Lopez living his Hollywood dream

Caesar Rodney High School graduate Wayne Lopez, right, stands with actor Griffin Dunne on the set for the television drama “This is Us.” Mr. Lopez recently appeared on the hit show as an RV salesman. (Submitted photos)

He’s spent years as a paramedic, prison guard, police officer and even a minister — and he’s had no training for any of those jobs.

Wayne Lopez, a 1980 graduate of Caesar Rodney High School, has spent the last 19 years in Hollywood acting in scores of TV shows and motion pictures.

“Give me a uniform and I’m your guy,” he joked during a recent phone conversation from his home in California’s San Fernando Valley.

His credits read like a history of television over the last two decades. Through the years, he’s been seen on everything from “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Desperate Housewives” to “House” and “Criminal Minds.”

In the last few months alone, he’s had roles in the TV dramas “Animal Kingdom,” “This is Us” and “NCIS,” where he ended up (spoiler alert) being the bad guy.

Early years

Born in New York City, the road to the big and small screen started in Dover as a youth with DonDel Productions, run by Don and Delores Blakey, as part of their Black and Tan Ensemble.

“They were professional quality productions and I learned at a very young age about responsibility and commitment,” he recalled.

“There was no clowning around. When you weren’t on stage, you had a job to do off stage. They relied on you to get stuff done. Even if it was just carrying a chair and putting it on a mark, you took it very seriously.

“All of the kids learned about responsibility, accountability, commitment and a strong work ethic. I picked up a lot being in that group.”

In the years that followed, Mr. Lopez took up singing in local groups such as The Cutters, Sixpence and Play Five, while attending and playing football at Delaware State University until an injury shortened his career.

The 1990s saw him living in New York, where, along with acting, he had a variety of day jobs.

Mr. Lopez attended Delaware State University and sang with various local bands in the 1980s.

“I was a bike messenger, a bartender, sold home supplies and even worked for a termite business. I learned more about termites than I ever cared to know,” he said.

He even became a standup comic for a few years. But the time on stage started to wear on him and he went into sales for a time, quitting the acting profession.

“Although I still used my acting talents in sales. It’s all improv,” he said.

Eventually, he regained his love for the arts and he entered — and won — an acting competition.

“I really had been missing it. I wasn’t myself. My soul was hungry for it and I thought to myself ‘I guess I can do this.’ Someone encouraged me to move out to L.A. and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

California dreamin’

In October of 2000, he made the move west. As it turns out, he had great timing.

“I was very blessed and fortunate to come out during a crazy time. It was right after the writers’ strike, which took place the previous summer. A lot of people had gotten out of the business,” he said.

He booked a few commercials soon after arriving.

“I used a lot of my old sales techniques to walk into people’s offices uninvited and unannounced. I didn’t know it was a big no-no — that they are supposed to call you. But I figured if they don’t want you to go to them, why is their name and address listed in the phone book?” he said.

His first role on a television show was as a police officer in the drama “Resurrection Blvd.” in 2001.

“It was the first show with an all Latino cast and all Latinos behind the camera. I am proud of being in that family,” Mr. Lopez said.

Another role in the TV series “Thieves” followed that same year and he was also in Pink’s video for the song “Let’s Get the Party Started.”

Small roles on shows such as “ER,” “CSI: Miami” and “Boston Public” filled his resume over the next couple of years.

Mr. Lopez meets up with actor Bill Pullman.

In 2006 and 2007, he appeared on several episodes of “Desperate Housewives” as a character named Clyde and had a regular role in the comedy “Raising the Bar” as Bob the court clerk. That show lasted just one season.

He has also played a paramedic on five episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“They’ve asked me back a few times. I think it’s because I’ve been able to show that I can handle a bunch of complicated medical dialogue while being able to handle a gurney and get in there and hit a mark. There’s a lot to it,” Mr. Lopez said.

On some shows he has had several scenes, while on others, he has vanished in the blink of an eye.

“You have an idea how big your part is when you get it, but you have no idea how much will remain on the screen. You have no idea how it will end up. There have been shows where you think “Oh, I hope no one is watching.’”

A recent example was his role in this past season of “Animal Kingdom.” He played a bank worker who was held up and involved in a fight.

“You just saw me being held up and they cut out the whole fight. It was a good fight too. I had never been beaten up that badly on screen before,” he said with a laugh.

Ups and downs

He doesn’t take any part for granted. It’s a long process, no matter how large the role is.

“First you have to get the audition. Then you have to get a callback. Then you hope the producers’ session goes well. Then you have to get the job. Then you film it and hope they like you and you stay in the show,” he said.

He hasn’t quite figured out how many jobs he gets as opposed to how many he auditions for but he says he has a fairly high ratio of at least getting a callback. Still, there is a good deal of rejection, although he doesn’t like to use that word.

“I just think of it as not being right for the role. But it doesn’t mean you are a bad actor. It just means they were looking for a different type. Just the fact that you were in the room is encouraging,” he said.

Wayne Lopez is pictured with Will Smith at a California golf outing.

“There is often no rhyme or reason why you don’t get the job. But my representation works their butt off to at least get me in the room.”

Frequently he is on a set for just one or two days, always having that new kid on the block feeling. He says it can be difficult occasionally but he feels very welcomed at other times.

“This last time that I did ‘NCIS,’ I had a guy always asking me was I OK? Did I need some water? That guy was (series star) Mark Harmon. When the top guy does something like that, it trickles down to the whole production,” Mr. Lopez said.

When he’s not acting, he has a “survival job” in the security department at Warner Bros. studio.

“I could probably survive off of the acting parts but I have family to take care of. I don’t know how people wait around for the next job, waiting for the phone to ring. I did it for a while and it gave me anxiety,” he said.

Mr. Lopez says doing commercials helps pay the bills as well. He can currently be seen in ads for Progressive Insurance, AARP and Hyundai.

He says his wife Naomi and 15-year-old son Sebastian help keep him grounded.

“My wife has been very supportive of me chasing after my dream. She realized I had this dream before I did,” he said.

The two have been together for 25 years and married for 20 years.

His mother still lives in Dover and he has a sister in Woodside and another in Bear.

Approaching his 20th year in California and 30th year as an actor, he says he still dreams of getting on a hit series, having a sizable role in a major motion picture or producing and directing but remains philosophical about the whole thing.

“This is a journey. It’s a marathon. Overnight success can happen but it’s rare. At the same time, you’ve got to accept what the universe gives you,” he said.

“There’s a reason for everything and I’ve been blessed with everything that’s been given to me.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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