Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Today, Melissa Merli chats with actor Bill Kephart, 48, of Urbana
Q: When did you start acting?
A: I started in grade school in Chillicothe. My first character was Dirty Discharge — it was a play about ecology. So I played a villain.
Q: So you caught the bug then?
A: Yes, I would say it was a combination of not only things offered in school, whether declamation or speech team, but also 4-H. They have several speaking competitions.
Q: Did you win?
A: Yes, I had a lot of success in 4-H. By the time I was in high school, I was doing original oratory, and in my junior year, I won the state of Illinois title. I was the national winner of an American Legion oratory contest, and the scholarship I won paid for most of my college.
Q: Where did you go?
A: I have a bachelor's in English literature from the University of Illinois. I went on to one year of a master's of fine arts program in acting at DePaul University.
They didn't think I was very good, and they cut me after the first year. I did not act for seven years after that, and then I got a teaching certificate at Eastern Illinois University.
When I went back into teaching, I had my summers off to do plays. Not only did I realize this is something I really like to do — I was also much better at it. I would attribute that to having failed.
Q: So how did you get back into acting?
A: I just got back into community theater, and then I had a few stints with some television shows on The History Channel.
Then I met Mike Boedicker and the Champaign Movie Makers, and Mike gave me the lead role in his film, "Revolting." I'm happy with about 50 percent of what I did in that. I would say I learned to act for the camera in that movie, and that's a big deal for a stage actor.
I also worked with Joe Taylor on competitive commercial projects. We were doing so many videos that it was an intensive lesson for me in acting for the camera.
I came to realize that acting for the camera is the height of acting. In a dramatic scene in a movie, you can't fake the emotions. You really have to be thinking and feeling exactly like the character or else viewers will see it as false.
As a film actor, I want to be like an artist who paints in different styles. Gary Oldman would be an excellent example of that.
Part of the reason I like film acting better than stage acting is when you do something in front of the camera, it lasts forever.
Q: Have you done much stage acting?
A: That's all I did before 2000, before film opportunities started popping up. I did a full year at the Sunshine Dinner Theatre. When Champaign Movie Makers started, that changed everything.
Q: I suppose you've been told that you resemble Philip Seymour Hoffman?
A: There have been a few people who have mentioned that. It used to be Ron Howard when I was younger. I'll take Hoffman any time. He's absolutely excellent.
Q: What has been your most meaningful acting project so far?
A: "House of Thaddeus." For me it was more than being an actor. I did all kinds of physical construction for the film. I dressed sets. I helped with props. I edited photos. I did sound work.
As I've gotten older I've come to realize I really only want to do unique projects where I have some artistic freedom.
"House of Thaddeus" was special, and there were other reasons for that. It was a small group of people working on it. We would stay overnight in the house. We would eat there. It was so hand-crafted and personal.
Editor's note: For more on "House of Thaddeus" and upcoming screenings of the movie, see Melissa Merli's Art Beat column.