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South Jordan Journal

Former Elk Ridge student returns to speak about acting roles

Jul 31, 2018 04:03PM ● By Julie Slama

Former Elk Ridge student Joey Branca speaks to classes about his role in “Resistance Movement,” his acting career and preparing for their future. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected] 

When Joey Branca was an eighth- and ninth-grader in Elk Ridge, he was in the school’s first two musicals, “Bye, Bye Birdie” and “Guys and Dolls.” He later was in musicals at Copper Hills High, including a scene he’d rather forget — when a telephone booth he was supposed to use as a prop fell into the orchestra pit. 

However, his improvisation—pretending to use a telephone—made an impression, not only on the patrons, but also on a director who was in the audience and later asked him to audition for an independent movie about three teens growing up in Nazi Germany wanting to put a stop to Hitler. 

His role as 15-year-old Rudi Wobbe in “Resistance Movement” launched his acting career and also brought him back to his former junior high, where he met with classes taught by his former seventh-grade language arts/reading teacher, Kathleen Dansie. 

Her students had watched “Resistance Movement” as part of their unit, where they also learn about the holocaust and those involved, including Anne Frank. Coupled with the movie, they read about Rudi and his friends in Scholastic’s Scope article “The Boys who Fought.” 

“We discuss different aspects in our different classes, talking about anything from who can make a difference — anyone — and bullying; Hitler was the ultimate bully,” Danise said. “We hope they learn about getting into projects like this movie.”

Branca said he was surprised when he was to be the star in “Resistance Movement” and built the film around him. 

“I didn’t realize when I went on the call, they were looking at me for Rudi, so when I got the phone call, it was utterly jarring,” he said. “It was directed as a stage play rather than a film. Much of it was filmed in Sandy, and we’d spend up to 20 hours per day on it. I got really close to all the boys in the film. It was showed at Sundance, and celebrities from all over came to see it, which was fun, but celebrities can be weird.”  

Branca said his love of theater began at Elk Ridge, and he started with vocal lessons. After high school, he studied musical theater in college and still continues to take acting lessons to “revisit the basics.” 

As a college student, he was asked to portray Rudi. 

“With this film, it took a lot to get into the character,” Branca said. “Rudi and Karl had moved to Salt Lake City after the war, so I had the opportunity to meet with their families — and later, I learned my grandparents were actually Karl’s friends. I studied about them and read novels and biographies, and researched them and the time period beforehand. It was such an incredible dark subject to be accosted and arrested by Nazis at 15 years old; I had to show the passion Rudi had to break the law and risk being killed for it.  It is a story about his faith and determination, a story of bravery.” 

He said his history classes also helped him prepare for the role. 

“I am fascinated by World War II and war history in general, so I knew about the war,” Branca said. “But here was an intriguing story and the families who became our locals, and I had no idea until this film. I was able to see photos and journals, and it became much more emotional. It was an honor to portray him.” 

Eighth-grader Maliyah Hutchison said she thought he played the character of Rudi well. 

“It had to be a hard role, but he showed confidence,” she said. “He was genuine and showed his personality.” 

While Branca said he has gone back to watch this film, he usually opts not to watch other roles he has portrayed. 

“It’s hard to revisit it,” he said. “It was my first real acting, and it was a hands-on kind of training. Besides, it’s kind of weird to see yourself in films. It freaks me out. If I'm happy with how I did, then I’m OK with it.” 

While Branca answered questions about his background, including his recent return from one year at Universal Studios-Japan where he played Harry Potter at the fourth-largest amusement park in the world, he also performed songs from various shows, including “Annie,” which he is in at Hale Center Theatre in Orem through Aug. 11. 

“I prefer live theater and have been in regional shows with Hale, Utah Opera, Salt Lake Acting Company, Desert Star Playhouse and others,” he said. “Utah has an incredible reputation for talent, so living here also allows me to go hiking and enjoy activities I have grown up with. If you can get your foot in the door — do school musicals, community theater, anywhere you have an opportunity to be a performer — and work really hard, you can make a career in acting. I was one of 90 performers out of 20,000 who were selected to be part of Universal Studios Japan cast. I had the opportunity to perform in the wand studies shows, Hogwarts magical nights and in the original cast in the world premiere of Expecto Patronum Night Show. It was an incredible experience for me, professionally and personally.” 

Branca said his acting career has given him opportunities to travel as well as make friends worldwide.

“I have made friends all over the world, and some of those are really close friends after we’ve worked some incredible long hours together,” he said. “I am very lucky. I have a family who is supportive and has believed I have talent to make this a viable career.”

Eighth-grader Maren Barney said she found Branca refreshing. 

“Even though he must make good money as an actor, he was really humble about his career,” she said. “He talked to us rather than bragged about his life.” 

Danise said the experience allowed Branca to share about his experience from being a choir member and student body officer at Elk Ridge to pursuing his dream career with her current students. 

“I want them to see they can go far with their dreams,” she said. “There is a lot they can learn.”