Interview With Actor Stephen Manley

By Ruth on November 1, 2016 in Interview, movie, television

I have always been fascinated with “old Hollywood.” The actors and actresses of the bygone era are what I grew up watching and cherishing. I didn’t even watch modern films until I was much older. When I happened upon Stephen Manley, I had no idea that he had ties to that somewhat “forgotten” period, even if his experience was more modern than where my obsession lay. However, interviewing Stephen was quite an enchanting and memorable experience, and I am so glad that he agreed to briefly overview his career while providing various highlights and insights along the way.

By RuCo Photography

By RuCo Photography

RH: Why did you become an actor?  What kind of training have you had?

SM: My Grandpa on my mom’s side, actor Stephen E. Soldi, started in 1917 on D.W. Griffith’s film Intolerance and stayed active as an actor/ stuntman until he retired in 1966. After his wife passed, he lived with us, and he and I spent all our time together. He would show me his portfolio that had pictures of him with {Charlie} Chaplin, {Buster} Keaton, {Boris} Karloff, Ginger Rogers, Jack Lemmon and the like. He would talk of how things were done in the silent days, then open his old fibre box makeup case, grab a stick of nose putty and explain old makeup techniques. He taught me how to read by using his old film scripts. When I obtained my SAG card and began to work on Studio Lots, I recognized the environments because he had shown me so much. A lot of old timers were still around then who knew Grandpa and so they watched over me like a hawk and steered my interests into everything from lenses to set design, proper camera techniques to blocking, lighting and movement, how scenes were cut, stage blood to break away glass. I felt a great responsibility to make him proud and maintain his professional work ethic.

Besides growing up on sets and learning to read by reading scripts, I also had private coaching by Bruce Glover and I studied at the Beverly Hills Playhouse with Bill Howey and Milton Katselas.  Working with some of the greats such as Tommy Lee Jones, running lines with him on set, or working with James Coburn.  You really get to see their style of acting up close. Zora Lambert was another amazing actress to learn from.  I’ve lived and breathed on film sets so long; it becomes part of you.  But one never stops learning.

img_1235.jpgSince you began as a child in the industry and have continued as a teen and then an adult, was it difficult to make the transition? 

My acting coaches, Bill Howey and Milton Katselas took me aside and said that when you get older and get some age and more life experience under your belt, you will be able to play a wider range of roles. Thirty years later, it’s starting to happen. My focus is to take advantage of all of my experience and training to play as broad a range of characters as truthfully as I can. Since one of my heroes is Lon Chaney, Sr. who played so many wonderful characters truthfully and passionately, my goal is to continue to use him as inspiration for my own work as best I can.

As of late, I seem to have been playing some really rough and nasty dudes. Michael Madsen’s dope dealer in Death in the Desert, a Neo- Nazi Leader named Adolf in Not On My Mountain, outlaw gunslinger Charlie Bowdre in Billy the Kid, a Kevin Costner production. It marks a new chapter in my life as an actor. The opportunity to play these very colorful and rich characters is a welcome change for me. Also the opportunity to work with new talented filmmakers is very important. I have worked with and continue to meet some great talent.

 What were one or two of your most memorable/favorite roles as a child? As a teen?

img950840.jpgAll of them.  Each job is a gift and an opportunity when you are an actor. I’ve enjoyed all my work.  I approach every part, whether it be a major feature film or an intimate small budget independent film with the same enthusiasm.  I’ve enjoyed crashing in the Hindenburg, taking a cruise on the Love Boat, Pon Farring on the Genesis planet, riding with Billy the Kid, and now firing up the PCC machine with this wonderful cast in Ghosthunters for Pearry Teo.

I enjoyed working on all of those shows and still have most of the scripts from the things I worked on, including some call sheets and schedules. I loved working at MCA Universal Studios during it’s 70’s heyday. I remember while shooting Emergency on the lot, the Six Million Dollar Man himself, Lee Majors walked by my mom outside the commissary, and then we saw Kojak, Telly Savalas, in the commissary…! So much was being shot there that we now cherish: Airport ‘75, Earthquake ( my buddy Tiger Williams was in that), I was in The Hindenburg which shot for four months there. Wonderful experiences.

img_1477.jpgOne of your more recent works is Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter.  What was that experience like?  How was it working with cast/crew? Any memorable moments while filming? What can you tell us about your character in this film?

Neil Johnson and Tracey Birdsall have become family to me. They are both wonderful people who were a pleasure to work and share with. It was a pleasure to become a part of Neil’s Science Fiction Universe. He crafts fantastical worlds to be creative in and I worked to create a well-rounded character of Dr. Ralston in RWRF for Neil. The backgrounds and locations were spectacular and it was important that all the actors be real people and not empty shells for the film to work. RWRF has a lot of action, but also many touching moments and everyone involved took it very serious. Daz Crawford was great, William Kirtcher is badass, and Tracey looks stunning.

