Interview with Tobias Jelinek and Larry Bagby
From Teen Bullies in Cult Classic ‘Hocus Pocus’ to Youth Mentors
Disney’s Hocus Pocus was a staple of slumber parties and rainy-day-schedule recess in the early ’90s. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy star as daffy, 17th-century Salem witches with drag-queen aesthetics who are accidentally resurrected by skeptic teens in 1993. They have an anachronistic romp navigating suburban Halloween, attempting to suck the life essence out of children to secure their immortality. Obviously, Bette Midler sings a campy rendition of “I Put a Spell on You.”
This Halloween, Hocus Pocus celebrated 25 years of growing popularity as a cult classic. “The nostalgia has blossomed,” said Tobias Jelinek, one of the film’s teen stars, who grew up in Santa Barbara. That sentimentality prompted him to return to town to promote the film’s anniversary. “Hocus Pocus came out of nowhere, and as soon as it ended, I came back to Santa Barbara to be a teenager,” Jelinek said. “Hocus Pocus and the early ’90s are tied up into all that nostalgia for me. That’s my Santa Barbara.”
Jelinek’s life in performance began in childhood, working on community productions with directors such as Rod Lathim and Clark Sayre. He was discovered as a teen by a Disney scout while working on an area production (directed by Sayre) and was cast in Hocus Pocus as the film’s bully, along with Larry Bagby, a teen actor from Westlake. Still friends, Jelinek and Bagby are now Los Angeles–based TV and film actors. You can see Jelinek in Stranger Things and in the upcoming series American Woman with Alicia Silverstone. Bagby has credits from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and played musician Marshall Grant in Walk the Line. The two recently shot a live show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for the Hocus Pocus 25th anniversary and cast reunion.
Inspired by the resurgence in popularity of the little movie where they met, Jelinek and Bagby have focused their energy on youth mentorship in the arts, with an emphasis on anti-bullying. They’re setting a new kind of example by turning a PR opportunity into a conversation with today’s youth; they’re looking back at their own representation of bullies and asking the question, How can we all be better?
Jelinek and Bagby joined Sayre’s creative studies class to talk shop. The realities of a career in film and television can’t be inferred by watching A Star Is Born; candid conversations with working actors are invaluable to students. They offer perspective on what life looks like within the Los Angeles entertainment machine. The two gave practical advice on developing the acting toolbox, auditions, and the importance of creating content on social media platforms to begin building an artistic profile. “In L.A.,” said Jelinek, “agents are looking for people with social media followings, period.” Bagby agreed: “We’re interacting with fans; we’re doing Instagram stories …. Now is the time to learn it. If you want to work on your career, you have to start working on your social media [so] you can be interacting with people from L.A. and New York and everywhere in between.”
The actors also initiated a conversation with the students about their experiences with bullying. “People didn’t talk about this issue before; now it’s more out there,” said Bagby. “We’d like to help people come to terms with their experiences and stand up for themselves.” Jelinek and Bagby shared their thoughts about the characters they played in Hocus Pocus and opened up about their experiences with bullies when they were in high school (Bagby in Westlake and Jelinek at Santa Barbara High School).
Bagby: “I was in 9th grade. They had these big boxes from new air conditioners out by the dumpster. These bullies put the box over my head and then started pounding on it. Who does that? But there was a guy who stood up for me. He was a heavy-metal guy but also a good basketball player, so he had respect from the jocks. And he got on them …. He told a teacher, and they got suspended or something. I just remembered coming home thinking: ‘Man, I hate high school. I just got boxed!’”
Jelinek: “Somehow, in the first week of my freshman year, one of [my friends] managed to upset the most typical — I mean, he was the picture of bully. He had the big Jeep, he was built like a linebacker, and he was scary. Everyone knew his name. There was no social media back then, but I remember hearing the whispers through the halls — this guy was going to beat up a group of freshmen at noon, and I was one of them. And hundreds of kids knew about it. We took off at lunch …. It took a couple of weeks of hiding out during lunch before it blew over. But there was no feeling of safety or support, mostly because there was a feeling of shame …. The social structure is complex.”
Jelinek and Bagby hope to continue their work mentoring and speaking out against bullying and advocating for arts education, which they assert offers students healthy forms of expression and emotional outlets. The men hope that these conversations in a safe, social environment will reduce the stigma of feeling victimized and engender the empathy needed for both acting and life outside the movie set or theater. “It’s not just about teaching kids to be PC,” said Jelinek. “It’s about giving kids confidence and ways to stay creative and savvy. We want to turn it around: It isn’t about being bullied or being a victim; it’s about making the bullying behavior not cool …. With Weinstein and what happened in Hollywood — people were silent for how long? But when people have the courage to stick up for each other, that house of cards crumbles.”
“Speaking out is an act of kindness,” Jelinek concluded. “There’s courage behind that. That moment when you see bullying behavior, do you walk away? Or do you say something? What tools are available for kids to develop that? That’s what we’re going to explore.”