" I’ve always been able to approach acting from a non-desperate place--a place where it’s fun for me, because I didn’t come out here with stars in my eyes."
ollywood has launched a thousand careers, and among them are the many extremely talented character actors and comedians we’ve watched for years, whose nuanced performances knock us on our asses every time we see them. Just the sight of them elicits responses like, “I love that guy! Wasn't he in that one movie? You know the one. What is that guy's name?” They're the bit players, the minor characters, the people who give performances that sometimes outshine those whose names go above the title and for the most part these folks are pretty damn interesting. They’re the unsung heroes of Hollywood, and we thought it was high time they were given the attention they deserve.
Chad Michael Collins has appeared in such popular shows as Once Upon a Time, NCIS, CSI: NY, 2 Broke Girls, Major Crimes, among many others. In 2010 Collins was hired to play the lead, opposite Billy Zane, in Sniper: Reloaded and starred this year in the WWII adventure film Company of Heroes. We recently talked to Chad about his growing career and his day job as a (wait for it) talent manager and Public Relations executive.
One of the many interesting things about your life is that you straddle both sides of the entertainment industry. Explain yourself.
I moved out to LA—not to be an actor—and I fell into entertainment publicity. I interned at this little boutique firm called JDS and in between acting gigs and I’m still there. I became a limited partner with Jay Schwartz, and we branched into talent management five years ago, and we run this management/PR show together. He’s my manager, , my employer, my business partner, and when I’m not out saving the world (laughs) I’m back in the office and working on the business. My days off set are spent in the office.
Not quite the portrait of the angst-ridden actor, sleeping on couches and waiting tables to make ends meet, right?
I’ve always been able to approach acting from a non-desperate place-- a place where it’s fun for me, because I didn’t come out here with stars in my eyes. I’ve got insurance, I’m not starving. I know where my next meal’s coming from, where my next rent check is coming from, so I’ve always been able to take my time with it. Hollywood is the city of multi hyphenates… you have to be, because the creative work can be few and far between, so you have to have the survival gig, or something on the side. People are getting away from the waiting tables thing and getting those side gigs (like web design, social media) that also serve them as creators or actors.
But how does being a “suit” and an artist benefit the other for you?
When I have a project to promote, it’s nice; I have a whole digital rolodex of people in media that I’ve worked with, or who’ve interviewed our clients and can pitch myself to them. So, I can take a more active approach, rather than have to wait for the phone to ring or the email to come through. It’s definitely served me as an actor, seeing the entertainment industry from the publicity and manager end and it’s helped exponentially.
Still, even while you’re wearing the manager/publicist hat you know what the client is going through. Do they get that empathy from you?
I know what it’s like to be out pounding the pavement, doing the hustle, and I can relate on so many levels and understand things from an actor’s perspective. It’s nice to be able to have that rapport with the actors. When we are working with a potentially new client/actor they’ve never come into such a unique situation with what Jay and I have—me being an actor, living their life, but also with 10 years of skin in the game doing that PR stuff. It makes them cock an eyebrow at first but, then they think, “he really gets it because he’s doing it himself and not bullshitting me.”
I’ve seen it with my own career, dealt with it, and I’ve always been active–not just a guy who’s active as a talent manager and when it comes to my career… a grounding part of my experience—I’ve seen pilots and career-breaking opportunities get ripped away from people at last seconds—that’s just the way it works as actors—and that kind of experience serves me too.
When did the acting thing enter the picture?
I was four or five years into the PR thing, trying to fine tune whatever direction I wanted to go. So, we were doing publicity for an actress named Elizabeth Pena who was on a Showtime series called Resurrection Blvd. Her manager, Gina Rugolo, whowas a successful manager/producer in her own right, asked me to breakfast one morning and I thought we were going to talk shop about the campaign we were doing on Elizabeth, and told me, “well, I’ve really gotten to know your personality over the last year, you have a great all-American look, and if you have a knack for it and want to take acting classes, then I would like to work with you.”
Had you thought about acting before?
Honestly, no, not once. I grew up in a small town in upstate New York—the All American thing—played football, basketball, baseball, had a girlfriend. There was no theater or drama club. But I loved storytelling and was a voracious reader of science fiction, books like the Hobbit… and a keen interest in shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Dukes of Hazard.
