“Experience is not what happens to a person; experience is what a person does with what happens to them.” – Aldous Huxley

In the spring of 2008, preoccupied with the logistics of an upcoming gig and not present to my surroundings, I dashed into the street and was struck by an SUV and thrown quite a distance.   I was lucky.  I survived and was taken to a hospital where an adventurous orthopedic surgeon opted to try to save my mangled left leg rather than amputate it.  After 6 surgeries over a year-and-a-half, he succeeded, and, with determined rehabilitation, I now walk normally and have what I like to call my “bonus” life.   I have stumbled both mentally and physically along the way, but I have worked to create value from what happened and have learned to appreciate my life in a way I never would have had I not stepped into the road that day.  I am very grateful.

 

SO, THIS PAGE IS NOT JUST THE FACTS.  You can get those from clicking on the resume button or going to my IMDB page.  This page is a bit about my experience and what has inspired me.  I hope you’ll take a read.  I’d love to share it with you.

KID STUFF:  Suburban Ohio, among the cornfields.  All day bike hikes. Boy Scouts. Ranch camp in the summers. Marching Band. Speech competitions. Show choir.  Valedictorian.  Midnight showings of ROCKY HORROR.   Enough said.

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SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY is where my life really began.  Superb training alongside professionals both there and in London, and the proximity to go to my first Broadway show: AMADEUS with Ian McKellan and Tim Curry.  From the first moment when Sir Ian lifted his hands off his wheelchair and careened toward the audience, stopping himself at the last split second, then standing up to transform into the young Salieri, it grabbed me by the throat and never let go.  The next year, I saw AGNES OF GOD and was again transfixed as Agnes, in the midst of recalling her mother’s abuse, ran up the curved back wall of the set, then slid down to the very edge of the stage, raised her head, opened her arms and revealed the dripping stigmata in her palms.  No one in the audience could breathe. In those two moments, I experienced what was truly possible in storytelling and have been a “lifer” ever since.  

I WAS STILL A PRETTY NAÏVE KID when I drove across the George Washington Bridge in my Datsun with just $600, no place to live, and an offer to do an off-off Broadway play for no money – John Guare’s MUZEEKA at the Quaigh Theatre’s “New Year’s Eve Dramathon” – but it didn't matter.  I was in New York.  I started working in regional theatre, summer stock, and in several Off-Broadway revivals of musicals, and I loved it.  It was New York during the 80’s and 90’s - the Golden Age when an actor could still afford to live in Manhattan, surviving on unemployment between gigs, training, auditioning, and living in the heart of the Broadway community.  

 

It was also the height of the AIDS epidemic.  Amidst the highs of my career were the lows of countless memorial services for friends taken too young.  I somehow survived.   There was an urgency to life and our work.  You didn’t take things for granted.  And when an opportunity like CITY OF ANGELS came up, I felt incredibly blessed:  my Broadway debut in the Original Cast of the Tony Award-winning hit of the season.  Top of the line creators and director, an amazing group of actors, an unforgettable 2 year run in the show, and, importantly, the chance to learn from James Naughton how to truly be a “leading man”.  He handled being the star of the show with such grace and generosity, and his inclusiveness of the cast and willingness to introduce me and others to the celebrities that would come backstage, set the bar for me as I grew into being the ‘dad’ in subsequent shows in my career.  He cared about all of us.  He took a 27-year-old kid under his wing and helped shape me, and I’ve tried to carry his example with me ever since.

The vocal demands of FOREVER PLAID convinced me to stop singing and focus on what I really was passionate about: acting in plays.  My agents thought the work would dry up, and for a while, I had to build that part of my resume doing less prestigious work, but then the play, JEFFREY, came along and opened the door finally to a whole other aspect of my career.  An “AIDS Comedy”, the show was a hit in New York and then transferred to L.A. where we all started getting work in Film and TV.

JEFFREY also paved the way to a role I would’ve killed for: Joe Pitt, the gay Mormon, in ANGELS IN AMERICA (Parts I & II) at A.C.T. in San Francisco, the first production in the country post-Broadway.   It’s rare to get cast in a role that feels like the culmination of your whole life – that the experience is so rich and rewarding that you would be okay if you never worked again.   I treasure those months in that story and all that it allowed me to explore. 

