I first met Doug Fahl a little over four years ago, when he modeled for some stock photos for me. I was a struggling photographer, he was a struggling actor. We were able to help each other out back then, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. The Doug that’s in front of me today however, is working harder than ever, and yet strangely he seems both giddy and content. His demeanor reminds me of someone readying themselves for an exciting journey.
It may have something to do with the movie “Zombies of Mass Destruction” (ZMD), which is due to open in 30 cities across the US this January. The movie is classic zombie mayhem, with a touch of tongue in cheek humor and spiced up with a healthy dose of post-911 paranoia.
Being in any movie that gets a distribution deal is huge (especially when it’s with an outfit like Lionsgate, which is the case for ZMD). Having that be your first movie seems almost impossibly lucky. But this is no overnight success for Doug Fahl, who has a degree in Musical Theater and more than 20 years of acting experience, playing characters such as Cliff in “Cabaret” and Gabey in “On The Town”, and working on productions with Broadway legends like Martin Charnin (“Annie”) and Thomas Meehan (“Annie”, “Hairspray”, “The Producers”).
I was thrilled when Doug agreed to answer a few questions about taking this new step, and about his life as an artist.
AP: What is acting about for you? Why do you do it?
DF: I find acting an important force in my life for many reasons. It has driven me forward unlike any other passion or interest I have. As a child, most would have described me as reclusive, withdrawn. I kept to myself, locked away in my room, with very few friends. I lacked a direction.
One of my few friends at the time bet me that I wouldn’t dare sign up for a theater class in High School, assuming that my shyness would terrify me from getting up in front of others to perform. But I took him up on his bet and after getting up to recite a poem in front of the class, I immediately became hooked on the adrenaline rush and the laughter and the applause. I felt courage and acceptance through the process. I immediately had a community to belong to, an interest to pursue and develop and performing has become my life’s blood ever since.
AP: ZMD is your first motion picture to open in theaters across the United States. How does that experience compare to other firsts in your career?
DF: I feel extremely excited about the release of ZMD. It has far exceeded my wildest expectations, especially it being my first film role. Any time I’ve made progress in my career, it has had a similar effect. It comes unexpectedly, but with years of preparation behind it. It doesn’t ever seem real at the time and you have to wait around forever to see it actually come to life.
In theater, where I’ve spent most of my career, the excitement happens while you work on the project (you get cast, first day of rehearsal, opening night). Then the show ends and you move on to the next excitement. Shooting a movie has all those excitements as well, but the key events are spread out over the course of years. So your work as an actor gets disconnected from the excitement of having the film released. The excitement revolves around your overall career and the possibilities that lie ahead. This experience is new to me and I’m anxious to see where things go from here.
AP: Has the festival circuit and the movie’s distribution deal changed your own perception of ZMD or your performance?
DF: No, I still see my performance the same way as I always have. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I’m pretty critical when I see myself on screen, but I’m very pleased with how it all came out. We all worked hard on making believable character choices and I feel proud of my performance. The overwhelmingly positive responses from the festival circuit, make me feel even more proud. It validates what I already knew was there on screen.
I’m very pleased that audiences enjoy it. I must say that a distribution deal of this size is rare for a film like ours. Back when I first auditioned for the film, I had no inkling that it would ever get to the big screen nationwide. That just doesn’t happen in my life. But, after seeing the movie for the first time, I knew we had a gem on our hands. It turned out great.
AP: You also make music, dabble in photography and many other things. What do you get out of having multiple creative outlets?DF: When you struggle to make ends meet as an actor, you simply have to have other interests to fill in the dead spaces. Some actors have a knack of jumping from project to project without stopping, but for most of us, you get a lot of down time between projects. Having other creative outlets helps keep you sane when the career isn’t marching down the path you set for it.
Plus, when you work in music, you meet musicians. When you work in photography, you meet photographers. The collaborative processes of film and theater require a network of people from all interests. The more you dabble in other areas, the more connected you become to the entire creative process. Plus, it saves me money on music, photography, and web design when I can make my own.
AP: I imagine there are plenty of distractions, both from your other interests and outside interferences. What do you do to stay focused?
DF: Who says I’m focused? No, seriously. What were we just talking about? Oh, yeah focus. Everyone needs to have distractions. If you stay focused on one thing in life all the time, you miss all the magic floating around out there. One of my college acting teachers once told me that I had the proper technique, that I read sense into the words, and that I had confidence; but that I was just too young to ‘know the experience’. She told me I needed to be deeply hurt in love before I would have the emotional connection to the piece I was working on.
Everyone needs to lose focus on a love interest. Everyone needs to grieve a loss or get depressed. Everyone needs to travel somewhere new. Meet a new circle of friends. Try a new substance. Get lost in a strange place. Come close to death. Giggle until they pee. Run around naked in the snow while someone is snapping of polaroids of you. You need to fail miserably at something. You need to make mistakes. And you have to have fun. Acting is having those experiences and translating them to stage or screen for others to experience through you. Film and Theater are tools to share joy, pain and insight with other humans — to commiserate with an audience. If you don’t have distractions, you’re not doing your job. The key is remembering and utilizing those distractions when you drag your ass back to work.