Even though Eyal Podell has been working regularly in prime-time TV since leaving the role of Y&R’s charming college professor, Adrian Korbel, in 2008, the actor has also carved out a professional niche behind the camera as a screenplay writer and, just recently, an author. “I was writing even while I was on Y&R, whenever I had downtime in my dressing room,” he explains. “My writing partner, Jonathon [E.] Stewart, and I were just honing our craft and trying to get good at writing scripts.”
While searching for their next movie concept, inspiration came from the Ethernet. “We had gotten an email blast from Dartmouth that one of the professors had written a biography about Theodor Geisel, who is known to the world as Dr. Seuss,” Podell recalls. “Jonathon and I thought it was really interesting that no one had ever made a movie about his life. Everyone knows about his books but he also had a very interesting life. So we dove in headfirst, and it launched our writing career. In 2012, a screenplay we co-wrote together, which was a biography of Dr. Seuss, landed on Hollywood’s ‘blacklist’, which is sort of an internal list of the most liked, unproduced scripts of the year. Development producers and directors all vote and we were number two on the list out of hundreds of screenplays.”
The recognition attracted the right kind of attention. “That became a sort of calling card for us and we started taking meetings all over town, so we had to get agents and managers,” Podell relays. “A lot of doors opened and we got our first job writing for Paramount, which was an adaptation of a novel called Juliet, about a woman who finds out that she’s a descendant of the original Capulets.”
Much like the tragic fate of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lover, this Juliet also died (“It went nowhere except on the pile of screenplays that don’t get made”), but Podell’s critically-acclaimed script was about to breathe new life into his budding vocation. “The head of development at Pixar grew up on the same street as Theodor Geisel in La Jolla, California,” he shares. “She read our script and called us in for a general meeting, and even though she didn’t have any projects at the time, she said she wanted to stay in touch.”
There wasn’t a long waiting period. “Six months later, in 2013, we got a call that they had an opportunity for us if we were interested,” Podell recounts. “They flew us up to San Francisco and we met with them on the Pixar campus. We talked about Cars 3, got hired on the spot and we spent a year and a half commuting back and forth, working up there and getting a PhD in Pixar storytelling.”
During the process, Podell’s beloved acting career took a back seat. “It was a case of being out of sight, out of mind,” he notes. “I was on hold for a year and a half with Cars 3 and then we got a job at Paramount working on another animated project for 15 months, so for over two years, I wasn’t even auditioning. It looked like the horse was headed in a specific direction, so I decided to ride it and see where it goes. I still audition and put myself on tape once in a while for guest-star [roles] over the years, which are fun, so I don’t feel so far away from it.”
Working on those movies “opened a lot of doors in terms of animation and in general where people want to infuse heart, whimsy and character, which are some of the things Pixar is really known for, into their screen-plays,” Podell points out. “We were really busy.”
Angry Birds 2 and Scoob, based on the Scooby-Doo franchise, followed before Covid- 19 shut down the world. While production in Hollywood was also abruptly shuttered, Podell decided to switch professional gears (see sidebar). Still, he would happily entertain a return to Y&R if the chance ever materialized. “Working on that show was amazing,” he enthuses. “It came at the perfect time in my life. My daughter had just been born and the schedule was great. I enjoyed the whole reliquary story, and the cast members I met and got to work with were really good people. As an actor, you’re used to bouncing around and it’s rare to become part of a family that’s been together for so long. It was really nice to step into that and go to the same place every day, with the same behind-the-scenes crew. It’s just a vibe that you don’t get to experience when you’re sort of a wandering actor. At the time, I lived just up the street from the studio, so I’d ride my bike to work, and it was pretty awesome. And I made some good friends. It’s a very refreshing situation and you don’t want to leave, so it’s sad when it goes.”
Podell feels the changing of the guard at Y&R is what complicated his tenure with the soap. “I signed a three-year contract and I was on the show for two,” Podell shares. “The first year, if you recall, there was a writers’ strike, and [then-Head Writer] Lynn Latham, who had created my character, wouldn’t cross the picket line, so someone else took over, and eventually Maria Bell came in. Somewhere in that transition, from Lynn to Maria, there was a complete loss of interest of writing for my character.”
Podell’s biggest disappointment about leaving was that the writers didn’t take advantage of his character’s exit. “I couldn’t believe that when my character left town, no one had Adrian blow something up,” he chuckles. “I mean, that was a perfect villain opportunity. Let the guy go out in a blaze of glory. Or hold Colleen hostage because he was obsessed with her and then he gets thrown in jail. It was low-hanging fruit and so right for the genre. Instead, there was no good-bye scene, he was just gone.” Although he can’t disclose what he and Stewart are working on now, Podell is reveling in creating new scripts. “Writing is a lot of fun and I have a great writing partner,” he says. “I’m very fortunate that this industry has accepted me into this new light with new opportunities.”
As with most families, sheltering in place for months was challenging, but Podell used the time to segue to writing a children’s book centered around their kitty, Sugar, a miniature Persian. “My wife obsesses over this adorable cat, and when the pandemic struck, she had just recovered from hip replacement surgery and now couldn’t go back to work, because she was furloughed,” he outlines. “So, we found ourselves at home and my kids were doing Zoom school, when one day Sugar jumped up on our son’s desk, so he introduced her to Zoom show-and-tell. My wife took a picture of it, and my mother-in-law, who is a former teacher in Philadelphia, said, ‘You need to write a children’s book about that.’ ” Mrs. Podell agreed and set out right away to make that a reality. “My wife sat down and just started sketching ideas and then we put a little bit of the story together,” he remembers. “Then we reached out to this amazing artist friend, Rebecca Montoya, who was actually on GENERAL HOSPITAL in 2012, where she played Delores Padilla. Rebecca had a baby just before Covid shut down everything, so she was in quarantine and when I brought the idea of the book to her, she said, ‘Yes! Anything creative to work on and not feel trapped in this world.’ So, the book came to life and we shopped it around to the big publishers, and even though they responded to it, they said it would probably be 18 months before it could be released.” And now, The Little Cat That Zoomed will be available for purchase on Amazon.com on September 13.
Just The Facts:
Birthday: November 11
Birthplace: Tel Aviv, Israel On The Move: At 2 years old, his family relocated to the United States, but after a year, they moved to Hong Kong until he was 8, when they settled in New York’s Westchester County.
Higher Learning: Graduated from Dartmouth College with a BA and later obtained his MBA from University of Southern California.
Relationship Status: Married to Ashley since 2004, they have a son and daughter.
Teen Angst: “My daughter is 14 and every once in a while, she and her friends will Google me and find mash-up videos fans have done of me and [Y&R’s] Colleen, or me and Amber. My daughter will be like, ‘Dad, you don’t have your shirt on!’ ”
Taking Stalk: “While I was on Y&R, someone was sending me letters at my home, even boxer shorts on Valentine’s Day, and after not responding, she wrote that I broke her heart. That same person wrote me another letter in the same handwriting, from the same return address but claimed to be someone else, saying because I hadn’t responded to the prior name, she died. I can’t make that stuff up. It was like, ‘I made it,’ because I finally had a rabid fan.”