“When you’re a wanted man, everybody wants you.” So says Daniel R. Hill, a 2011 graduate of the UofSC Master of Fine Arts in Acting program, whose professional ascent has proven that declaration to be as matter-of-fact as he delivered it. Since his third “internship” year in the MFA program, Daniel has landed one solid professional opportunity after another, whether on stage, in the classroom, or on film sets. And, he chalks it all up to one simple maxim: work begets work.
That work ethic has put him in contact with some of Hollywood’s most influential artists, from blockbuster directors like Phillip Noyce and Antoine Fuqua to renowned actors such as Jon Voight and Mickey Rourke. His latest success has landed him his highest profile job yet – a recurring character role on the new Fox television drama, The Resident (premiering January 21).
Daniel was recently back on campus to offer his advice to our students (a visit he regularly makes), and graciously took time out to speak on the record about his newest projects, how he’s navigated his acting career, and his philosophies on how he’s managed to stay working.
Bring us up to date. Where did you land professionally once you graduated?
Actually, April of 2010 was the last time I was here. I was one of the rare cases among MFA actors where I had interest from all of our internship contacts, but at the end of my second year I still had no internship and I didn’t know what I was going to do. My final show here was The Winter’s Tale, and we brought in Kathleen Conlin, the artistic director of Utah Shakespeare Festival, to direct it. I remember when I found out she was coming, and then found out we were also bringing in professional actor Don McKay, I just had this mindset of, “I’m getting ready to leave this place and here’s an opportunity.” I told my classmates, “This is a not a show to me. This is my audition for Utah Shakes.” She was going to see that I show up ten minutes early to every rehearsal, that I’m the first off book, and how much of a professional I am. And, sure enough, I finished here in April of 2010, and two weeks after my final class, she called me and offered me a job with no audition. So, instead of doing an internship for my third year, I had work at a Tony award-winning theatre. It just goes to show you how special this place is, and how the fact that this is a U/RTA theatre that brings in professionals, it doesn’t just give you good training, it actually leads you to real life connections and professional work.
I did Utah for two years. I was working as an actor at the theatre, doing multiple shows in rep. And, if you have teaching experience, they always have master classes and workshops for various ages, so I would teach three or four workshops a week. While I was on contract there, Kentucky Shakes offered for me to come work there and start building the basis of becoming a company member, and there I would not just act, but also teach as well. So, I did that, and then a friend of mine who I’d gone to undergrad with, who had become the theatre department chair at Indiana University Southeast, saw my work and offered me a job as a guest director. I ended up teaching and directing some shows there, and then got offered to come in as the Head of MFA acting at the University of Louisville, and I did that for a few years.
I was really trying to make it work as both a person leading a professional training program and have a professional career myself. Unfortunately, the situation just wasn’t right for me, and I felt like it was stunting my growth as an actor. So, I stepped out on a big limb in July of 2015, leaving what most people would say was the safe, cushy job, and went back to being a full-time actor. And, since that time, I’ve done nine films and landed a recurring role on a network show.
When did you get an agent?
When I was working for Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in the summer of 2014, an agent who repped a number of the actors I was working with saw me, and basically afterwards was like, “Who are you, I need to rep you.” The weird thing is that I signed with her that year and had a lot of opportunities, but the university life was making it really difficult to be able to accept roles or even go out on call-backs. When I was finally free and clear, I went to my agent and looked her right in the eye and said, “Here’s the deal. I know I haven’t been as available as I needed to be, but now I will go to every single audition that you get for me.” And, once she saw how serious I was, I started getting more auditions. Your agent wants to see how hard you work, so that they will work hard for you.
I started auditioning, and then in September of 2015, a New York director was shooting a film in Louisville and the lead role was perfect for my type. It was a short film called Pleasure Ridge Park that debuted at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this year. Then, right after that, I had an audition for a film called Tiger in Cincinnati. I didn’t know much about the film or who was going to be in it, but I knew the director, an Australian named Alister Grierson, was a protégé of James Cameron. I got the call on a Saturday night that they wanted to see me in person on Sunday, and it was like a three-hour drive. I woke up and it was storming out, and I literally sat there and thought of every excuse to stay in the bed and not go. And then I said, “Nope! This is what you quit your teaching job for.” So, I hopped in the Prius, got the role, and it was a scene with Mickey Rourke. It got me my SAG card, which opened up a lot of doors, and now I have a scene on my reel with Mickey Rourke. As soon as that ended, there was a Hallmark movie (J.L. Family Ranch) filming in Kentucky starring Jon Voight, James Caan and Melanie Griffith, and I booked it. Work begets work.
