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A Cup of Coffee with Eric Ladin, the Actor You See Everywhere

Eric Ladin never really had the storied “big break.”

“My career took as traditional a path as an acting path can — doing a lot of commercials to making a living from doing commercials to quitting my odd jobs to guesting on shows to getting big recurring [roles] to series regular — it just sorta ticked up,” he says, sipping from his cup of black coffee.

Ladin is a living embodiment of your elementary school teacher’s favorite idiom, “slow and steady wins the race.” Since moving to Los Angeles from Houston to major in theater at USC, he’s gradually become one of those actors who pops up on all your favorite television shows. From Betty’s little brother on Mad Men to a campaign manager on The Killing to J. Edgar Hoover on Boardwalk Empire, Ladin seemingly is everywhere — but it’s been a long time since he’s been onstage, which is where he is now, playing a cutthroat network exec in the Geffen’s current production of The Power of Duff.

“It’s been a LONG time. Enough that I’m terrified,” he says, chuckling.

Eric Ladin, second from left, in The Power of Duff. Photo: Michael Lamont.
Eric Ladin, second from left, in The Power of Duff. Photo: Michael Lamont.

He never planned to stay away from the theater for this long. Though he acted while growing up in Texas and performed live theater all throughout college, he nabbed an agent during the summer before his senior year. By the time he graduated, his resume boasted a couple commercials and he had a SAG card in his back pocket. Of course, his ascent wasn’t quite that easy-breezy. There was a year, he says, when he couldn’t “buy” a job. And though the first commercial he shot in L.A. was a Pepsi spot that ran during the Super Bowl, it was directed by the infamously abrasive genius Joe Pytka.

“On set, I was kinda sick and it was rainy and cold and I had a fever. I was in his tent, cause he had a heater,” Ladin says. “He came in and was like, ‘What are you doing in here?!’ [I told him I was] cold. He said, ‘What are you, a pussy?’”

Laughing, Ladin continues: “I said, ‘I’m whatever you wanna call me, but I’m cold and I’m gonna use this heater.’” Pytka paused, and then asked Ladin if he wanted to do another commercial the following week. The two wound up filming another 10–20 commercials together.

“He was good to me,” he says. “And my landlord.”

After a guest leading role on an episode of CSI: Miami that was ripped from the Columbine shooting headlines, Ladin landed the first big job of his career. Not only was the part on HBO’s mini-series Generation Kill, but the gig would station him in Africa for seven months. “Thirty-two guys [in the cast] and everybody was kinda at the same place in their careers. Five or six [ended up being] in my wedding,” he says. “Phenomenal job in my career. I wasn’t married, no kids. We saw the world, safaris.”

With a wife and two children, jobs like that aren’t so feasible anymore. Not that Ladin is complaining. True to form, he’s working all the time — in fact, he just completed filming a new HBO comedy, The Brink, that will air in June. Meanwhile, he’s worked his way back to his first love, the stage.

“I’m no means a great photographer but I bought an old film camera. Now with digital, we’ll take 30 photos to get it right. There was something so great about taking a photo and not knowing what it [was going to] look like,” he says. “That’s the great thing about live theater — a mistake is made. Now what are you gonna do?”

The Power of Duff is currently playing in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. To purchase tickets, please click here.

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