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Ever thought about what happens behind closed doors at an amusement park? Save for a few nightmares, neither have we. But you're curious now, aren't you? Starting on September 30, you can feed that curiosity with MTV’s latest series, Happyland. The dramedy revolves around the lives of several friends and employees at a popular theme park, on and off business hours. Carnies, furry costumes, pubescent teenagers dealing with their first job—of course things get weird.
One guy who knows all about just how weird it gets is star Ryan Rottman. As Theodore Chandler, Rottman plays the son of Happyland’s president who comes on as creative director of the park, overseeing everything that happens behind the scenes. Here, the 30-year-old actor spoke to us about his childhood in Texas, what to expect on Happyland, and all the sexcapades that actually go down at amusement parks.
So who is Ryan Rottman?
Ryan Rottman is a very complex guy. [Laughs.] No, I’m from Texas, from a smaller town called Lufkin. Grew up there, played baseball and golf, then went on from there to Texas Tech University, and studied business with a minor in theater. My dad always wanted me to have a business degree, just in case. I ended up leaving Tech during my junior year for L.A. and I interned for director Todd Phillips and met his partner Scott Rudnick.
While I was out here, I got presented with an opportunity for manager, and that’s it. I picked up and moved.
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be an actor?
Growing up, I would just kind of act out things. My mom always said I was crying wolf. I would act out things in the mirror, run around, and I actually still have and use one of the Back to the Future big cameras that Doc uses. We’d run around with that and film things. I loved the thing so much my parents actually kept it for me.
How did you get the role of Theodore Chandler?
I auditioned the first time. As I was doing my second audition scene, the producers asked, “Do you know who Scott Disick is?” I said yeah and they were like, “That’s kind of what we want. You’re a little too nice. We want you to play a little more, like, if you can picture him…” I was like, “Well I don’t watch the show too much, but yeah let’s give it a shot.” They liked it and called me back and next thing I know we were shooting the pilot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
Oh, an apparently that park is a big terrorist target, so we had a bunch of security around us, and we couldn’t really wander off. If we did, we had to have a security guard with us, which was pretty cool.
Did you do any prep for the show?
Yeah, we started to interview these people that work at theme parks and heard about all this crazy shit that happens behind closed doors, everything from sex to drugs.
Growing up, going to these theme parks, I was always obsessed with getting the characters' autographs. They were larger than life, but they were real. Now, being grown and being on the other side of it, it’s so interesting thinking they could’ve been high at the time. [Laughs.]
What kind of stories did you hear from the actual theme park employees?
About a lot of orgies that go on behind closed doors, and a lot of them have to do with everyone still in character and still in their costumes. There's a lot of getting high and going out and doing the day. Oh! They’d all have inside jokes where if one of them was actually in a character, they could say certain curse words and bad words so many times without getting caught. It's like they would try to make subliminal messages like they do in Disney movies. We actually incorporated some of that into the show
When you shot at Six Flags, was it totally open to the public, or did they close down the park?
I believe Six Flags was about to open for the summer, so it was closed. We were the only people there. It was so much more massive.
Did you get to ride the rides?
We had to ride a few rides for the show, but it wasn’t like National Lampoon’s Vacation, where we had John Candy giving us all these private rides. We didn’t actually get to ride too many of the rides by ourselves. I would say I act for free and they pay me to wait, and that was of one of those things where you’re there, and you’re waiting and waiting, and you’re like “Come on! We can’t ride one rollercoaster? We can’t do Superman one time or anything like that?!”
What are your favorite types of theme park rides?
Well, I used to get really bad motion sickness when I was a kid. I would get sick in airplanes, I'd get seasick, and I definitely couldn’t do any rollercoasters. When I was in middle school, I remember I got on one of those rides that spin you around because a girl that I liked wanted to do it, and the rest of my day was so ruined. I was just sick. Then all of a sudden something changed. I don’t know what it was, but now I absolutely love rollercoasters. I love the ones that pick you up and just drop you. I still don't like the spinny ones.
Any other exciting projects in your future?
I’m just waiting for Happyland to come out. I’m pretty excited to see how it does. We have a good lead-in: two good MTV shows, Awkward and Faking It. Other than that I’m just keeping myself busy while we play the waiting game. You shoot these things and then you wait and you wait, and by the time it airs, you’re like “Oh my god, that was so long ago.” So it’s kind of nice that it’s getting here.
Ramy Zabarah is a contributing writer. He tweets here.