Thursday, May 8, 2014

Interview with Actor Rob Gallavan of SKID

He can arrest you with engrossing portrayals or literal handcuffs.  Here's a fascinating and insightful interview with actor and officer, Rob Gallavan of SKID.

RG:  It's the obvious question, but you're a cop and you're an actor.  In the spirit of the chicken and the egg, which came first?

The chicken arrived carrying the egg in a basket.  I grew up watching CHiPs and Emergency! and it started there.  I started acting at the age of 6 and I really enjoyed it.  The problem I faced growing up was the lack of any strong theater programs for children in Oklahoma City in the mid to late 80s.  Child actors in Oklahoma City are incredibly fortunate these days.  They have a wealth of opportunity in theater, dance, film and musicals (although subjecting a young child to musicals should be considered a felony crime).  I didn't have that.  I did school plays here and there and did a few in high school, but my interest waned because there weren't alot of good acting programs.

I always had an interest in law enforcement and that never went away.  I was educated by the Jesuits, Carmelite Sisters, Sisters of Mercy and the Benedictine Monks...and I'm Irish, so I also had a stereotype to live up to.

When I went to college at St. Gregory's (a two year junior college back then), my intention was to study journalism.  My freshman year I met a girl who was acting in a production of Harold and Maude.  She was a cute brunette who was rather busty and she told me that the production needed walk-on roles.  I was happy to walk-on the stage and follow her around for a few hours a night.  Pat Snyder was the drama director and she asked me to audition for the next production.  I auditioned and I was cast.  I remembered how much I enjoyed acting and I was a decent actor.  Pat insisted that I pursue acting as a profession but I was hesitant.  I knew next to nothing about the profession.

The next year Pat Snyder introduced me to Roberta Sloan who was the Chair of the Department of Theater Arts at the University of Central Oklahoma.  I knew UCO had a good program but I wasn't sold on pursuing theater.  I had a strong interest in journalism and I still thought about law enforcement.  Then I realized that UCO had strong programs for all three fields, so I applied and I was accepted.

I enrolled as a journalism major and had every intention to pursue that degree...until I saw an audition for a classical play in the fall of my junior year.  I told myself that I would audition for one more play.  If I didn't get cast, I wouldn't audition again.  Well, Don Bristow cast me in the lead role.  I quit my lucrative job at Mazzio's Pizza to do the show and it went well.  I was offered a scholarship the following semester and I switched my major to theater.  I was happy in the theater department at UCO and I decided to earn a minor in journalism. 

But, I kept thinking about law enforcement.

I briefly considered switching my major to Criminal Justice until someone told me that it was a useless degree.  Turns out, years later he was right.  I tell people interested in the profession these days to get a business degree or a journalism degree.  After working on the streets for five years, I think a criminal justice degree is absolutely worthless.  My journalism minor, however, really paid off when I graduated from the academy.

I graduated from UCO and I was offered a leading role with Oklahoma Shakespeare In The Park in their production of The Duchess of Malfi.  I spent five wonderful years with OSP and I met my wife Deanna during a production of Romeo and Juliet.  I was Romeo and she was Benvolio.

Yeah, ok, she was Juliet.  She was also a cute brunette and she was busty.  It's a theme.

When we married we planned to move to New York to pursue my career as an actor.  I still thought about applying to the Oklahoma City Police Department but I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn't move to New York.  I knew I was a decent actor but I wanted to know how well I could do in a professional market.  New York City has one hell of a way of letting you know. 

I also knew that if I kept my record clean, I could always apply to the police department in my 30s and even my 40s.  I knew it would be difficult to pursue my career as an unknown actor in a market like New York in my 30s.

With our one-year-old daughter in tow, we moved to New York City.  We arrived in September of 2002 with $600 to our name.  We didn't have enough money to pay the next month's rent.  We figuratively burned the ship we came in on.  We couldn't move back even if we wanted to.

My wife found a full time job while I raised my daughter and looked for acting work.  In March of 2003, I dropped off my headshot and resume at the New York Shakespeare Festival.  I didn't give it another thought until they called me in to audition in April.  I didn't think about it again until they called me back in early May.  They cast me in their production of Henry V later that day.

I spent six wonderful years in New York City.  I loved that city and I still do.  But, when I turned 30, my wife became pregnant with our second child...and damn if I didn't keep considering a career with the NYPD the entire 6 years I lived in New York.  I had a significant priority shift when I turned 30.  I still loved theater but I also knew that I wanted to be a father.  I had an offer to work for an entire year with the Shakespeare Theater in Washington D.C. but my wife was pregnant and she wanted to pursue a Ph.D.

I turned down the offer with the Shakespeare Theater and I applied for the NYPD.  I tested well and they invited me to complete a packet.  However, that same year, the NYPD officer's union wanted a much deserved raise for their officers.   The city agreed to give them a raise if they agreed to lower the starting salary of a recruit to $25,100 a year.  If you think $25,100 is a small amount in Oklahoma, you can imagine how small it is in New York City.  I never submitted the application packet.

