Living in Los Angeles, CA, Tim serves on the SAG Conservatory Steering Committee, teaches their Acting and VO workshops at the American Film Institute, and is an active member of the TV Academy. He has built a professional acting resume in Theatre, Film, TV, and VO, that spans 3 decades. From Shakespeare, Moliere, and Oscar Wilde at TN Repertory in Nashville and the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton, FL, to on-camera work throughout much of the east coast; landing speaking roles in 30+ Films (Pregnancy Pact, Recount, Bad Boys II, Sunshine State, Holy Man) and Dozens of Television shows (Rake, Criminal Minds, Ray Donovan, One Tree Hill, Scandal, Revenge, Nashville).
It's no surprise why Tim was chosen to be our Artist of the Month. We caught him during a break on set to get the inside scoop on his years of success as an actor.
Novy Talent Group: When did you start acting professionally?
Tim Powell: After Grad School at Ole Miss, I worked for Playboy’s Marketing Division called College Marketing Research (CMR). We did spring break promotions for fortune 500 companies in Beach Resorts all over the US. Between markets, I was in Alabama visiting my family and friends and someone asked me if I was auditioning for a movie that was shooting in Huntsville, AL called “What Waits Below”, Directed by Don Sharp. I took a shot, auditioned and booked the role of Jim White. I was eaten by a giant Lizard. I took the money from that role, bought my SAG Card and moved to Nashville.
NTG: I don’t think there is a person on this planet that doesn’t like you. Everyone who knows you, has an incredible story about you and something you did or said that encouraged or inspired them. Has there been someone who inspired a pivotal moment in your career?
TP: Really?? That’s nice to hear! There are so many. In college, I was always 2nd to that guy who always booked the leads. He was Hamlet, I was Polonious. He was Macbeth, I was MacDuff, etc…My College Theatre director, Jim Davis, was the one who, when I marched into his office and demanded to know when it would be MY TURN to play the lead in something said, “Never. You’re a Character actor, but you will always work.” If you look under the flower urn on Jim’s grave, you’ll find a stack of my old SAG Cards. I try to drop one off whenever I go home to visit.
Tom Hanks, who directed me in From the Earth to the Moon, told me “You can do no wrong in this room.”
Lou Gosset Jr., who taught me early on how to keep powerful emotions “on the back burner” between takes, like you’re “simmering a pot of sadness. When you need it, you just reach in and turn it up.”
Over the years they all add up. There have been bits and pieces of encouragement and advice from so many great actors and directors. As recently as five years ago, Sam Christensen quite literally changed everything for me with his process that taught me how to know what it is that I bring into the room, and how I am perceived by other people. Sam’s process helped me get my work more directly on track and eliminated a lot of my misconceptions. With Sam’s help, I can know exactly how to just “be myself” as other people see me.
NTG: Last year, you starred in the one man show, Man’s Dominion. The play did so well in Los Angeles that it turned into a cross country tour. I had the pleasure of seeing it when you came to Orlando. How was this experience for you?
TP: Doing a solo show is like skydiving. There is no safety net. It is absolutely critical that you are aware at all times, and that you are entirely self-dependent on the execution. I knew going in that it was going to be the hardest thing I had ever attempted. It can be richly rewarding and powerful; it's like walking a tight-wire. Live theatre is so immediate, so instantly rewarding. No two audiences are the same.
Man’s Dominion is large and powerful and simple and intimate all at the same time. Doing 19 monologues and 10 different characters (sometimes 9 or 11) in an hour with no breaks, makes 3 minutes in an audition feel like a simple exercise in existence. It has been one of the most profound experiences in my life. As an actor, the gift of David Castro’s amazing writing, and the direction of Dennis Neal and John Coppola, have helped me craft an amazing theatrical experience for the audience AND myself.
NTG: What was your process becoming all these characters? You transitioned into each so seamlessly.
TP: Ultimately, it comes down to a physical awareness of each of the characters. You have to know what it feels like being in their skin. “I am this person living this life.” I was blessed to have all this input from so many people: David Castro, Dennis Neal, my line coaches, Rebecca O’Brien and especially Karen Lew. They all helped me drill down into these very deep motivational and personal experiences of each of these beings I inhabit for a while. I also worked with a great dialect coach, Pamela Vanderway, and a great movement coach, Anastasia Coon. It upped a notch or two with the input of John Coppola at Studio C Artists when he stepped in and directed the latest version. John helped me anchor each character with specific physical actions that subconsciously lead the audience into instinctively knowing who’s “there” before I even begin speaking. Repetition helps immensely, as you can imagine.
