East Lake graduate building a resume as an actor

Poor "Dubbies." He was so tired one morning last week. And who wouldn't be?

He had chased a Chrysler down a street in Los Angeles all night and never did catch the thing.

No, he's not a dog pursuing a car.

He's a 5-foot, 4-inch actor with Tarpon Springs roots pursuing a movie career.

Being an extra in a car commercial might be grunt work, but "Dubbies," whose real name is Arnie Pantoja, said "it's better than working in a restaurant.''

Not too long ago, he was a server at Macaroni Grill but didn't like dealing with food or the people who eat it.

Ah, the life of a star in the making.

His life now is a far cry from when he was a student doing plays such as Kilroy Was Here and Heaven Can Wait at East Lake High School.

Worn out the morning after shooting the ad, Pantoja, 23, made a point of talking to a reporter who had forgotten the time difference and woke him out of a sound sleep. He took it in stride. He had to get up anyway to go have new publicity shots taken.

He knows a big part of being an up-and-coming actor is self-promotion and he doesn't miss a chance.

Pantoja was born in Kansas City, Mo., and came by his nickname early on.

When he was a few months old, the program director's wife at a radio station where his dad was a DJ took one look at him and nicknamed him "Dubs," an industry term meaning to make a new recording of sound already recorded. The family called him "Dubbies" from that day on.

When he was 5 years old, his father, Arnold Pantoja, took him to the movies.

"After seeing Home Alone, I wanted to be an actor,'' the younger Pantoja said.

"He did his first national commercial for Disney when he was in the seventh grade,'' said his dad, a disc jockey who moved the family around the country working at various radio stations. "He worked for Disney until his voice changed.''

The family settled in Tarpon Springs when Arnie Pantoja was a teenager, and he enrolled at East Lake High, where he became involved in the drama department.

"He's very talented, especially with comedy,'' said Jerry Shaver, his East Lake High theater coach. "He's very wild and crazy and uninhibited.''

After graduating in 2003, he attended Florida State University for a year. While he liked the drama classes, he had already caught the acting bug and was eager to move on to a bigger stage.

So he quit school, moved to L.A. and started chasing his dream of becoming a character actor. He now lives with a couple of buddies in Glendale in the hills outside L.A. and follows the careers of his heroes, Al Pacino, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Dustin Hoffman.

His credits include commercials for Jimmy Dean sausage and Burger King.

His film credits include Sydney White, a badly reviewed 2007 movie that retold the Snow White story and starred Amanda Bynes (he played George, a.k.a. Dopey), and Hamlet 2, a comedy starring Elisabeth Shue that is in theaters now. One reviewer says Hamlet 2 "never truly realizes its potential." Pantoja plays Vitamin J.

Another movie he is in, National Lampoon's RoboDoc, starring Alan Thicke, is scheduled for a limited release this month, but you may never see it unless you rent it.

"It will probably go to DVD,'' Pantoja said.

On Wednesday, Pantoja was auditioning for another film. His father is excited about this opportunity because "the casting director asked specifically for him,'' which is quite an honor in Hollywood.

"He's got a presence they really like,'' Arnold Pantoja said.

That's a good thing, because Arnie Pantoja said he never wants to work in a restaurant again.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

>>Fast facts

Arnie "Dubbies" Pantoja

Age: 23

Education: Graduated from East Lake High School in 2003. Attended Florida State University

Family: Father Arnold Pantoja, 55; mother Lauren, 53; and siblings Jesse, 25, a music composer, and Rachel, 21, a student at Northwestern University

East Lake graduate building a resume as an actor 09/04/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 3:01pm]

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