Any other upcoming works you can mention? 

img952575.pngGhosthunters is a wonderful true Gothic horror film that was just released July 5th and is written and directed by the talented Pearry Teo (Cloud Atlas, Curse of Sleeping Beauty). I play Dr. Henry Tanner, whom along with his colleagues Neil, played by David O’Donnell, Jessica, played by Liz Fenning and Neil’s girlfriend Amy, played by Francesca Santoro, attempt to truly capture some agonized spirits that inhabit a beautifully shambled Tudor/ gingerbread house. Actresses Anna Harr, Web Crystal and Phyllis Spielmann are also there to help us. Everyone gave standout performances. And I’m so excited to announce that I have won the Best Actor award for Ghosthunters at the Malibu West International Film Festival!

Also, I’m currently filming The Idiot by independent filmmaker Kris Krainock. It is a dark, surreal comedy series in development which is in talks with Netflix,  in which I play the role of Joel, a pan-glossian in a corrupt world.

curse-of-the-phantom-shadow.png.pngCurse of the Phantom Shadow is in post-production, I play the role of Captain Reynolds.  It is a stylised 1940’s era serial-type project by filmmaker Mark Ross. (B-25 Bombers, Burma, Whiskey, Secret Agents, and Varga Girls)

Another feature film I am slated to start shooting in October is Snow Black, starring Fred Williamson, written by Robert Parham and produced by Tim Beal.

Any plans to eventually write/direct/produce? 

I have done all three; I prefer acting.  It a lot to take on, but I have the utmost respect for those that can wear many hats.  I graduated from Pasadena Art Center with a degree in Film and Fine Art.  I had alumni that have gone on to be very successful who were in my classes,  Tarsem Singh (The Immortals, The Cell), Michael Bay, Zach Snyder.  I was told I needed time to get some experience under my belt. When I took a break and studied at the Art Center I worked on a film called Greasepaint. It went on to many festivals and award shows.  It played on Bravo, when Bravo was an “arts” channel, much different than today, between Fellini films.  I’m very proud of my work.  I also started to shoot a film about the Foreign Legion, which was very difficult.  I again decided to take what I had learned and now, full circle, I am acting again.  Director’s hat tossed aside.

Over the course of your career, what are some of the most major changes you have observed?

I would say technical achievements that allow filmmakers to accomplish their visions faster and easier. But the craft of directing and acting is still as it has been for decades.  There really are no shortcuts to filmmaking; it is still a difficult process that requires craftsmanship, concentration, and tremendous organization.

What is your secret to longevity in this business? 

Perseverance and endurance during dead, dry and hard times. Having supporting friends and/or family. My wife is extremely supportive. I also try to keep my foot in other arts to keep creative blood flowing. I have discovered that all of the performing, fine and physical arts share similar attitudes of discipline, technique and execution. Share with other artists and become involved in the art world closest to you.

screen-shot-2016-05-15-at-12.22.56-pm.png.pngAs with all arts, you must make your art your way of life. Carry on through the lowest of lows and cherish the highs. Be professional and give a hundred percent to every performance you give, both in an audition and roles you are cast in. Train with the best coaches and teachers you can find. Be easy to work with, amicable, and reliable. In doing that, you will establish a good reputation. Word of mouth will spread, and people will want to work with you. Good work begets good work.

If you could work with anyone in the industry that you have not as of yet, whom would you choose and why?

When I was a young teenager, Bernardo Bertolucci offered me the role of Jill Clayburgh’s son in his film La Luna (1979) in which her character has sensitive albeit controversial and provocative themes with her son’s character. My suitcase was packed for Italy, but for unknown bureaucratic reasons still unclear to me to this day, I was unable to commit to the film. To have worked with Mr. Bertolucci and Ms. Clayburgh would have been such an experience. Perhaps there is still time to have a Bertolucci film under my belt….!

By RuCo Photography

By RuCo Photography

For Stephen to have had such a long and successful career in this inconstant universe called “show business,” I have no doubt that his perseverance and determination are a credit to those who have painstakingly paved the way for him. He was almost born into this profession, and it seems that he is still captivated with telling stories and creating diverse characters. He is aware of his strengths and preferences, and for those, he is willing to invest time, resources, blood, sweat and tears to accomplish his vision and attain his dreams. Some might quibble at my use of the word “success,” since Stephen is far from a household name by any means. But for Stephen, I am certain, success is not measured by name recognition, money, nor the paparazzi. On the contrary, Stephen’s definition of success is creating genuine characters, telling powerful stories, and above all, remaining true to who you are as a person. And also getting along with your fellow man and treating others as you would like to be treated. And if he can inspire them along the way, I would venture to say that he is a happy man. There is no doubt that he is content with his lot in life, and even in the barren moments of his career, he never gave up. I would invite all of you to check out Stephen’s works, as there is no question that he is an actor of substance who is worthy of any accolades that are bestowed upon him (although that is not his driving force in acting–which is why he is so good!). I would also suggest that you check him out at the links below so that you don’t miss a single electrifying moment of his journey in the whirlwind world of entertainment.








About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher


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