Santa Barbara native Kai Kadlec is making his feature film debut in “Willy’s Wonderland,” an action thriller starring Nicholas Cage, which will be shown at 11 p.m. tonight at the West Wind Drive-In Theaters in Goleta.
The film follows the story of a janitor (played by Mr. Cage) as he is forced to clean an old, abandoned family fun center in exchange for vehicle repairs. Stranded in the remote town after his car breaks down, he soon discovers that the fun center is haunted by evil animatronic characters that are out to destroy him.
In a thrilling series of events, the janitor is forced to fight off these devilish characters in order to survive. During the film, he meets a group of teenagers with a mission to destroy the haunted funhouse. Chris, one of the teenagers, is played by Mr. Kadlec.
In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Kadlec described the film as “beautifully gory,” and said his character is an ordinary guy with a “heart of gold” who is secretly in love with one of the other teenagers, Liv.
Though Mr. Kadlec starred in plays, commercials and had a short cameo in a Lifetime film, being cast for “Willy’s Wonderland” was his first experience acting in a feature film. As a junior high and high school student, Mr. Kadlec pursued every acting opportunity he could, starring in every show San Marcos High School offered.
During his senior year, Mr. Kadlec got an acting agent, who helped to land him roles in Los Angeles after his high school graduation. At just 18, the aspiring actor moved to North Hollywood to pursue his dream in acting. While in L.A., he met acting teacher Leslie Kahn, who helped him land a spot in “Willy’s Wonderland.”
The cast of the movie met to shoot in Atlanta at the start of 2020 and wrapped up filming in February, prior to the start of the pandemic.
While on set, the actors and production crew spent hours every day filming for almost a month straight, Mr. Kadlec said. Though the days were busy, Mr. Kadlec relished the experience.
“Being on set and working just for multiple hours and what felt like the entire day was an absolute dream come true,” Mr. Kadlec said.
The start of 2020 gave Mr. Kadlec’s acting career a lot of momentum. Shortly after the movie filming ended, Mr. Kadlec went to Texas to film the second part of a Snapchat series called “Two Sides,” which debuted its first season in 2019. The series showcases the “two sides” of a modern-day teenage breakup from a girl’s perspective and a guy’s perspective, with Mr. Kadlec as the main character, Jeremy.
The crew met to film in Texas, but as COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S., filming for the Snapchat series was put on hold, sending the actors back to their hometowns until it was safe to film again. What Mr. Kadlec thought would be two weeks off of filming soon turned into six months, as filming for the series did not resume until September 2020.
“It truly sucked,” Mr. Kadlec said. “I felt like I had some momentum and some inertia that was keeping me going to the next job, and I was so excited about having two jobs in two different months just back to back. I was living the dream up until March 10. It was really hard.”
For many actors, the pandemic has put their career on pause, leaving them to wonder where their next opportunity will come from. Currently, Mr. Kadlec is still in search of what comes next for him, and he is in the process of sending out virtual audition reels for potential roles in the coming months.
At age 20, the Santa Barbara native simply desires to pursue his passion in acting or years to come.
“I just want to be able to pay my bills with acting,” Mr. Kadlec said. “I want to be able to live off of performing. That’s always been (the dream). I don’t need to be famous, I don’t need to be making six or seven figures. I just want to be able to live purely on doing what I love.”
Without the support of his family, friends and teachers, Mr. Kadlec said he never would have been able to pursue his passion in acting. Mr. Kadlec noted that his high school acting teacher, Riley Berris, helped him gain the confidence to pursue an acting career in L.A., and deserves credit for how far he’s gone.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without my family,” Mr. Kadlec. “My parents and grandparents have always been so supportive.”