Were you shocked that when she told you that you should try acting?
Yes, because here was this highly successful manager who works with working actors with established careers. And if she was willing to develop me, which I thought was quite flattering, then the least I would do was to take a class—which was difficult.
It was challenging because it was completely physical and mental, but it was just like sports, and I’m a sports nut. I didn’t have the skillset yet, but was committed to learning. So, when I finally had the courage and moxie I would audition.
Sniper: Reloaded is one of your biggest roles to date. How did that come about?
The same producer from Sony (Peter Nelson) who cast me in one of my first big roles in Lake Placid 2, told my manager that I was a dead-ringer for Tom Berenger. Since Sony owned the rights to the Sniper franchise and they wanted to do an origin story, he said, “Chad would be a great young Tom Berenger.” I actually ended up playing Tom Berenger’s estranged son. That, for me, changed everything. It was the biggest thing I’d done to date as an actor; it’s a franchise lead role, I’m in South Africa, working with an actor like Billy Zane, exploring a new place… The South Africans are wonderful people. Seeing everything from shanty towns, to prehistoric relics, lions, ostriches, zebras. Growing up modestly in the country, we never travelled past Michigan or Hershey Park, Pennsylvania. When would I ever get a chance to do something like that? It was just an incredible experience.
Let’s talk about your newest film, the WWII action movie Company of Heroes. How did you feel about doing a period film?
When they offered me the lead, I thought “are you kidding me?” The only reason I took an acting class was to play a soldier one day. And I was obsessed with Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan… I have a lot of family in the military, so soldiers are in my wheelhouse. I jumped at the chance.
What was that experience like?
It was brutal and physical. We shot on a mountain in Bulgaria in February, in two feet of snow and it was below freezing for the first eight to ten days.
Did you any historical research to learn about what you’re going to be doing?
The budget was a decent size but we didn’t get to learn with specialists or get any gun and movement training. So, I was left to my own devices and it worked well with my character. I play a young guy that in 1944 was thrown into the twilight of the war—with wide-eyed openness, wet behind the ears and doesn’t know anything outside rural North Carolina. I think that worked to my advantage. So, my research and prep was anti research and anti prep.
It’s wild that both Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan) and Neil McDonough (Band of Brothers) are both veterans of two of the most epic WWII dramas of all time.
That wasn’t lost on me at all (laughs)
Did you get any “war stories?”
Because it was so cold, wet, and freezing and very physical—you’re marching, sliding, and charging in ice—he [Sizemore] pulled me aside one day and had this look in his eye and said “I swear to God, I worked for six months on Private Ryan and it wasn’t as tough or physical as this one day. This is the hardest and most physical thing I’ve ever done as an actor. I did not know it was going to be like this.” Tom is a charming guy and an entertaining storyteller and was certainly comparing the experience with working on Saving Private Ryan. We worked every day together—number one and two on the call sheet. 23 days. I’ve heard his whole life story from drugs to sobriety to relationships, and he is engaging in that way. It was a fun cast and we had a great time, but Tom really didn’t join the cast out at dinners. Being sober, he doesn’t put himself in situations anymore, which I applaud.
What is your opinion about the film?
We’re all thrilled with how the film turned out. It’s a great action movie that flows so well and is over in a blink. The reason why the film is so great is because of the director; Don Michael Paul pushed and fought for what it is, and on a limited budget. It seems like an impossible task on paper to do six to seven pages of shooting a day—action stuff—to get all of the explosions right, with all of the angles and shots, with a budget and weather working against us. But we did it in 23 days.
Did you sleep?
No (laughs) most of the time was spent trying to keep warm.
What do your parents think about your career?
My parents can’t wrap their heads around it sometimes, but they’re always eager to hear what I’m working on. So, every Sunday when I call they’re always so excited to hear about what’s going on. Everybody back home in tiny Canajoharie, NY is rooting for me.
So what’s next for you?
I’m getting to do another Sniper: Reloaded film—a sequel to the last. Billy Zane is going to be directing and we’re excited to run around the jungles of Columbia together sometimethis June.