I took a regular job while Deanna finished her undergraduate degree.  When she graduated she applied for admission at OU.  I applied for the Oklahoma City Police Department.  We both were accepted and we moved back to Oklahoma.

I graduated from the academy in 2009 and, go figure, I've worked more consistently as an actor than I ever had before.

RG:  You also work in theater.  What are the challenges of theater that you'd never find on a film set?

The challenge of live theater is also what makes it so great - a live audience.  It's instant feedback and it can be thrilling, it can be even keeled or it can be crushing. 

Some of my best memories as an actor come from events that went wrong on stage and the audience reaction.  During the production run of  Henry V, we had a rain out toward the end of the show.  The rain wasn't that heavy but the tech crew were nervous about the electrical equipment.  The Delacorte Theater seats 1,872 and most of the audience left when they made the cancellation announcement.  However, there were about 250 people who stayed behind and chanted, "Henry!, Henry!, Henry!"

The cast thought it would die out and we started putting things away.  But those people kept chanting for a good 10 minutes.  At that point, we started talking about finishing the show.  Liev Schreiber, who was playing the title role, also wanted to finish the show.  We agreed to finish it in the light rain with no microphones and only flood lights to light the stage.  Liev went out to the stage and invited everyone left in the house to huddle close together at the front of the house.  We went on stage and finished the production standing close to the audience during a light rain.  It was an incredible experience.  You don't get that experience with film.

Theater is much more of a grind than film.  Some film actors will disagree, but I think a majority of actors would agree that theater is more of a grind...and it doesn't pay as well as film.  You rehearse all day from anywhere between 4-6 weeks and then you have at least a four week run of a production.  Theater tickets are much more expensive than movie tickets and the audience expectations, for the most part, are higher with theater.  You have to work hard to maintain audience interest, even with a great show.  The attention span of an audience is incredibly short these days.  When I directed King John for OSP, I made sure to keep it right at 2 hours.

With film, the scenes are short and you can spend all day making sure you get a scene just right.  You can also improvise more with film.  Theater is a little more strict in that regard.  Playwrights get really bent out of shape if you change the dialogue, blocking or intention of a scene.  Screenwriters aren't as rigid.  For instance, when I worked on Parkland, the character I was playing was supposed to start the scene about placing Kennedy's coffin on Air Force One.  When I arrived on set to shoot the scene, Peter Landesman, the director and screenwriter, told me that the scene was re-written. 

Film production is very fluid.  Theater production is much more rigid.

RG:  When you began preparing for your role as Perry, how did you approach it?  Did you study that weird uncle/cousin/neighbor everyone has, or is that guy deeply suppressed somewhere inside you?

I patrol the downtown area of Oklahoma City and I have come across many different versions of Perry.  When I read the breakdown for the role, I noticed that Perry had a distinct "sniff."  Well, based on my experience working with mental health consumers downtown, it appeared that Perry was a little schizophrenic.  I remembered a consumer I came in contact with during a traffic stop.  When I made contact with the consumer, I quickly found out they were having a schizophrenic episode.  That person constantly sniffed, almost a snort.  They sniffed the steering wheel of their car, the back seat of my patrol car, their own hand and whatever door handles they saw.  During the evaluation, that person spit into their own hand, sniffed it and licked it back up.

I knew the film was a comedy and Perry couldn't be that dark, but I kept alot of that consumer's behavior in mind.  The rest of Perry was the result of great writing and a great creative process.  When I read the script, alot of small gags came to mind.  I was hoping that you and Ryan would let me play around with the role and I was grateful when you both did.

Perry was a fun challenge because he had to be convincing as a bad guy, but he was also an absolute klutz.  It would have been much harder to find that happy medium between the two without the great collaborative process we had on the set.

RG:  You were always really prepared on set.  Is your mind a steel trap or do you have a memorizing technique?

That's from years of working in theater and years of performing Shakespeare. 

And it was a great script.

Skid was a film that opened the door to alot of creative improvisation.  If you didn't show up prepared with something to offer then you missed out on a great opportunity.  Film scripts are much easier for me to prepare and memorize.  I don't understand why an actor would show up on set without their material prepped and memorized, especially if they are being paid for their performance.

RG:  What's it like to come do scenes and work with people (and pigs) you've never met until that day?

That's one of the challenges of film that you don't have with theater.  It's a little stressful because no actor sees the same scene the same way...and then you have to adapt to the director's vision.  Darryl Cox gave me some of the best advice about working on a set before he and I went to Austin to work on Parkland.  He told me to memorize the lines and have an idea about how I wanted to play the scene.  Then he told me not to get attached to what I prepared and be ready to scrap it all the day I show up on set.

He was 100% right.  As I mentioned before, when I showed up to shoot one of my scenes on Parkland, the scene was re-written.  I still had the character prepared, but it was time to learn new lines.

