After starring in two high profiles comedies, “A Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (2014) and in the 2015 “Vacation” reboot, Skyler Gisondo, at 18 years years old, went nearly a year in a half without landing an acting gig.
Gisondo said his future was in limbo while he stayed in college.
“I got to have that (college) experience, but then I started working more,” said Gisondo who grew up in Manhattan Beach. “It's really great to get to do what you love to do. You're not always afforded those opportunities especially in this industry, so when you are it's like 'Yes!'”
Gisondo has been a busy actor lately, co-starring with Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant in the Netflix series “Santa Clarita Diet.” He's also completed several indie films including “Class Rank,” which opens in limited release and on-demand Friday, May 11.
In “Class Rank,” directed by Eric Stoltz, Gisondo plays 16-year-old Bernard, who is “super passionate about politics and his community.” Bernard is recruited by classmate Veronica (Olivia Holt) to help realize her dream of attending Yale. Bernard and Veronica rank No. 1 and No. 2 in their class. Veronica devises a plan to become Bernard's campaign manager for a school board position. Once he's elected, she pushes him to abolish the ranking system, which she sees as a stumbling block to being accepted to Yale.
Gisondo calls “Class Rank,” a “wonderful heartfelt coming of age story of two strange birds,” who are outsiders and are not “successful in terms of popularity.”
“Bernard is this dude who is almost like from another era,” Gisondo added, “He rides his bicycle, he wears very strange clothing; he's in a long distance relationship with a girl he's never met who speaks a foreign language ... but he's just a strange dude.”
“Class Rank” also stars Kristin Chenoweth, who plays Veronica's mother, and two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, who plays Bernard's grandfather. Gisondo said he learned a valuable lesson from the acclaimed actor. On the first day of shooting, Dern began telling long stories or asking him questions about his breakfast. But with the tape rolling, Dern would transition into his first line.
“The scene took on such a different vibe and he had a habit where he would do that all the time,” Gisondo said. “The first time he did it, I just thought he was crazy. I thought, 'Oh man, Bruce Dern is crazy,' but it was brilliant. He said that to me, 'I saw you walking around, you seemed like you were in your own head. We're just talking, you and I are just talking.' That really stuck to me. It was a valuable lesson ... he would lock you in to listening to him an he was such a good listener as well.”
Gisondo said playing Bernard was a departure from previous roles.
“Every role up until that point I had played felt like an extension of myself to some degree like 'Vacation' and 'Night at the Museum,'” he said. “It was fun, but it wasn't so far removed from my reality. This kid was really sort of operating on another plane. It was fun and I had to make a lot of decisions. It was a really interesting process for me.”
From the small to the big screen
Gisondo was fascinated by television when he was 6 years old. He watched the same movie over and over until he memorized the dialogue.
His parents, Ron and Stacey, were ocean engineers when they had a business project in California, so the family decided to make a vacation out of a trip and ended up in the South Bay.
His parents recognized their son's passion for acting. So, Stacey sent photos to different agencies and Skyler ended up at an audition for a Pizza Hut commercial, where he landed his first acting gig.
Aside from numerous T.V. roles, Gisondo was chased by Michael Myers in “Halloween” and appeared in the Spider Man films starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. He has spent the past two seasons playing Eric Bemis, the next door neighbor to Sheila Hammond, a real estate agent who turns into a zombie in ”Santa Clarita Diet.”
Gisondo said working on the Netflix show has been the “best thing ever.”
“Drew (Barrymore) is the sweetest, most genuine person and Tim (Olyphant) is just the man, super funny,” said Gisondo, who is waiting to hear if there will be a third season. “Everybody loves being there and we all love working with one another. I've never been on a show where the days never feel long.”
Gisondo said there's “so much to gain” in alternating between different platforms.
“There is a sense of camaraderie and 'go go go,' the hours are very long and you have limited time,” Gisondo said. “You become very close to the people you're working with, you spend lots of time with them. No one is getting paid a lot of money, so you're there because you really, really believe in it and love it. That's not to say that's not true with the higher profile things I've done because I'm really stoked to be part of those things as well. It's bigger, there's more people, but it's hard to get to know all of the faces.”
Gisondo potentially has three other films set for release this year including “The Cat and the Moon,” “Time Freak” and “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” This week he starting shooting “Booksmart,” actress Olivia Wilde's feature directorial debut.
“I'm doing things I'm proud of,” he said.
Missing the beach
When he turned 21, Gisondo decided to move out of his parents Manhattan Beach home and move to West Hollywood, closer to his work. He had spent a year living on the USC campus.
But when his parents contact him on FaceTime, watching the sunset from their balcony with drinks in hand, and he's in his studio apartment, he questions his decision to move.
“I'm so far from the water, I don’t know what I was thinking,” Gisondo said. “I've been a beach kid my entire life, and I’m driving an hour to Malibu to surf.”