Alumni Achievements: 48HFP'er Plays Real Life Gang Informant On "Gangland Undercover"Monday, July 24, 2017
Actors often go "undercover" to learn more about the characters they portray, but for Damon Runyon, this meant literally going undercover. Runyon plays the role of real life undercover biker gang informant Charles Falco on the History Channel's TV series Gangland Undercover.
The real Charles Falco spent three years as an undercover informant working in one of America's most dangerous biker gangs, the Vagos. Gangland Undercover is based largely on Falco's memoir "Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws."
To prepare for the role, Runyan was able to go straight to the source--Falco himself. While Falco's memoir was able to provide a solid road map, it was the conversations with the man himself that provided Runyan the fodder he needed to really connect with the role. "The beauty of playing a real character is the access to the details of their lives; the more specific you can be with the sensory of the world and the greater you can inhabit it," Runyan states. "When playing a fictional character this canvas is unlimited; your imagination provides the colours, whereas the real person has experienced and lived it already."
One would think that a TV show about an undercover informant would garner a less-than-enthusiastic response from bikers in general, but Runyan has found the reception to actually be quite positive. "I have met some bikers who watch the show and they love it; mind you I've not met any who are depicted, and I'm sure they would have a different opinion. My neighbour was in a restaurant that some Hells Angels frequent and he overheard them talking about the show--they claimed to like the show and actually said 'I dig that Falco dude'. "
While living undercover, the real Falco had to rely on his quick wits and ability to improvise a believable lie on the spot in order to conceal his true intentions. Runyan's own improvisational skills were put through the paces during the audition process. Auditions consisted of an improvised scene where Falco first meets the Vagos and attempts to befriend them. Show runner Stephen Kemp got in on the action as well, drilling Runyan about the details of his improvised "life" as Falco. Runyan knew that in order to win the role of Falco, his improvised stories would have to not only be quick, but also believable. "Falco himself was constantly making up stories to save his ass, so I too was trying to convince the show runner that these things really happened to me. "
Runyan credits his experience with the 48HFP with some of the freedom and creative choices he has made in his work with Gangland Undercover. He feels that often actors get trapped into trying to get it "right", which actually limits their ability to be truly expressive as actors. But participating in the 48HFP has shown him that it's OK to be free to pursue different kinds of creative impulses, and that's what gave him the confidence needed to tackle a role like Falco.
Runyan participated in the 48HFP three different times in his hometown of Toronto. His 2011 film "FADE IN" won Best Film, and his 2013 film "CRACKMASS" came in second place. Runyan also made his film "CASSIDY" for the National Film Challenge in 2012, which came in second place and also won an Audince Choice award that year.
According to his IMDB page, Runyan will be taking on yet another challenging role next year--that of Klingon leader UJILLI in Star Trek: Discovery. "The whole project is completely top secret but I can tell you that it's going to be huge. The four hours of make up are entirely worth it as the end result is amazing." One would think that working on such an iconic show would give him a big head, but Runyan is still firmly focused on the work. "It's a real treat to work on a project of this size, but at the end of the day the job is to show up and be in the moment."
For the many actors out there still waiting for their big break, Runyan offers these parting words: "My advice to actors about the industry would be to always be creating. There is a tendency for actors to wait for the phone to ring, and the hardest part of the job is the downtime. It's easy to fall into the rut of letting the business dictate your happiness, but when you are creating, you are in control of it."
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