South Kingstown native Mark Atkinson has never quite given up the dream of becoming a movie actor, and his persistence might pay off now with a role in the Netflix series “Selena” released last year.
He appears in a brief scene in this coming-of-age story about the late Mexican-American Selena Quintanilla’s rise to fame as she became one of music’s biggest Latino crossover artists.
“I’m in one scene of one episode – a co-starring role – but hopefully it will open a lot more doors soon due to the exposure,” said Atkinson, who has been on the West Coast for many years looking for the “big break” while also doing some innovative personal filming, content creating, production and acting.
The Netflix show explores in detail Quintanilla’s journey to success, her family’s hard work and rise to fame in the Tejano music world – navigating challenges along the way – all before she was murdered on March 31, 1995, 16 days before her 24th birthday, by Yolanda Saldívar, her friend and the former manager of her Selena Etc. boutiques.
However, long before moving to San Diego or even appearing in a national Kawasaki commercial airing on ESPN and other networks, this 41-year-old son of Deborah and Robert Atkinson of Matunuck got his start at South Kingstown High School.
“According to my mom and my parents, I was always a kind of ham as a child,” he said during a recent interview.
This wasn’t just confined to family events, either.
One particular turning point, he said with a laugh, came during his routine doing morning announcements.
“Goofy little skits over the intercom, pledge, and they would have to edit some of the stuff I wrote,” he recalled. “I guess it got kind edgy.”
It caused former Principal Eric Wertheimer to take some drastic action one morning, said Atkinson, a 1997 SKHS graduate.
“I remember one time he grabbed the mic and had to mute me. He had enough, ‘Enough, kid,’ he said to me,” Atkinson said, though he doesn’t exactly recall what adolescent prank he was about to pull.
Another proving ground at SKHS was a talent show called “Escapades” in which he performed. “Anyone who knew me in high school knew I idolized Jim Carrey, which is probably why I was voted Class Clown of my graduating class,” he told an interviewer once.
“In fact, Ace Ventura was such an influence that I’d wear Hawaiian shirts in high school and early college, to the point where it became my trademark and I was eventually nicknamed Kahuna, which I named my production company after,” Atkinson said.
After high school he attended the University of Rhode Island, graduating in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in film.
While Atkinson left Rhode Island a long time ago, he said he still has warm feelings for the state and even expects some recent creations to make the local film festival circuit.
He said he currently has two short films recently produced. Besides acting, he also writes and produces films through his fledgling company.
“Leave ‘Em Laughing” is a semi-biography about the late comedian Dick Shawn’s 1987 last performance on stage. The other is “The Power Agent,” a comedy he wrote, produced, directed and starred in about a struggling actor meeting with his wiser and much younger talent agent.
Atkinson said both films will premiere at Rhode Island’s Southeast New England Film, Music & Arts Festival (SENE) this spring.
In addition, he said he has over 70 opening or end credits for various pieces of work produced since he left South Kingstown.
In a 2019 interview he described himself as “mostly a comedic-actor, but in recent years I’ve taken a liking to writing, producing, and even occasionally directing my own projects as well.”
He said his work mostly consists of no- to low-budget independent, short-form, comedic content. It includes short films, webisodes, commercials, skits, sketches, podcasts, pilots, promos, and parodies.
“I do it by self-financing, sometimes by crowd-funding, looking for and finding investors, and as the Joe Cocker song/theme from ‘The Wonder Years’ goes, ‘With a little help from my friends,’” he said.
In a July 2020 interview with Shoutout Social, a California online magazine, Atkinson talked about himself and creativity in his career.
“I don’t really consider myself an artist because I think it sounds too pretentious...I think most ‘artists’ or creatives have no choice, when it comes to pursuing an artistic or creative career. They simply follow their hearts and passions,” he said.
Asked by The Independent whether he gets up each morning and says, “I want to act. That is my career. I love it,” he hesitated to answer, saying the path to stardom isn’t an easy stroll.
“I’m going to answer that with a very corny cliche, that happens to be somewhat true,” Atkinson said. “If you love what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life. That being said, you have to work incredibly hard to get there. So, it’s kind of a catch 22.”