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Spring Hill graduate David Sullivan talks about his role in 'Argo'

By Christina Lane
Jan. 19, 2013 at 10 p.m.


When Longview native David Sullivan left East Texas almost eight years ago to pursue a dream, he never imagined his journey would involve landing a role in an Academy Award-nominated film.

Sullivan, a 1996 graduate of Spring Hill High School, has a supporting role in "Argo." The film, directed by Ben Affleck, is based on a true story of a 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. The film recently won the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama and has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

"It is a such a good feeling to be part of something that goes on to amazing things," Sullivan said. "To see people giving it the credit it deserves is just such a great feeling. It reminds me a little of the first time I stepped on stage. To know that we put together this thing from the beginning, and to know that we put together this special piece of art that has inspired people in such a way, it's inspiring to me and it helps me know that this is what I should be doing."

<strong>Spring Hill beginnings</strong>

The acting bug first bit Sullivan when he was in fourth grade and saw a movie being filmed in San Antonio. A child actor was receiving attention from people, and Sullivan - the youngest of three children - wanted to do something like that.

As he got into high school, he said he was more interested in sports (and girls). His girlfriend at the time suggested he audition for the one-act play, but he told her that since he was a football player he was not going to do it.

But then he found out if he was in the play, he would get out of class for half the day on some Fridays to go to competitions.

"I asked, where do I sign up?" Sullivan said.

He landed the lead role.

"Then the first time I was on stage, it was like going into the gym or football stadium - you having people cheering for you," he said. "I got that first round of applause and I just wanted more."

After high school graduation, Sullivan attended Baylor University but shied away from acting after taking a class for non-majors. He decided it wasn't his thing.

He was laid off from his first job out of college after only four months, and the desire to perform had begun to percolate again.

He got on a casting website and found that an independent film was being shot in Dallas and was looking for actors. He landed a role in the film called "Primer." It went on to win the dramatic Grand Jury award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004.

Sullivan said that inspired him to move to Los Angeles and continue to pursue acting. He has numerous TV appearances to his name, including "Boston Legal," "Criminal Minds," "CSI: New York," "NCIS" and "Justified."

<strong>Landing a studio production</strong>

However, "Argo" was his first studio film.

"It's funny because I've been in L.A. for almost eight years now, and you never really know what relationships are going to help get you the next job," Sullivan said.

He met a casting director about three years ago when he read for a role in a pilot TV show that was not picked up by a network.

"I have hundreds of auditions like that each year, where you go in, read, leave, and you don't really think twice about it," he said.

But, two years later his agent called him and said he had the opportunity to read for a Ben Affleck movie. When he went to the audition, he saw the same casting director he'd encountered before. She wanted him to audition for a role in which he would have a couple of lines.

"I read my two lines; she said it was great; I said thank you and I left," he said. "About two weeks went by and I got a call to meet with them again. I was told, 'Ben saw your tape' - Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck saw my tape - 'And he really liked what you did but he sees you as more of this role.' The other role had two solid scenes in the White House, jump starting the movie. So, of course, I was going to read for it - not thinking that I was going to get it, but more that I had created a fan out of Ben Affleck."

A week later, he received a call saying Affleck wanted him to be part of the film.

"I didn't know then that it was going to be as big as it is," Sullivan said.

A couple of weeks before filming was set to begin, Affleck asked Sullivan and five or six other actors to come in for a reading.

"He said, 'I handpicked each and every one of you. I'm excited to be working together.' It was just so humbling," Sullivan said. "Here's this guy who's been an actor for a long time. You know you're going to be part of a good film - especially when it's also starring people like Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin. I knew I was part of something pretty amazing."

On the day of filming, Affleck sought input from various actors, including Sullivan. He said Affleck asked him how he would say particular lines.

"It caught me off guard. I was thinking I would say what was written for me," he said. "You have hundreds of people standing around, and Ben Affleck is asking me what I think. He was willing to collaborate. ... So I said things that weren't really scripted. There was this feeling of being free to do the story in that moment. It was just such a good experience, I felt so fortunate and so inspired to be welcomed with collaboration and art."

When the film went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama, Sullivan said he was "literally jumping up and down."

<strong>Moving forward</strong>

In between jobs, Sullivan coaches other actors, including on how to audition.

While he still feels like he is finding his voice, he said he would like to direct in the future. He has written a short film and plans to direct that.

He's also landed a role in "The Fosters," a pilot for ABC Family in which Jennifer Lopez is a producer. The show, which is about two women raising a multi-ethnic mix of foster and biological children, is set to debut in June. He's also auditioning for a role for an upcoming HBO TV show.

"It's been a really, really fun ride," Sullivan said. "I still feel like I'm just starting. But I've surrounded myself with an amazing community of actors and friends who inspire me."

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