To contribute but one part
to a worthy chapter
is a life well spent.
THOMAS FRANCIS MURPHY / ACTOR
He has made his living in dairy barns and on factory floors. Worked as an ambulance driver. Trained as a hard hat diver. He has been a social worker and freelance theatre critic. Before moving to New Orleans, he spent over 20 years on the East coast with a paint brush in one hand and a script in the other while pursuing a career in the theatre performing in off off Broadway houses in New York where his work in the plays of Sam Shepard garnered high praise in the New York Times and elsewhere. The day after he got his last highly sought after thumbs up in The New York times for his work in the titular role of The Late Henry Moss they played to a house of exactly one. To Tom’s mind that lone audience member was the true trooper on that particular Saturday afternoon for having the courage to stick around and he regrets to this day he can no longer remember her name.
Since moving to New Orleans he has worked across from Mathew McConoughey in Free State Of Jones, Woody Harrelson in True Detective, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave, and with Keanu Reeves in The Whole Truth. He can be seen in the upcoming release Same Kind of Different As Me, with Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger, He appeared as a series regular in the early seasons of Salem, and has had roles in American Horror, and a host of other projects.
I had never given acting much thought.
I read a lot when I was a kid. I had always thought I was meant to be a writer. But outside of a lot of drinking and blowing up my life exactly how that was going to happen was something about which I remained pretty clueless. But I had read enough to know what good was and how far short my efforts fell. On little more than a whim one day, already into my thirties, I took an acting class. A couple very interesting things happened very quickly. First of all, I went on stage I opened my mouth and I could feel the audience leaning forward wanting to know what would come next. I had the sensation of having them in the palm of my hand but had no idea of what to do with them or their expectations. And so the process of exploration began. And unlike my efforts at writing I was given a starting point -the character. Then it became about finding a way to use myself to be as faithful as I could be to the character and the circumstances of the text. It demanded an absolute kind of fidelity that was relatively short term. In this way, I was also given a frame and a context in which to exist for the duration of the play. But it is mostly about not knowing. And fearlessly pressing forward in spite of that. I grew up Catholic so somewhere in the recesses of my mind and spirit this kind of surrender made perfect sense. I found it liberating. As if a lot of formerly disparate energy had been given a chance to take shape. It can be maddingly simple at its core. When it works it’s like someone flicked on a switch -it happens almost of itself. And then the pursuit of those moments becomes a species of addiction itself.
There is an AA joke about Christopher Columbus. How do we know Christopher Columbus was an alcoholic? When he left, he didn’t know where he was going. When he got there, he didn’t know where he was. When he got back, he didn’t know where he had been. And it was all paid for by somebody else. Acting, in those moments you are really getting it done, is a little like that, as well.