NEW YORK — Long before his starring role in “No Exit,” actor David Rysdahl made his entrance into the film industry by moving to New York City.
The Harlem resident arrived in the Big Apple in 2009 after growing up in the small city of New Ulm, Minnesota, and briefly working in public health in Guatemala.
His interest in acting exploded after he left Guatemala in search of a career change and was cast in a stage production at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota.
“I went and played Laertes in ‘Hamlet,’ and I just had the best time,” Rysdahl told the Daily News. “One of the actors was like, You should go to New York. They were from New York and I was like, Yeah, why not? I had fallen in love with Bob Dylan, who’s from Minnesota and had gone to New York also. I was like, Let me just see what life is.”
Rysdahl starred in dozens of short films during his first eight years in New York. He more recently became a familiar face in feature-length movies, including Cathy Yan’s acclaimed 2018 comedy-drama “Dead Pigs” and last year’s supernatural “Nine Days.”
His latest movie is the thriller “No Exit,” out Friday on Hulu, which centers on five strangers who get stranded by a blizzard at a remote rest stop. The tension grows after it’s revealed someone abducted a young girl and trapped her in a van in the parking lot.
Rysdahl portrays the hot-headed Lars, whom the actor describes as “the consummate outsider.”
“Right away, he’s pretty off-putting, but you kind of understand why as you go through the movie,” Rysdahl said. “There’s a lot of heart to Lars, which I feel like people don’t really see right away. I think that will come out as the movie progresses.”
Rysdahl says it was important to keep his performance grounded and not turn Lars into “a stereotype or a joke.” The film is adapted from a 2017 novel by Taylor Adams, and features a story Rysdahl believes audiences can relate to.
“I think people can empathize with that situation,” Rysdahl said. “It’s not a supernatural thing. It’s not ghosts. It’s not demons. It’s people, and that’s what makes it so real and scary, in a way.”
In addition to his work on the screen, Rysdahl started a production company called Sleepy Poppy shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic with his life partner, actress Zazie Beetz, who stars in the FX series “Atlanta” and in movies such as “Joker” and “The Harder They Fall.”
“Zazie and I both grew up in the industry, kind of approaching it collaboratively,” Rysdahl said. “Sometimes as an actor you come in, do a job, and it’s over. There’s so much more on that bone. I want to be in the editing room. I want to help put it together beforehand.”
Rysdahl said he and Beetz have about seven projects in preproduction that they plan to release through Sleepy Poppy over the next two years.
“She and I started coming into it as producers and saying, Can we support the voices that we care about?” Rysdahl said. “Can we create the stories and have a little bit more room at the table to be a part of that? That’s kind of what the impetus was behind it.”