From the tall pines of the SFA campus to the skyscrapers of New York City and Los Angeles, Richard Robichaux ’96 is living his dream.
We’ve seen him in films like “Bernie,” “Boyhood” and “The Book of Love” and in TV series such as “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Better Off Ted” and “Law & Order.” Next year, we will see him in “Ocean’s 8,” the exciting new spinoff of “Ocean’s Eleven.”
This past summer, he worked with Cate Blanchett in a new Richard Linklater film, marking his fourth film with the award-winning director.
As a working actor and a theatre teacher, Robichaux’s talents are as obvious on the big screen as they are in the classroom. Just ask his fans; just ask his students.
“I am fortunate that I have always known this was what I was born to do and have always done it,” he said. “Since I was 7 or 8, I have wanted to act. I am constantly grateful that I get to do my childhood dream as an adult. Acting has been a very good friend to me and has taken great care of me.”
The recipient of the SFA School of Theatre’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award believes “the acorn is an oak” and credits his professors and mentors at SFA for noticing that he was “an acorn who needed opportunities to grow into my potential.”
“SFA prepared me for my career as a teacher and as a working actor,” Robichaux said in an email interview from his San Diego home. “Not many programs do that. They tend to ‘over specialize’ too early, and then a young artist is put in a box.
“At SFA, you are required to do everything — critical history and theory work, backstage management and design, as well as an enormous amount of performance opportunities on the Mainstage, Downstage, across campus and now across the country (internships) and even to London (Rose Bruford exchange program). The faculty is top notch, and all are committed to the success of each student long after graduation."
Robichaux came to Nacogdoches in the early 1990s from Channelview, an oil refinery suburb of Houston, to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He was part of the first group that Dr. Clarence W. Bahs, then chair of the SFA Department of Theatre, now professor emeritus, took to London for what Robichaux described as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform and visit England as a student.”
“For a student without a lot of money, education is often the only window to international travel,” he said. “I have incredible memories from that trip, and it helped build my confidence as I left and went on to my internship.”
To launch his career, he was “put on the right track” with an internship arranged by Bahs with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre where Robichaux lived and worked for a year.
“I met great working professionals,” he said, “and it was there I realized I needed graduate school to get in the right doors in New York or LA. I still have contacts from that first internship right out of SFA.”
Following graduate school at Rutgers University, Robichaux began auditioning in New York for theatre, and then film and television jobs started coming in. During his time in New York, he started teaching with Ellen Novak, a former casting director at ABC.
“She was teaching a course at Juilliard and asked me to help out,” Robichaux said. “This was an incredible opportunity for me. After a few years of doing theatre all over the country, I decided to move to LA to focus on film and TV.”
While in LA, Robichaux missed teaching, so he and his wife, actress Natalie Griffith Robichaux, opened their own acting studio for a select group of actors from television and film.
“My reputation as a teacher, who also worked in the industry at high levels, began to grow, and I was invited to be a guest instructor at some of the top training programs in the country,” he said, most recently as head of acting at Pennsylvania State University. He continued to work in film and television while teaching.
Robichaux and his wife recently accepted positions at the University of California San Diego where the Master of Fine Arts acting program is consistently rated among the top three acting schools in the country, along with Yale and New York University.
“This was a huge opportunity for me to teach in an internationally ranked acting program and be only a few hours from LA,” he said. “So we have moved back to California and should be here for a long, long while. I love teaching and will never stop. In my life, I have come to see that I am a teaching artist. That is where I am most fulfilled.
“I don’t think you have to be an actor to be a good acting teacher,” he added. “We see this in sports all the time. Often the best players don’t make great coaches, and folks who didn’t play in the big leagues make legendary coaches. For me though, the fact that I work at the highest levels of the industry informs everything I do in the classroom.”
Robichaux has always enjoyed the support of a loving family throughout his life and career.
“My parents have always been supportive,” he said. “They have been brave in their relentless optimism about my career in the arts. I am so grateful for the confidence they instilled in me. My wife also is a wonderful actor and an expert teacher. We have worked together many times and have taught together for years. I love teaching students, referencing her work in the classroom; we share the same vocabulary. At Penn State, she had a huge impact on the program there, and we are fortunate to work together again at UCSD.”
Robichaux is looking forward to next summer’s premiere of “Ocean’s 8,” which features a lengthy Who’s Who cast, including Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, Dakota Fanning, Katie Holmes, Rihanna, Carl Reiner and others.
But perhaps his favorite film role is that of the mysterious Cajun, Pascal, in “The Book of Love,” directed by Bill Purple and starring Jason Sudeikis, Maisie Williams and Jessica Biel.
“As a Robichaux, I spent lots of summers in Louisiana with my PawPaw,” he said. “I got to create a whole new language of French, Cajun and English to play this role. We shot in New Orleans for a month, and I will never forget that experience. It is a beautiful movie. I believe my PawPaw was on set with me in spirit in ways I can never explain.”
As someone who has always known he wanted to act, Robichaux offers the following advice to the budding young actors at SFA who are in the same place he was 20-plus years ago: “Take every opportunity that is given to you at SFA.
“Your professors are all talented and serious teaching artists,” he said. “Make work habits now that will serve you after graduation. If you make no deposits, you should not expect to make any withdrawals. This business requires a lot of time investment,” he added. “Put in the time, and one day, you may find that you have worked your way into the work of your dreams. I don’t say ‘good luck’ to students, though they will need a little. I say ‘good work to you.’ They’ll need more of that.”