By Jason Tudor, GCMC Public Affairs OfficerApril 1, 2014
GARMISCH, Germany -- On stage, he is what you expect an actor to become: transformed. Something else. Another person in another time. He is immersed, delivering lines, running the blocking and being truthful about the role, holding fast to English poet Alexander Pope's decree to "act well your part; there all the honor lies."
Yet those close to Jim Miller watching him in this role would raise their eyebrows. Jim? That guy? The contracting specialist from the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies? Not Jim.
For the first time in his life, Miller performed on stage in a play put on by the Family MWR Garmisch Players Community Theater, in March. In taking the role Woodruff Gately, a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran from Georgia in "Pvt. Wars," Miller would echo his friends' comments.
"I think everybody is surprised," Miller said. "I surprised myself. It's not something I thought I would ever do. And I think most folks back home would say the same thing."
At Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, Miller's friends knew him as an athlete playing football, wrestling and hurling a shot put. At the University of Iowa, similar memories and a six-year stint in the Iowa National Guard as a combat engineer, including a deployment to Afghanistan. Nowhere in there was a hint of acting.
When he started his DOD civilian career in Rock Island, Ill., he made another deployment for seven months to Afghanistan and kicked off his career as a contracting officer, but still no acting. It wasn't until he touched down in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and read about a 2013 casting call for movie extras that the bug hit him.
"I submitted a photo to a web site," Miller said. "Then I forgot about it."
They didn't forget him. His phone rang three weeks later with a callback. A month after that, costumers had the burly six-footer outfitted in a Navy SEAL costume and standing alongside Samuel L. Jackson as the president of the United States in the film "Big Game."
Filming took place over three days in the mountains near Garmisch. Miller said a helmet covered his face, so no one will see him. "I think my voice is in [Big Game]," he said, laughing. Did he meet Jackson? "He said 'hello' to us at around five in the morning as he was getting out of his car." The film is expected to debut sometime in 2014, according to iMDB.com.
A few weeks later, Miller stood repairing picture frames in the Garmisch Arts and Crafts Center when Michelle Schneider, Garmisch crafts and entertainment director, approached him about attending acting workshops at the crafts center.
"She told me they were having an acting workshop and that I should come. I didn't have anything better to do, so I gave it a shot."
Schneider thought Miller "looked like the theater type to me. He just seemed to have the character to be on stage."
"I just saw it as something new; something I could challenge myself with," Miller said. "I've always wondered what it would be like to perform for somebody."
Stephen Simpson, who works at the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, directed "Pvt. Wars" and got to know Miller through his work during the acting workshops, which ran from August to November 2013. He said Miller is focused and dedicated to the craft, and that he was the "absolute right fit for the role." When Simpson led the acting workshops Miller jumped into, he said Miller started out quiet but eventually came out of his shell.
Soon after, she thought of Miller when the theater started work on "Pvt. Wars." However, Miller broke his ankle in a skiing accident in January. Intent on casting Miller for a role, Schneider said since the play was based in a hospital, they were willing to work around the injury.
"He was a perfect cast for the role," she said. "He fell right into character. It smells like an award."
The "award" Schneider mentioned is a Tournament of Plays, or "Topper" Award, the U.S. Army Europe Entertainment version of an academy award. "Pvt. Wars" is one of 17 plays competing in the U.S. Army Installation Command Europe Tournament of Plays in 2014.
If there is an award for Miller to win, Simpson pointed to the actor's dedication, limping around on a broken ankle during 18 rehearsals, some running four hours per night. There were lines and blocking to be memorized; lighting and sets to be designed and the litany of work that goes into making a play. Further, this is the first time in about six years the theater produced a play.
Despite the wait and any potential rust that might have developed, the play is a hit in the community.
Miller's Marshall Center contracting co-worker Jacqueline Garrido said she is gathering a group of friends to catch one of the final "Pvt. Wars" performances. While others may think this is a break from Miller's character, Garrido felt this was a right fit for him.
"I thought he would be good at it. I find him to very personable," said Garrido, adding that she's looking forward to seeing him perform. "I've heard that he was very good in it."
Miller believed his first performances had their own rewards and he's looking forward to more.
"I like hearing the audience laugh and having people respond to what you are doing," he said. "The best part was hearing a room full of people laughing at you; and the applause at the end. All that hard work comes to that."
Simpson credited Miller's patience. "In case of the role he is playing, he just worked and worked, and then the light came on around the beginning of March. It was a case of his ability to get the characterization that I was looking for and if he would fit the role I could mold for him. And he did so very well."
And Miller's advice to others watching his transformation in the spotlight shine on the Iowa native and thinking of jumping into an audition? "Just try it at your community theater at least once. I'm no super thespian, and I think it's great."