Survivor, what was he like to play?
Chuck was very near and dear to my heart. Despite being a computer-whiz and helping the FBI solve major crises, all of his scenes were about trying to tell his partner, Hannah, how he felt about her. He never stood a chance! It was very comedic and gave the show some much-needed levity. Hannah, played by the beautiful and talented Maggie Q, barely noticed Chuck’s attempts. I loved the dynamic of the computer geek, who normally works in a basement, getting to work with his dream woman.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Craig Manning in Degrassi: The Next Generation?
I have a lot of great memories from that time. Degrassi was like my second high school. In fact, I probably spent more time there than at my real school. In no particular order:
- I remember filming my first episode, which was directed by legendary indie director Bruce MacDonald. He decided to shoot the episode like an indie film, with a lot of improv, handheld cameras and spontaneity. It was such a collaborative and exciting episode to shoot.
- I remember the episode where Craig steals Joey’s car and takes his friends on a joy ride. It was me, Shane (who played Spinner), Danny (who played Sean) and Adamo (who played Marco) all stuffed in a hot car trying to not to crack up during each take.
- I remember filming the Degrassi Christmas episode (or as I call it, the Craig cheating episode) during Toronto’s crazy blackout that lasted days. They brought in generators, and not only was Degrassi the one show still managing to film, but it was the one place in the city that managed to have power.
- I remember winning a Gemini Award (my first acting award) and going up on stage in front of everyone I respect in the film industry, and making the most awkward and nervous acceptance speech of all time!
- I remember going to Madison Square Gardens with Aubrey (who you might know now as Drake) for a press event and having security there because there were so many fans that showed up.
- I remember all the fun parties the cast would have off set. It was an awesome group.
In 2019, you originated the role of Jack in the world premiere of Dear Jack, Dear Louise at the Arena Stage, can you tell us about this?
Sure. I’ve been a huge fan of Jackie Maxwell for years – she’s a visionary director and the former artistic director of the Shaw Festival. She approached me with this role and this play and I completely fell in love with it. It was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever been a part of – there are only two actors on stage and the whole play is told in letters back and forth between the two characters. But to Jackie’s credit, she made it come alive so that it felt like a tight two-hander with such specific timing and comedy. Ken Ludwig’s script was excellent and I savoured every show we had at Arena Stage in DC.
What was it like performing your one act autobiographical show Boy Falls From The Sky: Jake Epstein Live at Supermarket?
Well, I’ll start by saying that this show grew and grew and I just finished a run of it at the legendary Royal Alex Theatre in Toronto. But when I did it at Supermarket, it was just me and 100 people in a room, trying to be as honest and funny as I could. I was terrified to tell some of these stories on stage because of how revealing and personal they were. But performing and developing this show has become one of the joys of my life.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from being in the original Broadway cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical as Gerry Goffin?
- I remember our first out-of-town preview in front of an audience in San Francisco before transferring to Broadway. We had no idea what the show was yet or how it would land with an audience. We went out on stage and the music hit people so hard, and the jokes landed and we felt like complete rockstars.
- I remember meeting Carole King and having phone call chats with her during the run. She was like my Jewish aunt I never knew I had!
- I remember performing at the Tony Awards and just pinching myself the entire time for living out that childhood dream.
- I remember on my last show, the band surprised me and fellow Canadian Chilina Kennedy (who took over for Carole later in the run) with ‘O Canada’ during our bows. It was pretty special.
In 2012, you made your Broadway debut in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as Alternate Peter Parker/Spider-Man, what did you enjoy most about being in the show and how did you find the experience performing as Peter Parker/Spider-Man?
Making my Broadway debut playing Spider-Man on Broadway was completely surreal! I think what i enjoyed most in the show was finding the comedy and humour in the character. It hit me that the show was like a British pantomime – where you boo the villain and cheer the hero. That realisation opened up a tone for me that made the whole experience very fun and very accessible to the audience.
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you start?
It comes from my family. When I was a kid, my parents would drive my sister and I to New York City to see plays. And I completely fell in love with performing and the idea of getting up on stage and moving people and making them laugh. It’s not a surprise that both my sister and I are performers. We both went to an arts school in Toronto and from there, my drama teacher sent me on my first audition for the play Our Town. I was lucky enough to land the part, and once I started I knew I couldn’t stop.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
That is an incredibly overwhelming question! There are so many great films, TV shows and plays that have shaped who I am as a person and as an actor. Besides the obvious greats: The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump, I also grew up with movies like The Princess Bride, Hook and Canadian cult classics like It’s All Gone Pete Tong on a loop. I’ve been obsessed with TV shows like The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Sopranos and I’m recently obsessed with Severance and Hacks. My favourite plays is a list that’s too long to mention. But I’ve always loved musicals like Cabaret, Once, Spring Awakening (in which I starred in the National Tour!) and plays like Time Stands Still and Ruined.
When I’m not acting, I love playing music with friends. I love going up north and swimming in a lake. And I try to spend as much time with my family as I can.
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