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Hollywood actor, Russellville native reflects on path to silver screen

“Your dream might not make sense to the people right around you, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.” That’s the advice of veteran actor and former Russellville resident Myk Watford, who recently portrayed Rick Hall in the blockbuster “Respect,” the Aretha Franklin story.

Watford is also a musician, youth sports coach, husband and father. His original plan was to be a football player, but he found he had an interest in – and knack for – acting after seeing his sister perform in a play while he was in 10th grade.

Watford said when he first declared his intention to be an actor, not all of his friends and family agreed with the idea.

“I can’t count how many people told me I couldn’t do it, but rather than discourage me, my dad, Vic Watford, chose to embrace it and encourage and support me,” Watford said. “Donnie Bryan, my drama teacher at Russellville High School, provided a tremendous amount of guidance, encouragement and opportunities. I would not be where I am today without them.”

“It’s very difficult to achieve any amount of success as an actor,” added Watford, “and it’s not a glamorous job except in very, very few select moments. There are a lot of long days. I have worked 18 hours straight on a set before.

“Sometimes I felt misunderstood, so it’s important for me to let people who might be in that kind of position know there are people who get it and have lived it and done it. This applies whether you’re an athlete or an actor or whatever your dream is.”

Watford said the best actors are the ones who make it look so easy, it seems like they’re not acting at all. “I’ll never forget one of the first things my agent told me when I first moved to New York. We were talking during the intermission of a play we’d gone to together, and he asked if I’d noticed how much over-acting the lead was doing,” Watford said. “He said that it wasn’t good acting, that you don’t want to draw attention to your process. You’re simply trying to be that person so that people believe it.”

Watford said the goal with acting, as with music, is to be honest so people can really relate to what you are doing. “That’s when you have a chance to move people – and this is true with any form of art, and I don’t say this lightly: You have the possibility to change lives for the better, and it happens all the time. The most rewarding thing about acting is having the chance to be a positive influence on someone’s life.”

The hardest part of acting, Watford said, “is the rejection, both in terms of being turned down for parts you want and also when receiving bad reviews. That kind of negativity is difficult to hear about something you’ve put your heart into and worked on for months.”

He said that’s the risk when creating any type of art and putting it out into the world. “There are going to be people who embrace what you’ve done and thank you for it, and there will also be people who slap it away. This is always difficult but especially so for a young actor.”

He said while this can be extremely discouraging, it’s necessary to keep pushing forward.

“You have to constantly reset and regather yourself, get your emotions back up and keep fighting,” he added. “You have to be able to continue to see the worth of what you’re doing and keep creating because if you let those rejections stop you from creating, that will be a very sad thing.”

Watford said he thinks the biggest misconception people have about acting is that the life of an actor is easy.

“People tend to have a fantasized view of what it’s like – of dressing up fancy and being on the red carpet and sipping champagne – but the fact is that most actors are very hard-working people.”

Despite the hard work and long hours, Watford said acting brings some wonderful opportunities. “You get to meet a lot of amazing people and see truly impressive technology being used to pull off special effects.”

While acting in a film with Richard Gere, “The Hoax,” at one point they were filming in a Social Security building. The top floor had been cleared, but people were still working on the lower two floors, without any idea of them being there. “We were sitting around smoking cigars and ad-libbing,” said Watford, “and, sure enough, we set off the smoke alarm.”

As they proceed to go outside to evacuate for the smoke alarm, a group of women saw Richard Gere walk out and “they turned into screaming teenagers.” Watford said he had never seen anything like it, but “Richard was so gracious and walked up to them with a smile, shook their hands, thanked them for their service and signed autographs and took pictures.”

Watford said it made a big impression on him, not only because it was a funny story but also because it became his reminder to be kind and gracious if ever in a similar situation himself.

“I always try to talk to the actors with the smaller roles, too, including the background actors,” Watford added. “I try to make people feel welcome because they’re all a part of it. Everyone contributes to making a production work – not just the people at the top. I do my best when I’m working to try to be inclusive and make everybody feel equally important to the task at hand.”

Watford said while playing a cop in the first “Spider-Man” (2002) movie, all but one of the firefighters in the scenes were actual New York firefighters. “This was before 9/11, and it gives me chills to think about it,” said Watford. “You have to assume they were among the first responders, and some of them undoubtedly lost their lives on 9/11. They are the real heroes.”

While Watford said it’s difficult to choose his proudest moment, some of the proudest are related to being selected for, and performing on, Broadway for the first time. He said he will never forget how it felt when his agent told him he’d been cast as one of the leads in the Broadway play “Take Me Out” or how it felt stepping out on stage for the first time in front of an audience during the opening show.

“It was a wonderful role and show and such a rewarding and incredible moment to be on Broadway,” he said. “Everything else pales in comparison to stepping out on stage in a Broadway play. To me, that is the most special and amazing experience an actor can have.”

Watford recalled another of his proudest moments: After that first performance, when he walked out the stage door, there were mobs of people taking pictures and wanting autographs, “people who loved theatre and had been positively affected by the story.”

He observed the acting business is “so up and down,” adding that while there have been several moments when he felt he’d “arrived,” he “wound up feeling exactly the opposite shortly afterward.”

Watford said the first movie he was in, he had a very big role, and it was expected to be a huge movie. “It just didn’t pan out,” said Watford.” “Nobody ended up seeing it.”

Shortly after that, he was in another really big movie with a large role, and after two weeks of filming, they replaced him.

“I later found out it had to do with the actor playing the lead whom I’d only met briefly in a hallway in passing,” said Watford. “I was a young actor and concentrating on what I was doing. They said hello, and I stopped and said hello, assuming I’d have plenty of time to get to know them but wanting to be professional about things, then went along to where I was supposed to be on set.

“Because this particular person wasn’t pleased with that interaction, I wound up being let go from the film.”

He said everyone has stories along these lines. “That’s why a lot of people quit. They get so used to being disappointed along the way.”

Watford said having a specific example of someone from the area who had made it as an actor would have helped in his early stages of working to become successful as an actor.

“It would have given me a lot more confidence, and that’s why I’m so passionate about coming back to the area and helping the kids down there when I can, through teaching or acting in a show, to help show them that it can be done,” he said. “I’ve been blessed in my life to be able to do some things, and I believe that comes with a responsibility to help open the door for others. It’s something I take very seriously.”

To read more about Watford, pick up a free copy of the current issue of Franklin Living magazine to read the article “Hometown to Hollywood.”