With all the film productions coming to our area over the past few years, you may have thought about giving this whole acting thing a shot.
But like most people unfamiliar the film industry, you may have no idea of where to begin — perhaps you’ve even looked at acting classes? While some may say, “those who can’t do, teach,” that’s definitely not the case with local actor William Mark McCullough.
McCullough grew up in Savannah and now lives in Bloomingdale where he teaches acting classes in between his trips across the globe to be a part of movie magic.
His resume is quickly filling up with roles like starring opposite Tom Cruise in “American Made,” his role with Nicolas Cage in “Arsenal,” his supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky,” and his recurring role in Fox’s Marvel series, “The Gifted.”
He seems to always have new work on the horizon like his recent casting on the Oprah-produced show “Greenleaf,” where he plays a tough, no nonsense private investigator who starts working for the main character in the show Grace Greenleaf. That show airs on the OWN network.
“And, I just flew to Wilmington, North Carolina,” McCullough said. “DC Comics has a show called ‘Swamp Thing.’ It’s funny because the second film (“Return of the Swamp Thing,” 1989) was shot right up the road with Heather Locklear when I was a kid so it’s cool to see the set as a little boy and now to see it while actually being a big character in the show. I’m working with Jennifer Beals from ‘Flashdance.’ I play a violent, redneck Cajun character because it’s set in the Bayou.
“I worked on the show ‘The Gifted’ — and that was the Marvel universe — so it’s cool to be a part of DC and Marvel now.”
He adds he also just finished a movie in the Ukraine based on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. The film centers on the iconic “Tank Man” photo and McCullough plays the role of photographer Jeff Widener who took that historic shot.
“That was surreal. It's one of top 10 photos of all time and a very cool story of him and what it took for him to get that photo out of the country,” he said.
New series 'L.A.'s Finest'
If you’re a fan of the “Bad Boys” film franchise, you’ll want to catch McCullough in his recurring role on new television series “L.A.’s Finest.” The show is a spinoff of “Bad Boys” with Hollywood superstars Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. The series is set to premiere May 13 exclusively on Charter Communications’ Spectrum as the platform’s first major original series.
“I walk on set with Jessica Alba,” he said. “I’ve loved her since ‘Dark Angel,’ and I’m freaking out a little, but I had to be real and not care what she thinks and just act.
“This is supposed to be the most expensive show this season at $12 million an episode. The premise is Gabrielle Union, who played Will Smith’s girlfriend in the second film, is a detective and it’s 13 years after we last saw her.
“She’s left Miami and is now in L.A. and working and Jessica Alba plays her partner. I play the character Kobi and it’s funny because the character is described as evil and menacing and I’m not either of those things. It’s fun playing a character who is pivotal to the main character and I’m part of a huge reveal in the first season. It’s a fun show with a lot of explosions and car chases.”
Some may question why McCullough would choose to live in rural Bloomingdale over sunny Hollywood, he said the decision to return home was an easy one, but only after a stint away from the Coastal Empire gave him time to realize he wasn’t living the life he truly wanted to live. He said he also lived in Liberty and Effingham counties.
“I moved back about five years ago when my dad got sick,” he explained. “Growing up here as a kid, I was like, I don’t get this place at all! [laughs] I was here for about nine months with my dad before he passed away, and I just fell in love with Savannah. With technology, I tape my auditions here and send them to my agent and then travel all over for the filming. My quality of life is much better in Savannah than L.A.”
McCullough admits the life he’s living now is not something he aspired to when he was growing up in Savannah.
“It was different back then because now you could know someone in acting with all the movies filmed here, but I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know anyone and it didn’t cross my mind.”
He said he went on to study political science at Mercer but took an acting class to fill an art requirement.
“I went in with such disdain,” he recalled. “But I remember in this little classroom, I had to do a monologue from a play and when I finished my whole body was on fire. I thought, this is amazing. I want to be an actor.”
He came back to Savannah and auditioned for local theater but his family urged him to do something a little more profitable.
