The Working Actor EDITOR'S INTRO
This is the nineteenth in a continuing feature at IndustryCentral profiling "The Working Actor". (See Archives below)
William Shakespeare said "There are no small parts.....". William Shatner may have said it too, but the longhair with the tights was first, or so the reports go. In this feature we will explore what it really means to be an actor working in Motion Pictures and Television.
Broad public acknowledgment may have eluded some who find their way to these pages, or perhaps they may have brushed against what is referred to as stardom by virtue of one or more remarkable performances. However for many, the rewards of plying their craft in a field which has allowed them to earn a living may exceed the burdens of public acclaim. Given the chance, some in this clan might prefer the longevity offered by anonymity over the potential for short lived fame.
These individuals, either by design or fate, have managed to sustain a career by crafting performances which rendered them a good casting choice. They are usually thought of as a face you recognize, but you just can't get the name past the tip of your tongue.
Most of these folks have spent countless hours on stage in theaters ranging from 20 seats to 2000, building characters from the works of Ibsen, to Eliot, to Williams, to yes even Shakespeare, and so many of the modern Playwrights. They have rounded their skills doing drama, comedy, & musicals. Their work is a serious venture.
These people have given us screen performances which quite often were the catalyst that brought an Oscar or Emmy to another and yet they continue to work as "Characters" or "Co-Stars" without the trophies and plaques adorning their mantle.
Chris Ellis
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Chris Ellis always wanted to be an actor because of television. He grew up in the 50's in the deep south in a "world of privation and violence", but saw on television people who seemed to have lives of ease and priviliege.

"I was raised in the Mississippi delta, and my salient memories from early childhood are of children who were beaten and abused by adults or by other children." But, that's is not why he left.

On February 10, 1964, when Chris was 14 years old, The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. They sang "She Loves You," and "I Want To Hold Your Hand," which they had written, and "Til There Was You," which was written by Jerry Herman, who also wrote "Hello, Dolly."

Later in 1964, Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were killed by member of the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Three of the confessed killers were tried for murder in Mississippi state court and were acquitted. One of the Klansmen, Terry Keeter, who was never charged with any crime, was, by 1968, working for the sheriff's department in Senatobia, Mississippi. That summer, he and his partner, Lekk Hopper, arrested Ellis for fishing without a license as he stood at the edge of Sardis Lake. "I have never been fishing in my life, though in 1968 my hair was long for a man by Mississippi standards."

These events helped him to decide to blow town altogether as soon as he might finish his schooling. Which he did, whistling 'Hey fiddle dee dee, the actor's life for me.'

It took him seven years to finish college however, because "I have always been shiftless". During those years Chris became involved in community theatre in Memphis, where "I did and do still think the quality of the work has always been quite good". By the time he moved to New York to seek his way amid the world's ruin, He had worked with many excellent actors in about two dozen plays, classical and contemporary. "I cannot imagine what might have supplanted that background for a newcomer in New York".

After working in regional theatre for a year or so, Chris fell off the radar screen, as some will do, and did not work for about ten years. During that time he lived in "bone-grinding poverty" in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen. In one 9 month period of 1987, Chris accepted 102 dinner invitations. "I don't know why they kept arriving, nor why I counted them, though I do know why I accepted them."

When Chris began working in film at age 40, he began for the first time to make a living as an actor. By then he was no longer in the flush of youth, and no longer had hair like "Algernon Swinburne, nor hips like two coconuts".

Since then Chris has made a living playing character roles, "mostly southerners, men who snarl and vote for Republicans, and who work for NASA in Mission Control".

But as he so readily tells us......."I'll take it."

Bauman, Redanty & Shaul

Chris Ellis' advice to the aspiring actor:

"I believe to be a working Actor is 50% luck! but when you get lucky, the other 50% is being ready.

To that end, I recommend reading at least one Shakespeare Play out loud each year (Try two or three - with friends or alone..... doesn't matter).

It won't help you get an agent, and nothing I can tell you will do that. But in no other one source, will you find such a complete range of human emotions, or better preparation."

Chris Ellis' Credits (partial)


  • Watcher, The (2000).... Hollis
  • Last Marshal, The (1999).... O'Brien
  • Atomic Train (1999) (TV).... Ed Brown
  • October Sky (1999).... Principal Turner
  • Max Q (1998) (TV).... Bob Matthews
  • Home Fries (1998).... Henry Lever
  • Armageddon (1998).... Walter Clark
  • Sparkler (1998).... Buddy #1
  • Godzilla (1998).... General Anderson
  • From the Earth to the Moon (1998) (mini) TV Series.... Bob Parker
  • Pentagon Wars, The (1998) (TV).... General Keane
  • On the Line (1998) (TV).... Officer Roux
  • Wag the Dog (1997).... Officer
  • Bean (1997).... Detective Butler
  • Con Air (1997).... B.O.P. Official Grant
  • Her Costly Affair (1996) (TV).... Wes
  • Sticks and Stones (1996).... Coach Osterman
  • That Thing You Do! (1996).... Phil Horace
  • If These Walls Could Talk (1996) (TV).... Crowd Leader
  • Tie That Binds, The (1995).... Security Guard #1
  • Apollo 13 (1995).... Deke Slayton
  • Crimson Tide (1995).... Additional Magician
  • Little Princess, A (1995).... Policeman
  • In the Line of Duty: The Price of Vengeance (1994) (TV).... News Vendor
  • Ghost in the Machine aka Deadly Terror (1993).... Lieutenant
  • Addams Family Values (1993).... Moving Man
  • Undercover Blues (1993).... Burt
  • Desperate Rescue: The Cathy Mahone Story (1992) (TV)
  • My Cousin Vinny (1992).... J.T.
  • Days of Thunder (1990).... Harlem Hoogerhyde
  • Chiefs (1983) (mini) TV Series.... Bobby Patrick

Notable TV guest appearances

  • Family Law (1999) playing "Mr. Reese"
  • Roswell (1999) playing "T. Greer"
  • Chicago Hope (1994) playing "Secret Service Agent Bill Erskine"
  • Pretender, The (1996) playing "Daniel Crockett"
  • Millennium (1996) playing "Jim Penseyres"
  • Space: Above and Beyond (1995) playing "Adm. Stenner"
  • X Files, The (1993) playing "the Sheriff"
  • NYPD Blue (1993) playing "Marshal #1"

For more info and credits see IMDb

-- ---End

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Madison Mason [September 2000]
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Jay Acovone [August 2000]
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Richard Riehle [July 2000]
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July 2000
Charlie Brill [June 2000]
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June 2000
Edie McClurg [May 2000]
Edie McClurg
May 2000
Miguel Sandoval [April 2000]
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April 2000
Tom Bower [March 2000]
Tom Bower
March 2000
Amy Aquino [February 2000]
Amy Aquino
February 2000
Danny Chambers [January 2000]
Danny Chambers
January 2000
Eve Gordon [December 1999]
Eve Gordon
December 1999
Barbara Niven [November 1999]
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November 1999
Bill Lucking [October 1999]
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Richard Roundtree [September 1999]
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Pat Harrington [August 1999]
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Robert Donner [July 1999]
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July 1999
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