The gleaming production of the successful HBO series “John Adams” was burnished that much brighter thanks to the performance of CSULB’s Hugh O’Gorman as one of the founding fathers.
O’Gorman, who joined the Theater Arts Department in 2002, was excited to participate in the miniseries based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of U.S. President John Adams which was produced by Tom Hanks (“Band of Brothers”). “I’m on a short list of tall actors (he’s 6 feet 5) and at first I was up for George Washington,” he recalled. From the original offer in 2004 to production in Richmond, Virginia, in 2007, there were casting changes aplenty until he was cast as a white-wigged patriot.
“I remember my agent calling me in mid-April 2007 to ask me to catch the red-eye to Richmond,” he recalled. “I memorized the script on a weekend, worked on the dialect with a coach who taught me to mix Suffolk and Massachusetts and started shooting.”
O’Gorman, whose career includes credits on TV, stage and screen, was impressed by the series’ production values. “I give credit to Tom Hanks for making sure of the overall quality,” he said. “Not only had the wigs and costumes come from the BBC, but also the wig masters and costume designers. They really created a colonial-era feeling in Richmond. That level of detail always makes an actor’s job that much easier. “
Hollywood’s power of illusion was present from the moment O’Gorman arrived at the meticulously recreated set of the Continental Congress only to find it in an aging AMF bowling alley. “That’s where I worked with an etiquette coach to learn how to move and bow,” he said. “There seemed to be hundreds of extras all dressed to perfection and that helps to make an actor’s job next to effortless.”
O’Gorman was especially pleased to work with a dialect coach. “Because this was a particular time in American history, the speech was meant to be a mixture of British accents and American dialects. In my case, I was speaking a mixture of Suffolk and Massachusetts. That is hard enough to learn but in one day? Dialects and accents can be incredibly beneficial to an actor but they also can serve to distract in the short run because actors wind up paying so much attention to pronunciation that they begin to lose their focus on performance.”
The New York City native and his French architect wife moved to Los Angeles in 2000 so that he might appear in the NBC miniseries “The 10th Kingdom.” After three years, he decided he wanted to give back to others and chose CSULB to do it. He had taught on and off for 10 years and both his parents were faculty members at Connecticut’s Wesleyan College. He received his B.A. from Cornell University and his MFA from Seattle’s University of Washington.
Since joining the faculty in 2002, O’Gorman has discovered one of the joys of his job is the chance to practice his craft. “Actors need to practice every day,” he said. “I get to spend time in the classroom trying to figure out how to reach the heart of acting. That is an experience tough to come by for many professional actors. They face long stretches between gigs so they are not actively working every day. The benefit of my position is the opportunity to teach this craft and art form every day. I feel I’m moving toward a deeper understanding of acting.”
O’Gorman feels his “Adams” performance is on a level with the quality of achievement the university has come to expect from the Theater Arts Department. “In the past six years, we have put at least six of our students into top training programs from Yale and New York University to DePaul University and San Francisco’s ACT,” he said. “During that same period, we have built up a young performing faculty of incredibly talented teachers such as Orlando Pabotoy in movement, Anne Schilling in voice and Anne D’Zmura in direction. They possess academic pedigrees that include Julliard, RADA and Yale. I am proud to have helped to put together such a team.”
O’Gorman likes his “Adams” performance. “I was pleased with the work,” he said. “It is always a joy to work in the ‘A game’ of a top-flight production and then to take that experience into the classroom.”