“I mean, you would starve to death if you depended on making a living at local theater,” McCullough said. “I grew up in a very hardworking family but they were very poor so for them, with me as the oldest of 10 and the first to go to college, my family thought I should maybe do something more. So I went to law school in D.C. I was good at it, and I thought maybe if I’m a prosecutor it could kind of feed that thing inside me for a while.”
During a trip to Nicaragua about 12 years ago, he ended up in a terrible car accident and almost died.
“But it was the best thing to ever happen to me because I’m lying in this hospital bed and it made me reevaluate my life,” he said. “And I thought, I’m taking the safe route trying to satisfy this passion I have, so when I healed up, I quit my job and started working in the D.C. area in local theater.
“Then I moved to L.A. knowing nothing and no one and spun my wheels for a long time listening to people give me advice who I should not have been listening to.”
Then he met two people who steered him in the right direction and things starting clicking.
“When I started focusing on this as a business and I learned to simplify … within six months I went from struggling to booking my first network TV show and it took me nine months before I was sitting right next to Tom Cruise for 12 hours a day working on a major role in a film because it’s easy if you just do the right steps.
William Mark McCullough Acting Demo Reel - Drama from William Mark McCullough on Vimeo.
“It was a long time of spinning wheels and going nowhere for me and now when I look back, I see that when you simplify acting, it’s so easy. And people make it complicated.”
That’s a lesson he hopes to pass on to his own students.
Teaching others at home
McCullough’s home has the space to allow him to share his passion with others through teaching acting lessons, something he says he feels inspired to do because he loves it.
“One of the classes I teach is an on-camera audition class because in the Southeast, 99 percent of auditions are self-taped,” he said. “So, you learn to tape your auditions and some people just have no idea of how to do that. Also, the skills you learn in medium close-up for an audition is exactly what you do on set for a medium close-up shot.
“I also teach specialized classes because my big focus is the business,” he said. “It took me years of struggling to understand this because I spent so many years focusing on the craft of acting. So, it wasn’t until I learned from mentors to treat it like a business that things clicked. I’m always talking to my students about ‘this is one tiny aspect of the business.’
“Learning to act is one tiny aspect of the business. But what’s more important in many aspects is how you run your business.”
He said working in smaller markets like Savannah is easier than L.A.
“But they are looking for professionals and what I teach people is how to be professionals. My friends in L.A. who are very well trained and very, very hungry, they don’t have those opportunities because there are a million people vying for fewer and fewer opportunities. Right now, there are more TV shows and films in Georgia — way more — than in L.A. There are probably 10,000 actors in all of the Southeast, maybe. There's a million in L.A.
“So, the key here is to teach people how to look like a professional because the people who hire us don’t live in Savannah, they don’t live in Atlanta, they live in L.A. or New York,” he explained. “They come in to work on their film or TV show but they want to see a certain level of professionalism in the way you act, the way you carry yourself, your marketing materials. And what I find is when I take students and teach them to be professionals, their careers take off because if a director sees you and you look like an amateur, then they might hire you for two lines. But if they see you are a professional, then you’ll get those bigger roles.
“My classes are probably not as fun because we don’t do theater games, we don’t figure out our spirit animal, don’t delve into people’s childhood traumas—it's just the nuts and bolts of here’s what you need to do, here’s how you need to act. It’s very clean and simple and many ways easy if you just implement it.”
When McCullough’s not busy acting and teaching, he and his longtime partner run a production company called Fort Argyle Films, and he has a show he is hoping to create based on his dad’s life.
“When my dad passed away, the newspaper ran his obituary and it ended up getting millions of hits and went viral all over the world,” he said. “It didn’t surprise me in the least because my dad lived this life that was phenomenal. So, I pitched a TV show based on his life and his friends. I wrote it.
“... When Dad passed away, it was tough but it took away the pain a little bit that so many people around the world got to kind of get a taste of the way Dad was. So, one of my near-term goals is to get that show picked up and to direct it. I’ve written most of the shows and I would like to act in it. That's like a passion project. I just think people have always told stories about my dad since I was kid and they are just captivated by him.
“My siblings and I have had reality shows reach out, but we say no, we are not 10 percent as interesting as my dad. My dad lived this crazy fun life.”