Article By: Maria Shamkalian
Todd Ryan Jones is a professional stuntman and actor with a long list of well known film and television credits. Some of the films Todd has worked on include Joker with Joaquin Phoenix, Central Intelligence with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart, and Black Mass with Johnny Depp.
The bulk of his work however lies in television, with credits such as The Blacklist, Quantico, Blindspot, The Following, The Newsroom, City On A Hill, The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, The Punisher, Tell Me A Story, Gotham, Wu-Tang: An American Saga, the upcoming Hunters and Little Voice, and many more.
What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?I consider every single job I get to be a success just because of how hard it is to have a career in this business, but my most recent success is technically not a job yet. A film and television development company that I have been loosely working with has expressed interest in possibly partnering up with me on a show that I created called “Carney”, about an ex-con sideshow strongman who is forced to return to his old stomping grounds, a seedy sideshow in an equally seedy town.
The project still has a long way to go before anything even happens with it, but I’ve already spent quite a bit of time and money just getting it to where it is now. As to how I got the project to this point, I think the most effective thing I’ve done with it so far was to get a cast and crew together to film an opening credits sequence as though it were already an existing show.
The reasoning behind this was twofold: I could use it as the actual opening credits sequence if I were to shoot the pilot independently, and also I could use it as a proof of concept/trailer for pitching the show.
We shot it on my property in Doylestown. The entire cast and crew, most of whom are PA residents, did an amazing job and the sequence came out incredible. It can be seen in all it’s glory at www.carneytheseries.com
How did you get started in the film industry?I got started in the film industry as an actor. I didn’t go to college right out of high school. I knew I wanted to be an actor but I had no idea how to go about it. When I was about 19 I saw an ad for the Pro Model Talent Agency in Allentown PA. I dove in, taking all of the “on camera” classes I could. I loved it. It was through that agency that I landed my first paying acting gig on a show called Medical Detectives, playing the lead guy in an episode. I thought “Man I’m already getting paid as an actor, this is going to be easy!” Oh how wrong I was!
So I spent the first handful of years in the business as a struggling actor, landing a few good gigs here and there, at least one of which actually led to some major jobs much later on. There came a point when I realized that I really needed to make myself stand out somehow. I couldn’t sing or dance, but I had a martial arts background, so I thought maybe I could start getting into stunt work, and stand out by being an actor who could really, actually do his own stunts.
And that’s exactly what I did. I went to stunt school in New York. Shortly after I finished the course, I contacted the casting director from All My Children, who had cast me in some under 5 parts on the show, and let him know that I was now doing stunts in case anything came up. Sure enough, maybe a week or two later something DID come up, and I was hired to double Aiden Turner for a stair fall on the show. My real entry into the stunt community though came from another job. I saw a casting notice on Facebook for a real stuntman who also had the acting chops to share the screen with none other than Jeff Daniels. I sent in both my acting and stunt reels, and got a call from Julie Michaels. For you fans of the 80’s action flick Road House with Patrick Swayze, you will remember Julie as the bad guy’s blonde girlfriend, Denise.
Julie, an accomplished stuntwoman and actress herself, is married to a well known stunt coordinator named Peewee Piemonte, who was working as the coordinator on HBO’s The Newsroom.
I auditioned for the part, and I actually got it! The next thing I knew I was on set in Manhattan, co-starring on an episode of The Newsroom with Jeff Daniels and Terry Crews. Terry Crews, by the way, is easily one of the coolest celebrities I’ve ever worked with. Love that guy.
I guess I did a good job, because later on Peewee was coordinating on an episode of Person Of Interest and brought me on the show, which is where I started to meet some of the other key players in the New York stunt community, and that is where things started to snowball into my career as it is today. What I couldn’t foresee at the time was that the stunt work would quickly overtake the acting jobs, and today I make my living as a professional stuntman.
Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?Well, I usually don’t really have the luxury of “choosing” where I work per say, but when I do get to choose to work in PA, the answer is simple, I live here! Why would I want to go anywhere else? The same goes for what I love most about living in PA, I live here, and I live here because I love it. I know it sounds pretty vague, but there really is something special about it that you can’t quite put your finger on. I hate to sound like a cheeseball and use the word “magical”, but honestly, sometimes it kind of feels that way!
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?I’m an old soul so I love any location that is old or historical. Eastern State Penitentiary is a perfect example. That place has so much character it almost doesn’t even matter what you are shooting there, it’s going to look interesting!
What do you love the most about your job?Is it wrong to say the money? Well I’m going to be honest and say it anyway! Really though, I make a good living playing pretend, and still have a good amount of downtime to be at home with my family and work on whatever goals I choose to work on. Besides that, the thing I love most about my job is when I get the opportunity to work with someone who has inspired me in the past or who I grew up watching on tv. I think I’m about to give you an example of that in the next question!
What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?Oh man, how many stories would you like? Any time I get to work with some mega celebrity is usually pretty memorable, but I’ll give you one of my top ones. I co-starred in an episode of The Following with “Ren McCormack” himself, Kevin Bacon. At one point Kevin calls me by name from across the set in that unmistakable Kevin Bacon voice “Hey Todd, c’mere, let’s run lines”. That was easily one of the most surreal moments of my life.
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?A friend of mine is coordinating a show out here right now that he is trying to get me on, but I don’t even know what show it is. Us stunt folks are often told things on a need to know basis. Also, when and if my Carney project gets off the ground yes, I would love to shoot at least some of it in PA.
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?I am by no means an expert on this matter, all I can say is that I would love it if more shows started shooting here. The east coast now has more television shows in production than Hollywood, most of which are in production just a little bit north of us in NY and NJ. I think it’s totally realistic that PA could be turned into one of the major production hubs if we can just make it a little more enticing for these companies to shoot here.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?My number one piece of advice is to have PERSEVERANCE. Do not stop going after your goals! It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to take a long time, just accept those facts and don’t worry about it because that’s the way it’s supposed to be! Also, if you are serious, give it your full commitment, get the best training you are able to get for yourself, don’t be scared, and don’t wait! You’re going to have to figure a lot of things out as you go along, but the only REAL mistake you can make is to give up and quit!
What are some good strategies to find more gigs?Get your butt out there and get involved with other filmmakers! A large amount of projects that you are going to be involved with in your career are going to stem from people that you met on other projects. It’s up to you to get yourself out there and meet these people.
Also, some of you actors/actresses are going to scoff at this, but there are workshops where you pay some money but then get to audition for an agent or manager. These things are real, and that is exactly how I got my first manager, which is how I got the audition for that show with Kevin Bacon I mentioned. Most of these workshops don’t charge an astronomical fee, and you are guaranteed to be seen by an agent or manager who you might not otherwise ever be able to get in front of. To me it’s a no brainer.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that there are going to be slow times when it seems like nothing is going anywhere. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT. That is the way it is, even when you start having some success!
A real eye opener for me was the documentary “That Guy Who Was In That Thing”, which interviews several character actors whose faces are recognizable, though you might not know their names. Though they are not Brad Pitt or George Clooney, they are successful character actors who make a very good living in the business, and all of them talk about the fact that they STILL go through those painfully slow times when it seems like their phone will never ring again. That showed me right then and there that that is just the way the business works, even for people way higher up the ladder than I was.
What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?I’m sure there are many that I’m just not thinking about, but off the top of my head I’d have to say The Sixth Sense. I’m a huge horror fan, and that was a good one.
What is your favorite project that you worked on?I honestly can’t narrow down one single project that I’ve worked on that is my number one favorite. There have been so many that have been special for so many reasons.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?My biggest aspiration is to have my own production company that allows me to make a good living while making the kind of projects that I want to make.
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?I have no projects to submit to right now, but when the time comes the best way would be to just email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 email@example.com