Campbell grad’s appearance in ‘Revolution’ highlights year of roles in big-budget films, shows
By Billy Liggett
The scene: A flashback. Chicago. One week after a blackout wiped out electricity across the world.
Outside the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chicago, a young girl named Charlie is bouncing a ball while her mother tends to her brother in a wagon. The ball bounces away from the young girl and stops when a stranger a few feet away puts his foot on it.
“You like basketball?” asks the wiry, creepy stranger. He’s wearing a suit, but his look and demeanor are telling. He’s struggling to survive.
“Yes,” says Charlie, clearly afraid of the man.
“Me? I … I love the Bulls,” says the stranger. “But they probably played their last game, huh?”
Charlie’s mother calls for her daughter to come back, but as the little girl turns toward her, the stranger puts his hands on her shoulder.
“She’s beautiful,” the stranger tells Charlie’s mother. “Such a pretty face. I’d hate to have to smash it in.
“I’d like your food please. All of it.”
Fade to black. End scene.
It was an eery and memorable scene in the second episode of television’s most watched new show, NBC’s “Revolution.” And for the man who showed millions just how much of a struggle life without power and basic necessities can be, the scene was the highlight of what’s become a budding career for the talented young actor.
That creepy stranger was Eric Mendenhall, a 2004 graduate of Campbell University’s theatre and religion departments.
The star of several school productions while at Campbell, Mendenhall has played minor roles in some of Hollywood’s biggest films in 2012. He played a doctor in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” starring Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez and Elizabeth Banks. He was a waiter in “Trouble with the Curve,” starring Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams H
He was tarred and feathered playing the role of Spoons Rivard in “Lawless,” with Shia LeBeouf, Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce (that’s Eric in the first image of the film’s trailer).
And he’ll appear as a Dodgers fan who defends the legendary Jackie Robinson against a racist fan in the 2013 film “42,” starring Harrison Ford.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t expect to major in theater when arriving in Buies Creek a decade ago.
“I honestly never saw it as a viable career choice,” said Mendenhall, who lives in Atlanta with his wife, Campbell alumna Bethany Anne Lind (’04), an actress who recently starred in “Mean Girls 2.”
“Even after college, I wasn’t exactly sure what my career would look like. I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants, piecing jobs together. A small part in a movie here. A commercial or video there. I really didn’t expect this kind of film success living in Atlanta.”
He credits his success in part to former Campbell theatre professor Harold Heno, who’s now the assistant dean of academics for a prep school noted for its performing arts in New York. Heno, Mendenhall said, wasn’t the first to see talent in the young actor, but he was the first to scare some sense into him.
“I was definitely unprepared for a test one day, and he called me out in front of the class for my lack of preparation,” Mendenhall recalled. “It was the first time something like that had ever happened to me. But he came up to me the next day and said he was sorry he had to do that. He said, ‘But this is my profession, and I take it seriously. Understand, you have a great deal of talent, and you can do something with it. That’s why you have to take it seriously, too.’”
Mendenhall met Lind in Campbell’s theatre program; and after graduation, they moved to Atlanta because of its central location to hot film spots like Wilmington and Nashville, but also because of its abundance of stage jobs.
It turns out, the two were in the right place at the right time for film jobs as well.
Atlanta has become the “Hollywood of the South” in recent years, home to popular TV shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “Vampire Diaries” and recent movies “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” “The Three Stooges,” “Blind Side” and the remake of “Footloose.”
“This past year has been crazy,” said Mendenhall. “And the more work I do, the more casting directors will get to know me and trust me to do a good job.”
He’s living the dream of many actors, acting alongside men and women considered living legends and A-listers in the world of cinema. Mendenhall will admit the “nerd” in him gets excited to work with someone like Tom Hardy, who played the villain Bane in the 2012 Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
“You keep your jaw up, but inside you’re going, ‘Aaaahhh! What am I doing here? How did I get here?” Mendenhall said. “There are moments of utter astonishment. Like the day of rehearsal when I had to sit at a small table with [“Lawless” writer] Nick Cave, Tom Hardy and Shia LeBeouf and talk about the script. Here I am, doing what I love, talking about a story while sitting in a tiny little country church … drinking tea with these guys. It’s amazing.”
The film roles have been big for Mendenhall, but he says it’s his three-minute appearance in “Revolution” that serves as the highlight of his young acting career so far. The night it aired, Mendenhall said he received more feedback from friends, family and people he hadn’t heard from in years than for anything he’d done previously.
And while his film and TV roles have included a few “bad guys,” Mendenhall said it was tough to play a character ready to break a little girl’s face.
“The girl [actress Morgan Hinkleman] was a sweetheart … so cute,” he said. “The director introduced me to her and told her what was going to happen, and we shot it 50 different ways. When I got the part, they told me they wanted more desperation, rather than pure evil. I was trying to tap into that depravity … deprived of my health and my faith. If I had to do anything to live, what would I do? What decisions would I make? It’s an interesting concept.”
With “42” expected to hit theaters next year and a few other roles in the works, Mendenhall hopes the minor parts will lead to bigger and better things.
“There’s a reason to be thrilled,” he said. “It’s exciting to be working with people at the top of their game … people whom I have a high level of respect for. I’m very thankful for everything, and I’m excited about the future.”
Learn more about Eric at his IMDB page or at his website, http://www.ericmendenhall.com.
Where You’ve Seen Eric
- Fitz in Ben 10: Alien Swarm
- Dwayne in Army Wives
- Man No. 1 in I Can Do Bad All by Myself
- Doctor in The Bed by the Window
- Wendy’s Doctor in What to Expect When You’re Expecting
- Spoons Rivard in Lawless
- Frank inEcho at 11 Oak Drive
- Waiter No. 2 in Trouble with the Curve
- Wiry Stranger in Revolution
- Loaded Cop No. 2 in Highway]