The Working Actor EDITOR'S INTRO
This is the thirtieth in a continuing feature at IndustryCentral profiling "The Working Actor". (See Archives below)
William Shakespeare said "There are no small parts--.". William Shatner may have said it too, but the longhair with the tights was first, or so the reports go. In this feature we will explore what it really means to be an actor working in Motion Pictures and Television.
Broad public acknowledgment may have eluded some who find their way to these pages, or perhaps they may have brushed against what is referred to as stardom by virtue of one or more remarkable performances. However for many, the rewards of plying their craft in a field which has allowed them to earn a living may exceed the burdens of public acclaim. Given the chance, some in this clan might prefer the longevity offered by anonymity over the potential for short lived fame.
These individuals, either by design or fate, have managed to sustain a career by crafting performances which rendered them a good casting choice. They are usually thought of as a face you recognize, but you just can't get the name past the tip of your tongue.
Most of these folks have spent countless hours on stage in theaters ranging from 20 seats to 2000, building characters from the works of Ibsen, to Eliot, to Williams, to yes even Shakespeare, and so many of the modern Playwrights. They have rounded their skills doing drama, comedy, & musicals. Their work is a serious venture.
These people have given us screen performances which quite often were the catalyst that brought an Oscar or Emmy to another and yet they continue to work as "Characters" or "Co-Stars" without the trophies and plaques adorning their mantle.
Denis Arndt
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Denis Arndt, was born in Ohio near the shores of Lake Erie, He was moved West with the rest of the country after WWII, and went to High School in Spokane, Washington. It was there, at John R.Rogers High School, that Denis found a teacher -- or a teacher found a pupil -- one Dale F. Brannon who was head of the Drama and Speech Department, a decorated Infantry Veteran wounded at Anzio, with a communicable passion, a passion for Literature and it's voice and action onstage.

"This guy was electric in his enthusiasm for the very idea of 'theatre', it's place, tradition and value in the human story, how it had and could shape us and change society, and I was a kid at the age when, if you catch them, you just might kindle a fire that will burn for the rest of their lives." Arndt told us.

Clearly, Dale Brannon was that kind of a fire-builder, a true teacher. He kindled kids, set them on fire with the spark of his own committment. He made them fall in love with an idea, an uniquely Human Idea. Arndt feels, "Every kid should find a teacher like that."

Brannon was also a strict disciplinarian when it came to the basic skills needed to participate in that idea, the Idea of Theatre. His vision was transcendent. He often spoke of that mysterious and magic moment when the houselights go to half, and the milling, mumbling crowd becomes one creature, one unrehearsed and willing player who came to the Play to play. Arndt admits there were other factors operative when he added, "And then, of course, there was the grease-paint and the roar, and all those cute actresses. My whole life has turned out to be Dale Brannon's fault," He says laughingly.

Arndt told us about his military experience which he also considers a formative part of the actor he is. He joined the Army and spent eleven years first as a soldier, then an air traffic controller, then a Line A Aviator helicopter pilot. He flew Hillers, Sikorskys, and Bells; models H-23, H-19, H-34, H-13, UHIB, UHID. He flew for several years in Bavaria, based near Augsburg, and then, because at that time it was obvious that he would be sent there anyhow, he volunteered for Vietnam. "I flew Slicks for a few weeks then, because I was senior and had more experience than most," He was transferred into a Gunship Platoon and flew the rest of his time in-country with the 'Firebirds' of A/501st Aviation Battalion, "a choice assignment.", he feels. Denis Arndt was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in action, twenty-seven Air Medals and The Army Commendation Medal, otherwise known at "The Green Weenie". "I was really lucky, they usually award the Purple Heart to guys who have had their legs blown off." Then he came back to the States where he resigned. "Too bad, too. I loved the military." he said. "The costumes were great and nobody had props like these guys. One of my best roles was Combat Helicopter Pilot."

Within six months after returning from Vietnam, and after "trashing everything around me because there was nobody left to be pissed off at", Denis found himself with another helicopter "strapped to my ass", flying for Okanagan Helicopters in Vancouver, BC. Instead of firing 2.75 Navy Folding-Fins into Rubber Trees, he was setting powerlines up and down Howe Sound, a highly skilled equipment operator, building towers and hauling line, transporting men and equipment on the job. Denis Arndt was now a Commercial Helicopter Pilot!

His next job was with Evergreen Helicopters and he flew up and down the west coast on various kinds of contracts until the fall season threatened a layoff at Evergreen, and a job came open with a company called Livingston Copters in Juneau, Alaska. A pilot had been killed on the Snettisham Dam Project, blown out of the air when he mistakenly read hand signals from a ground crew and flew his helicopter smack-dab over a blast site just at the moment of detonation. "Hard to fly a helicopter with chunks of rock in your brain pan", Arndt confided.. Mr Livingston needed a replacement pilot ASAP. Denis got on a plane the next morning, and the following afternoon he was sling-loading the wreakage of that pilot's helicopter off the mountain and back to camp. "I grounded the helicopter part of the operation until we could all get our handsignals straight." He flew in Alaska for the next three years. as a Commercial Bush Pilot.

