His movie Marine haircut with the shaved sides has long grown out. "I'm surprised people recognize me," says 26-year-old Wolfgang Bodison, former Washingtonian and fledgling movie actor.
Is he kidding? This is Hollywood, where people pay attention to such things. No one on Sunset Boulevard is having a difficult time connecting the tall, affable man posing for pictures against a palm tree to his screen persona, Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, the steely, honor-bound Marine, on trial for murder in the popular hit movie "A Few Good Men." He's the one who makes an art form out of glaring at his defense attorney, Tom Cruise.The maitre d' of the restaurant - it's an entertainment industry spot - IDs him instantly. Two young, beautiful, carefully made-up women lean forward at their table to catch his eye and tell him they liked his performance. Later, when Bodison is eating, a man in the travel business stops by the outdoor table to congratulate him.
"People I've never met before call me," says Bodison, who still has a listed phone number - as well as an apartment in the skittish neighborhood around the University of Southern California.
Finally, the ultimate Hollywood affirmation. A man in an overcoat with peaked lapels approaches Bodison as the photographer snaps away. "I don't mean to be forward," says the man, "but I'm the executive producer of `Predator 1,' Lawrence Pereira. I liked you in `A Few Good Men.' Who's your agent?"
Here's how much acting experience Wolfgang Bodison had before he landed the role in "A Few Good Men": None. Zero. Not a single high school play.
He didn't even ask for the part. He was literally plucked out of obscurity - or, at least, plucked out of the hallway at Castle Rock Entertainment, the production company in which "A Few Good Men" director Rob Reiner is a partner.
After graduating from the University of Virginia, Bodison had made his way west, nursing aspirations to be a writer and a director, and landed the glorious job of file clerk at Columbia Pictures. A U-Va. alumnus alerted him to an opening in the mail room at Castle Rock, and there he began his climb from the bottom of the production ladder to the middle of a movie screen.
As a personal assistant to Reiner on the set of "Misery," he followed him around and, with an eye toward being a director one day, took such copious notes he filled six notebooks. After "Misery" he worked as the picture-car coordinator of "Boyz N the Hood" - "I was the guy who went to south-central, organized the different car clubs and got them excited about the film so that when we needed them for certain days for the film, they were there."
He landed the job of location manager for "A Few Good Men" and was doing research on the movie when he ran into Reiner in the hallway.
"We're catching up on old times and completely out of the blue, he looks at me and says, `Wolf, have you ever acted before?' " Bodison recalls. "He said, `Well, have you ever thought about acting?' I'm thinking, where's he going with this?"
What was even stranger was that Reiner had apparently just had a meeting with Andrew Scheinman, one of the producers of the film, and, as Bodison tells it, "he was saying to Andy, `I can't find anybody for this role and it needs to be somebody like . . . Wolf.' "
Reiner set up an audition for him. Bodison hired an acting coach. "You can imagine that scenario," he says. "Going to an acting teacher and saying, `I have a chance to audition for a movie with Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon and I've never acted before.' "
The audition was at Castle Rock before Reiner, Scheinman and casting director Jane Jenkins. "The casting director comes out and says, `Well, do you have a picture and resume?' " Bodison recounts. "I said, `No.' She thought that was kind of amusing."
The audition went well - "I surprised them and I surprised myself" - and they called him that afternoon to invite him to audition again the next day.
Three days later Bodison was out scouting a location for "A Few Good Men" when his pager went off. It was Reiner's office. "So I pull over to a pay phone and he gets on the phone and he says, `Wolf, welcome to the movie business. We're offering you the role.' "
Bodison laughs delightedly at the memory. "From that same pay phone, I immediately called my mother in Rockville (Md.), my sister who's living out here and all my friends." His mother, Dorothea Bodison, works for the National Institutes of Health.
A month later, he was sitting at a table with Nicholson, Cruise and Moore, among others, for the first read-through of the script, wondering what he'd gotten himself into. "We began reading - and they're fantastic! I said a silent prayer to myself - `When I open my mouth, please just let something come out.' But I got through that day. And they made me feel very comfortable."
Most of his key scenes are with Cruise - "He gave me everything I needed as an actor" - but he had at least one encounter with Nichol-son.
"He sat down next to me one day and he says, `Wolfgang, I'm tired.' What do you say!' I said, `Well, I guess you've been working too hard, Jack.' And we started talking about the Lakers," Bodison laughs.
When he signed on to do the picture, he didn't even have an agent. Now he's got an agent, a manager and - at least temporarily - a publicist. "The Wolfpack," he says with a chuckle.
Since he finished the film almost a year ago, he's completely focused on an acting career, studying with a coach and going to auditions. He's yet to snare another part - after all, he only has one credit to his name and the movie was released barely a month ago. "It's completely understandable that other directors would like to see me do the job," says Bodison. "It makes me really appreciate the risk Rob took."