From secret agent to Egyptian soldier to Navy pilot
STEUBENVILLE – Patience and perseverance.
Embracing both of those qualities helps former Steubenville resident Russell West stay on course to the career he loves – acting.
New York City has been home to the 2004 graduate of Steubenville High School for more than eight years now where West keeps busy in a variety of roles, honing his craft and building his resume, too.
Home for a visit during Easter weekend, the son of Tammy West and the late Russell West reflected on how his dream to perform is a dream that’s continuing to come true, little by little.
“It’s a little bit slower than I wanted it to be, but yeah, it’s Monday through Friday work,” West said, offering an update on what he’s been doing since a brief news item published in the Herald-Star in November 2010 promoted his appearance in an episode of the CBS series “The Good Wife.”
West had two roles on that show that stars Julianna Margulies: one as a young professional and the other as a “club-goer.” He was in one scene next to actor Michael J. Fox, a real thrill for West.
“I had no idea he was going to be on the episode, and next thing you know, I’m standing right next to him. It was amazing,” West had said at the time, describing Fox as “the nicest guy ever.”
West also was set to appear at the time in an upcoming episode of “Blue Bloods,” a CBS drama centering around a family of New York cops and starring Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg.
Since then he’s been busy.
He’s been on HBO’s “Bored to Death;” “The Carrie Diaries;” and as recently as January on NBC’s “Smash,” which, according to its website, “is a musical drama that celebrates the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as it follows a cross-section of dreamers and schemers who all have one common desire – to be a ‘Smash.'”
The series revolves around a fictional New York theater community and the creation of a new Broadway musical with Debra Messing, Jack Davenport, Anjelica Huston and Katharine McPhee among the cast members.
West especially enjoyed being around McPhee.
“It was a bar scene, and I was one of the patrons with Katharine McPhee,” West said. “She is amazing – so nice, always singing in between takes,” he said.
“They have guest stars on there, and it’s a really fun show to be on,” he added.
West recently returned to his theater roots, performing on New York’s 42nd Street as part of the four-man play “Lake Full of Iron; Sky Full of Hope.”
“That just finished its run or else I wouldn’t have been able to come home for a visit over Easter,” West said of the trip back to the area that included time also with his grandparents, Ray and Joan Bell of Steubenville.
The play, according to its website, tracks the 1975 sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. It “follows the lives of four men as they relive the events of that night and reflect on the cruel yet strangely beautiful nature of chance and choice in their own lives,” the play description goes.
It was a challenge that West enjoyed.
“I got to play two different characters in two different time periods, which is probably one of the most fun types of roles for an actor, because you get to play two different characters in the same show,” West said. “You get to show two different sides of the spectrum. One was in current present day, and the other character was in the 1960s, and appropriately enough, it actually is based around the Great Lakes Region, which is perfect for me being from Ohio.”
Another recent project was portraying an Egyptian soldier in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verde’s “Aida” at Lincoln Center.
“They did two runs, and they recorded this one in HD (high definition), and they played it in theaters worldwide, so if you couldn’t make it to the actual opera, you could go to a local theater and watch it live as they were recording it, which is really neat,” West said, hopeful it will be converted to DVD.
“For the HD shoot, they did full body makeup, and we had the whole costumes that look like armor and march around with the weapons like we just conquered Ethiopia,” West said, explaining he landed the role by responding to an open casting call.
West is not at a loss for finding work.
“Since I graduated college in 2008, it’s been progressively getting better and better and better,” he said. “It’s baby steps, but they are baby steps in the right direction, and I have some independent films that are waiting for distribution to come out.”
One of them is “Run,” touted on its website as “a fast paced, coming-of-age crime thriller, about 17-year-old street smart Daniel who is self taught, and unknowingly adept at Parkour, a physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment.”
West plays “a bad guy” in the movie where the cast includes William Moseley of the Chronicles of Narnia trilogy. “I got to work with him, and we played soccer in the gymnasium in the off time,” West said. “I got into a fight with actor Adrian Pasdar who was in the TV show ‘Heroes’ and a couple other ones. I got to break in the door, and he and I had a struggle at the door and had a gun in one hand and then I end up on the ground, and the main bad guy steps over me in disgust and picks up the gun and goes after another guy.”
The experience was a lot of fun, according to West, who also has a part in the independent feature film “Burning Blue,” with a synopsis that reads, “A forbidden love affair propels the lives and careers of two fighter pilots and their families into turmoil.”
West portrayed a Navy pilot. “It’s had its New York City premiere and now is working on distribution for a potential theaters run and/or DVD release,” he said.
Other roles have included playing a secret federal agency agent in a yet-to-be-released Sci-Fi short film called “Res Amissae” and portraying a futuristic rebel fighter against a robot takeover in a Discovery Channel episode in the Curiosity series.
West’s love for acting began at Big Red when he was a freshman and got involved in the drama club, first off in the chorus for the production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”
“Ever since the first moment I stepped on that stage, I fell in love. I went on to work on every musical and play that we did throughout high school and summer, and my love for acting just grew and grew,” West said in the 2010 story.
West says he’s lucky to have had Scott Wolodkin of Big Red, a teacher and director of the plays, as a teacher and mentor. He credits Wolodkin with opening the doors of the performing world for him and allowing students to be who they are, “keeping the fire and passion that we had for theater and music alive. If it were not for his guidance, support and encouragement, I would never have chosen to pursue acting as a career,” West said.
So West decided on a career choice to make himself happy – acting. He was accepted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, a two-year conservatory-like program of singing, dancing and acting where he studied musical theater. Then he studied at the New School University, also in the Big Apple. He earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater.
The former area resident had worked as a bartender in the restaurant business in addition to acting at the new Trump SoHo hotel in its restaurant Quattro. After finishing school, however, he focused more on acting.
He joined casting websites, creating an online profile and submitting himself to multiple projects, which is how he gets most of his acting jobs, including on “The Good Wife” and “Blue Bloods.”
“You get hundreds of e-mails every day,” West said of that pick-through process. “The next step is to find an agent who can start doing that for me instead of me submitting all the time,” he said. “Usually two days a week, three days a week, I’ve been booking gigs on various shows.” He also is doing other acting work in nonpaying roles with student films, for examples, all in an effort to build on his experience.
“I am just doing acting now and basically Monday through Friday, I am submitting myself every single day online through various casting sites that I’ve put my resume on, and that’s where I get most of my work,” West said.
West recently designed his own website with links to his Facebook and Twitter. The address is www.russelltwest.com.
“It’s a profession where you never stop learning, and everything you do is a learning experience,” West said. “Any opportunity I can get to be in it and even to be involved is one I like to take to continue to work in the business,” he said.
So stick to it, is his advice to would-be actors.
Learn to take constructive criticism.
And don’t be sensitive over that two-letter word “No.”
“Take it with a grain of salt and just brush it off and realize it’s not anything personal,” West said.
“That’s the thing about being in this business. You get a lot of no’s and half the time, it has nothing to do with you. It’s because they need someone with green eyes, not blue, somebody an inch shorter, or the other person they just cast looks too much like you, so the thing is not to get discouraged. Just be confident in yourself and be happy with yourself and know that you’re doing what you love to do,” West said.
If an audition fails and a door closes, West says move on and keep chasing the dream.
It’s all part of a process West craves.
“I can do it 15 hours a day and be happy, and anything else I did 15 hours a day, I probably would want to crawl in a hole somewhere.”
(Kiaski can be contacted at email@example.com.)