Tom Partain, a Cherokee Nation citizen, started acting as a young child growing up in Skiatook, Oklahoma. He started his acting career with roles in local church plays and musicals, which led to his high school years where he took lead roles in class plays. Now, as an adult, Partain’s pursuit of film has led him to the silver screen where he’s starred in seven productions. The latest film he’s starring in, “First Lady,” hits theaters on Feb. 14.
Partain’s credits include playing Davy Crockett’s ghost in “Too Many Crocketts,” a TV movie, as well as supporting roles in the short films “Walking Papers” and “Vindication,” a faith-based crime drama series. All three are available to watch on Amazon.
His latest film to star in, “First Lady,” is a romantic comedy about a woman not married to the president who runs for the office of first lady. The filmstars Nancy Stafford (“Matlock”) and Corbin Bernsen (“L.A. Law”) with supporting parts by Stacey Dash (“Clueless”), Burgess Jenkins (“Remember the Titans,” “The Young and the Restless”), Benjamin Dane and Tanya Christiansen. Partain plays the role of Pete, chief of staff to the president.
“First Lady” premieres on Feb. 14 in more than 50 theaters across the country. AMC Southroads 20 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will be showing the film beginning Feb. 14. Check out the website for more theaters and information: www.firstladymovie.com.
The CNFO interviewed Partain to get his words of wisdom for those looking to break into the film industry. Read the Q&A below:
Q: What advice would you give those looking to get into acting or the film industry?
A: Find a good coach and one that fits your personality. In 2001, when I first started working professionally in Amarillo, Texas, all that was being offered was commercial work. I wanted to do film, but I didn’t have access to an acting coach who could work with me every week to teach me to read a script and dissect it so I could develop a character and to prepare me for auditions.
I attended workshops when casting directors came through the area, but those are one- or two-day intensives that can pump you up and give you some tools, but there is no follow through and quickly dissipates. Like any craft or skill, acting requires regular, consistent practice to build the skill set and create confidence.
When we did “Too Many Crocketts” in 2014, I felt my work was substandard for the opportunity I was given in that film. It’s a good story and it has some great moments, but I left the set wishing I had brought more to the table. Not a good feeling. So I went looking for a coach, Lee Petersen, I had met some years before, and she started working with me via Skype.
The beauty of technology is I can be in Amarillo, Texas, or Skiatook, Oklahoma, or any number of places and still work with my scene study group every week or my coach any day. It’s a game changer for actors not living in LA, New York or Georgia.
Working with Lee got my skill set to the level that I could approach a top tier agent. That’s another value of a great coach. They know agents and casting directors – opening doors to bigger opportunities. Lee worked with me for about 18 months before she was comfortable opening that door.
I mentioned finding a match for your personality. Coaches have different styles. Lee was tough as any drill sergeant I had in the Army. She pulled no punches. It worked for me but is not necessarily a good fit for everyone. I’ve also worked with coaches who have a softer, more positive approach. The key is to find someone who can motivate you and feed your drive.
Lee passed away in May of 2018. The members of her scene study group make up the team of President Brooks in “First Lady.” I’ll never forget the last message I got from Lee. She was in the hospital. I had an audition and she had fallen sick the day before so she wasn’t able to prepare me for the audition. She sent me these words:
“You know what to do and not to do. Do us proud.”
That’s the value of a coach.
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
A: You are going to get told “no” a lot. Learn from it each time. Then, dust yourself off and move on to the next audition. Just the fact that you were asked to audition means you are moving forward. Casting directors value their time and the time of their clients (producers and directors). They aren’t going to ask you to audition if they don’t think you can do the part. When you are in the audition room, everyone there is pulling for you to knock it out of the park.
You may even have the better audition for the role and lose out because you are too tall (I’m 6’3”) or too short or have the wrong hair or any other number of reasons. I beat out other actors with deeper resumes last year for a small role because I was taller. Just remember, if a casting director keeps asking you to audition, they see something in you and your skills. It’s just that not everything has aligned yet. Keep your chin up and keep pushing the envelope.
Q: What is your career highlight?
A: (Definitely) working in “First Lady” – for several reasons.
I mentioned my coach, Lee Peterson, passed away in May 2018. In June 2018, Benjamin Dane, who is in our scene study group, was the master of ceremonies at the Global Media Summit in Dallas. Nina May (writer/director/producer of “First Lady”) came up to Ben and said, “You are my President Brooks.” Ben read the script, accepted the part and suggested to Nina she use other members of our scene study group as his team in the movie. It’s been a great tribute to our mentor that Ben, Kim, Aaron, Ric and I got to work together in “First Lady.”
Additionally, I’ve gotten to work on the public relations side promoting “First Lady” in Amarillo and Tulsa. It’s been eye-opening, and I’ve had to add some new skill sets. I’m learning how to utilize social media better to promote a message. Also, I’m doing interviews with newspapers and television morning shows. I’m truly enjoying the challenges.
Q: What is your highest career goal?
A: The day I get to work with Amy Adams, I will have made it. She’s probably my favorite actor. Her characters have such depth, and she has the ability to play such a range of roles. Can you imagine how much you could learn just watching her on set for an hour?
It can be a one-line scene or a major role, but that day I will feel I’ve truly made it as an actor.
Q: Do you self-tape for your auditions?
A: Self-taping is a game changer for the industry. You don’t have to live in the big markets to audition anymore. I regularly audition for parts in Albuquerque via self-tape. I’ve self-taped for roles in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma and other states.
You really need to do it right. I bought a three-light kit onlinefor around $100. It fits in the trunk of my car along with a backdrop stand and a gym bag with my backdrop, extension cords and several different shirts just for auditions. If I’m home or traveling, I have those with me and I can do an audition from anywhere.
I also bought a good camera. You can use your phone, but I prefer my camera.
My coach helps me prepare the scene and then we shoot it. You’ll also need a good reader, someone who can give you some emotion to work with.
I know a great many actors who have been cast in network television, film and streaming service shows because they submitted a self-tape.
We hope that you enjoyed learning from Tom Partain. Be the first to know about news from CNFO by signing up for our email newsletter here. And don’t forget to stay connected with us via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and www.cherokee.film.