Acting Out in New York

A rising young actor, Chris Stack ‘97 recently auditioned with director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio for a role in The Departed, a movie due in theatres later this year.

Police cruisers screech to a halt outside a CNN satellite studio in Manhattan. Sirens blare. Hypnotic pulsating lights flood the streets. Inside the newsroom, negotiators bargain with a disturbed young man who has taken his father hostage.

“It was bizarre having all that chaos revolve around me,” says Chris Stack, a.k.a. Tommy Turner, son of a warped cult leader in an April 2005 guest appearance on the hit TV drama Third Watch.

A rising young actor, Stack recently auditioned with director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio for a role in The Departed, a movie due in theatres later this year. Though he didn’t get the gig, Stack says that securing a meeting of that caliber validates his professional progress.

Similarly, a call from New York’s celebrated Actor’s Studio–which trains actors in the realistic style of the “Method”–provided additional encouragement. After inviting him to audition, the group accepted Stack as a lifetime member, an honor bestowed on only a handful of actors each year.

Actor’s Studio participants focus on process over performance and experiment with roles they might otherwise never get to play. During one session, Stack watched intently as veteran actor Eli Wallach and his daughter ran a scene from Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. As is the tradition, Wallach invited feedback.

“Here’s a guy who has been working since the 1930s–a studio member before Lee Strasberg’s tenure–still honing his craft,” says Stack, who values the “leveling” quality of the Actor’s Studio, where members check their egos at the door and the work is paramount.

Stack is signed with Independent Artists Agency in New York, a small salon-style agency that offers young actors personal service. Calling them “wonderfully supportive and wildly encouraging,” he says they act as agents and managers who encourage him to be a proactive partner in seeking out opportunities.

Likening auditions to acting experiences, he rarely turns one down. Commercials, however, are his least-favorite medium. “I’d find it difficult to bite into a McDonald’s hamburger, smile into the camera, and pretend it’s the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” he says.

Instead, Stack savors the opportunity to explore the depth of characters beyond the written page–their motivations and their secrets–an analytical tool he learned as an English major at Lewis & Clark. Performing in one-act plays at the College’s Black Box Theatre taught him to use personal experience to breathe soul into a character.

Stack’s credits include the movie School of Rock, the TV series The Education of Max Bickford, and the soap opera One Life to Live. He says his best role is still on the horizon.

“Ideally, I’d like to do great roles in small films, exceptional small roles in big films, and then take a year in New York to do a play.”

–by Pattie Pace