Local People

Published on February 17th, 2017 | by Brittain Thompson


Louis Bourgeois Interviews Johnny McPhail (2013)

We recently received a brief interview local writer Louis Bourgeois did with local actor Johnny McPhail in 2013. With the McPhail being the prominent local actor he is, we felt it would best to release the interview during the Oxford Film Festival.

Louis Bourgeois: Please explain to our readers how you became an actor?  Was acting something you did early on, or was it something you took an interest in later in life?

Johnny McPhail: I had never acted before—not even a high school play.  When I was in my early 50s, I was drinking coffee one morning at the old Smitty’s (now 208).  The casting director of The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag approached me and asked if I’d ever thought about being in movies.  She said that I had an interesting face, and gave me her card.  I went by her office later and she cast me as “Detective Groves”.  It was during this time that I met Red West.  I ended up taking acting lessons from Red and we formed a great friendship.  Red was Elvis Presley’s main body guard for many years.  I was hooked on acting from that point on. 

The first stage experience that I had was the portrayal of “Wade” in Larry Brown’s Joe at the Hoka Theater.  I was gratified to have a lot of positive feedback from the Oxford community.  Later on, I portrayed “Randall” in Larry’s Dirty Work also at the Hoka.  I have played “Vincentio” in Taming of the Shrew for the University’s Summer Showcase, and have been in numerous 10 Minute Plays in Oxford. 

How many films have you appeared in since you started out?  Do you prefer film acting to stage acting?

I’ve been in at least 30 completed films.  Several are in post-production right now, and should be in theaters or TV soon.  I definitely prefer film acting.  The only stage that I am currently involved with is the Tennessee Williams festival in Clarksdale, MS every October.  Tennessee Williams’ works seem to be tailor made for my dialect and looks.  I always feel right at home when speaking his words.  He is, by far, my favorite playwright. 

Who are some notable actors you’ve come across in your career?  

Wow, this is hard because I have met some incredible people over the years.  I’ve met Francis Ford Coppola, Joel Schumacher, Jon Voight, Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, Danny Devito, Danny Glover, Arliss Howard, Harry Lloyd, Ray McKinnon, Mary Kay Place, Penelope Ann Miller, Alfre Woodard, Tammy Grimes, Tom Waits, Morgan Freeman,  Roger Avery, Lee Caplin, and last, but not the least bit least—Debra Winger.  Debra and I became friends on the set of Big Bad Love, and she is as down-to-earth as a person can get.  I think the world of her and her husband, Arliss Howard. 

What advice might you give young actors who are setting out in the film industry today?

Make Google and the internet your best friend.  You can find out most anything online—how to audition, where to audition, what parts are available, how to build a resume, how to make a headshot, what films will be shooting in what cities, and more.  You can even view acting classes and instructions for stage and screen.  Most of the auditions that I submit (first rounds) are filmed in my home and sent electronically to the casting directors.  Be fearless and never give up.

What current projects are you working on?  What lies in the future for Johnny McPhail?

In early April, I wrapped a film in Shreveport called Last Call.  It will be premiered in Shreveport in October and then on to the independent film fest circuit.  Hopefully, it will be shown in Oxford.  I have also been cast for two episodes of an HBO series–True Detectives.  I play Robert Doumain, who is a bar owner.  The series stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and will air this fall. 

As far as the future goes?  I am presently getting a lot of auditions in New Orleans (some in Mississippi) and am pursuing film acting as fast and as furiously as possible.  The Local Voice Ligature


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About the Author

Brittain is an associate editor of The Local Voice, ex-journalism student, and bad noise maker from the highway town of Brandon, MS.

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