When Pine-Richland graduate Sean Freeland decided to pursue an acting career, he didn’t know that he would land on some of TV’s biggest hits, including The Walking Dead, Nashville, Constantine and Ozark. Now the actor is branching out into new territory, serving as a producer on the new film, Electric Jesus, which will start streaming Nov. 2.
The film, which follows the story of an Alabama preacher's daughter who runs off with a touring Christian hair metal band during the summer of 1986, has been accepted to 35 film festivals and has already racked up 21 wins, including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Feature awards. In addition to producing the film, Freeland also plays the supporting role of Kasper Kapelrud, a crazy Norwegian heavy metal headbanger.
“You know—that annoying guy that is always at a live show,” laughed Freeland.
Freeland said he chose the project because he loved the characters and the story it told.
“It’s a coming-of-age story that’s got some real depth to it; it’s also a feel-good movie, which I think we all need right now—we all need some happiness,” he said of the film that stars Brian Baumgartner (Kevin from The Office) and Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club), along with an ensemble cast.
“Chris White, who wrote and directed the film, is an amazing person and very talented, and his wife, Executive Producer Emily Reach White, is super intelligent and managed to get funding for an independent film, which isn’t easy to do,” he added. “Creatively, it is a really solid story with great dialogue, great music and great characters. Emotionally, it’s something that everyone can relate to. Anyone who has ever had a dream, been on a sports team, in a band, or just had a good group of friends growing up—that’s what this story is about.”
He adds that the music, written by Daniel Smith of Danielson and Chris White, is a key aspect of the film and includes secular as well as nonsecular tracks.
“The music is fantastic; it’s all based on ‘80s heavy metal, and there's even a love ballad,” said Freeland, adding that the soundtrack is already available on vinyl and through streaming services. “The songs get stuck in your head for days after hearing them, and if that's not the best compliment on music ever, I don't know what is.”
While Freeland believed the film would strike a chord, he didn’t know how successful it would be. “Even when you know you’ve made something good, you never know if people will like it,” he said. “Stepping outside as a filmmaker and watching it as a fan, I thought it was really great, but you never know if a project will find its audience.
“Fortunately, Electric Jesus is such a good film it can’t be denied,” he added. “We are really proud that it has been so widely recognized in the festival run.”
From Restaurant Owner to Walking Dead
Freeland, who grew up in Gibsonia, has deep roots in the Pittsburgh area. His grandfather owned Conneaut Lake Park, and his great-grandfather owned a nursery on Rt. 8. His father was the original drummer in The Corbin/Hanner Band, and his mother grew up in Brentwood and taught in the North Hills School District.
“While I loved the idea of acting, watching my dad have good times and bad times as a musician made me want to put off that type of insecurity,” said Freeland, who acted in plays while at Pine-Richland. “Even though I went to Florida State, which has one of the best film schools in the country, I didn’t study film.”
Freeland instead started a restaurant in Atlanta after graduation and acted part-time while running the business. “After nine years, I got out of the restaurant business and did a corporate insurance job for a year and a half. I absolutely hated it,” he explained. “So I decided to do what would make me happy.”
Freeland was able to land a number of acting jobs in Atlanta, where many productions film, and has since moved to Los Angeles.
“It was interesting to be on Ozark during the first season, because I didn’t know it would be one of the bigger streaming shows to come out,” he said. “Like every actor, I went to my episode to see if I’d made the cut, and I thought the writing was incredible. Two days later, everyone was on social media saying Ozark was the best thing ever, so I went back and ended up binge-watching the whole season.”
While Freeland says that acting is where his heart is, he is also a writer and is currently working on a feature film and a book about growing up in Pittsburgh.
“Years ago, I wasn’t working as much as I wanted to, so I figured if I started producing my own stuff, it would open more doors for me as an actor,” he said of his initial motivation to create movies. “Really, owning a restaurant and producing a film are basically the exact same thing—you spend all day prepping so that nothing goes wrong, and you spend all night putting out fires.”
Freeland is continuing to take acting roles and is excited about a couple of projects he has coming up in 2022—including working alongside Sir Patrick Stewart.
“These are amazing projects that haven't been announced yet so I can't discuss them, but I’ve been getting to work with some legendary people, so keep an eye out,” he teased.