Acting: Body and Soul
Scratch the surface of serious and successful actors and you’ll find a common denominator: they are all artists who have carefully studied their craft and persistently worked to become better performers. For charismatic Dominic Bogart, whose long list of stage and film credits includes the upcoming and highly anticipated feature film, The Birth of a Nation (release date October 7), every step of his journey has made a difference in his career—whether or not it seemed so at the time. “Every little thing I’ve ever done has played a part in bringing me to this moment,” Bogart says of his road to success. “Whether it’s been acting in short films or indie features that are off the radar, or even student films, I’ve learned a lot from being on set and being part of the process.”
Born in Troy, Ohio, and raised in nearby Piqua (population: 20,000), Bogart grew up on a farm with three brothers. His father raised and trained thoroughbreds, but there were no expectation that the Bogart kids should follow in their dad’s footsteps. In fact, they eventually all left the farm and achieved much success in the performing arts—including leading roles on Broadway.
“My folks wanted their kids to do whatever fulfilled us,” Bogart says of the support he received at home. “They didn’t say you have to do this or you have to do that, or you should stay in Ohio. They’ve always been really supportive and excited about each and every little thing my brothers and I do creatively. That was a really big help.”
In his early years, Bogart wanted to be a pro football player, but his performing talent upstaged his athletic prowess. He says that he gets the same exhilaration from being on stage as he did on the gridiron. “I saw my brothers doing theater and I thought, yeah, I know I’d like to do that. (His oldest brother Matt Bogart is currently starring on Broadway in Himself and Norah and brother Danny Bogart spent years in Les Miserable. His brother Kevin is a musician in Oregon.) I wasn’t really any good at it until after I received an education and experience. But now I have the sense that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” he says.
Bogart’s performing “education” began in his small town. “Growing up, I had teachers who encouraged me and nurtured me as a singer and as an actor. Gail Brandewie and my late voice teacher Betty Hennert were mentors. They both were hugely instrumental in getting me and my three brothers hip to performing. They were extremely supportive in teaching us about the arts in ways we hadn’t had the opportunity to be exposed to in Pigua.”
Dominic and his brothers are so grateful to those talented and vital teachers that they’ve established the Mills/Bogart Brothers Scholarship Program for students going into the arts and into college. “This is something that I’m really proud of being a part of,” Dominic says. “Had those women not been there to encourage us, none of our successes would have happened.”
After high school, Dominic followed his bothers, Matt and Danny, to the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music where he earned his BFA in Dramatic Performance. “I’m so humbled by the talents that my brothers have. I think it’s important to be pushed by your contemporaries, and I had them right there in my living room,” Dominic says. Attending the same college as his brothers before him, there were very large footprints to follow. “The Bogart name was already established there,” he says. “I had to live up to it, or try to. The professors wanted me to do well. They expected big things and they pushed me to reach my potential.”
After college, Bogart spent four years in New York, performing in Off-Broadway and regional theatre productions. “I went on tour with Rent for awhile and I spent a couple of years in Chicago doing Jersey Boys. However, even after his success in these musicals, he doesn’t consider himself a song and dance man. “I guess I developed a sense of being a more realistic actor. Television and film give me the opportunity to bring out nuance in a character and I think people respond more to me in that way.”
So, after working in Chicago, Bogart relocated to Los Angeles in 2005.
Not knowing anyone in the city must have seemed daunting to the young actor, and he did what all aspiring actors do, he began getting involved in acting workshops in order to meet other actors and directors. “The first thing I did when I got to L.A. was to read Backstage (a showbiz publication listing auditions and other resources for actors). In those days, before it was online, I clipped out classified ads for non-paying short films. Then I’d send out my resume and go on audition after audition after audition for small jobs. Eventually, I accumulated a reel that was significant enough to give a good picture of who I am and what I have to offer. This landed me an agent, with help from some friends referring me.”
Bogart started finding himself cast in roles at the prestigious La Jolla Playhouse near San Diego. There, he worked with acclaimed Tony Award-winning director Des McAnuff (Big River, The Who’s Tommy). “I worked with Des on three different productions including the world premier of the musical Zhivago. He taught me a ton,” Bogart says of the director. “Being around him and his energy and his ability to put great stories and teams of people together also helped me mature and become a better actor.”
Bogart began attracting television and film acting opportunities too. Over the next few years he appeared on programs such as The Chris Rock Show, Flashforward and Futurestates. In addition, he landed roles in a variety of films including The Making of a Mistress, Summer Nuts, Day Labor and Gone. Then came his fruitful association with actor/writer/director/producer Destin Daniel Cretton on the well-received Deacon’s Mondays, I Am Not a Hiptser, and Short Term 12. Then Cretton offered Bogart a role in his upcoming feature The Glass Castle (scheduled for release in 2017). “We have enormous mutual respect for one another and I’m a huge fan of his work,” Bogart says of the multi-talented Cretton. “I’ve been very excited for how his career has blossomed. The opportunities that have come his way are totally deserved.”
The Glass Castle, based on the memoire by Jeannette Walls, stars Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson. “It’s a beautiful book about a woman’s upbringing with her nomadic parents,” Bogart says. “The story is about one family’s dysfunction, and the parents’ imaginative way of thinking and living. I play Robbie, a coal miner in West Virginia, who comes along at a pivotal time in the main character’s maturity into adulthood. I’m really excited to be on screen with Brie and Woody.”
And now, Bogart is at yet another turning point in his career.
“This is a huge opportunity, I can’t overstate that,” he says of his role in the biographical drama, The Birth of a Nation, which played the Sundance Film Festival this year and won the Grand Jury Prize, as well as the Audience Award. “It’s a dream to be able to be a part of this story,” Bogart says. “I’m so excited to have people watch this film and to see them react to it. When we were at the opening screening at Sundance, it received standing ovation after standing ovation, through to the last roll of credits. It’s timely. I think it’s very important that the story is told.”
With his busy work schedule, Bogart doesn’t return to his hometown as often as he would like and says, “I love going back to the farm and I’d like to have a place like that. It’s one of those things where when you fly to coup and then realize how great it was. At this point in my life I long for that simplicity.”
As a young actor finding sure footing in Hollywood, Bogart is in a position to offer words of wisdom to aspiring actors and artists of all stripes. “Learn about life,” he says. “Have unique experiences. Drink it in. Learn from people who are really great about expressing themselves through different mediums of art. Explore things that are weird and interesting to you. You never know what’s going to become useful.”
To quote Mame Dennis Burnside, “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death!” Not so for the talented and imaginative Dominic Bogart. He’s definitely celebrating his life and career!
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R.T. Jordan (http://www.Rtjordan.com) is the author of a buncha books. He likes the tacos at Jack in the Box.