UNCG alumnus Chris Chalk ’01 stars in the hit show “Gotham,” and has been featured in “Homeland” and “Underground.”
He has starred in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Ruined,” and the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of “Fences” alongside Viola Davis and Denzel Washington.
He was featured in the Oscar Best Picture film “Twelve Years a Slave.”
This week, Chalk returned to his alma mater to mentor students.
He has been visiting UNCG Theatre classes and speaking with students since Monday.
He has come back to UNCG as often as he can, since graduating in 2001, to visit former professors and spend time with Spartan theatre students, sharing hard-won advice and inspiring them to aim high. UNCG Theatre professor Jim Wren, who introduced him and was his professor two decades ago, noted how valuable a chance to learn from Chalk was for the current students.
At Wednesday’s Q&A session for all theatre students, Chalk encouraged – even challenged – them to ask questions.
The first question was specific: The best way to get an agent? Chalk noted “The rules are shifting,” and gave some pointers about choosing one.
The next question was about how students can prepare for the future. “Think like a professional now,” when you’re a student, he implored. Consider taking a business class at the Bryan School. Take advantage of your many opportunities here as a student. Prepare yourself in every way.
About casting calls? “Be prepared.”
About the hardest roles he’s played? The Pulitzer-winning play “Ruined” was about “pretty tough stuff,” he explained. His role was tough for him, emotionally. Also, “‘Twelve Years a Slave’ was really, really hard. Not on-set – Steve McQueen runs a fantastic set, all the actors were so kind – but a lot of nightmares, a lot of nightmares. That’s why I chose to do ‘Gotham’ when I did … I wanted to do something that was less hard on my spirit.”
A typical shoot day for “Gotham?” He wakes up at 4 a.m., he’s picked up at 5. The workday ends at 6-8 p.m., sometimes. He described the typical day: the hair, make-up, and wardrobe. Rehearsals. Blocking. The call sheet with schedules. The shooting of scenes. (The fight scenes take more time.)
He peppered his answers with great, real-world advice.
Be prepared, he told them. For example, there’s no excuse to not have your lines memorized.
Work on your brand – through social media, your appearance, in every way. Self-care is important. Think of how you present yourself. “Every day, I’m advertising my business.”
Right now, learn skills and get certifications that will help you land part-time jobs and pay the bills, as you work as an actor.
One student asked about UNCG Theatre’s Showcase in New York City each April – the best way to use it to your advantage. Chalk reminisced on his going to Showcase when he was a student. He went three years. He reminded the theatre students they had his contact information. And there are many other UNCG arts alumni in New York and LA. Reach out to some of them, he said. Ask advice. They will respond.
Being an actor is hard work, and the hours are long. “The feeling becomes normal. … It’s only hard if you don’t love it.”
Chalk can be seen in the upcoming “Red Sea Diving Resort” alongside Chris Evans and in Ava Duvernay’s upcoming Netflix mini-series “Central Park Five.” His directorial feature debut, “Farewell,” will be seen later this year. For UNCG, he narrated this UNCG anthem video and the 125th anniversary video.
See related story from an earlier visit to UNCG, in 2015: https://newsandfeatures.uncg.edu/chris-chalk-gotham/
Story by Mike Harris, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications