SALT LAKE CITY — Stuart Edge will never forget the day his high school wrestling coach abruptly stopped practice and called him out.
Edge, who was then a sophomore, and another teammate had missed practice the day before because of roles in their school’s production of “Hello, Dolly!”
“(The coach told the team), ‘Yesterday, two of our teammates missed practice because they were dancing, singing and messing around,’” Edge recalled. “And then he calls us both up to the front of the room, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, he’s going to kick us off the team.’”
But instead, the coach looked Edge and his teammate square in the eyes before turning to the other wrestlers. And then he said something that took Edge by surprise: “Guys, there’s more to life than wrestling.”
The coach handed both Edge and his fellow wrestler/actor a candy bar and encouraged all of his wrestlers to develop a wide variety of talents.
“That was a pivotal moment for me,” Edge recently told the Deseret News. “I was a shy redhead — I was very shy, I was anxious, I was very fragile. I was from a single-parent home and so my soul was very fragile. But then somebody came in and said, ‘You can do it,’ and that gave me a foundation to build off of. That encouraged me to be able to do all the things that I want to do. Had my coach not responded in that way, I don’t know where I would be today. But it was that simple moment and that support that calmed so many anxieties for me.”
That mentality to “do all the things” has since stuck with Edge. He’s gone on to pursue his passions in comedy and magic, along the way developing a large social media following — his YouTube channel has nearly 2.5 million subscribers. In 2016, he added author to his list of pursuits, writing a book and chronicling his story of unexpected success. But most recently, Edge has taken his drama skills from his “Hello, Dolly!” days to the big screen in a Utah-made modern adaptation of “Little Women” that hits theaters Sept. 28.
‘Do all the things’
Edge’s part in “Little Women” isn’t just meaningful because it marks his big film debut — although he was an extra in the 2016 remake of “Saturday’s Warrior.” Filmed in Utah last summer, director Clare Niederpruem’s “Little Women” also preaches the 29-year-old’s life motto to “do all the things.” At least that’s the phrase aspiring novelist Jo March says in this “Little Women” adaptation that comes 150 years — almost to the very day — after Louisa May Alcott’s publication.
Edge was 16 years old when he added acting to his list of life goals — he even wrote it down in his journal.
“I wrote that at a time where it did not seem like acting was ever a possibility,” he said. “I did not grow up in a home with actors or entertainers — nobody in my family on either side had ever done anything like this — but I wanted to do it. So I’ve always believed in it.”
That persistent belief is the reason Edge wasn’t all that surprised last summer when he heard he’d landed the role of the quiet tutor — and Meg March’s love interest — John Brooke. It just made sense. But that didn’t mean acting on the big screen would be an easy feat; in fact, following a script was a completely different game for Edge, whose live comedy and magic shows often thrive on improvisation.
But the new actor was up to the task, eager to portray Brooke and fulfill the words he’d written in his journal 13 years earlier. Although Edge initially went for the lead role of Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, he found that Brooke ended up being a better fit — almost too good of a fit.
“As I was auditioning, even practicing, I (thought), ‘I personally would not cast myself for (Laurie), but I’m auditioning for it anyway,’” Edge said. “That just goes to show how wonderful Clare the director and Maclain (Nelson) the producer are, and how in tune they are with the characters and the actors who played those characters. They … put me in the place that I thought was best.”
Because of the similarities Edge shares with his “Little Women” character — he described Brooke as providing quiet, comic relief — the movie really hit home for him.
“It’s a little bit easier to act a villain than it is to act something that’s so close to yourself,” he said. “It’s kind of weird to see myself on-screen because (Brooke) is so just like who I am. Anytime I see myself, it kind of ruins the magic of the movie for me because I think, ‘Oh wait, why am I in this movie?’ It feels like a documentary.”
A reinvention of sorts
But personal sightings aside, the comedian/magician-turned-actor soaked up the chance to act alongside the “Little Women” cast, and was especially excited to meet actress Lea Thompson, well-known for her role as Marty McFly’s mother in the “Back to the Future” trilogy.
As a “Back to the Future” fan, one of Edge’s many YouTube videos shows him pulling off a pizza hydrator prank, mimicking Thompson’s character in “Back to the Future Part II” where she puts a small, dehydrated pizza into the hydrator, says “Hydrate level four, please” and then the pizza comes out normal size and ready to eat in a matter of seconds.
Edge not only showed her a clip from his video, but brought his self-made pizza hydrator on set one day. Thompson, who plays the part of Marmee in “Little Women,” signed her name to it, along with the advice to “Hydrate level four.”
“It was interesting because off camera, I would be doing magic, interacting with people (and) people were congregating around me,” Edge said. “But then when we would go on camera, it was everyone else’s time. They were the professionals and I was in awe of them.”
Edge viewed himself to be very much an amateur while on set last summer. It was his big film debut and he had a lot to learn. But over the year and three months since filming wrapped, Edge, whose name is often attached to his self-imposed "YouTube star" label, has grown into a new label: actor.
“I’m glad I’ve had almost a year and a half to grow. If (‘Little Women’) would’ve been released right after (we filmed it), I would’ve gone into this being like, ‘Oh, I’m the YouTuber that’s getting the chance to act.' But now I’m like, ‘No, I’m an actor,’” he said before taking a long pause. “I’m an actor.”Comment on this story
Fulfilling that goal has been a 13-year journey for Edge, but now he can finally turn back the pages of his journal and smile, and it's all because of people like his wrestling coach who encouraged him along the way.
“I made it thanks to people who didn’t tell me I couldn't ‘do all the things’,” he said. “I’m here today because of people like that. Although acting could’ve began much sooner in my career, I just don’t think I was ready as a person. I was still working (out) a lot of insecurities ... but it’s happened now and that’s all I can be grateful for.”