Savannah actor William Mark McCullough has made a name for himself in Hollywood playing gritty, unsavory types, and in his new short film, "Alina," which screens at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival on Thursday, he inhabits his most villainous role yet.
Set during World War II, "Alina," which co-stars Alia Shawkat (of "Arrested Development" fame), is about a group of Catholic women who come together to save Jewish babies from the Nazis. McCullough plays the Nazi SS Officer who is tasked with hunting down Jewish children and sending them to concentration camps.
"In many ways the character is very similar to the type of characters that I generally play," said McCullough. "I almost always play the villains in the movie. I tend to play fairly violent, intense, unpredictable characters...even though in real life I’m super sweet.
"This character was in the same vain, but I must say, of all the many, many characters I have played that are villainous, this is by far the most dark, scary character that I have had a chance to act as. He has a calmness and an efficiency to him. A lot of time the characters I play, they are doing bad things and they enjoy doing bad things, and this character is a soldier—who’s doing what he’s told and it’s just black and white for him. It wasn’t an easy character to play, especially across Alia Shawkat who is one of my favorite actresses, and I feel like I’ve kind of watched her grow up on ‘Arrested Development.’"
"Alina" has earned McCullough several Best Actor awards and nominations at film festivals around the world.
McCullough was born and raised in Savannah, and earned a political science and theater degree from Mercer University followed by a law degree from American University. McCullough worked in politics and law on Capitol Hill, but always felt like he should be doing something different.
"There was this gnawing thing inside of me, this emptiness, that what I was doing was not feeding that desire to act," said McCullogh.
While vacationing in Nicaragua, McCullough got into a terrible car wreck and was hospitalized for five weeks. While recovering, he came the decision to quit his job and move to Hollywood to pursue an acting career.
So far the decision has worked well for him.
McCullough has appeared in A-list movies like "Logan Lucky" with Channing Tatum. Another highlight was his role as Tom Cruise’s co-pilot in the film, "American Made."
"‘American Made’ was definitely one of the most fun," said McCullough of his many film roles. "I got to spend about a month in Atlanta, then they took me down to South America for a few weeks, then New Orleans for a few weeks...Day after day I’m sitting on this plane in the co-pilot seat with Tom Cruise. If you told me as a little kid that I would one day be sitting next to Cruise in a plane, I never would have believed it."
McCullough also had a great experience playing Nicholas Cage’s violent enforcer in "Arsenal."
"He was crazy fun," recalled McCullough. "Very, very different from Tom Cruise. He kind of showed up everyday and you never knew what you were going to get when it came to working with Cage."
McCullough recently appeared as the villain in Fox’s "L.A.’s Finest" with Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union. And next month, McCulloch can be seen in the Netflix film, "Hillbilly Elegy" with Amy Adams and Glenn Close, and directed by Ron Howard.
McCullough plays a Southern cop in the film.
"When I showed up for the callback with Ron Howard, my initial audition is on tape, I was playing a straight, good guy cop," said McCullough. "I get the callback and Howard is unbelievably nice...I do the audition and he says, ‘Do you think you can do that a little rougher, a little more Southern, a little scarier.’ I just laughed because that is what I do."
McCullough has several other projects on the horizon including the Savannah-shot film, "The Crickets Dance" and "A Savannah Haunting" which he wrote and directed for his production company, Fort Argyle Films, and based on his actual experiences.
While shooting "The Crickets Dance" McCullough got into a bad motorcycle wreck and couldn’t walk for 5 months. He used his downtime to find funding for "A Savannah Haunting," which he then shot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was the most intense month of my life, but also one of the most fulfilling because we were able to finish the film," said McCullough. "We were the very first film in Savannah to actually start and finish since COVID hit and one of the few in Georgia, so I’m very proud of that fact."
Of course, considering his history of vehicular accidents, McCullough should probably stay off the road while he works.
"You know, it’s been crazy," laughed McCullough. "As part of my investor’s contract for the film I’m editing now, there’s a clause that prevents me from riding a motorcycle until the film is finished, so I’ll be safe until then."