Hollywood Actor, Chris Grabher
“Smirkus runs deep in our veins.” In a phone interview Chris Grabher explains how Smirkus impacted his life personally and professionally. At age 10, Chris auditioned and was accepted to be in the Big Top Tour, and performed from 1991-2000. Today Chris lives in LA and is an actor and stunt performer in the television and movie business.
“My best friends are from Smirkus. They were at my wedding, they are part of my professional network. I’m fortunate to have them as my core group of people.” When he looks back on his career, he says that Smirkus gave him a set of performance tools and technical abilites that he still uses in his work today. “Smirkus nurtured my sense of character. Not only my onstage character, but also my offstage character and sense of self.”
“When you were at Smirkus, even if you weren’t planning on becoming a professional circus performer, it still brought out your strengths and weaknesses. And dealing with that not only gave you a leg up in the professional world but also as a human being. Smirkus provided us as teenagers, a foundation and an umbrella on how to behave – how to treat people and how to interact with guests on stage and off stage. It goes beyond performance and skill. It is such a gift. I remember Uncle Ozzie laying it down – inspiring people beyond circus. Teaching us to be responsible.”
“As a boy, Rob Mermin was my mentor. Really inspired the personal performance style and emotional temperament that I still have today. Rob really took me under his wing and I’m still grateful. His style was based in mime, movement and emotion. I use that today in my career. I feel that it’s really the foundation and a part of what I’m doing as an actor.”
At age 20, Chris left Smirkus to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. He didn’t want to run away with the circus. Chris attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City for 3 years to study theater. Afterwards he spent time acting in theater and independent films in NYC and touring on the east coast. He found that he was naturally suited to play whimsical characters both physically and in temperament and his experience from Smirkus really helped further the sense of drama in the characters he played. Circus remained in his life through street performance, mostly as a juggler and clown.
After a while, Chris got the bug to move to LA, where he’s been now for 12 years. On his arrival, he contacted two Smirkos that he knew were in the area to help him find work, and discovered a small network of people related to Smirkus out in LA. He says he was lucky to find work quickly and over the years has had his fair share of work doing commercials, television and stunt work.
Over time, however, circus started to creep back into his career as Chris began getting work in more comedic roles, and specifically physical comedy. He credits his training as a Smirko for broadening his performance range as an actor, where physical expression came naturally. He’s carved a niche out for himself, where people know him as “that guy” who can do certain skills.
Chris has worked in televisions shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, Disney Shows, NCIS and many others. He’s also played parts in movies such as Alice in Wonderland, Water for Elephants and The Greatest Showman. In Water for Elephants, a movie about circus, Chris contacted the Circus Coordinator, Porter Underhill, who was also a Smirko from 1989-1992. There he auditioned for one of 5 main clowns under the “old big top”.
Chris heard about The Greatest Showman about a year and a half before they started casting and knocked on a lot of doors trying to scout it out, only to find that it would be based out of NYC. Eventually, he learned that they were casting an “ensemble of circus oddities” and he had the right variety of skills to get cast, including ones he acquired from his Smirkus days. In the end, the movie became very successful. “A train that would not stop,” says Chris, referring to the fact that the movie has surprised many because as a movie, it has stayed the course and continued to gain momentum.
Most recently, Chris heard that Paramount Pictures was looking for an actor that had stilt walking experience and needed an actor that could interact and communicate through movement. Chris was pretty excited thinking, “That’s my background! I’m your guy!” Watch for the release of the movie in December 2018, where you’ll be able to see him in Bumblebee, a transformer spin-off, playing the Bumblebee title character stunt performer!
But you may not recognize him exactly. The role is actually a CGI animated robot character and Chris was filmed while wearing a giant yellow motion capture suit and wearing 12-13 foot stilts! Eventually his work will become part of the visual effects that create the character.
“Everyday is a starting point, don’t take it for granted,” he says. “Value even the small opportunities. I am grateful to be performing in front of any audience, small or big.”