Veterans in Creative Careers: Steven Murdzia, Air Force Actor

Steve MSteven Murdzia is an American career Air Force Officer and actor. He began acting when he was called out during an open casting call to play the role of Beret leader Kane in the Legendary Films “Godzilla 2014.”  His unassuming character and ability to visualize the role and take direction makes him a set favorite. Within months of shooting Godzilla in the jungles of Hawaii, Steve was again cast in the untitled Cameron Crowe Project to play an Air Force officer. I am pleased to share Steven’s experience with my readers.

 

Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to share your experience, Steven. I look forward to hearing about your experience both in the military and with acting. Let’s start first with what you do in the military. What years did you serve, and are you still active?

Steven Murdzia: I joined the Air Force Back in 1990 as an enlisted member, served for about 12 years as an analyst and after I completed my college degree I was selected to go to Officer Training school. I spent the next 12 years serving in several fields but ended up back as an analyst before retiring at the end of 2014.

JS: That is great that you were able to make it into a career. What inspired you to join the military, and what have you learned during your time?

SM:  I was originally inspired to join the AF as a way of getting some paid training and as a way of bettering my chances of getting hired on with a civilian fire dept. As fate would have it, I was not sent to the AF fireman school and instead was chosen to do something else which really set me on a completely separate path than what I had originally signed up for. One thing I have learned from all my experiences is that you just really never know what you will end up doing in the end and it’s best to always keep your options open and welcome new challenges and opportunities.

JS:  I understand your first big acting gig was for a role in the 2014 version of Godzilla. How did you find this opportunity, and what can you advise other military men and women do to land roles?

SM: Yeah, my role in Godzilla 2014 sort of just fell in my lap. After much nagging, I reluctantly agreed to take my 10 year old daughter down to an open casting call for extras for the movie that was to shoot a number of scenes here in Hawaii. I was singled out during the casting call by one of the casting agents for the production. They wanted to know if I had any acting experience to which my obvious answer was no! But, I said unless you consider the fact that every job I’ve had in the past 20 years in the military I was never specifically trained for and had to sort of jump in and well, act like I knew what I was doing. Guess they liked that answer and I was offered an audition for a principle role in the movie as Beret Leader Kane, an Army soldier who leads a team of 8 into the jungle in search of a lost submarine. The director liked my audition tape and I was hired for the part. It was really just that simple. Since I was familiar with the role of a military guy it was pretty easy and I think the director Garth Edwards really wanted to have some actual military members in his movie.

My advice to any military folks who would like to get involved in the movie business, is go to any and all castings in your area and be willing to do any part no matter how small it may seem. Even the background roles as you never know which ones may turn into something more once you’re on set and in front of the director, which is exactly what happened to me in my second movie. I started out being hired to be an extra in Cameron Crowes new film coming out next spring, but as things went along, me and a few others playing the parts of AF officers in our service dress uniforms were asked to say a few lines at one point turning our roles in that movie into Principle roles as well.

JS: What more can you tell us about your experience on set? Was it the dream we all believe it to be?

SM:  I wouldn’t say it was a dream that one might think it is. First of all, it is very hard work. We worked long hours, usually at least 12 hours a day. We also filmed at night for Godzilla so we were up the entire night for 3 nights in a row trying to get all the scenes in. There is a lot of standing around and very little that could actually be called fun, but I won’t lie, it was pretty cool having my own trailer with my name on it and having the crew constantly catering to me as the only actual principle actor in my scenes. The other 7 guys in my scenes were all stunt guys and no one had lines but myself.

JS: It sounds like you are on a roll! Have you studied acting, and if so, where?

