Jamie Costa is getting a lot of attention for being someone else.
The James Island native's 6-second Vine videos of himself doing spot-on impressions of celebrities like Robin Williams, Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson have gone viral on the Internet several times over.
The 24-year-old has more than 230,000 followers on the social app after sites like Buzzfeed called his impressions “incredible,” People insisted “You have to see” them and Inside Edition called his Robin Williams impressions the best “You've Ever Seen.”
Companies have even paid him to endorse their products on his account, which he's done in character.
Surprisingly, the impressions are more of a hobby for Costa than anything else. His dream is to become an actor and model.
“I've always kind of had them in the bag, if you will,” Costa said of impressions. “I guess they came from quoting movies with my brother and friends. I guess they are my way of sharing with somebody what that character shared with me — my way of sharing what I felt.”
When you're known for being someone else, creating your own identity can be a challenge. But Costa has his own unique story to tell, one that includes a stint as an “Outside Leadership” major, an even briefer stint as a Citadel cadet and a pirate monologue.
Costa attended James Island Christian School before finishing his high school years off at Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia.
“It was actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” he said of his time at military school. “I graduated as the highest ranking cadet my senior year. It was really fun.”
He returned to Charleston and attended The Citadel but left halfway through his second semester.
“They didn't have theater,” he said. “That didn't last long. Those were the years I figured out I wanted to do something different.”
He spent some time at Trident Tech before a cousin turned him on to North Greenville. That's where he became an outdoor leadership major but he also wanted to give theater a shot, though at the time he didn't know what a monologue was.
At his first rehearsal he brought a script with him he planned to read, only to find out minutes before he was supposed to take the stage that he was supposed to memorize it.
“I was shaking with my paper,” he said. “I seriously had 80 thoughts as to how I was going to leave the room. I started thinking really hard. And then I said, 'OK. Maybe I'll do an impression from a movie because people say I do really good impressions.' ”
Costa took the stage and did a whole scene as Capt. Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
He broke all the rules of the rehearsal, but it earned him an applause from the other students and a part in his first play, “Pilgrim's Progress,” in which he played five different characters five different ways.
The performance earned him a theater scholarship and the support of his parents, who were initially reluctant to see their son go into acting.
“They were always leery. But sure enough, man, people can change,” Costa said. “People can have a different thought. They are very, very supportive.”
He had a life-changing moment when in 2011 spent a semester in Los Angeles interning at the Los Angeles Films Studies Center with a production company that did “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained.”
“I drove out by myself. I don't know how I convinced my mom and dad about it,” he said. “It's there I figured out I really wanted to do producing.”
Costa graduated from North Greenville and still lives there, doing odd jobs to pay the bills while taking on different film projects, including “Shifter,” a short film he did with friend Danielle Gianakas that was accepted into the Charleston, Charleston International and Myrtle Beach International film festivals.
He didn't start doing the Vine videos until last year, when a friend told him about an impression contest on the app. He submitted three of himself doing Robin Williams and one of them went viral.
“Long story short, I ended up winning the impression contest,” he said.
Except for a tribute Vine, Costa has stopped doing Williams impersonations out of respect for the actor, who Costa grew up admiring.
“I'm trying to be very humble and respectful,” Costa said. “He inspired me.”
Costa continues to routinely put out videos, honing his craft. He used to be worried about “being the impressions guy” undermining his acting career, but he's gotten over it.
“It's like an audience I never had,” he said. “I just basically keep trying out and doing characters I like in movies.”
And maybe one day he'll be in one of those movies.
Costa is moving to Hollywood in June to create his own identity.