• Ryan Thomas

How I Tried to "Break" Into Acting...

And got sidelined into being a cop.

(But mostly the acting stuff.)

I've been acting for over fifteen years now, and fairly often I get asked "how" I got into it, and why I wanted to do it. The "why" will be another post. I thought it might be helpful to anyone looking to get into the "biz" to see where I started and I how I got my current (humble) place in my career.

The First Attempt at Becoming an Actor... and inevitable heartbreak.

I have never wanted to be anything other than an actor, except maybe a werewolf. But acting seemed slightly more realistic. I was very blessed to have parents that supported this insane dream. Yeah, we're all a little crazy. You pretty much have to be to devote your life to something like this. But, you also have to LOVE it, and if you do, there's just no other choice. When I was in high school they announced that Barry Levinson would be making a new TV series set in Baltimore, and FILMED in Baltimore! It was going to be a cop show called "Homicide: Life on the Street" and was based on a book by a Baltimore Sun reporter named David Simon (who would go on to create "The Wire", "We Own This City" and about half a dozen other fantastic shows). It's hard to express just how exciting this was at the time. It was all over the news and they were asking US, local Baltimore residents, to submit pictures to casting! This was it! This was gonna be my big break! I was 16 at the time, so wildly unrealistic and naive to the business. I had my mom take pictures of me to send in to casting, and I think she was probably as excited as I was.

A few months later I got a call from Pat Moran Casting that they wanted me to come in and audition for a role. This was it! It was really happening! I'm pretty sure it was that picture to the right that did it. I mean look at that kid. Who could say "no?" Well, you could ask plenty of girls I went to high school with how they did it, but hey, at least casting wanted me! Also, looks like my style hasn't changed since high school, soooo.... that's embarrassing.

Actually, now that I think about it, it was two roles, but one of them I got a callback for! My first audition ever and I get a call back for a big TV show! I thought I had this in the bag, I thought this was my big break and it was going to change everything. So I did the call back and it went great. I got another call back! And I went to that and this time it was only me and one other kid. So I went in and I read again, and all these years later I can still picture Pat at that table, with her luminous red hair, as she told me how much she really liked me for this, and thought I was doing a great job... here comes the BUT... that it was just down to me and this one other kid and the other kid was union, and I had no experience so that would be a factor in the producers and network decision. I told her I would join the union no matter what it costs. Funny how free I was willing to be with my parent's money, we were not rich. She did her best to explain to me how it’s not that simple and that you usually have to have actually on union productions to be able to join the union, but it’s almost impossible to get on union shows unless you’re in the union. Yes, it really is this confusing. I was a (now) 17 year old trying to translate all of this in my head and not knowing anything about the business. I’m sure she explained it much better than I perceived it, but it sounded like, "Sorry kid, this business ain't gonna be for you." So becoming an actor was a big catch-22. Spoiler alert - I didn’t get that job.

But some good news...

They did have me come in and work on it as an extra for some of the scenes that I would have been in. I was still super excited about that it was awesome! I got to meet Ned Beatty and Richard Belzer (who I knew from the Superman movie and getting choked out by Hulk Hogan, respectively). I got to work on a TV show and and see myself on TV. (It’s not listed on my IMDb because I was an extra, and that stuff shouldn’t be on IMDb. But anyway…) I'm still super appreciative to have gotten that experience. But it left me feeling completely lost and kind of hopeless about getting into acting at that point. This was in the early days of the Internet before all the information in the world and tons of advice and insight was available on it. Being a middle class kid from the suburbs of Baltimore that really didn’t want to go to college, I didn’t know how I could possibly break into Acting. In a conversation with my uncle, who was the Baltimore County police officer, he mentioned to me that if I started working for them when I was 18 right out of high school, then I could retire in 20 years at 38 years old. That sounded great. I didn’t really think about what it would be to be a cop, but I really wanted that early retirement and I decided I would either figure out how to get into it, or worst case scenario, still be in my 30s I would have a pension to sustain me, and I could go into acting full time. And that’s how I became a cop.

But then...

Well, I eventually figured it out, but that's another story (and am still figuring it out). This business can be heartbreaking, and confusing, but if you're lucky you can find people to help you navigate it like I did. More on that in another post. This is why I will always do whatever I can to help people trying to follow this dream. I would still be doing a job that was never really "me" if it weren't for some great people that I learned very valuable lessons from - and some awful people from whom I learned equally valuable lessons.

So if you're reading this and want to get into acting, either as a career or a hobby, please leave a comment, or reach out through the contact section, and I will be happy to offer any advice or help that I can.

Finally, even though it wasn't my big break, if you can find Homicide: Life on the Street, you should watch it! It's not only one of the best cop shows ever produced (and I am very picky about cop shows, I don't watch them unless they are excellent), it's also one of my all-time favorite dramas. This is not your typical crime procedural by any means. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be currently streaming anywhere, but I'll be keeping my fingers crossed until it's widely available.

If you wanna do me a solid, go to my youtube channel and bludgeon that subscribe button! (is that how the kids put it these days?) I've got a quite a bit of content planned, and maybe some deeper dives into subjects like this. But let me know in the comments here what you'd like to see!

105 views2 comments