SM: Before my role on Godzilla I had not taken any classes or really done anything with TV or movies. However since landing that big role I decided to get some training in hopes of having a better chance at getting future roles in productions that may come to my area. I enrolled in some acting workshops and also took some classes in honing your audition skills. It appears to have paid off and helped to give me a little more creditability as a SAG-AFTRA actor. I have been in Cameron Crowes film, worked as a background actor in the new Jurassic World movie coming out soon, and I have done several things for the Hawaii 5-0 TV series filmed locally here in Hawaii. The classes really help to build your resume and give you some creditability when auditioning for parts, but there is no substitute for plain experience or talent. Most of my roles have been as a military member in the movies I have performed in, which was pretty easy as it is what I have done for many years and is very familiar to me. Recently I have begun to branch out and work towards non-military roles as well.

JS: That is smart. What other resources are out there for aspiring actors? Do you have any favorite websites, blogs, or books on the topic?

SM: There are probably local theaters that do productions for anyone wanting to get some experience acting in their local area just as I am sure one could probably find a decent instructor in most areas that are will to give acting lessons for a fee. Best thing one can do if they are interested in acting is get yourself out there. Go to open castings, take some classes and volunteer to do some low budget movies for film students at the local college or university. Even join the local theater and get involved in a local stage production. It might be a little different than working for a large budget Hollywood movie like Godzilla, but the experience, skills, lessons and what not that you will gain being a part of that can only help you when the time comes to audition for a role in a movie.

JS: Do you feel your time in the military has helped you with your acting, even for any non-military roles you may have? How so?

SM: My time in the military definitely helped me land my first role and if it weren’t for my being in the service, I probably would not have even been considered for the part. There are always a lot of military movie being produced and they love to get actually service members involved in them as it really keeps the crew honest. Most service members are quick to point out when something is not really be done the way it should be on set. Most directors really like that as they wish to portray the scenes as realistically as possible. That is exactly how my background role in the Cameron Crowe movie turned into a principle role. A few of us actual service members working as background actors kind of chuckled as Alec Baldwin just walked right past us on the set during filming without so much as even saying hello. Cameron came over and asked us what was so funny? We simply told him that as our commanding officer and someone who knows all of us very well (since we were on his staff) that he would never just walk right past us without at least stopping to say hello in the specific scene. Boom, next thing we know we were signing contracts as principle actors with a line in the movie, we all were given our own trailers and our paychecks went up times 10.

JS: I am glad to hear you were treated seriously and that Cameron Crowe listened. Do you find that having this cadre of fellow military men and women available has helped, or is there not a sense of people helping each other? If there is, how should a military veteran aspiring actor reach out and conduct themselves?

SM: I didn’t find a lot of support for my roles prior to going in for my audition. In fact many times you may all be competing for the same couple parts. So, if a production is looking for someone to portray a military individual and you are working on a base close to where the filming will be done, you can be sure they are bringing in numerous others to try out for the same parts. I have however, helped a number of my co-workers get roles on the same films that I was performing in by passing info regarding open casting calls and what not. There are also a number of sites on the internet that you can sign up and belong too. That is how I have gotten most of my information about casting calls and other productions that would be filming in my area. Most are open to everyone from the SAG accredited actors to the High School drama student wanting to get involved in movies or TV. It is also very beneficial to get to know any local casting agents in your area and go meet them and get your photo and information on file with them for when the next production comes to town.

JS: Thank you so much for your wonderful advice, and of course for your service. Before we sign off, do you have one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with? This can be something that I forgot to ask about, or a summary of your points above.

SM: One piece of advice that has served me well and that I think has kept me in good graces with the directors I have worked with, is to keep it real. Be excited and be willing to work hard and do whatever is asked of you. Be a solution to problems on set and not the cause of any. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you see something being done not quite right from what we know it should be as service members. If you’re working for a good director, chances are he wants it as realistic as possible. One of my good friends was actually hired on as a military advisor for a production and worked several weeks just advising on how things should be done on set.

 

 

These interviews will appear in an upcoming book on military members and veterans in the world of entertainment. As you wait, please read my book Creative Writing Career, on Amazon.

 

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