Santa Barbara native Kai Kadlec is making his film debut in Willys Wonderland, an action thriller starring Nicholas Cage, which premieres 11 p.m. tonight at West Wind Drive-In Theaters in Goleta.
The film follows the story of a janitor (played by Mr. Cage) as he is forced to clean up an old abandoned family entertainment center in exchange for vehicle repairs. Stranded in the remote town after his car breaks down, he quickly discovers that the entertainment center is haunted by evil animatronic characters who want to destroy it.
In a series of thrilling events, the janitor is forced to battle these evil characters in order to survive. During the film, he meets a group of teenagers whose mission is to destroy the haunted funeral home. Chris, one of the teenagers, is played by Mr. Kadlec.
In an interview with News-Press, Mr Kadlec described the film as beautifully gory and said his character was an ordinary guy with a heart of gold who was secretly in love with one of the other teenagers, Liv.
Although Mr. Kadlec has starred in plays, commercials, and made a short life film appearance, being cast for Willys Wonderland was his first experience acting in a feature film. As a junior high and high school student, Mr. Kadlec seized every acting opportunity he could, performing in every show offered by San Marcos High School.
In his senior year, Mr. Kadlec got an acting agent, which helped him land roles in Los Angeles after graduating from high school. At just 18, the aspiring actor moved to North Hollywood to pursue his acting dream. In Los Angeles, he met drama teacher Leslie Kahn, who helped him land a spot at Willys Wonderland.
The cast of the film reunited to shoot in Atlanta in early 2020 and finished filming in February, before the pandemic began.
On set, the cast and production crew spent hours filming each day for nearly a month straight, Kadlec said. Although the days were busy, Mr. Kadlec enjoyed the experience.
Being on set and just working for several hours and what felt like a whole day was an absolute dream come true, Kadlec said.
The start of 2020 gave a lot of momentum to Mr. Kadlecs’ acting career. Shortly after filming was completed, Mr. Kadlec traveled to Texas to film Part 2 of a Snapchat series called Two Sides, which debuted its first season in 2019. The series features both sides of a rift between a modern teenager and a girl. perspective and a guy perspective, with Mr. Kadlec as the main character, Jeremy.
The team met to film in Texas, but as COVID-19 began to spread across the United States, filming of the Snapchat series was suspended, sending the actors back to their hometowns until ‘be sure to film again. What Mr. Kadlec thought was two weeks of filming quickly turned into six months, as filming on the series didn’t resume until September 2020.
It was really bad, Kadlec said. I felt like I had a momentum and a certain inertia that allowed me to move on to the next job, and I was so excited to have two jobs in two different months right back. I lived the dream until March 10. It was really difficult.
For many actors, the pandemic has put their careers on hiatus, leaving them wondering where their next opportunity will come from. Currently, Mr. Kadlec is still on the lookout for what’s next for him, and he is in the process of sending virtual audition reels for potential roles in the coming months.
At 20, the native of Santa Barbara simply wants to pursue his passion in the theater or the years to come.
I just want to be able to pay my bills playing the role of an actor, Mr Kadlec said. I want to be able to live from performance. It always has been (the dream). I don’t need to be famous, I don’t need to be six or seven digits. I just want to be able to live only by doing what I love.
Without the support of his family, friends and teachers, Mr Kadlec said he would never have been able to pursue his passion for acting. Mr Kadlec noted that his high school drama teacher, Riley Berris, had helped him gain the confidence to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, and deserves credit for how far he has come.
I couldn’t have done all of this without my family, Mr. Kadlec. My parents and grandparents have always been so supportive.
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