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Robert Craighead has been a notable character actor in Hollywood for over 30 years, with roles in over 40 feature films, hundreds of television appearances, performed in over 100 stage productions across the U.S. and recently seen success as a country music singer.
Being called an overnight success is not something Robert buys into. He’s currently a series regular as Sheriff Mobley on Tyler Perry's new hit drama for TLC, "TOO CLOSE TO HOME" and has been a recurring Guest Star for the last two seasons as Sergeant Clarke on the Fox Comedy sensation, "NEW GIRL".
This year will also see the release of a couple of new feature films he will be starring in, including the western "THE MUSTANGER AND THE LADY", where he will play one of the most despicable characters he's ever portrayed, and "THE TIGER HUNTER" a new comedy co-starring with starring Danny Pudi, Jon Heder and Kevin Pollack.
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What brought you from Texas to Los Angeles?
I turned 18 and graduated from high school and went to college briefly. I spoke to a counselor and they were telling me about all these classes I had to take and mostly I wanted to do theater classes. They said I had to do math and science and I was like why?! I said want to be an actor so they recommended I go to a professional acting school.
I auditioned for Juilliard and American Academy of National Arts and was accepted to both but I didn’t want to move to New York. Being a Texas boy I need a little bit more open space around me. Plus I’m a big fan of the movie industry and I just wanted to get out to Los Angeles and start working as an actor.
I came out in 1980 but left for a while. After being gone for 11 years raising my daughter I came back 5 or 6 years ago. I was on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful for 3 years. When that gig ran out I lost my manager and agent because they retired. I thought I had to start all over so I decided to take a break and spend some time with my daughter.
What was your relationship like with your agents?
Actually I’m on my 4th agent since I came back into the business 5 years ago. The one that I’m with right now is one that I courted for 2 years. Her and I were together 20 years ago, Gloria Hinojosa. She represents Danny Trejo and helped mold his career as well as a lot of other wonderful actors. Gloria talked me through how to build my career and eventually the agency signed me on.
How do you view the differences between acting in theater & film?
My background is theater and I still do theater whenever I can. Unfortunately the problem is that theater does not pay very well in Los Angeles. As you know the cost of living here is quite high just like in New York. Theater for me is more about the love of performing in front of a live audience and getting that immediate reaction. Being able to experiment and expand myself as an actor in roles that I wouldn’t be given the opportunity to portray in TV & film.
Do you prefer acting in comedy or drama?
I really don’t but I guess if I was put on the spot I’d prefer a dramatic role because in either drama or comedy you bring elements from the other. Some of my favorite characters in film, like Jack Nicholson in The Departed, was the biggest asshole you’d ever seen in your life. Yet there are times you’re laughing about what he’s saying or doing. He’s the guy you love to hate. I try to find those comedic elements in all of my characters. Also in my comedic roles, like in New Girl a lot of the comedy comes from the drama you bring to it. It’s like the Naked Gun where they are being really serious and saying the most absurd thing imaginable.
Is Jack Nicholson a big influence on you?
I know you’re going to say I look like him and sound like him. I love Jack Nicholson he’s one of my idols. I don’t even realize how people compare my vocal qualities or demeanor because I grew up in Texas and Jack grew up in New York. I guess it’s just my demeanor that makes people compare and think that way. I never think of Jack Nicholson that way when I’m playing a role though.
Do you consider yourself an overnight success?
I’ve achieved more success in the last few years definitely. Early on in my career, because I had this deep voice whenever I was a young man it didn’t really match. People always told me, “When you’re older, you’re going to work, a lot.” I worked as a young man just not as much as I am now. When I came back to the business I was older, wiser, more secure financially so I think I’m having more fun with what I’m doing and that shows in my work. Everything is not do or die like some of the younger actors. If there’s any advice I would give to a young actor its have more fun with what you’re doing. Be in it for the long run. It’s a marathon. That’s what the business is. It’s about the longevity, it’s not about a flash in the pan.
