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From Edgewood to Hollywood: Johnathon Schaech's busy acting career

TelevisionMoviesJon VoightJohnathon SchaechBaltimore RavensUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County

One of the top television series of the summer of 2013 has a Harford County native among its cast members, an actor who has spent nearly 25 years working with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.

"I just thought I really wanted to do that with my life," Edgewood native Johnathon Schaech (pronounced "sheck") said in a telephone interview Friday, recalling his first taste of acting as a student at UMBC in the late 1980s.

"I was at the age where I thought I could do anything," he continued.

Schaech, 43, spoke from his hotel room in New Orleans, where he is working on production of the series "Star-Crossed," which is scheduled to premiere in the middle of the 2013-2014 television season on the CW network.

The series is about a group of teenagers from another planet who are being integrated into a local high school. Schaech plays the group's adult leader.

He said the series takes the theme of school integration during the 1960s "to a whole different level."

The 1987 Edgewood High School graduate and son of Joseph and Joanne Schaech, of the greater Bel Air area, can also be seen on the Showtime premium cable series "Ray Donovan." The first season is airing and can be seen Sundays at 10 p.m.

Johnathon Schaech plays the character Sean Walker, a Hollywood star who is indebted to the title character, played by film and Tony Award-winning stage actor Liev Schreiber.

Ray Donovan is a South Boston native who has moved to Los Angeles with his wife and children and works as a "fixer," getting the rich and famous out of career-killing situations.

Donovan must also protect his family from his father, Mickey, who is played by veteran Oscar-winning film actor, Jon Voight. Mickey Donovan was recently released from prison and shows up in L.A. during the premiere episode, which aired June 30.

Schaech said he had three scenes in a recent episode with Voight, when he delivered "the best lines I've ever had in my life."

"Ray Donovan" debuted with 1.4 million viewers, "the premium cable network's best-ever ratings for an original series premiere," according to the Los Angeles Times.

The series continues to post strong ratings, and Showtime ordered a second season, according to TV Guide's website. The series was created by Ann Biderman, writer for the long-running hit ABC series "NYPD Blue," and creator of the TNT police drama "Southland."

"She's a sweet woman who just knows hard core crime drama," Schaech said of Biderman.

He based his performance as Sean Walker on a viewing of now-megastar Tom Cruise while in college.

"He's got everything in the world that he wants, except his sanity," Schaech said of his character Walker.

Among the heavy hitters

Actors and writers such as Biderman, Schreiber and Voight are, however, far from the first people at the top of the Hollywood food chain whom Schaech has worked with.

He studied economics at UMBC, but discovered his passion after taking an acting course.

"I've always been a dreamer," he said.

Schaech left college in 1990 during his junior year. He has not completed his degree.

He wrote in a follow-up e-mail Tuesday that he "never stopped working for long enough to get my degree. I speak at USC [University of Southern California] out here now about acting and screenplay writing. Regret not finishing but I'm always traveling."

Schaech studied under the famed acting teacher, Roy London, who also taught stars such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Brad Pitt and Forest Whitaker.

He said London, who died in 1993, advised him to be "very specific and simple; that makes for very good work."

Schaech's first lead role came in the 1993 film "Sparrow," led by famed Italian director Franco Zeffirelli; he also worked with veteran film actress Vanessa Redgrave.

"I had the greatest actors around," he recalled.

Schaech said he had a difficult relationship with Zeffirelli on set, and the director dubbed his voice, giving his character an English accent.

He said the movie "almost killed my career."

He was complimentary of Redgrave, however, who he called "kind and giving."

Schaech struggled after the experience on "Sparrow," and losing London the same year, but said "I found the conviction to fight again."

During the 1990s he worked on films such as 1995's "How to Make an American Quilt" with Winona Ryder, 1995's "The Doom Generation," directed by Gregg Araki, 1996's "That Thing You Do!" written and directed by Tom Hanks, and 1998's "Hush" with Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Schaech said Lange, a two-time Oscar-winning actress, "took me under her wing" while working on "Hush."

He has worked steadily in films and television series over the past 23 years, and with a new wife and his first child due "any day," Schaech said his goal was to find a project centered near his home.

He was shocked to hear the Netflix series "House of Cards" was being filmed in Harford County.

"When I heard that, I was beside myself ... I can't believe they're filming a series in my hometown," Schaech said.

The die-hard Baltimore Orioles and Ravens fan wore an Orioles cap when he and his wife, Julie, were married on the beach in Ocean City, and their son's first name will be Camden, after Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

He said the Orioles have represented home for him during his career.

"That's really the way I've always been able to connect to Maryland, to Harford County," he said.

Schaech watched the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers to win this year's Super Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans in February, and has been following the Orioles through their ups and downs during their 2013 season as they chase the playoffs.

"I think the Orioles have a lot of Oriole magic in them, like the old days," he said.

Schaech, who has also written for film and television, said he is working with former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey on a book about "all these amazing stories from a lifetime of baseball."

'The grounded way'

Schaech said the lessons he learned from his parents, growing up on Harewood Road in Edgewood, and playing under Edgewood High lacrosse coach Frank Mezzanotte help keep him grounded in Hollywood.

He said he has remembered those values when moving between "the grounded way in which I was bright up in Edgewood, and then the Hollywood way."

"He would teach us to never give up; the hard work would pay off," he said of Mezzanotte.

Schaech's father is a retired Baltimore City police officer, and his mother was an executive with the COMSORT Inc. health care firm in Baltimore.

"My parents instilled something greater than myself," he said. "They instilled faith in me."

He said his parents advised him to "keep God in your heart and you'll make it."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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TelevisionMoviesJon VoightJohnathon SchaechBaltimore RavensUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County
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