 

From there, I went into the premiere of Chuck Ranberg’s END OF THE WORLD PARTY in L.A. and had a perfect "trifecta" week:  appearing in a hit play, guest starring on the TV show FRASIER, and filming a supporting role in a “Movie of the Week”.  Closing night of EOTWP, a stranger came up to me and mentioned I reminded him of what he always imagined as the “spirit” of Tennessee Williams - and then promptly disappeared.  That odd encounter led to 3 years of research, writing, and the eventual creation of the solo show, BENT TO THE FLAME – A Night with Tennessee Williams, directed by Michael Michetti, which has now played all over the country and was awarded “Outstanding Solo Show” at the NY International Fringe Festival.  I still continue to share it with audiences whenever I can.  All from “the kindness of a stranger.”

I owe a lot of thanks to casting director Laura Schiff who has championed me throughout my career for both film and TV projects, most notably, THE WEST WING, MAD MEN, and AQUARIUS.  I’ve had the great honor of also working on iconic shows like MASTERS OF SEX and NCIS:LA, among others, and with Oscar-winners Hillary Swank (THE SLEEPWALKER KILLING) and Mercedes Ruehl (FRASIER), and opposite such stars as Elizabeth Moss, Jon Hamm, David Duchovny, Kelsey Grammar, Michael Madsen, Julianne Nicholson and Chris O’Donnell.   Like James Naughton, they’ve all offered insights in how to (and how not to, sometimes) move through the challenges of the business and our work with ease and generosity.

One of my most valued collaborations over the years has been with writer/director Michael Mongillo, having worked with him on the mock-doc BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, the supernatural thriller, DIANE, and the upcoming film, THE CHANGED.   My first experience working with Mike came from the recommendation of a friend (it sometimes truly is all about relationships) and it’s been such a blessing to have become part of a family of collaborators that have moved from project to project together.  Thanks Jason and Mike!

Along the way, as all actors eventually seem to do, I have ventured into writing and directing my own film projects.   I am still a bit astounded (but very proud) that my first original short film, COMING OF AGE, premiered at the 2018 FESTIVAL DE CANNES and then went on to play festivals around the world, including the VANCOUVER IFF and the MIX MEXICO “Festival de Diversidad”, the largest LGBTQ Film Festival in Mexico.   There’s usually at least one filmmaker at a festival  you become mutual fans with, having seen their film and shared a beer or coffee, and you hope to collaborate with somehow in the future.  While in Vancouver, I met an incredible actor and filmmaker, Mayra Hermosillo (NARCOS: Mexico), which has spawned an international collaboration on a bilingual feature focusing on immigration and how we form families and learn to love again.  It’s a relationship I truly value and would not have found without risking putting my short film out into the world. 

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For the last 14 years, between acting gigs, I’ve led private, professional “scene study” classes which have played a huge part in sustaining my own passion and artistry.  I’ve had the great fortune of collaborating weekly with incredible artists and also directing productions of work that has been honed in class such as CLOSER, COMMENCING, and SOAP OPERA (photo below).

Recently, my work has expanded into the NETFLIX world where I have lent my voice to the dubbed versions of more than a dozen foreign features and series, including MONEY HEIST,  SUBURRA, MARIANNE, and all three seasons of DARK.

 

Nature is a huge healer for me and I go to it for restoration and inspiration whenever possible.  I am an avid hiker and cyclist and have been a 5-time participant in the AIDS/LifeCycle - a 7-day, 545 mile  ride from SF to LA to support people living with HIV/AIDS.  There is a tremendous sense of community and connection on that event which I seek in all my activities.  I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, and usually have my Nikon with me to capture close-up shots of nature and moments of life I see all around me.  

I'M IN THIS FOR LIFE – for the long haul and to truly experience it.  The joy that has sustained me through the rollercoaster of this business comes from the art of it, not the commerce, and from the satisfaction of being of service through a story – in whatever capacity I can.   John Patrick Shanley wrote: “Acting is Directing is Writing is Living your Life.  There is no separation.”  It all feeds us and teaches us what it is to be human, to connect, and to live, not simply endure, this time we have.  “In the time of your life, Live!”, said William Saroyan, “So that in that wonderous time, you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”   I hope to keep doing that.  And to remember it is ALL “bonus" life.   

 

BE WELL.  LIVE INSPIRED.  HAVE FUN.

© 2020 by Doug Tompos
 

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