I recently got the chance to talk to Thomas R. Baker about his role in ‘We Brought A Zoo’. Here, Thomas talks about what it was like working with Matt Damon on-set and how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Thomas. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘We Brought A Zoo’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film? I understand it’s based on the autobiography of a British journalist, Benjamin Mee…
A widower purchases a zoo to remodel, rebuild and restock…and in doing so, reinvigorates his life with his two children…at least, that is how I see it….
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play the part of an US Air Force pilot flying into the middle of Hurricane Charley (female hurricane from 2004).
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I put in for the part on lacasting.com and received a call from Rich King Casting the next day. I was asked if I had any cockpit experience on board a C130-J plane. I used to brief the pilots at Gulfport, MS at the navy base there. That was during my meteorology classes I took that summer a few years back. I thank Rich King Casting to this day for asking me to do this part. This was to have been just background. But, after reviewing the notes for the part, I brought this up to Mr. Cameron Crowe – (the Cameron Crowe of ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’): ‘Sir: I need to be able to speak to my co-pilot during a storm such as this. It is not possible to stay silent during such turbulence’. Mr. Crowe looked at me and said, ‘You’ve been bumped. Please say the words moderate turbulence’. That’s how it happened.
How would you say this film is different and unique? Had you read the autobiography before you signed on?
I did read the autobiography. And I loved it. It was quite the adventure, but with the realism of just simply trying new things in life as its lesson. A life lesson. A message for and to all of us. One chance at life, take the risk, take the chance, since one is all you have. This film is different from other ones I have been involved with. I had the chance to build on a scene with my air force and navy experiences. It brought “me” into the fray of filming on a set. I saw first-hand the incredible professionalism of all there. And, Mr. Crowe is exactly the type of director (and the director) I would work for again. He takes risks. As a matter of fact, I would pose to him this question: ‘Sir, what did you detect or evince about me that day when I said I needed to speak with my co-pilot? Was it something I said?’ I would like to know this answer, so that I may be just as useful on another set for another film. That is Mr. Crowe’s vision. I was proud to be a part of it.
The film stars Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones and Angus Macfadyen – with Cameron Crowe onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
Yes. About halfway through the first take, Mr. Damon (Benjamin Mee) takes out his notebook. The cockpit is bouncing all around. I am sweating to death. My glasses are fogged up. I can barely hear anything. I am having the time of my life. I take one look at Mr. Damon with his notebook and shout: “Sir, put away that notebook! This is a teachable moment. That’s a hurricane out there, sir!” Mr. Crowe loved the line. Unfortunately, it did not make it in the film. That line was off the top of my head. It was from my teaching days as a high school teacher of meteorology and a navy weather forecaster.
Let’s talk a bit about you Thomas. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I have always wanted to act. Teaching came my way and I was distracted for a bit. But, these last few years, I got into background acting. I simply enjoy being a part of a big vision. I enjoy meeting fellow actors. I absolutely adore the hard work. It’s really not that hard, by the way.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Try out the background acting. Try something at your local school or drama department (if you’re still in school). Try it out in a community college or university. Meet people. Take up hobbies…. Bring depth and breadth to yourself and your parts. Take up a new language. Come up with sketches and monologues that are true tests of your abilities. Just simply try it. Be on time. Always be polite to everyone on set. Always be helpful. And, volunteer at your local Screen Actors Guild Foundation. I always make it a point to help elevate others. “We rise together, when we help each other.” Keep a positive attitude. Just enjoy the acting, the activities on set. And most of all, stay away from the actors who are grumpy, cynical, and unkind. I have not met many…but I have met some. You don’t need that.
What is currently on your I-Pod?
Beatles, classical music, and lots of easy listening music from the days I was an engineer at KJOI radio. That alone helps me out on set.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three ‘personal’ things could you not live without?
Dental floss, a Wall-Street Journal and a Leatherman tool. I could easily take care of several people with these items.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- My mom (passed away in 2009)…. first and foremost, she was a big supporter of my strange quests. She helped me to pay for a treasure hunting expedition in the Caribbean many years ago. I would like to catch her up to date with what I have been doing. She was always picking on me. I miss that.
- Second, Jaye Reynolds; an old wonderful girl-friend from the distant past. I would first apologize to her for being such a jerk. Then, I would share with her the photos of my first daughter (Victoria Jaye), whom I obviously named her after this special lady in my life.
- And third, Ronald Reagan, my favourite modern president. The words he spoke, he emulated and followed. He lived his ideals. He was also an actor. We would have much to talk about.
What is your favourite word?
Sagacity. Having wisdom, acumen or shrewdness. Something I strive to be constantly: sagacious (well, maybe not shrewd).
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
Hopefully, another film to showcase and tap my eccentricities. I would like to think that there is a director out there who can utilize them. And, to extend my loyalties – to both my director and the Screen Actors Guild. I am proud to be a volunteer for SAG and look forward to be a more active figure in the Foundation. Just give me a call… and tell me what it is you need on set. I will do my best to deliver a “good product”. That was something I asked Mr. Crowe after our scene was done (nearly two hours later). ‘Mr. Crowe, how was my product?’ His reply: ‘Are you kidding, you call it a product?’ My answer: ‘Sir, yes, I am quite proud of what I can do.’ (He loved my “product”, by the way).
Thanks for the interview!