July 11-- A familiar face from shows such as AMC's "Hell on Wheels" and SyFy's "The Expanse," Byron Mann stars alongside Dwayne Johnson in the summer blockbuster movie "Skyscraper."
Here's how Mann described the action thriller: "Dwayne Johnson plays an insurance evaluator who assesses risk-a very strong and muscular insurance evaluator!-who's been sent to Hong Kong to evaluate the risks in the tallest building in the world. It's called The Pearl. It's a glimpse into the future, the top floor is almost an entire city unto itself. So obviously bad things start to happen in this building. His family becomes trapped. There's a fire. There are bad people running around. And I play the chief inspector of the Hong Kong police who is trying to find out what's happening and who this big muscular guy is that's trying to climb up the building."
If that description brings to mind two other iconic films-"Die Hard" and "The Towering Inferno"-that's intentional: "We actually talked about that," Mann said. "I think the director did this as a nod and a homage to those movies."
When asked to share a worst moment from his career for this column, Mann scrolled back in his memory to an early role.
MY WORST MOMENT ...
"This was the early '90s and I was living in LA. I had just gotten myself an agent, who gave me these pages for this scene; it was about some guy working in a Chinese antiques store. So I go to the audition and a day later I get a call: 'You got the part, Byron!' It felt like I won the lottery. Incredible! It was a feature film and no, it wasn't 'Schindler's List,' but it was a start! And I thought, golly, it can't be that easy. I'm so stoked!
"Anyway, a month later I show up on set and I go do this scene. It works pretty well, I shoot it for half a day and that's it. I go home and I never heard anything more about it.
"Cut to nine months later, it's like 12:30 or 1 o'clock in the morning, I get a call from a buddy of mine. I'm half asleep and I pick up the phone and he says, 'Byron? I didn't know you were doing this kind of movie.' I said, 'What are you talking about, bro?' And he said, 'You're in a soft porn movie!'
"And I said, 'What are you talking about? What are you looking at?' And he said, 'I'm watching you on TV right now! You're selling some antique in a Chinese antique store.' And I said, "What?' And he said, 'The movie stars Shannon Tweed.'
"By the way, do you know who Shannon Tweed is? Her husband is Gene Simmons. But in the '90s she was the queen of soft porn movies.
"So I said to my buddy, 'What are you talking about, dude? I remember doing that scene a year ago-but are you sure?' And he was like, 'Dude, I'm watching this movie right now! It's incredible!'
"I thought he was insane. You know how guys are, especially at 1:30 in the morning-who knows what they're smoking! And what I've also learned is that a lot of men watch movies before they go to sleep, just to unwind. Just mindless stuff. So I've had a lot of people call me in the middle of the night to say, 'Hey, I saw your movie.'
"So it was a mixture of shock and delight that I was in basically one of the non-porn scenes in this movie-and I knew nothing about it!"
DID HE EVER FIND OUT WHAT THE MOVIE IS CALLED?
"Yes! It's on my IMDb and it's called 'Possessed by the Night' (from 1994). Of course I knew the title at the time, but I didn't equate it with a soft porn movie. It sounds like it could be a horror movie or something. But I didn't read the whole script-nobody sent me the whole script-all I was sent were the sides. Just a scene in a feature film. (Laughs) Um, so, ya know ...
"I have not watched the film. I don't even know how I could get a hold of it."
(Reporter's note: It's available in its entirety on YouTube and Mann's scene is about 20 minutes in.)
According to IMDb, the movie is his sixth credit. His first was a 1990 TV movie called "Last Flight Out."
"Oh yeah! That was in Hong Kong. Well, let me back up. I went to law school and after my first year I worked for an American law firm in Hong Kong. Usually at the end of the summer, they sit you down and say, 'We love your work, just pass the bar, there's a spot for you here.' But my talk was like, 'Byron, you should do something else. I don't think the law is right for you.' It was straight to the core! This was the senior partner at the firm. And I said, 'Why would you think that?' And he said, 'Well, you're late every morning and you're looking at your watch at 5 o'clock everyday-you're in the wrong line of work.' And he was absolutely right.
"You have to understand, my father was a dentist, my mother was a nurse, my eldest brother is a doctor-he went to Northwestern Medical School-and my second brother went to the University of Chicago for business school. So I didn't know anyone growing up who was in the film business. But when I was in that I meeting I said, 'Well, I remember doing some plays in school and liking it,' and he said, 'Why don't you try it?'
"So I decided I wasn't going to immediately go back to law school and I was going to stay in Hong Kong and just try and get my feet wet. And I was cast in this NBC movie-of-the-week called 'Last Flight Out', which was shooting in Thailand but they were casting out of Hong Kong. It was a very small role, only a few lines, but again, I felt like I won the lottery-and for the first time I saw that they actually pay people to play around like this. So it kind of got me going. These are all little golden nuggets along the way that helped me to develop my career."
THE TAKEAWAY ...
"The lesson really is to read the whole script! So that's what I do these days and I've actually never forgotten that lesson. And of course, I have better agents now who would screen out soft porn movies. But it's kind of my claim to fame now: That's how Byron Mann got started."
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