Actor Damien Haas

March 21, 2012
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Damien Haas is the face behind some of So Random's best sketch characters. He has played alongside Shayne Topp in “The Anime Brothers,” he's pranked his classmates with Olaf Glutella and ate half of them in “Zombie Man.” I was recently given the opportunity to interview this up and coming young comedian for Teen Ink.

Rachel – Tell us about yourself.

Damien Haas – My name is Damien Haas. I've been acting since the age of nine. I got started in the third grade with my school's production of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in which I played Willie Wonka. I was always like the class clown and the cut-up and the ham and all that stuff, so getting all that attention from the school play was really awesome for me. I fell in love with acting almost immediately. I started doing community theater, followed by trying to get into commercials and TV and stuff like that. I moved out to L.A three years ago and I love it!

My hobbies now include exercising and working out at the gym. I really like video games. It's kind of weird to say, but I'm kind of, like, snobbish about it to the point where I like indie video games, not just the mainstream ones. I think they're really cool medium for entertainment and I think a lot of cool, new things are being done with them. Yeah, [I'm] a big fan of that.

I like reading. I like going to class on my longboard. I used to do karate when I was a kid. That's a random fact about me! I actually made it to second-degree black belt, but I'm wicked out of practice right now. So, don't challenge me on the street or anything, 'cause I probably wouldn't be much use. {laughs}

[I was] born in Germany, raised in Georgia

RH- Why were you born in Germany?

DH- My father was in military intelligence. He worked on a military base and my mom also worked on a base. She was a newspaper editor there. So, the job took us to Germany. My parents were there for thirteen years. I was only there for the last three. [Then] we moved to Georgia for the same reason. Yeah, parental job stuff.

And the only German I know is from learning it in class through high school and a little bit of college. I'm really out of practice there, too! I recognized a lady's accent the other day and I started speaking to her in German. She's like, “Oh, you speak German!” Then, like the first thing she said to me in German, I just sort of looked at her and I was like, “Oh, yeah! Totally!” So, I'm wicked out of practice.

RH- What was the audition process like for So Random?

DH- So Random! was really interesting. I had to come up with three or four different characters or impersonations and go in front of the casting director and a couple writers—and later the producers. Originally, I thought I was totally wrong for the part because I didn't know exactly what they were looking for and during my audition time-slot, it was me and maybe like half a dozen ten year old girls. I was like, “Aw, man! If they're looking for ten year old girls, I'm pretty much not that type. So, they're outta luck and I'm outta luck.”

But I went in there and did the best I could. I did a couple impersonations which they really seemed to like. I got a callback like a month later. Then it was a few months before I heard anything else. I just assumed they moved on and they definitely picked someone else. But no, they brought me back to read for the producers. That turned into a table read. From there we started working on the show.

It was interesting because there was never really a point where they were like, “Congratulations, you are now on So Random!” It was a very gradual thing. I originally got a call from my manager saying, “Damien, they booked you for two episodes. They're gonna have you on for two episodes!” I'm like, “That's great. That's awesome!” So I did those two episodes and then it was like, “Damien, they're bringing you back for another three [episodes]!” I was like, “That's so cool! Awesome! Just those three!” Then it was, “Alright, they picked you up for another eight.” So it was never, “You are on the show!” It was just very gradual kind of thing, which was still awesome!

Funny story about that though: So Random!/Sonny with a Chance sort of evolved out of a show called Sketchpad. That was the original pilot show for this. I auditioned for that three or four years ago. Oh, gosh, it may have even been longer than that. I got called back several times. It's really cool thinking back, looking at those audition slides and seeing the character names like Tawni, Grady, and Nico and all that stuff.

I thought that was really, really cool, looking back on it, how it all just sort of worked out. Like, I kinda ended up on the show anyway.

RH- Which is actually funny because Grace Bannon told me that she had auditioned for the role of Sonny Munroe on Sonny with a Chance. So that's cool how they keep you guys around and bring you back for other projects.

DH- Yeah! I think I auditioned for Chad! How funny is that?

RH- That would have been a completely different show I think!

DH- For sure! I was a totally different type at that age. Like, now, I'm a little bit more athletic and I do dryer kind of humor sometimes. When I was younger, I was actually really chubby. I had long hair, glasses. {laughs} [I was] just this really awkward teenager! So it would have been completely different!

RH- Out of the characters that you created for your audition, were any of them used as sketch characters in So Random?

DH- In a way, yeah. I auditioned with Gollum/Smeagol from Lord of the Rings and that ended up on “All Magical Student Wheel of Fortune.” I don't know if you remember the “Morning Announcements” sketch, but there's the character Mr. Deter [sp] who does the “Good morning, students!” He's got that voice like {mimics Mr. Deter} “Good morning, students! Blah, blah, blah!” That voice and that physicality was a character that I kind of built with my friend, Brad, in my improv and sketch troop.

