Eric Edelstein’s turn as a gun-toting neo-Nazi bodyguard in the 2015 thriller “Green Room” was both a blessing and a curse.
“I’ll run into people, and they don’t like me,” said Edelstein, 42, in an interview last week. “They can’t figure out why they don’t like me. Then they’ll come up, 10 minutes later, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God! You’re the guy from ‘Green Room’!”
“It’s weird to be looking for heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market and have people not like you,” he said.
The role was just as much a shock for Edelstein as it was for his skinhead boss in the film, Patrick Stewart, who’s best known as the patriarchal Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Edelstein, a Vancouver, Washington. native who graduated from Gonzaga University in 2000, is much more comfortable in roles like loveable oaf Grizz in the Cartoon Network children’s comedy “We Bare Bears.” That’s due in large part to his role as the squeaky-voiced play-by-play guy for the Bulldogs in the midst of their improbable runs in the NCAA tournament in 1999 and 2000.
“I grew late. There’s like a little theater kid in here,” said Edelstein, who’s since earned the nickname “Big Ed” for his 6-foot-4-inch, bouncer-like frame. “I was shocked people would believe it, and then ‘Green Room’ came out, and I showed people I could act. It was harder to get cast for comedy.”
Edelstein already had comedic bona fides in both Hollywood, including guest-starring roles on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Arrested Development.” He traces those roles to a fateful decision made in Spokane in those final years pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism at Gonzaga.
“I think if I had stuck with it, I could have succeeded,” Edelstein said. “But Tony Hazel made me audition for a sketch show, my senior year. He kept on me, and kept on me, and kept on me. He and I were the only non-theater people that got in.”
The introduction from the man who would became a Spokane Superior Court judge caused Edelstein to “get the bug,” as he says, and turn away from sports broadcasting.
That’s remarkable, given that Edelstein had a pretty sweet gig. As the play-by-play guy for a team no one yet knew would put together two decades of March Madness magic, Edelstein had a front-row seat to an Elite 8 appearance in 1999 against Connecticut largely seen as the Bulldog’s national coming-out party.
Edelstein lived with the team, and described a camaraderie and accessibility that might be unthinkable to fans of the perennial top-10 squad these days.
“It was crazy. We all lived at 723 E. Sharp,” Edelstein said. “Everyone would kind of come by, throughout the day. Everyone on the team would. And everyone would hang out, outside of practice.”
That included Quentin Hall, a senior guard from the Bahamas who scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds in that close loss to UConn in the 1999 tournament.
“He was kind of that x-factor on that magical team,” Edelstein said. “He was, in his own way, the most special guy on the most special team.”
Edelstein will return to Spokane on Monday to host a conversation with coaches Lisa Fortier and Tommy Lloyd, former player Matt Santangelo and KHQ/SWX sports director Sam Adams as a preview to this season. It’ll also serve as a fundraiser for Hall, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in September.
Both Gonzaga and Spokane have changed in the 20 years Edelstein has been making a name for himself in Hollywood, the actor said, but it hasn’t lost the whimsy that he explored making goofy VHS tapes for basketball broadcasts. The connection, and a gut laugh in front of creator David Lynch, also helped land him a gig on the third season of “Twin Peaks” as one of a trio of brother detectives, Edelstein said.
“Dude, he’s the best,” Edelstein said of Lynch. “Thank God I laughed in my audition, because he wrote a part for me.”
Edelstein said he’s also auditioned a couple of times for Netflix’s “Stranger Things” series. With stubble, Edelstein said he’s been confused sometimes for star David Harbour, who plays the show’s gruff-but-loveable Sheriff Jim Hopper.
“I’ve heard that, I love it,” Edelstein said. “I’m hoping I can play his brother in something.”
The “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gig, filmed in 2009, was a dream come true, Edelstein said. He was big fans of both David and Bob Einstein – aka Super Dave Osborne – who plays David’s gravely voiced friend Marty Funkhouser. Edelstein was in a scene with both, playing a gravestone mason who’s displeased with David’s name-calling after Edelstein’s character criticizes New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
“Every time I’d see him, he’d go ‘You were the best, baby! Let’s do it again!’ ” Edelstein said of Einstein, slipping into the longtime comedian’s hoarse delivery. “Every time I’d see him, he’d go out of his way to be cool.”
Roles with Brian Dennehy, Chris Pratt, Anton Yelchin and “We Bare Bears” costars Demetri Martin and Bobby Moynihan followed. But Edelstein credits those days calling games for the underdog Bulldogs, and the camaraderie with classmates and teammates, for giving him the confidence to pursue a Hollywood career.
“Looking at that team do what they do, it really kind of showed me dreams could come true,” Edelstein said.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.