Actor Patrick Renna was just 13 when he traveled to Utah in 1992 to play the role of Hamilton “Ham” Porter in the film “The Sandlot.”
Set in suburban Los Angeles in the summer of 1962, the movie follows the character of Scotty Smalls, the new kid in town, as he’s taken under the wings of a ragtag group of boys and discovers not only a love for baseball, but also true friendship, courage and the incredible adventures that only summertime can hold.
Not many films achieve as fluidly the kind of cult following that “The Sandlot” has through the years, especially right here in Utah, and that’s one thing that is on the mind of fans as they prepare to meet Renna at FanX: Salt Lake Comic Convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center this weekend.
“To me what means more than the movie itself is the fan appreciation for it,” Renna said of “The Sandlot” in an interview with the Daily Herald prior to the convention. “They know it 10 times better than me.”
Despite the fact that the film is well past its 25th anniversary, Renna noted that a strong love for it continues on, especially when it comes to his ever-popular line, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
“I can’t tell you how many times people have quoted my line at me,” he quipped, before commenting on the sheer volume of the film’s following.
“I don’t think anyone predicted that,” he said.
Circling back to the line, Renna noted that the older brother of Victor DiMattia, who played Timmy TImmons, actually looked into the line from the film’s script, and found out it was originally written as, “Ya kill me, Smalls,” but whether the change was intentional on the part of the director or incidental on the part of Renna, the token phrase has gone on to have a life of its own, as has the movie itself, and, for Renna, the experiences and memories made while filming it.
“My memories of ‘The Sandlot’ are everything other than the film,” Renna said. “Like the times when Brandon Adams (who played Kenny Denunez) and Chauncey Leopardi (who brought to life Michael ‘Squints’ Palledorous) took me shopping for Cross Colours and I tried them on for the first time. They were big supporters of Cross Colours, a multi-colored clothing line. Chauncey and Brandon were by far the most woke of the team, and had the most to offer all of us as far as being cool.”
As their characters explored camaraderie and a relatable fellowship on screen, according to Renna, the cast did the same thing behind the scenes.
“I remember going to the movies with the guys and going swimming in the pool at the condominium place I was staying,” Renna said of the experiences the cast shared. “It’s things like that that are fun for me, more than the actual film.”
Renna noted that he’s only seen the film a few times, so even though it holds a lot of meaning in off-screen memories, his childhood favorite film would be more along the lines of “The Goonies.”
That hasn’t stopped him from enjoying every chance he has to revisit his old stomping grounds around Salt Lake where “The Sandlot” was filmed, though.
“It’s so funny, because we filmed in so many locations but I never realized how close to Salt Lake City ‘The Sandlot’ was until I went back with my son,” Renna said. “It’s cool you know. I don’t think it’s quite there yet, because he’s still pretty young, but I’m definitely looking forward to him being able to experience it.”
Renna has also returned to the area for visits to Park City and more, as well as filming in the past with Leucadia Film Corporation, including the movie “Address Unknown.” Directed by Shawn Levy who directs “Stranger Things,” Renna said the company was a lot like a mini-Hallmark in that with religious ties, it offered plenty of family-friendly films, including “Wish Upon a Star” and “The Paper Brigade.” It was also while filming “Address Unknown” that Renna said he met Kyle Howard for the first time.
According to Renna, his history in the area makes the chance to come to FanX and interact with attendees all the more fun.
“I haven’t done a lot of these things, but it’s a really cool opportunity because the thing that I like about conventions is its organized exactly for that,” Renna said. “The fans know what they’re coming for and I’m there to do exactly that. I don’t have a mouthful of pasta at a table. I’m the kind of guy, too, where I don’t ever want to disappoint someone, so it’s nice when there’s that environment where you can actually have a lot of fun.”
Finding that fun is actually at the center of Renna’s professional career as well.
”Being a character actor is kind of, in my opinion, a very special thing, because you can do so many different characters and work a lot more,” he said. “A lot have been really fun… especially characters that are different than I play normally.”
Though Renna is still all about finding the unique characters, with recent credits including “GLOW,” “Bad Roomies” and “Fear, Inc.,” he’s also been trying his hand at the production side of things.
”I have a real passion for creating something from beginning to end and fully immersing myself in it,” he said. “It’s quite an experience and I love it a lot.”
That doesn’t mean he’s planning to step back from acting though.
”It would be tough to produce a movie if there was a role I felt like I could do in it — it would be hard for me to cast someone else,” he said. “I couldn’t just stand by and not do it if I have the power to put myself in it, so primarily that’s what I do.”
Along with acting and producing, you can also keep up to date with Renna on his weekly podcast, which gives a nod to “The Sandlot.”
“I rolled with the name — it’s called ‘You’re Killing Me,’” he said. “Two longtime friends of mine cohost with me.”
Also in line with his “Sandlot” past, the podcast covers sports for the casual fan as well as entertainment.
“It’s definitely fun news and entertainment stuff,” he said. “We steer away from heavy news. Everybody gets the heavy news enough. We’re definitely qualified to talk about Taylor Swift and her new album.”
You can find the podcast in all forms at yourekillingmepod.com, or Renna himself at FanX where he’ll be appearing Thursday-Saturday for photo ops, meet and greets and autographs, as well as a spotlight panel set for 6-7 p.m. Thursday in Room 250A at the Salt Palace.