I’m a firm believer that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
What made you move to Los Angeles?
While I was doing that film, Jon Voight took a liking to me and knew I was different. I’m 6’2”, 300 pounds, a former college football player with this big beard, but I also have seven years of classical actor training and a master’s degree in acting. We talked and he said that guys like me don’t usually have that kind of training. A lot of them are bouncers or body builders. And, I knew LA was where I needed to be because it’s Hollywood, and that’s where everything happens.
In June of 2016, I did a film with Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones called Above Suspicion, and the director of the film was Phillip Noyce, who directed Salt with Angelina Jolie, The Saint with Val Kilmer, Clear and Present Danger… He had actually called me back for three different roles that he gave to three totally different types, and then called me while they were filming and offered a role I hadn’t even auditioned for because he felt like he wanted me in the film. While I was doing that, I was talking to him and he asked when I was moving to LA. Then, about two weeks after that, I went to LA for the premiere of the Jon Voight film, and I just decided, it’s now or never. I’ve been there thirteen months and booked four films and a network show. Not bad for a first year!
Tell us about the television show you’re now on.
The show is called The Resident. It’s 20th Century Fox, and were filming at Fox Studios in Atlanta. The way I got it was that Phillip Noyce and Jackie Burch, the amazing casting director, called my agent and wanted to me to come straight to Atlanta for a director’s session. We met for a good ten to fifteen minutes, and they were like, let’s put it on tape to see what you can do with it, and they all laughed out loud. It was one of those moments where you know that even if the powers that be decided to go in a different direction, you know you knocked it out of the park and can live with that. Shortly after that, I found out I got the role, then we shot the pilot in April and it went really well. I found out in late May that the series got picked up, and then I found out in late July that I got bumped up to a recurring character.
The show is a hospital drama with a pretty good amount of comedy in it. Emily VanCamp (Revenge, Captain America: Civil War) is our star along with Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls) and Bruce Greenwood (The Post, Star Trek). I play a character called Chad Anderson who is really just a pain in their ass. He’s a bit of a knucklehead – not really a bad person by any means, but he kind of has his own way and doesn’t listen to authority. I think one of the things the show does really well is it gives a look into the lives of the doctors and their relationships with each other. It’s not one of those “here’s the problem, let’s fix it, on to the next episode” kind of shows, and that was really refreshing to me.
You’ve been working so steadily. Do you pursue many networking opportunities?
Totally. It’s one of those things where you have to constantly put yourself out there. If there’s a screening of a movie you get invited to, you need to go – even if you’re not feeling like it – because you never know who you might run into. So much of the business isn’t just about who you know, but who knows about you. I’m also at a point in my life, and I tell this to the students here at Carolina, where I don’t like to go out and party any more. I don’t go out to clubs and I drink very little. You always have to be so prepared and so ready. If someone asks me to come in for a call-back or come in for a meeting, I can’t miss those opportunities because I’m hung over or busy doing something I shouldn’t be doing. And, I’m a firm believer that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
It just goes to show you how special this place is... it doesn’t just give you good training, it actually leads you to real life connections and professional work.
What have you been able to apply from your time at USC in your professional career?
I had this revelation while I was on set the other day. I know how good my training was, and how much this university shaped me as a man and an artist, but I’m always having revelations about what the training did for me. I had a 4 a.m. wake up call, and I left the hotel at 5 a.m., was on set at 5:30 a.m, and we started shooting my first scene at 7:15 a.m. And we shoot out of order, so we’re shooting my big, emotional scene. And there are seventy, eighty people running around me, setting up lights and this and that, and they’re all working extremely hard. And it hit me -- there is literally millions of dollars at stake. This wonderful corporation that hired me is investing millions into this. And, in a couple of minutes, everything is going to get really quiet, and this guy over here is going to scream, “Action!” and when he does everyone there is going to be relying on me to deliver the goods for four minutes.
That day, I didn’t get back to my hotel until 8:57 p.m. That’s a seventeen-hour day. It reminded me of being in the master’s program here, where it was Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 o’clock at night – you’re training non-stop. You get Saturday’s off, but then you have equity rehearsals on Sundays from, like, 1 to 9. When you’re doing it, it’s extremely hard and it’s always emotional. But, looking back on it, I never would have been able to do what I did on set the other day had I not been through this ringer. I remember Steve Pearson used to always say to us that one of the things we were being trained and conditioned for was a tiresome life in the theatre. It doesn’t get any easier. Even when you’re not shooting, you’re constantly trying to find the next thing. It becomes a part of you.