That's why you have to prepare and then be prepared for changes.  It's part of the collaborative process.  And it can also be alot of fun.  No one knew about Perry's laugh until we started shooting.  That was one of the best aspects of not having rehearsals and not meeting anyone before hand.  I think the laugh threw a few people off.  The look on Lucas Ross' face the first time he heard it was great.

RG:  Without overstating the obvious, the script was devastatingly witty and intelligent. Some might say slapstick and stupid.  Whatever gets a laugh in my book. But you also have done dramas and other genres.  Tell us about some of your other film roles, and what catches your eye in a script.

When it comes to theater...I'm looking for a challenge.  When it comes to film...I'm looking for a paycheck.  If I can get a challenging film role like Perry, that's just icing on the cake.  Liev Schreiber gave me some great advice about the business when I asked him about his career.  He simply said, "I do film so I can do theater."

I'm new to film and I'm not overly discerning when it comes to building my film resume.  If the role is within my age range, if the script concept is reasonable, if I get to keep my clothes on and I have the time to dedicate to traveling to the audition, call back and shoot, I'm submitting for it.  SAG roles pay $900+ a day.  You don't turn SAG work down if you can get it.  If you hear an actor say that they only submit for challenging film roles and that actor isn't George Clooney or Brad Pitt, they are lying.

My film roles consist of a secret service agent (Lem Johns) in Parkland, a deputy sheriff (Deputy Terrell) in Hollis, a straight laced friend (Harry) in Single and Dealing With It and a disorganized schizophrenic bad guy (Perry) in Skid.  I have some roles in two short films and a bunch of commercials on my resume as well.

I spent 20 years in the theater and I unwittingly pigeonholed myself as a stage actor...and worse, a classical actor.  Classical actors, for whatever reason, are intimidating to agents, casting directors and film directors.  We're the anomaly of the business.  You show up at an agents office and they basically say, "this actor doesn't neatly fit anywhere."  I freelanced with an agent in New York City.  She was impressed that I was cast with the NYSF so soon after arriving, but she didn't know what to do with me.  It didn't last long.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have diversified my resume before leaving for New York.

I have an extensive theater resume and I always look for a challenging role.  Theater doesn't pay as well and it is a greater time commitment, so I have to be more discerning.  I still want to play Richard III, Lear, Coriolanus, and some other leading men in Shakespeare's anthology.  That's what I love about Shakespeare's works.  There are great roles for every gender and age range.  I'm about to turn 40, and with regard to Shakespeare's anthology, I'm about to enter my prime.

I also want to work on plays by Harold Pinter, David Mamet and Edward Albee.  That's the next challenge for me on stage.  I'm directing Glengarry Glen Ross for the Oklahoma City Theater Company this fall.  Mamet's language has a very distinct rhythm, just like Shakespeare, and it is very precise, just like Shakespeare.  Harold Pinter is the exact opposite of Mamet, very minimalistic.  That's just as challenging because you have to carry the show through the hurdles of the infamous "Pinter Pause."

RG:  What's the dream for you?

I'm living the dream.  I'm a police officer and an actor. 

I love being a cop.  There are times I would do that job for free if my wife would let me.  Becoming a police officer was the best decision I ever made, second only to pursuing my acting career in New York.  I'll live the rest of my life not ever having to wonder, "what if...?"

I just became the President of the Board of Directors for Oklahoma Shakespeare In The Park.  We are about to enter our 30th Anniversary Season.  When I became the President of the Board, Kathryn McGill (the founder and Executive Director) and I decided that it was time for the theater to join Actor's Equity...the professional stage union.  This puts OSP in the same category as Lyric Theater and City Rep.  It officially gives us the stamp of a "professional theater" even though OSP has been operating that way for years.  It's a transition that is well deserved and well overdue.

I'll spend two years in this position and I have the honor of overseeing a theater company that gave me everything I needed to succeed in New York.

I've achieved everything I wanted to achieve professionally and I did it before I turned 40.  I worked alongside Liev Scheriber, Peter Gerety, David Costabile and Bronson Pinchot with the New York Shakespeare Festival.  I'm credited in a film alongside Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Giamatti, Ron Livingston, Tom Welling, James Badge Dale, Darryl Cox and a myriad of other great film actors in Parkland.

My parents, family and friends have seen me act Off-Broadway in New York City and they've seen me on the big screen.  Having my parents see me play a speaking role on the big screen in a movie theater near their hometown was probably the biggest goal I had as an actor.  

I'm sure I will act in other films and act in television shows down the road.  Anything else I achieve from this point forward is icing on the cake.

RG:  Just for fun, when you arrest people, do you throw on one of your accents just to freak them out?

Not if I'm arresting them, no.  But, if it's a well known drunk I've dealt with 100 times, every once in a while I'll bust out an over the top Irish lilt or an over the top Brooklyn dialect to break up the monotony and have some fun.

1 comment:

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