By Ken Budd, BA English ’88, MA English ’97
Will Carter’s big-screen debut in Running with Scissors—the adaptation of Augusten Burrough’s best-selling, deeply demented memoir—is a bit like Jimmy Stewart starting his career in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s the all-American meeting the all too weird.
Consider his Norman Rockwell bio: Good lookin’ kid grows up in a picturesque Appomattox, Virginia, farmhouse, then at Mason becomes student body president and the school’s first-ever Homecoming king. After majoring in political communications, he spends eight years working for Sen. John Warner, eventually becoming press secretary. Then, ready for a new challenge, he trades Senate theatrics for stage theatrics, moving to New York to study acting. He appears in a variety of off-Broadway productions and one-man shows, then heads to Hollywood to be in pictures.
So it seems odd, that this hard-working, good-hearted guy should wind up in the Brady-Bunch-on-acid world of Running with Scissors, playing a good-natured cop who gets sucked into the family insanity in a scene opposite Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow.
“That whole week my heart was pounding like a kid on Christmas morning,” says Carter of his time on the set. “Throughout the entire shoot, Annette stayed in character, which is no easy task. Our work together was intense and violent, but when it was all over, she walked over and hugged me.”
Carter, who was recently named to L.A. Confidential magazine’s list of people to watch in 2006, has roles in two films slated for 2007: Factory Girl, about Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick, and An American Crime, the true story of an Indiana housewife who for years kept two teenage girls locked in her basement.
“Factory Girl is already getting some buzz,” says Carter. “It’s a total ensemble piece—Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce, Jimmy Fallon, Hayden Christense: talented, more established actors who took on smaller roles, leaving room at the table for new guys like me.”
Carter now calls Los Angeles home, but he hasn’t gone Hollywood. His one show-biz concession: Will Carter is his screen name. At Mason, in the early 1990s, he was Bill Carter—and Bill has fond memories of his days in Fairfax.
“I was among the first to live in Grayson dorm,” he says. “They had laid down asphalt sidewalks, and my dad, while we were moving me in, tracked in asphalt on the carpet all the way down to my door.”
His greatest on-campus achievement? “Hands down, trying to help build a sense of community. Back then, most students came to campus, went to class, then left. We worked hard to pull together great events to benefit students—like booking the Red Hot Chili Peppers for Patriots Day. It’s so important to roll up your shirt sleeves and get involved.”
That roll-up-your-sleeves attitude has been critical to his career. The transition from politics to acting required some major life-altering decisions—financial and personal—and times were tough in New York after the 9/11. Theaters struggled to attract audiences, and many actors were out of work. He auditioned for parts for years in Hollywood before finding success, working for the guest relations staff at the historic Chateau Marmont Hotel to support himself. Now, his persistence is paying off.
“I’ve never really identified with people who sat back, scared with fear,” says Carter. “I wanted to take a risk. It’s like that for everyone in life—we all must decide if the risks are worth the end result. For me, they are. I’m going after what I want.”