I don't think any character itself went straight to a sketch, but I sort of like borrowed from old characters. Like Olaf is basically a character I used to do named Svurg. It was the first character I ever created, and even though the writers didn't write around Svurg, I was like, “Oh, I could totally just do Svurg for this! It would be perfect!”

RH- What was your reaction when you found out you'd be joining the cast?

DH- It was really, really cool, but at the same time, it was never a shock moment, like, “Guess what, Damien? You're on the show now!” It was like, “Hey, we're picking you up. We're gonna have you on as a guest for an episode or two.” And then, you know, [it was] a very gradual process. But once we sort of figured out we were sticking around for a while, it was really cool. It was really cool to just sit down, breathe in that moment in my dressing room and be like, “Wow. I'm here. I'm with a really cool cast that accepts me. We're all great friends. I have my own dressing room. This is just too cool!”

RH- Tell us about working with the cast.

DH- The cast is amazing. You know, you hear these stories about all these different casts and there's like drama on the set and like, “Who doesn't get along with who?” I'm not lying when I say, at So Random! the cast is so close it's crazy! There's no drama, no arguments. A lot of us still hang out all the time, even though we haven't been filming for the past four or five months. We still like to hang out and see each other all the time. We keep in touch on Twitter.

Filming So Random! is basically a group of best friends hanging out, doing goofy characters in costumes. I mean, it's crazy but it's true. It doesn't even feel like work. We're just having a good time!

RH- Doug Brochu told me that you and Shayne [Topp] created the sketch, “The Anime Brothers;” are you two fans of anime?

DH- We are, actually! We watched all of Death Note together. Like, we'd watch the same episodes and come in the next morning and be like, “Oh my gosh! Can you believe what happened?” “I know!”

Yeah, we really are fans of anime. I think that's why we have so much fun doing “The Anime Brothers” 'cause, you know, we kind of know what we're talking about there. It's still written by the writers. We came up with the idea and pitched it, but, you know, the writers still write it.

The thing about it is Shayne and I—this is gonna sound super nerdy—have much more intricate knowledge of the genre. When we were first pitching jokes and ideas for the sketch, we and the writers realized a lot of the stuff we're talking about most people won't get. Like, it would be a really great joke if someone watched a ton of anime and got that. But for the general audience, we really had to cut it back which is why a lot of it is us doing the really, really, really stereotypical anime stuff 'cause we've got to play to everyone, not just the people who actually know the genre.
 
RH- What would you tell fans of anime who have gotten upset about the sketch thinking you're making fun of anime?
 
DH- I would reassure them that we are actually fans of anime. We know what we're talking about. We know that looking at that sketch sometimes it can seem like we're making fun of the people who watch [anime]. But you have to realize that we do watch it and it's not like we just started watching anime. I mean, I've been watching that kind of stuff since I was, like, I don't know seven, eight. And it's not just the mainstream stuff. I've seen some really esoteric anime. 

I think in order to make fun of something well you have to truly like it and understand it. Otherwise it's malicious and that's not our intent at all. I can understand fans getting upset if we're [mocking] their favorite characters. But if you were watching a sketch about an action movie and it was making fun of action movies, most people wouldn't be like, "Well, wait a minute! The Bourne Identity was nothing like that and I love the Bourne Identity movies! I'm mad at this." I think it comes from the fact that anime fans, if they really enjoy the genre, they find an identity in it. It's something that not a lot of people necessarily get, but they do. It's really easy to attach yourself to that and feel a sense of ownership. I guess if someone makes fun of it, yeah, it's easy to get a little bit offended. But realize that we're not making fun of it necessarily. We're having fun with it.

I mean, Shayne and I would talk in these anime voices together before the sketch even existed. We would be like, "Shayne! I see you. Have arrived. Earlier. Than I have." And he'd be like, "Yes, Damien. But you're always late! Ha ha. Ha ha." I don't know. It just evolved from an inside joke we had. That's it.
 
Don't get mad at [the sketch] because I am one of you. I get it. I have manga books on my bookshelf. I used to read Shonen Jump as a kid. So I get it and I'm not making fun of you because I am you.

RH- Who is your favorite sketch character?

DH- Ah, that's a tough one! 

You know, I think I'll always have a soft spot for Zombie Man. It was the first sketch I ever filmed. I don't know, that was just so much fun and I love how strange Zombie Man was for Disney. The joke is that he eats a kid in every sketch. That's the joke! That's really dark, but it's still on the Disney Channel which is really cool. I sort of felt like it was pushing the boundaries a little bit in not necessarily a bad way at all. But yeah, I love Zombie Man!

RH- What's your favorite sketch whether you're in it or not?

