Making it in L.A.: Jesse Luken ’06 Talks with Theatre Students About His Life as an Actor
Earlier this semester, Colorado State University alumnus, Jesse Luken ’06, sat down with CSU theatre students to “talk turkey” about what it takes to make it as an actor in Los Angeles.
Jesse has appeared in several popular TV series, including Justified, The Mentalist, Last Resort, Glee, NCIS, and others. Most recently he played the role of second-baseman Eddie Stanky in the movie 42, chronicling the life and story of Jackie Robinson.
Graduating from CSU in 2006, Jesse packed up and moved to L.A. after graduation to become an actor.
“Theatre was far and away the best part of college for me,” noted Jesse. “Not having done it before, it was very much a new love with which I was entirely and completely smitten – it brings a story to life and develops all sorts of different characters and expressions of art which affect people.”
A baseball player in high school, Jesse noted that “the teamwork and camaraderie of threatre was also something that I had been missing since team sports, and I found such wonderful, passionate people who would inject me with enthusiasm daily. I decided to make it a career because I couldn’t find any sort of replacement for that.”
Jesse began his career in L.A. the way most aspiring actors do – by getting a “real job” to pay the bills. He began working at The Cheesecake Factory five days a week and started auditioning.
“I started auditioning for anything I could find,” Jesse remembered. “Plays, student films, infomercials, you name it. I did a couple really terrible plays in my first year there, but that experience is ultimately beneficial. A lot of times you have to do the bad stuff before you can figure out what’s good, or, as someone once told me, ‘you can’t be a snob fresh off the boat.’”
Jesse also smartly realized he needed to balance his work and auditioning with the business side of acting.
“It’s really something which all beginning actors need to make a priority,” Jesse told CSU students. “Taking headshots, doing agent mailers, getting into classes – the whole nine yards.”
Jesse is currently a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and signed with Greene & Associates in L.A.
Students laughed and nodded knowingly as Jesse remembered his theatre experiences at CSU – late night rehearsals and joking around with fellow students and faculty members.
He also noted his great appreciation for faculty guidance and encouragement.
“I have a great admiration for Morris Burns,” Jesse told students. “He always treated his students with the utmost respect and his passion and excitement are unparalleled.”
Fast Facts All About Jesse:
Productions at CSU: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (directed by Dr. Prince), Side Man (Laura Jones), James and the Giant Peach (Jones), To Kill A Mockingbird (Morris Burns), and Waiting for Godot (Prince). Side Man and Waiting for Godot got to travel as selections in American College Theater Festival (ACTF).
Favorite show: Right now, probably The Newsroom on HBO, but Lost is my favorite show of all time.
Favorite professor/director: I loved all of my directors, but I guess as a favorite teacher I’d have to go with Morris Burns. He’s actually my favorite teacher of all time.
Favorite performance at CSU: It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but I guess I’d have to go with Waiting for Godot. It was incredibly challenging and rewarding material. I got to do the show with my best friend, Matt Murphy (now a teacher in Denver), and we both knew it was our final production, which made it all the more special. And it was the first show at the new UCA!
Favorite Spot on Campus: It’s actually no longer there! It would have been the old Black Box theatre at Johnson Hall – lots of fantastic, creative memories.
Favorite CSU Memory: Performing Side Man at ACTF – the crowd was eating up everything we did. It was a two-hour show that wound up taking about three because of how much we were milking it! In the end we won all the awards – so much fun.
Favorite Movie: The Princess Bride. Duh.
Favorite Actor: I think the best actor on the planet is Daniel Day-Lewis. I don’t even think it’s subjective, it’s like when Michael Jordan was playing basketball and everybody just knew “yeah, he’s obviously the best.” But my personal favorite might be Javier Bardem.
Major influences: I’m influenced by everybody – too many to count! In my personal life I have a family that words don’t even begin to describe. My friends are second to none. Professionally, I can’t single out any one influence for fear of excluding so many others – from wonderful actors, to brilliant directors, and fun-loving crew members – it’s my favorite part of this crazy thing we do.
The University Center for the Arts at Colorado State University provides an enriched venue in which the study and practice of Art, Dance, Music and Theatre are nurtured and sustained by building the skills and knowledge needed by future generations of arts professionals to become contributors to the essential vitality of our culture and society.