Grubbs lends acting insights at arts school

Published 7:00 pm Friday, February 18, 2011

He paced back and forth before the students, hands on his hips,speaking in his serious, deep voice about the realities of theindustry.

Mississippi actor Gary Grubbs, 61, spoke of passion andhardships, trying to give the students at the Mississippi School ofthe Arts an inside look at how to make it in the TV and movieindustry. He told them how for 30 years his Southern accent hadbeen at first a blessing and then a curse, landing him some rolesand denying him others.

A student asked him how to control that lazy speech, and hedemonstrated by talking like a baby.

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“Ta ta ta ta, pa pa pa pa,” Grubbs repeated, with 130 studentsand their teachers following his lead to stress the sounds. “And doit strong. The problem with Southerners is we don’t open our mouthsto talk – the top lip never moves. Ta ta ta ta, pa pa pa pa. If youdo those exercises for six weeks, it will knock out half youraccent.”

Grubbs, a University of Southern Mississippi graduate who wasborn in Amory and raised in Prentiss, spoke to MSA studentsThursday about his 30-year experience in the film industry, withtheatre students listening especially closely as he detailed risingfrom a small town to Hollywood and the industry’s evolution.

He was a bulldozer salesman before moving to Hollywood to tryhis hand at acting, a decision spurred one day when he saw his USMroommate in an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” He movedto Los Angeles, sleeping on couches and auditioning wherever hecould.

He got his first break in 1977 when he was cast in “Deadman’sCurve,” a made-for-TV movie. From there, he would appear in showslike “Charlie’s Angels,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Dukes of Hazzard,””A-Team,” “Golden Girls” and dozens of others.

He would play a part in Oliver Stone’s “JFK” in 1991, “TheAstronaut’s Wife” in 1998 and “Ray” in 2004, among other films.

Grubbs told students the most important factor in landing thoseparts was determination, something artists have to have.

“The trick to the arts is no matter what arena, you have to say,’This is what I’m gonna do, no matter what,'” he said. “The peoplewho won’t take ‘no’ for an answer are the people who end up beingthere. It’s as much about the process as it is the outcome, and itall comes from inside.”

Grubbs advised the young actors listening in Lampton Auditoriumnot to take their determination to Los Angeles or New York – alwaysthe center of movie-making – but to take it to Atlanta and NewOrleans. Those two southern cities are quickly become major newplayers in the industry and it’s much easier for newcomers to getstarted there.

“There are 16 movies shooting in New Orleans this minute, andtwo of them are $100 million films,” he said.

Aspiring young actors and writers really don’t even have to moveanywhere. Grubbs encouraged students to take advantage of theInternet, where new stars are made daily.

“Now, you can record an audition and e-mail it in,” he said. “Ido voice-overs from my home in Hattiesburg. I don’t have a soundstudio – I do them in the closet. I set the microphone on a sweaterand use my clothes to muffle the sound. There’s money in that.”

Grubbs also reminded MSA students they would enter the artsworld with an advantage because of their school. He left Thursdayafternoon promising to return.

“I’m proud of Mississippi, and I’m proud of this school and itsstudents. We’ve got math, science and engineering, but that’s allin the head. This is all in the heart,” he said.