DH- That's probably a tie between Shayne doing his Mr. Goodman stuff--you know, the crazy teacher that just throws stuff through windows and all that--and, I don't know, something about when Matthew Scott [Montgomery] does Mr. Krauss. {mimicking Mr. Krauss}"Oh, it's highly unusual, but I'll allow it." It's really awesome! Something about the energy that he gives off when he does that is just too funny. He could say literally anything and I'd laugh.

RH- If So Random! is picked up for a second season, what sketches would you like to see return?

DH- Oh, wow! That's a good one. 

I think Olaf Glutella was really fun. He was like a one-off character. That was at the beginning of the season and it was this kid who dressed up as a fake foreign exchange student to fool his classmates. I don't know how that could come back, 'cause that was pretty much the joke. Hey, you know, he's messing with his classmates! That's it. But [it] was a lot of fun [playing] that character and I think it'd be really cool to bring him back in some capacity. 

But the cool thing, Shayne and I meet up all the time and pitch ideas to each other and develop them and let them evolve and sometimes even write out sketches. I'd like to have even more input next season.

RH- What other projects are you currently working on?

DH- I'm currently working on a web-show called "Awesomeness TV" and it's all online content. It's going to be YouTube based. It's gonna have a lot of different stuff. I think there's going to be a sports show on it and some news stuff, but there's also going to be a little bit of sketch comedy there, too. So we just started filming stuff for that. I can't necessarily say too much about it, but it launches in April. I think it will be a fun experiment and we'll see what happens with it.

RH- A while ago, you were in a short called "The Hero Complex;" tell us about that.

DH- Yeah, I think that was the first film I ever booked. I had booked something small before that. I had one or two lines in a Ben Stiller movie called The Marc Pease Experience with Jason Schwartzman in it. That was [a very small role] and that was a lot of fun.
 
But "The Hero Complex" was definitely the most challenging experience I've ever had with a movie. It was really emotional. I think my niche is in improv and sketch comedy, but I'd really like to be a stronger dramatic actor, too. I mean, I have more fun with improv and sketch, but I think it's good to be well-rounded.
 
We shot the whole [short] over the course of a week and it was all night shoots. This was back home in Georgia. I lived in a place called Peachtree City which is an hour away from Atlanta and [the short] was all filmed in Atlanta. So I would drive to the set at like six o'clock at night, shoot until like seven in the morning, drive home, sleep for a few hours and drive back up. So it was incredibly exhausting, but it was also really rewarding. I learned about the film-making process. I think I grew a lot from that. I was really happy to have that opportunity. I was still pretty young at that time and I think that was a great experience to have to help me grow as an actor.
 
RH- Tell us about your character.
 
DH- He was the main character. His name was Archibald Andrews.
 
The story itself is supposed to be kind of like a comic-book superhero origin story. Archie has a leg-brace because when he was maybe six or seven years old, he jumped off the roof because his grandparents always used to tell tales like, "Hey, our family, we can always fly! That's what our family is known for." Archie's father was an astronaut; his father was a pilot in World War II. "Our family's known for flying. Ha, ha, ha." So [Archie] jumps off the roof, breaks his leg, so he has to deal with having this leg-brace his whole life.
 
The movie takes place on the night of the moon landing. They're supposed to launch a rocket, go to the moon and [Archie's] father is on that rocket. Well, something goes really wrong. [Archie's] a really technical wiz-kid. He builds this radio so that he can tune into the transmission and hear what's going on on the rocket. Well, the rocket winds up--it's not totally clear--exploding or breaking down or veering off course or something. It's assumed that [Archi's] father dies. So it's that night and he has to deal with that. I don't want to spoil the ending! It's sort of like a coming-of-age kind of story. He has to basically become a man in one night to deal with this.
 
RH- What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
 
DH- Keep working on your craft. I know that sounds kind of obvious. But when you're a young actor and you're talented and you're in a smaller town and people see that you're talented, it's really easy to think to yourself, I'm good at this. I know I can do it, so I don't necessarily need any help. It's a good idea to get training and to learn wherever you can. Build your own style from that. I always used to be afraid to take classes. I was like, "Man, if I take classes, it's gonna mess with my natural style. It's gonna screw me up and really mess up my thought process." But I ended up learning that you can learn a lot from someone else. You're not a perfect actor when you just start out. You're just not. You're never gonna be a perfect actor. There's no such thing. You're always learning, no matter what. I don't care how old you are. Take that time and learn.
 
Also, I think, taking improv classes and learning how to do that well is probably the best skill an actor can have. I mean, first of all, having that on your resume is great. Second of all, just being able to think quickly on your feet in that situation is amazing. Directors and casting directors  and producers love that stuff! It's a lot of fun, too. It's like my favorite hobby now. If I didn't do improv every week, I don't know what I'd do with myself.





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