…if you wanted to be a player in the industry you had to live in Los Angeles or New York city. Thanks to the Internet, that is no longer the case.
Each month we talk with an influential individual in our film community. This month we had the pleasure of speaking with yet another incredibly talented Kansas City native Tuc Watkins. Tuc Watkins is an actor and producer known for his roles on successful ABC shows like One Life to Live and Desperate Housewives, NBC‘s Parks and Recreation, in hit films like The Mummy, and in web series like Where the Bears Are. He is incredibly versatile, with credits ranging from broad comedies to stark dramas, and nearly everything in between. With a long career spent starring in both daytime and Primetime television, as well as film, Tuc has a unique perspective on the industry. Tuc was kind enough to talk with us about his career, life and his love for his hometown.
KCFO: What is your story from Kansas City to Hollywood?
TUC: I grew up in Mission and Prairie Village. I went to Indian Hills Junior High and would have attended Shawnee Mission East, but my family moved to St. Louis when I was in high school. My family moved back to KC while I was attending Indiana University. After graduating I spent my last summer in Kansas City, working odd jobs, saving money so that I could move to Los Angeles. When I had saved $6,000 I jumped in my jeep and drove to California.
KCFO: What was your very first job in Hollywood?
TUC: When I arrived in Los Angeles I was lucky enough to book my first commercial audition: Miller Lite Genuine Draft Beer. We spent a week shooting on the beach in Malibu. Between Lee Majors’ house and Bob Newhart’s house. It was an awesome experience to say the least!
I accidentally fell down the stairs on the set during a take and everyone started laughing. I was humiliated. But that’s when a light bulb went off. I slowly turned the cool, mysterious con man into a bumbling, buffoon of a con man. Sort of like Inspector Clouseau from the “Pink Panther” movies. That made the character unique and gave him his longevity.
KCFO: You were born Charles Curtis Watkins III – where does “Tuc” come from?
TUC: My father and grandfather have the same name. They both went by “Curt.” So they tried to teach me to say “Curt” when I was learning to talk. But it came out “Tuc.” So I sort of nicknamed myself, and “Tuc” stuck.
KCFO: They say Soap Opera work is the steadiest work in the industry, and you worked on One Life to Live for 14 years collectively. Can you talk about your experience on the show and with your character?
TUC: I was hired to play a cool, mysterious con man on the long-running ABC soap opera, “One Life to Live.” I spent the first year on the show trying to be “cool and mysterious.” I was fairly unremarkable at it. I could sense that my time on the show was going to be limited, and I was probably going to be fired. It was around that time that I accidentally fell down the stairs on the set during a take and everyone started laughing. I was humiliated. But that’s when a light bulb went off. I slowly turned the cool, mysterious con man into a bumbling, buffoon of a con man. Sort of like Inspector Clouseau from the “Pink Panther” movies. That made the character unique and gave him his longevity.
KCFO: You’ve not only been on a successful Soap Opera, but you’ve also been part of many successful network series like Desperate Housewives and Parks and Recreation – What strikes you as the most significant difference between Daytime vs. Primetime television?
TUC: Daytime actors sort of get the short end of the stick. They shoot 80 pages of dialogue a day versus prime time’s eight pages a day. They work harder, often have to navigate preposterous dialogue, and must make what they’re saying today sound unique and interesting….when it is basically what they already said the day before. (Prime time TV has better food on the snack table though.)
…”The Mentalist” gave birth to other shows ending in the suffix “IST.” “The Hypnotist,” “The Illusionist,” and many others. There were so many pilot TV shows made in the wake of that show’s popularity it became ridiculous. I thought, “the next thing you know there will be a show called ‘The Sentimentalist’!” A guy who solves crimes, not with clues, but with his feelings…
KCFO: You’ve been a part of several shows and films. Will you share some of your favorite/memorable roles and memories?
TUC: I’ve been very fortunate as an actor in television and film. I’ve been directed by Robert De Niro, made out with Jennifer Aniston, punched Rick Springfield, lived on Wisteria Lane, and was told by Bea Arthur when working with her to “please stop talking.” Working in Africa and London while shooting “The Mummy” was an amazing experience.
KCFO: You’re a versatile actor who has worked on as much comedy as you have drama, including the must-see Funny or Die video “The Sentimentalist.” How did you get involved with that project?
TUC: The popularity of “The Mentalist” gave birth to other shows ending in the suffix “IST.” “The Hypnotist,” “The Illusionist,” and many others. There were so many pilot TV shows made in the wake of that show’s popularity it became ridiculous. I thought, “the next thing you know there will be a show called ‘The Sentimentalist’!” A guy who solves crimes, not with clues, but with his feelings. So we made a short film about it:
KCFO: What are your favorite words to live by?
TUC: I believe that the meaning of life is, “we are all here to make each other feel safe.” I do my best to practice that belief.
KCFO: What advice would you give actors in Kansas City with big dreams?
TUC: Write and produce your own work. Shoot videos on your iPhone. Edit them with free apps. Upload them to YouTube, Vimeo, Snapchat. Don’t worry about if they’re any good or not. Just do it. Just like playing soccer, the violin, or MineCraft…you will become great with practice. When I was graduating college if you wanted to be a player in the industry you had to live in Los Angeles or New York city. Thanks to the Internet, that is no longer the case.
KCFO: What has most inspired you in your career and life?
TUC: Lately I have been most inspired by the young people coming up after me who are finding success after following the advice in [my last answer].
KFCO: What’s next for you?
TUC: I am touring the LGBT film festival circuit this year with a feature I starred in called “Retake.” Promoting the film will take me to San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Long Beach, Hawaii, and most importantly my home town of Kansas City this year.
KCFO: When will we see you back in KC?
TUC: As to when am I headed to KC – I return to KC frequently, so it was no surprise to me that “The Huffington Post” recently dubbed my home town as “the most up and coming city in the country.” But I gotta say I did find it inspiring. And as a single parent of twin three-year-olds, I’m excited to be moving my family to Kansas City later this fall to be closer to extended family and friends. Heck, I can use all the help I can get! Thanks to technology, the world is a smaller place. Artistic people can live anywhere now and still work, create, and be involved in all kinds of different projects. I just haven’t decided which neighborhood to settle into yet!
Tuc, your responses were candid and thoughtful. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your life and career! Tuc also graciously offered to help the KC Film Office and Kansas City in anyway he can when he moves back. We will find ways to take him up on that incredible offer!