NTG: Man’s Dominion was a heavy, intense story with a powerful message. I remembered you telling the audience after your show in Orlando that it changed you. Can you explain how?
TP: In so many ways. I became aware of so many things about the treatment of Elephants that I was unaware of before. I learned self reliance in a whole new way. Not based on self-doubt, but on ownership of my own abilities and trusting those on the outside to keep my “shit” straight. I had to surround myself with people whose word I could trust, even if it hurt, so I could get it right. I had to eliminate the uncertainty in my own work that would adversely affect my performance if I was unsure of anything. For maybe the first time in a 30+ year career, I am confident that I belong here. I’m sure I am meant to do this work. I have an obligation to tell this story to the best of my ability. I’m not messing around here. This is what I do. There’s no time to waste comparing myself to others on a similar career track and despairing that I’m “not good enough” or that I’m going to get “called out” or “caught” because I’m “not supposed to be here, really.” I’ve had enough good feedback from people I trust to know that the work is solid. It's a good place to be. Walking that fine line between confidence and cockiness, all the while carefully avoiding the trap of narcissism. I reached a place where I can say, without being self indulgent, that “yeah, maybe I am good at this.” I always leave the stage or the set thinking, "I could have been better...I could have had a better performance", but I accept the fact that sometimes things unfold organically. Sometimes, something that goes “wrong” isn’t a mistake, but rather a “happy accident” that helps tell the story in a newer, even better way.
NTG: You recently booked a recurring guest star role on the series Mercy Street, Executive Produced by Ridley Scott for PBS. Critics are raving about it saying it is the next “Downton Abby.” In fact, you are on set right now! How’s the experience been so far?
TP: OMG. This is probably one of the single most profound acting experiences I’ve had so far. This is a RADICAL departure from the kind of characters I’ve played my entire life. I get to work with the most amazing cast: Josh Radnor, McKinley Belcher III, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Patina Miller, Leo Butz, Scotty Caldwell ! Holy Cow! It's an actor’s dream job. Great direction by Steven Cragg, and in this last episode by Laura Innes, someone I’ve dreamed about working with since she was on ER, it's just been wonderful.
I’m holding my own. Everyone at every station is kind and honest and treats me as an equal. There’s a great camaraderie among this cast. Everyone knows that this show is something really special. It's ground-breaking and profound. I am blessed to be a part of it, to have a casting director who appreciated my work and resume enough to push me for it, and an agent, Melanie Novy, who believes in me and loves me unconditionally and fights for me daily.
This week I was asked to do an on-camera Interview with PBS for “Behind the Scenes” footage for the show. I was so honored, I probably babbled on like an idiot about how much it means to me to be part of such an amazing story-telling experience.
NTG: As you mentioned, your character, Mutt Murphy, is a new type of character for you! Obviously you can’t spill the beans on ‘ol Murph, but how has it been getting to play a character so different than the types you are typically cast for?
TP: I can say this: I usually play an authority figure. I’m recurring as the Chief of Detectives on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I’m the Chief of Police on Ray Donovan. I was a sit-room General in 13 Hours. A Sit-room 4-star head of Special Forces on Scandal. Chairman of the Board of Directors of Southampton Medical Center on Revenge. You get the idea... Mutt Murphy is a low-life Teamster and very racist asshole.
On the call sheet describing my first scene on my first day, it read “Mutt Murphy is a Jerk” in the description. Yeah, “departure” from my usual work is an understatement. I had some problems embracing this guy. Not judging him. Fighting against soft-pedaling him to avoid “hurting anyone’s feelings." Luckily, my “white guilt” was assuaged by some colleagues in an Actors Mastermind Group I belong to in LA. Especially my black friends, who pointed out that Mutt needed to be as callous and cruel in his demeanor as people actually were at the time. Mutt drops the “n-word bomb” every other sentence. It's a truth-be-told kind of experience, and if I soften it, or worry about being “offensive” or “politically correct”, it lessons the impact. This guy has had his world-view upended by emancipation. it's important to show him loosing his grip on the social order as he sees it.