How did all this lead to his becoming an actor?, we wondered. "Ah, yes. About the Acting thing" he said chidingly. After deciding that being a commercial helicopter pilot was a young man's occupation, he was managing an apartment house for free rent and going to school trying to finish a degree at the University of Washington. when a guy who was in Seattle to direct some plays moved into one of the apartments. "I thought that my theatrical experience was far behind me." The night of his first auditions there was a snow storm in Seattle and the guy needed a ride to the theater and Denis was going that way "so...I get to the parking lot to let the guy out and he invites me in for a cup of coffee. I stand in the lobby listening to the actors audition and decide, what the hell, just for fun, I'll read too." Well, he was cast in the play, and he's been making a living as an actor ever since. And over the last 20 odd years, "I have been afforded the opportunity to attempt some to the greatest roles in Western Literature." For Denis Arndt, It's as though a circle has been closed, one that was started back at Rogers High Schooland a fire that was started. "It's what I'm supposed to be doing."

Mr. Arndt shares his passion for the Military with a compilation of War Films called "Uncle Sam - The Movie Collection".These should be of interest to us all especially in light of the events of 9/11.... To learn more, please visit the Website.

Paula Muzik
Suzanne DeWalt

Denis Arndt's advice to the aspiring actor:

"Remember that acting is ego-less. There is an ancient human mystery to the exercise. Acting is not about the Actor. Participate in that mystery which is greater then the sum of it's parts. A great performance is the one that does not draw attention to itself at the expense of the greater "reality" in the play, does not get in get in the way of the script, of the total experience of the Play. Serve the Text. Try to make everybody else's ideas work first. Don't be afraid. What are they gonna do? Send you to Mazaar-E-Sharif? Become a conduit through which the ideas of the playwright may pass unhindered to those unrehearsed and willing players out front, the ones that got a baby-sitter, drove across town, paid money to get into the room where the lights go out and everyone decides to 'Let's Pretend'. And, when you know you've done a good job, don't be shy in taking your curtain call.

Eat when you can and don't get caught Acting."

Denis Arndt's Credits (partial)

UNDISBUTEDMillenium PicturesDir: Walter Hill
I FOUGHT THE LAWMooseface FilmsDir: Mark Malone
BLASTZeta EntertainmentDir: Martin Schenk
METROCaravan PicturesDir: Thomas Carter
HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILTAlomar Drive ProdDir: Joycelyn Moorhouse
BASIC INSTINCTCarolcoDir: Paul Verhoeven
SERIOUS MONEYCinetel FilmsDir: James Lemmo
KANSASSeattle Fly Film '99Dir: Tim Blake-Nelson
DISTANT THUNDERParamount PicturesDir: Rick Rosenthal

CITIZEN BAINESCBS recurred as Mayor Frank StarrDir: Christopher Chulack
WAITING ON AN ANGELUPN Movie for TVDir: Rob Hedden
MAX QABC Movie for TVDir: Michael Shapiro
BLACKOUTNBC Movie for TVDir: Jeff Bleckner
NIGHTSCREAMNBC Movie for TVDir: Noel Noesseck
PAYBACKABC Movie for TVDir: Ken Cameron
ASTEROIDNBC Mini-seriesDir: Bradford May
NOTHING LASTS FOREVERCBS Mini-seriesDir: Jack Bender
COLUMBOABC Mystery WheelDir: Patrick McGoohan
DOPEFX PilotDir: John Patterson
THE PRACTICEABC "Mr Hinks Goes to Town"Dir: Jeannot Szwarc
FAMILY LAWCBS "Film at Eleven"Dir: Ericson Core
THE DISTRICT"The Real Terrorist"Dir: Sarah Pia Anderson
GET REALFOX "History Lessons"Dir: Oz Scott
TOUCHED BY AN ANGELCBS "The Perfect Game"Dir: Martha Mitchell
CHICAGO HOPECBS "Curing Cancer" Prod: David E Kelley
ALLY MCBEALFOX "The Green Monster"Dir: Michael Schultz
PICKET FENCESCBS recurred as Franklin DellProd: David E Kelley / Michael Pressman
LA LAWNBC recurred as Jack Sollers Prod: David E Kelley / Rick Wallace
TURKSCBS "Friends and Strangers" Dir: Robert Singer
BOY MEETS GIRLNBC PilotDir: Kevin R. Sullivan
ANNIE MCGUIRECBS Series as Nick McGuireProd: Tom Cherones

Mark Taper ForumDEALER'S CHOICESteven
New York Shakespeare FestivalTHE BALLAD OF SOAPY SMITHSoapy
New York Shakespeare FestivalRICHARD IINorthumberland
Arena Stage/WashingtonDC JUNO AND THE PAYCOCKCaptain Boyle
Goodman Theatre/ChicagoTHE TEMPESTProspero
Seattle RepertoryRICHARD III Richard III
Remains Theatre/ChicagoPUNTILA AND HIS HIRED MAN*Puntila*
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalKING LEAR ('77 & '85)Lear
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalTITUS ANDRONICUSTitus
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalOTHELLOIago
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalCORIOLANUSCoriolanus
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalMOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTENJames
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalLONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHTJamie
Oregon Shakespeare FestivalBRANDBrand
* Joseph Jefferson Award / Best Actor (1986)

For more info and credits see IMDb

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