Scratching the Surface
An interview with actor Greg Thompson
|photo: Merrill Brady/Primal Pi|
It's a chore to track down Greg Thompson. He's constantly on the move, working. If he's not got a role for television, then he's directing or starring in theater productions all over the Southeast.
That's great news for an actor but mighty rough on a magazine editor trying to do a story on this talented performer, who's also been a very generous contributor of talent to many low budget independent films in the South.
If you've spoken to Greg, you know that he's as honest and open about helping others in the community as anyone you'll meet. His posts on various forums online read like a veritable book on how to succeed in acting by REALLY trying.
Thompson is also a really good actor, which is why his résumé for film is a mile long in such a short time. It was definitely not a hard choice to make for us to ask him to be our A-List profile for this issue. The hard part was cajoling him to slow down long enough to speak to us.
Fortunately, I did catch up with him to ask a few questions.
CinemATL: How did you decide to be an actor? When did you know?
GT: I always knew what I wanted to be; the trick was figuring out how . I first started out as a singer, being from a musical family, which then led me to the theater. Then in 2000 I decided to pursue what I had always intended to do, which is film work.
CinemATL: You've lived in the South and are from the South, but what keeps you here in the Southeast?
GT: Largely, family and friends. I also have a lot of business ties here, and it's hard to give up doing what I love, to chase a possibility. Here my work is a reality I get to live on a regular basis.
CinemATL: Have you ever thought of making the Jump to LA or NYC?
|photo: Merrill Brady/Primal Pi|
GT: Yep. I rented an apartment across the street from Judith Light, 48th Street, Manhattan, in 1984. Backed out the night before. Cost me about $4,000. I had a conversation that afternoon with a NY actor who asked me if I had my Equity card, and I had no idea what he was talking about. After he explained...I called my girlfriend Kim, told her I couldn't make the move. She went anyway. The rest is history...dull, history. But I learned a lot and it made me get really serious about my career. I am currently working on moving to Pasadena ...I'm dying to be bi-coastal (laughs).
CinemATL: What has been your favorite role or favorite project in your career thus far?
GT: I feel so blessed to count most of my work among my favorites in some way or another...I love what I do. Theatrically, as an actor, if I had to choose? Don Lockwood—the Gene Kelly role, in Singin' In The Rain or Dreamgirls with Jennifer Holliday. Directorially, The Sugar Bean Sisters or The Scarlet Pimpernel . On film...too tough...I love film...I just finished a project for The History Channel and NFL Films, The Spanish-American War , unbelievably cool project. Lots of guns and bombs; I play a historical character, Charles Johnson Post—amazing guy, wrote the book The Little War Of Private Post …get it, it's great. I also loved working on 3 for ESPN and Joe Sargent, who directed Warm Springs , is one of the most enigmatic people I have ever met. I really enjoyed the two films I worked on with the Avenet-Bradleys: Ghost Of The Needle and Dark Remains ...like I said, too tough.
CinemATL: Do you feel being based in the South is an advantage or disadvantage for an actor?
GT: It is what it is. I don't necessarily think that our spot on the globe, ultimately determines our success. I think it's important to remember that, as an actor, you are a business...if you want to work, you have to hustle, regardless of where you are, and you have to "tend your garden well," so to speak. The people you meet in this business are often, quite possibly, the creative geniuses who will be casting, directing or calling and telling you their friend has a friend who's doing a project you'd be great for. Being courteous and professional is free.
CinemATL: Is the South a good place to start as an actor? Does it help or hinder a young actor's development?
GT: Once again, more than location, or talent, I think it is a person's constitution that will determine their success, so I think it depends more on the actor…his/her skills, decisions, etc.
CinemATL: Do you like television roles or film roles better? What's the difference in your mind as an experience?
GT: I like them both. I have only done one or two episodes of the same character on a given television show, so that limits my knowledge and experience, of course, but I do like the opportunity to flesh out the character a bit more—which is a nice aspect of film work.
CinemATL: You still work quite a bit in theater, how is the theater community in the South? Does it compare favorably with other parts of the U.S. ?
GT: Depends on your goals, union status, willingness to travel, skill set, etc. Musical theater actors with strong acting chops will always fare better regardless of where they are. Musicals generally pay better and are more popular with the masses. Of course, NY is and will likely always be the theater capitol of the U.S., so no comparison there, but the competition there is tougher, just based on sheer numbers, talent aside—it's harder getting seen in the first place. Seattle, Portland, Chicago and Florida are good markets as well, and probably hold a slight edge over Atlanta, though the terrain seems to be shifting positively with the progress made by companies like The Theatrical Outfit and Atlanta Lyric Theater opening new spaces and Woodruff Arts Center expanding...should be interesting over the next few years.
CinemATL: You've directed quite often in the theater world, have you thought about getting on the other side of the camera in films?
|photo: Merrill Brady/Primal Pi|
GT: It is on my radar screen. I am slowly approaching a place where I feel confident that I could direct for film and do it well. I spent a number of years as a stage actor, both union and non-, before I felt equipped to direct...so, we'll see. Make me an offer!
CinemATL: You played a popular sports figure in "3," Darrell Waltrip. Did you get any feedback from him before or after the role?
GT: I did not. I read one of his books and watched as much footage as I could get my hands on and cram into the time I had. I was discouraged from contacting him before the project since it was produced by ESPN and Darrel Waltrip is a FOX NASCAR commentator.
CinemATL: Currently you are filming on the new NBC series "Surface." How is that going?
GT: I shot one episode, so far. We'll see if I get to come back. I was booked as "possible recurring," so we'll see. I'm in episode 10. Maybe if all your readers get busy on the boards like imdb.com and chat it up, I'll get to do more...hint, hint, hint. It's a great set, very organized, nice people. I've worked on Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill as well as Surface at Screen Gems, and the sets have all been really great to work on.
CinemATL: If you had something you wished someone had told you early in your career as an actor that would have helped you along, what would that be?
GT: "Just do it." Stop worrying about, "Am I good enough?" or what people think, or am I the "right type" or "good-looking enough", etc. If you love it...get busy and do it. I think there are a lot of people who desperately want to "get" the job and fewer who want to "do" the work. I kind of wish that some one had kicked my ass and made me move to LA when I was fresh out of high school or college, but at the same time, I don't really regret that, because I know I would have been totally devoured by "distractions"...it was bad enough here (laughs).
CinemATL: Where do you see the filmmaking community in the Southeast, particularly in Atlanta, in the next couple years? Do you have a positive outlook on it?
GT: Ask Linda Burns (laughs). I don't know. I'm not sure that I'm really qualified to answer that. I'd like to think the new tax incentives in Georgia, and her neighboring states, will revitalize our once-thriving regional industry. I think that the will is here, if you look at organizations like Georgia Production Partners, IMAGE Film and Video, GA Film Commission, to name a few, and we have the skill, in front of and behind the camera. I've worked with so many great, creative people in this market and I certainly believe the potential exists. Persistence, cohesion and planning, I think, are key.
Martin Kelley is a local screenwriter and filmmaker who co-founded and became co-president of the Atlanta Screenwriters Group, one of the largest screenwriter organizations in the Southeast. Martin's screenwriting credits include "Loaded Dice," "Behind the Nine" (Echelon Entertainment) and "Vicious" (M.T.I. Home Entertainment).