Ryan Bellgardt knew Eric Gesecus would be his Frankenstein the moment the actor wrapped his burly hands around Bellgardt’s neck.
Bellgardt interviewed several actors to play the title character in his made-in-Oklahoma sci-fi/horror flick “Army of Frankensteins,” but none had really fit the part.
When the 6-foot-3, barrel-chested Gesecus, 45, walked in for his audition, he made an immediate impression on the director.
“He knew more about Frankenstein than I did,” Bellgardt said.
And when it came time to show the casting director what he could do, Gesecus beat his chest, let out a booming roar and went right after the director.
He got the job on the spot.
But for Gesecus, the road to playing the classic character of American horror was not quite as immediate as his casting might suggest. It was something he had dreamed about since he was an oversized adolescent, mesmerized by Boris Karloff’s misunderstood monster in the original 1931 film. As a child, Gesecus would sit in front of the TV and watch his favorite show, “Chiller Theater,” for hours on end as it replayed the classic monster movies over and over.
Nearly 40 years later, his eyes light up, and his mouth reveals a boyish grin when he describes the show and recites the opening monologue word for word as though he is seeing it for the first time. Gesecus has lost count of how many times he’s seen the original Frankenstein movies, but he assumes it’s in the hundreds. He once spent all day as a child on the phone with an operator in England trying to speak Boris Karloff. He tried every Karloff in London and Manchester and even asked for William Pratt, Karloff’s birth name, to no avail.
“Turns out, he was probably living in California at the time, so that explains why I wasn’t successful,” Gesecus said. Gesecus’ passion for monster movies got him his first job when he was 6 at a small general store in Louisville. The store had 6-inch tall monster models of the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy and, of course, Frankenstein’s Monster. Gesecus pined for them, but his want exceeded the change in his pocket.
He cut a deal with the shop owner that he would sweep the shop and straighten up the shelves and his only payment would be to get one model per month.
A few years later when he was in middle school, Gesecus got his first acting gig in his school’s performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Gesecus played Jonathan Brewster, a character originally written for his idol, Boris Karloff.
Gesecus loved acting, but once he got out of high school his interests began to vary. He worked in politics for a while, then moved to newspapers, radio and TV. Meanwhile, Gesecus married his wife, Leslie, in 2002 and their son, Nathan, was born in 2007.
When Nathan was three and in the midst of potty training, Gesecus caught him flipping through his tattered and torn copy of The Essential Monster Movie Guide. He saw an opportunity to share his monster passion with his son and maybe solve another problem along the way.