I didn’t mean to end up on TV, and never in a million years did I think I’d be acting alongside Oscar winners. My goal has always been NASA. I wanted to be an astronaut. When I arrived at Embry-Riddle for Summer B as a freshman, I knew I was in the right place and on the right track.
There is no way to guarantee you’ll get a flight job fresh out of school in order to build hours, but I had an unconventional approach. I got a job at the Hilton Garden Inn next to the Daytona Speedway. My plan was to work there for three months while I sent out resumes.
One day, a guy walked into the hotel and saw my airplane tie pin. He asked me if I was an Embry-Riddle alumnus, asked if I had my multi, and then he offered me a job flying whale protection missions. Just like that. Right place, right time, with the right degree from the right place.
After flying for six months for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, I got hired by Trans States Airlines. I was well on my way to building up the jet time required by NASA — and that’s when I learned that NASA would now only be interested in hiring pilots who were current or former military test pilots. Well … [insert expletive]. I went back to one of my academic advisers and asked him what to do. “Go get your master’s degree in something you enjoy that shows that you’re well rounded, then get your M.D. or Ph.D.,” he said.
I had done community theatre since I was a little kid and was part of the Riddle Players during my time at Embry-Riddle. I quit my airline job and auditioned for one of the top conservatory programs in the country. Miraculously, I was accepted, and in two short years I had my Master of Fine Arts.
But I didn’t want to be an actor; I wanted to be an astronaut. I turned down an offer to do the Broadway show Avenue Q to start a Ph.D. in physics. I learned things in my Ph.D. program that would only benefit someone interested in teaching about space — or becoming an astronaut. Then, NASA had their budget cut by two-thirds so Congress could fight some wars.
Where did that leave me? With a degree completely useless to my new life path, an incredible story and an excuse to try out Hollywood. In my first two months there, I booked a commercial for American Airlines that paid well because it ran for over a year. It took me three years to book my first role on a TV show, Castle, and then I booked three more in the following three months.
I’ve acted alongside Oscar winners, been on set with John Travolta (and had long conversations with him about the airplane he donated to our school) and played killers, lovers, stoners and everything in between.
There is no right way into the airlines and no guarantee that you’ll want to be what your degree is in. I learned work ethic at Embry-Riddle. You can’t “high school study” for an indoctrination oral for an airline. You can’t skate through a check ride. You have to outwork, outperform, outrun, outlast and outdo everyone else. Embry-Riddle helped me learn lessons that most actors without a degree in flying airplanes learn. Never be afraid to shake the snow globe of life as you have all the tools within you to do so.
I’ve since started a production company, and the last film that I wrote, directed and starred in has won best comedy in four large film festivals. I’m still waiting on my chance to be an astronaut, but maybe I’ll get to play one on TV. That will be good enough for now.