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Role Playing

by Nicole Pensiero
From soaps to movies to TV commercials, Mullica Hill native and actor-producer Erik David Barber is making his way in Hollywood.

As a child in Mullica Hill, Erik David Barber always had big dreams. The only question was which of those dreams he would end up chasing.

After all, the 2001 Mr. Clearview High School grew up on hopes of playing Major League Baseball. Despite his made-for-Hollywood good looks, the now-28-year-old followed that dream first to San Diego State University, to play under former Padres star and now-college coach Tony Gwynn, and then to University of Bridgeport, (Conn.), for a baseball scholarship.

Barber was a college baseball standout, but during his time at Bridgeport his “longtime fascination” with acting came to the fore. Barber began honing his craft in college theater productions, and he even landed a bit part on the daytime soap All My Children, filming scenes between his studies. “I started college with baseball totally on the front burner and acting way in the background, but by the time I graduated, that had sort of reversed,” he recalls.

So, he abandoned talks with then-Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson about a tryout for their farm team, and headed to Hollywood. There, he would find his way into everything from soaps to art-house films to horror movies—all while establishing himself as one of L.A.’s pre-eminent commercial actors.

“Once I made up my mind to go, I packed up my car and drove to L.A. in three-and-a-half days,” Barber recalls. He knew no one in Los Angeles, and “even less about the show business industry.” But he was a quick study.

Between auditions, Barber washed windows and waited tables, then landed a job working in life insurance. That led to a permanent position at a private brokerage firm, a job that he still holds—and that, Barber says, he remains very grateful for.

“It’s worked out really well, because I’m able to use my business smarts there and make steady money, while being able to keep juggling the various acting and producing opportunities,” Barber says.

And those opportunities have been frequent—though not always perfect. Barber had been in California less than a month when he scored a bit part in the 2005 film Little Miss Sunshine, starring Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear. Barber had a one-line role as a TV reporter, but his would-be breakout performance ended up on the cutting-room floor. Still, Barber had landed his first role, gotten his first insights into the fundamentals of moviemaking and, crucially, gained acceptance into the Screen Actors Guild.

“I still get residuals from the DVD sales of the movie, even though my part was cut,” Barber says. “And, most importantly, some small agency jobs started to trickle in. It was the beginning, but I’d only been out here for a few weeks. Not a bad entrance into the industry.”

Since then, he’s done about “a million different things,” as he puts it, including playing a small part (listed as “slick guy in the bar”) in the Jennifer Aniston/Drew Barrymore chick-flick, He’s Just Not That Into You. Happily for Barber, (who was billed by his sometime stage name Erik David), his brief performance did make the final cut in the $180 million-grossing film. “Even having a small part in that big a movie was a thrill,” Barber admits.

These days, Barber believes that variety may be the most important factor in his success. “I’ve learned that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket; you have to diversify yourself,” Barber says. “So, I’m very open to trying and experiencing new things.”

Barber has recently appeared on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, along with some mainstream movies and a couple of straight-to-DVD films (including 2008’s Heist, which debuted at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival). However, his bread and butter as an actor have been TV commercials. He’s plugged everything from Starbucks’ Doubleshot coffee drinks to Miller Lite to Zegerid OTC, an over-the-counter heartburn medicine. The Zegerid gig, which is ongoing, has given Barber plenty of exposure as the star of a national print, online and TV ad campaign. (He plays one of the pill’s active ingredients, omeprazole, in a 30-second TV spot with a sort of Mission: Impossible vibe.) “It’s been played during daytime dramas, the nightly news, The Bachelor—you name it,” Barber says.

Barber also recently produced a short horror film, Sardines, which he hopes will pave the way for a full-length feature. Next up, he’s set to produce a short comedy, Seriously, Cupid, that will be submitted to film festivals and bundled with a feature script, with the hope of securing financing for the full-length movie.

“I could have never predicted all the twists and turns my career has taken during the five years since I’ve been in California,” Barber says of his recent ventures in producing. “It’s never boring.”

When time permits, the affable actor helps out with the nonprofit World Children’s Baseball Fair, coaching underprivileged children. He also volunteers at The Dream Center in downtown Los An­geles, a shelter for human trafficking victims, abused children, ex-gang members and homeless families. “It’s a great place to donate my time and be able to see my efforts helping others, even if only slightly,” Barber says.

Ultimately, the South Jersey native hopes to run a production company and potentially act in some of his own projects. “To me, producing is the most fun: seeing something evolve from just an idea to the finished product,” he says. “I like the idea of being responsible for the entire production.”

For now, though, Barber is content to work on whatever comes his way, whether that means producing films or starring as an unstoppable heartburn avenger. His old baseball coaches might say that makes him an all-around utility player—but one with plenty of standout potential.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 5 (August, 2011).
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