How did you get the role of Sheriff Mobley in Too Close to Home?
It all happened quickly. I live in Los Angeles and they were auditioning people in New York and Atlanta. I was one of the last roles cast. My agent called me up on a Friday evening and I know this is unusual but can you go in Saturday morning and read for this role. I went in and the role felt very comfortable to me coming from a small town in Texas and I was playing a sheriff in a small town in Alabama. I kind of had a kindred spirit with the character. They said they wanted me to come back on Monday to meet with Tyler Perry.
On Monday we met at a hotel on Sunset Blvd along with a lot of other actors there to do a reading. I was one of the last actors to read and he had me do one little scene as opposed to the long scenes I had prepared. He was looking at resume and pointed out I sing country music and asked me to sing. So I start singing him a country song. Fortunately I had been doing a play about a country western singer. He said thank you and I was in my car on my way home and I got a call from my agent saying, “They want to hire you for Too Close to Home.” That was on a Monday and by Thursday I was in Atlanta.
What’s working with Tyler Perry like?
Tyler Perry is probably one of the most talented, brilliant, generous men I’ve ever met in my life. He treats his people like first class in every aspect. He does however expect you to give 150% all the time. That goes for every crew member to the biggest star on the show because he’s giving his 150%. I remember when I first got to the studio I noticed that everyone smiled all the time and I thought this isn’t normal. I began to realize everyone was generally happy. If you’re being treated well, having fun with what you’re doing and you’re doing what you do well, why not be happy. Everyone smiles constantly on the set. We work really hard, really fast and I have so much admiration for the man.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I’ve written a screenplay that I’ve got some people interested in producing. It’s about a country western singer and it’s a cross between Crazy Heart and The Crossing Guard. It’s a weird combination but unique. I have Paul Overstreet who’s a multiple CMA & Grammy award winning singer and songwriter. He’s agreed to write the music for the film and I’ve already been to Nashville to record some songs together. Brad Benedict who plays JB on Too Close to Home is in love with the script and going to be playing my son. I’m hoping we get it into production by the end of the year.
How long have you been a country music singer?
I always joked around singing country music but people always said you should do country music comparing me to Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings. I wound up getting involved in this world premiere country musical and this movie I had in my mind for 15 years so I sat down and wrote it. The musical I did was based on 17 of Paul Overstreet’s hit songs like Forever and Ever Amen, Seeing My Father and Me. He and I became really close.
I had actually recorded two songs and put them out on iTunes before I met Paul. It’s a new experience for me and I’m having a lot of fun. A show is coming up in a few weeks in Santa Monica with Brad Benedict and a live country band. I’m trying to get the experience for my upcoming role, singing in bars and singing country music in front of live audiences. I’ve performed in front of audiences and done live shows thousands of times. Last Saturday night my guitar teacher was doing a show and asked me to come sing. I was never more nervous. When you’re singing in a bar, people aren’t necessarily paying attention to you. You don’t know if they are yelling at you or people are laughing trying to struggle and get through the songs.
What advice do you have for young actors?
I would say one of the most important things is to get a solid foundation for your work. In today’s day and age there’s a lot of social media stars and that’s great but I strongly encourage everyone to get training whether you want to be an actor or singer. Get a solid background because the opportunities when they present themselves to you, you have to be able to get the job done and make sure people want to keep hiring you.
That’s what I did when I came out here to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. You weren’t allowed to work professionally while you were going to school there. For 3 years that’s all I did. Do you remember the show Fame? I was doing vocal lessons, acting lessons, dancing lessons from the classics to productions of plays. It’s all you do 8 hours a day is classes like that. I continue to train.
I’m invited to speak to young actors and the one thing I tell them is acting is like a baseball player. You can’t hit homeruns during the game if you don’t go to batting practice. You’ve got to continue to sharpen your tools. Stay on top of your craft is probably the soundest I could give.