Being an actor doesn’t follow the great American script. Sure, there’s lots of opportunity—for the fortunate few—and lots of hopefuls who manage to get a whiff of success, but never fully taste it. You see, the great American script is all about going to school and getting the proper education, about using that education to get a professional job—a lawyer, doctor or teacher—in a workplace that runs on an eight-hour day. The script is about earning a decent paycheck to provide for one’s family and, in the end, retire and live happily ever. Ah, yes, the great American way of life as a director would see it. Sure does make for a great feel-good movie, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Henry Frost isn’t.
He would give anything to take a script, but that’s not the one he wants. He has gambled with a career choice that could pay huge dividends … or leave him standing in, working as an extra that could have been. This aspiring actor knows the big risk, but he’s banking on that first option, on Hollywood’s true version of happily ever after. About a year ago, he ditched school and moved out to New Orleans. He left his native Thibodaux, a place he still calls home, and headed for a movie set.
“I started hearing about all the movies blowing up in New Orleans, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m doing something different,’” Henry says. “I packed my bags, dropped out of college, and tried it out.”
WORKING EXTRA HARD
The 20-year-old has always had an interest in acting. It was something he shared with his father, Bill Frost. They had both acted in productions at the Thibodaux Playhouse, and Henry confesses to being the class clown in school. But, apparently, he had a shy side. He was once asked to play Jesus in a school Passion play, but refused the lead role because he was uncomfortable taking off his shirt.
That hesitancy has since vanished like Hubig’s pies in Big Easy corner stores. It’s all part of Henry’s refusal to look back. This is the life he has chosen—one he would have never imagined, even during his days at
E. D. White Catholic High School. After graduation, he enrolled at Fletcher Technical Community College as a general studies major, primarily because he found himself without a plan. His heart wasn’t in school.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Henry says. “I overheard somebody who was doing a gig as an extra. I was like, ‘You can do that?’”
The confused student turned to the Web to seek out job opportunities, and soon found himself on sets in Hollywood South.
“After doing extra work here and there, my teachers would even let me skip days from school because they thought it was so cool,” Henry says. “One day, I woke up and thought, ‘I can’t be doing [school] anymore.’ I had this urge to do something different. It’s such an addicting business. You work on your first movie and you just want to work again tomorrow—even if you only got three hours of sleep. You want to meet more of these people. I never wanted to be that guy on Facebook posting a status, ‘Oh, back at work again.’”
TAKE TWO … THREE …
Henry landed his first gig as an extra when he was asked to be part of a bar scene for the film Contraband, which starred Mark Wahlberg. The newcomer’s 5-second clip took about 16 hours to shoot. But it was a foot in the door. And in the film industry, most hopefuls can’t even sneak in a shoestring.
“Before I moved out to New Orleans, I got a call to do an extra gig,” Henry says. “I had long hair and a beard. It was a [different] bar scene, and I’m standing in the background. This gig was for The Campaign. The director comes up to me and says, ‘We need someone to play Jesus.’ I had the long hair, the beard and everything. He says, ‘Would you mind auditioning tonight?’ I got the part and had a scene with LeBron James in a Lamborghini playing Jesus Christ. But we never shot the scene—it never happened.”
That became much ado about nothing. But there’s always a chance for a second take. And a director did call for it.
“I just finished Dallas Buyers Club with Matthew McConaughey—I worked the whole movie with him,” Henry says. “I get a call and [a production crew member] said, ‘We want you to stand in and double for [McConaughey].’ And what that is, before they roll the cameras, before he comes in, they’ll have me dressed like him, acting out the scene in front of the director. They do that so they can get all the shots in—where they want to start and finish. Then I step out, and he goes in. I got to work every day on that movie, standing right next to McConaughey and the director and producer. On the last day at work––on the 25th day of filming––they threw me a speaking role in the movie. But it still might not happen.”
That, of course, will be the director’s call. It’s a big maybe that has already failed once. But Henry remains hopeful that his breakout moment on the silver screen will come. Until then, he is content getting his wardrobe together and showing up at each set at ungodly hours, working well into the night.
Even with his busy schedule, the aspiring actor has managed to land a leading role—pro bono, that is. The indie film is called Duct Tape, shot in 10 days on a budget of around $2,300. A few European musicians scored the film, and Henry says an investor has picked it up and plans to release it to international film festivals. It is a project he is proud of—one he hopes will be the one to get his face in front of renowned directors that will take the same chance on him that he has already taken with his career.
Also eager to work behind the camera, Henry has collaborated with fellow E. D. White graduate, Brady Robinson, to write his first feature-length screenplay. The project, titled Blind, is about a blind kid living with abusive parents and the kid’s life journey that leads to him choosing homelessness.
Henry … rather, parts of Henry … can be seen in Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt.
“Every time the camera is zoomed in on Joseph’s hand … or him looking at his pocket watch … or him holding a gun … that’s all me,” says Henry, grinning. “When I saw it for the first time in the theater … the opening scene—my hand is holding the pocket watch. Nobody in the theater knew.”
Currently, the stand-in is working on an untitled HBO series being filmed at various rural locales across South Louisiana. It, too, stars McConaughey, as well as Woody Harrelson. The series will follow detectives in search of a serial killer in Louisiana. Filming began Jan. 29, and is slated to wrap up in July.
“I’m doing the same thing for this show. I’m standing in and doubling for McConaughey,” Henry says. “The reason I got that is because I had just finished working for him and got recommended to do it.”
‘NO LOOKING BACK’
Over a year and a half in, Henry is close to having both feet in the door. But he knows he still has a long way to go.
Of course, all it takes is that one big break.
“Every time I’m standing there as an extra for a movie or a TV show, I try to make myself glow over everybody,” he says. “I want somebody to see me. You just never know when you can get pulled out and get something bigger.”
The young actor has often thought about making the next big move—the one that would bring him out West to the epicenter of the industry. But, on second thought, maybe that major fault line is what’s actually moving.
“I think about [moving to Hollywood] every day,” Henry says. “But everything is coming down to New Orleans. It’s happening here right now. Why go there when there are movies coming down here?”
He has a point. And it certainly makes a case for wanting to make a career out of all the buzz that the industry brings with it. That’s why, for now, the big-screen hopeful is happy to stick around his neck of the woods and work hard at making his chosen line of work, work. Thus far, the actor says he wouldn’t do anything different. He is taking the road less traveled—and he doesn’t plan to look back any time soon.
“I need to make this happen—just like somebody else has to finish school to get that degree,” Henry says. “There’s no looking back. I can’t.”