Alumni Profile • Kerry van der Griend '91
Filling the soul in 'Hollywood North'

Kerry van der GriendThink Neanderthal. All day, for 13 days, that was the job of Kerry van der Griend '91, cast as one of four Neanderthal men in the December-released movie Night at the Museum.

"Just like playing any other role, you focus on what your character needs and wants," van der Griend said. "For a Neanderthal, that's pretty simple. 'We're hungry and cold; we want to start a fire; how do we get Larry [Ben Stiller's character] to help us?' Since Neanderthals don't use words, only grunts and gestures, we basically improvised all our scenes. It was really rewarding."

Van der Griend said he even enjoyed arriving on the set at 5:30 a.m. for three-and-a-half hours of Neanderthal makeup and facial prosthetics. The movie's big-name stars-Stiller, Robin Williams, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney-he called "very hospitable, gracious and kind."

Van der Griend auditioned for Night at the Museum with hundreds of other local actors in Vancouver, B.C., where the film was shot. He and his wife, Donna Lea, also an actor, chose to settle in Vancouver rather than in the actors' meccas, New York and Los Angeles. Both were raised in the Pacific Northwest and wanted a place with a good quality of life for families. "It's also a good place to be an actor," van der Griend said. "Like Toronto, Vancouver is considered a kind of 'Hollywood North.'"

Kerry van der Griend as a NeanderthalIt's another choice, more than making Vancouver home, that's had the biggest effect on his acting career. "We have a son, who's 7, and a daughter, 3. A family demands a certain secure income. I'm always asking myself, 'How much time can I take away from my day job-painting and carpentry, which are steady-to pursue acting?'"

It would be easier to give up acting altogether, van der Griend said. "In graduate school we got this advice: 'Do theater only if you know nothing else will fill that theater-shaped hole in your soul.' Another question I ask myself is, 'Why do I keep trying to act?' Because it's so hard for Donna Lea and me to keep ourselves artistically alive and, at the same time, parent the kids and keep the bills paid. But then I'll be in a play, and I'll remember why I keep at this."

Last spring van der Griend was nominated for one of Vancouver's local theater awards, a Jessie Award, for his role in Pacific Theatre's production of Grace (which won "Outstanding Production by a Small Theatre"). Besides acting, van der Griend also directs plays for Pacific, a company established "to explore work having particular meaning . to Christians." He's acted for numerous other companies, too, and has especially enjoyed his work for Vancouver's annual Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival.

Van der Griend also auditions for TV work. He's appeared in The Chris Isaak Show, First Wave and The X-Files, TV movies and a few commercials. Night at the Museum was his first feature film, and he hopes there are more in his future.

But theater remains his first love. "It's long been a tenet of my faith journey that we're connected to every other person on the planet," van der Griend said. "Theater is unique in its power to connect people through an intense story experienced with all the senses. There's a soul in theater that I can't say no to."