NTG: The cast for Mercy Street is getting a lot of praise. How has it been working with everyone? Any fun stories?
TP: I kind of alluded to this earlier, but for me, nothing makes me feel more at home than when an actor, who’s name you know and who’s work amazes you, walks over, extends their hand and introduces themselves and welcomes you aboard. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, McKinley Belcher, Patina Miller, Josh Radnor, Leo Butz - each of them did exactly that almost right away. Scotty Caldwell and I had met earlier on a Film called "Like Dandelion Dust" so we played that “where have we met” game for about 15 minutes. She’s an amazingly calm and an incredibly talented actor. Extremely confident and powerful.
Without revealing too much, I can say that the time comes when Mutt gets put in his place and finds his racial fortunes suddenly reversed. There was a lot of joking about it from Patina and Scotty between takes. I wish there were more “fun stories” but the schedule is so tight and so packed that it's been non-stop work! The only things I could tell would reveal too much about what happens. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. ;-) I can say that driving a wagon is a great deal of fun. Additionally, the stunt work (that I can’t discuss) was super cool and messy and kicked my ass after doing it so many times in a row… and yes, I have my own stunt double. That’s cool.
NTG: When can viewers watch you on Mercy Street?
TP: Season Two is scheduled for release in early 2017.
NTG: What has been your favorite project/role?
TP: The current one is great. I really enjoyed working on Ray Donovan. It's an amazing cast, incredible crew, brilliant writing. Sharing the screen with Ian McShane and Katie Holmes was a dream-like kinda thing…
NTG: Is there a series or actor/actress that you are dying to book/work with?
TP: There are so many. I came really close to working with Bryan Cranston recently (I was on “hold” for a couple of weeks for his LBJ movie). Didn't happen. I’d love to work with David Tennant, Krysten Ritter, J.K. Simmons, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hanks, Felicity Huffman amazes me. I could go on…
NTG: What has been essential for your career and success?
TP: I have to remind myself that it's never personal and ultimately it's a marathon, not a sprint. If you show up and do the work and give it your best, you can walk away with or without booking the job and feel pretty good about it either way.
Ultimately the lives we touch, the relationships we develop, mean more than the ephemeral work we pursue. Staying in line helps. We are personally responsible for our careers, not our reps. We have to do the heavy lifting.
NTG: Over the course of your career, you’ve had many agents. Do you find it works better with multiple agencies representing you or being represented exclusively?
TP: It's been a long career of experimentation. I feel like it's best to have someone who has the connections where the work is. There has to be mutual respect.
I recently had a manager drop me after THREE WEEKS because I was not getting 10-15 auditions in a week. He concluded that “no one wanted to see me” and that I should find someone else. I think maybe his perspective on reality has shifted. I didn't even notice that they let me go. I’ve fired a few reps, I’ve parted ways amicably with some, not so amicably with others.
Over the last few years, remote casting has become much more of a viable way to work. I feel very well represented by my current agent, Melanie Novy, she knows not to waste my time on trivial work and she pitches me hard for bigger jobs. She “gets” me. I like that. It means the world to me.
NTG: What is your favorite thing about being an actor?
TP: Nothing makes me feel more alive than existing “in the moment” when I’m working. When it’s good, it's better than sex. or flying, or probably skydiving. The “high” I get from a good performance, or a great day of shooting, is the best there is. Not much else comes close.
NTG: Any advice for fellow actors?
TP: Take the time to find out what it is that people see when they encounter you. Know what it is that you bring into a room.
Learn how to describe it.
Remember the adage “It's a marathon, not a sprint.”
Stay in line and do the work. If you do the work, the notice will come.
Learn your lines. Develop a technique for doing it. When you’re a series regular, that’s what you’ll be doing 90% of the time.
Learn the power of saying “no.”
I used to worry about what people think of me until I realized they don’t.
You ARE supposed to be here. It isn’t some kind of “lucky break” or a “fluke.”
This work is hard for a reason. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.
Wear comfortable shoes.
When you feel despondent, take a walk, drink water, sleep more, eat something.
NTG: Or call us so we can remind you how amazing you are! :) Thanks, Tim, for being YOU! Keep up the great work! We look forward to seeing what's next for you!