Soap star from Paso Robles says you can’t just slip by

Life on Nick@Nite’s ‘Hollywood Heights’ is a full day of shooting and learning lines

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comJune 17, 2012 

Now that he’s on a soap opera, Paso Robles native Justin Wilczynski has a newfound respect for soap actors — and their ability to do five shows a week.

“I had no idea how hard they worked and what the schedule was like,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re doing a different live play every day.” His schedule on “Hollywood Heights,” a five-days-a-week Nick@Nite soap that officially premieres tonight, entails hectic days that begin at 6 a.m. and wrap up at 8 p.m. — at which point he has to learn his lines for the next day’s shoot. “You go home, you eat, and you study until you fall asleep and you start over again.”

The hourlong soap, based on a Mexican telenovela, centers around an 18-year-old woman named Loren Tate, who suddenly reaches superstardom while winning the affection of her music idol, Eddie Duran. Wilczynski, one of the show’s stars, portrays Tyler Rorke, an actor whose arrogance keeps him from steady work and whose jealousy makes him hard to like.

“I like to think of my character as a very motivated person — and very misunderstood,” he said, defending Tyler. “That’s what gets me through the scenes a lot of times. It helps me justify some of the awful things I do and say.”

Despite landing his second regular role on national TV, Wilczynski doesn’t seem arrogant or jealous himself. And he has fond memories of his days as a young actor in Paso Robles. A former student of Flamson Middle School and a Paso Robles High School graduate, his early acting projects were short films he made with his buddies.

“A lot of the stuff I started making while I was in middle school was, I want to say, ‘Jackass’ style — like pranks and stuff on our friends,” he said. “And then it escalated to us writing little scripts out. And then we did a whole series of terrible, terrible fight movies.”

After high school, where he took drama classes, he moved to San Luis Obispo, where he worked at Uptown Espresso coffee shop and studied drama at Cuesta College.

“It was the first time I ever got serious about the actual art of acting and started to study it,” he said of his Cuesta experience. “It was a really good experience at Cuesta, actually.”

His Cuesta experience was so good, he left before graduating to pursue a career in entertainment.

But not as an actor.

In Paso Robles, he’d begun playing music with fellow Paso Roblan Jason Massey. While Massey went to Nashville to pursue music, Wilczynski opted for Los Angeles. Yet, his music plans took a detour when he accompanied a friend on an audition for a Target commercial.

“While I was there, they asked me if I wanted to audition, and I said, ‘No, I’m not an actor, I’m a musician.’ And they said, ‘Well, you should still audition.’ ”

He got the part, which eventually led to more commercials, which led to short film roles, which led to indie film roles, which led to “Kaya” — another show, this one on MTV, about a young rock star. In that role, Wilczynski played Taylor, a guitarist who falls for his band mate, Kaya.

One of his co-stars on “Kaya” was Cory Monteith, who would go on to star in the popular series “Glee” and form a band with Wilczynski, Massey and Seth Roberts.

The band, Bonnie Dune, which is releasing a collection of songs on iTunes, got a big bump from “Glee.”

“I have to say, when we first started playing with Cory, 75 percent of the people that were coming to see us play were ‘Glee’ fans,” said Wilczynski, the lead singer and guitarist. “After about a year of us playing together, I like to think these fans that are coming to see us were becoming Bonnie Dune fans.”

While Monteith’s presence might help Bonnie Dune, which hopes to finish a new album in August, producers of “Hollywood Heights” are hoping another well-known actor will help their ratings. James Franco, whose credits include “Pineapple Express” and “Spider-Man 3,” will appear in some episodes as a movie producer.

While Franco has become a movie star himself, he had his people contact the soap — as he previously did for a run on the daytime soap “General Hospital.”

Wilczynski said Franco knew his lines even more than the show’s stars.

“I was a little intimidated at first,” Wilczynski said. “Then after we started working, I realized he’s just an actor, like us.”

Wilczynski might not be as well known as Franco yet, but “Hollywood Heights” will offer at least 80 episodes of national exposure.

“It’s definitely nice to be working consistently,” he said, adding, “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had getting paid. I mean, how often do you get to just go and be somebody else and get paid to do it?”

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