Park City High School graduate finding his way in Hollywood
Jacob Grodnik remembers the first time he met John Travolta.
Grodnik, a Park City High School alum, appears in Travolta’s upcoming film, “The Fanatic,” which will be released in select theaters on Aug. 30. On their first day of filming, the Golden Globe-winning actor – Travolta – wanted to rehearse a few scenes for the R-rated thriller about a street performer who stalks an action hero played by Devon Sawa.
“We go into a tent and he turns to me and says, ‘What do you think?’” Grodnik said. “I was caught off guard. My mind was like, ‘I’m working with John Travolta, and he just said it was OK for me to think.’”
That experience showed Grodnik, who graduated from Park City High School in 2009, that Travolta was a team player.
“We started working on the scenes and changed a few lines here and there,” Grodnik said. “After I threw out a couple of funny lines, John would say, ‘Yeah, let’s go with that.’”
Travolta plays Moose, the stalker, and Grodnik plays Todd, a fellow street performer who tries to recruit Moose to join his act.
“Todd uses his act as a distraction while his friend goes around and steals things from the people who stop to watch,” Grodnik said. “Moose, on the other hand, respects the crowds and tries to put on good performances. But he’s a crazy, off-kilter stalker.”
Travolta wasn’t the only one on set who was open to suggestions, according to Grodnik.
Director Fred Durst, known for fronting the nu metal band Limp Bizkit, is also a collaborative artist.
“Since Fred had written the screenplay, he had a good understanding of the characters and knew what would work,” Grodnik said. “He made the shoot fun, and it was great working with someone of their caliber and feel that I belonged there.”
Grodnik landed the Todd role after he sent in a self-taped audition.
“I wanted to stand out, so I actually made a short film,” he said. “I shot images of me reading the script in a studio, and then intercut them with scenes of me walking down Hollywood Boulevard in character.”
To tap into Todd, Grodnik plastered himself with fake tattoos and sprayed the top of his head yellow.
“The first friend I asked to film the scenes told me he wasn’t comfortable with me looking like that and walking down the street,” Grodnik said laughing. “The second friend I contacted agreed to do the shoot. So I took my shirt off and screamed at people.”
A few days after he sent the tape in, Grodnik learned he was the No. 1 choice for the role if veteran actor Emile Hirsch didn’t want it.
Grodnik found out Durst was a practical joker after Hirsch passed on the role.
“I got a message telling me to call Fred Durst, and I didn’t know if it was a good news or bad news,” he said. “After I got ahold of him and he led me on and said my tape was good, but in this business sometimes the best person doesn’t get the part. Then he stopped and said, ‘Just messing with you. You got the part.’”
Landing a part opposite of John Travolta was surreal at first.
“I’ve always wanted to work in film, and it’s something that I’ve always done growing up in Park City,” he said. “That idea could have been influenced by the Sundance Film Festival coming in every year, but I remember even when I was in elementary school how my friends would make funny videos and shoot our own little films.”.
Grodnik tightened up his acting chops in school plays throughout middle school and high school.
He also took film classes from the late Chris Maddux at Park City High School.
“That was an amazing program, and I was there just in time to use all the new facilities that were created for the class,” Grodnik said. “We had a little film studio where we would film the school announcements.”
Maddux, who passed away in 2011, encouraged Grodnik and his classmates to make their own videos to show during the school’s daily announcements.
The support spurred Grodnik to get a degree in theater and study screenwriting across town from Hollywood at the University of Southern California.
“When you get a theater degree, you need to learn all the aspects of the subject – acting, lighting and other technical components,” he said.
After graduating, Grodnik enrolled in a workshop focusing on the intensive Meisner acting technique program, which helps actors learn to behave instinctively to what is happening around them, he said.
“It was like an acting boot camp,” he said. “I was the youngest one in the program among all of these other professional actors. So I really knew I had to take it seriously.”
In 2010, Grodnik made his screen debut in a short film called “Twice Over,” directed by another Park City-bred director, J.L. Topkis.
He worked with Topkis again in 2018 in the film “In Searching,” before landing his biggest role in a film called “Tiger,” starring Mickey Rourke, that was also released in 2018.
The film was directed by Alister Grierson, and it’s about a boxer who is banned from fighting because of his religious beliefs.
The film was shot in 2015, and it was a different experience from the other films he had done.
“Before ‘Tiger,’ I shot the films with friends who would have these deep talks about character development and keen on doing a lot of rehearsing,” he said. “When I got to ‘Tiger,’ which was filmed in Ohio, I realized that there wasn’t going to be a lot of hand-holding and coaching. I was very much thrown into a tiger’s cage. You’re expected to be a professional and know your craft, and take direction as needed.”
Working on “Tiger” prepared Grodnik for working on “The Fanatic.”
“We shot in Birmingham, Alabama, and Los Angeles, and I had to know my stuff,” he said.
While working with Travolta and Durst, Grodnik reflected on something one of his teaching professors said in a lecture.
“She said, ‘Acting is like an extreme sport. You can prepare all you want, but you just need to rev the engines and jump out of the plane,’” he said. “You can’t have everything set in stone, because then you will lose authenticity.”
Grodnik’s next project is producing a film about Richard Davis, the man who developed the bulletproof vest.
“He would travel around the country and have people shoot him,” Grodnik said. “I met him in Michigan and got the life rights, because I think it’s an interesting and intense story.”
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