Catching up with Jack Hunter
A onetime fixture of the Buffalo scene is making his way in LA
For nearly thirty years, Jack Hunter was a fixture of the Buffalo arts scene, tending bar, booking acts at Nietzsche’s, doing music public relations, teaching theater classes at four colleges, appearing on stages across the city, and earning three Artie awards in the process. Since 2005, he’s been in Los Angeles, where he’s worked steadily in guest television spots, indie films, and, perhaps most notably, as Roger in Cracked’s honest ads.
How did you end up in Western New York?
Saul Elkin offered me a fellowship for fifty dollars a week; how could I pass that up? I came in during the worst winter ever, drove cabs in the Blizzard of ’77. I went back and forth to New York City twice, and I was in Worcester, Massachusetts, when I found out I was going to be a dad, so I came back and spent most of the time until 2005 in Buffalo.
You were doing well here; what made you leave?
I got tired of being on the stage. I wanted to be in front of the camera, and I didn’t think that was going to work out for me in Buffalo, and in Toronto, they weren’t looking for Americans, to put it nicely. My daughter said to me, “Hey, I don’t need you around here anymore; you can go to California. Go ahead.” I stayed another year, because I had commitments to fulfill; I was still teaching at NCCC, but, as soon as that term was over, I bought a van, filled it up, and left.
Did you have a plan?
I didn’t have crap! I just came out. I had talked to Josie [DiVincenzo, who has since returned to Buffalo] a little bit, and said “I just got a great review for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—they’re not going to give a shit, are they?” and she said, “Nope.”
How did you get rolling?
I tried to get into as many small short films with schools as I could, because that’s where you’re going to meet somebody; there are at least five or six of the best film programs in the world out here. All of this stuff happened with Cracked because I auditioned with a guy at University of Southern California and liked him immediately. He liked me, we did a short piece, a year or two later, he calls me up, says, “We want to do a condom commercial, but do it honestly,” and I said, “Sure!” There are fifteen or sixteen of them now; they’re posting once a month because it’s one of their most watched things with over fifteen million views.
There are so many people auditioning out there. Getting cast when you first get here is not so easy, but I got a few things early on and they were good. The second piece I did out here went to Sundance; that was also from USC.
Are you able to live off what you make from acting?
Not even close. I came out here with savings, so I made it for a while on savings. The last couple years, I haven’t had to take anything out of bank or life insurance policies, but that’s because I’m working security four nights a week and got on social security. I act less than once a week.
Do you do any theater?
I’ve done some, but I came out here to not do theater. I’ve done four, and three of them were for the best reason in the world: my friends wrote them.
What do you prefer about film?
I like the intimacy of it. I also like that when you get what you want, you’re done. When you get that scene to where you think it’s right, you’re done. You don’t have to try to do that for another eight weeks. I’m getting older; it’s difficult for me to remember a lot of lines. People are asking me to do big roles, and it’s too tough.
What are your fondest show memories from Buffalo?
I remember things for different reasons. I remember Flying Pigeons [a play by then student Tammy Ryan that went up at Nietzsche’s], because I not only produced it, I acted in it. I did three shows at Studio Arena: I had a tiny role in Arms and the Man, but Kelsey Grammer was in it. The Dresser was Julianne Moore’s first professional show. Twelve Angry Men was a great show with a fifty-fifty split of New York and Buffalo actors. We got standing ovations after every show but one—a school show—and that was before people did it every time. I did a one-man show, A Night in November [which won Hunter an Artie] at Alleyway; it was close to my heart. That Championship Season at the Playhouse [now the Smith Theatre].
You’re also a photographer?
I shoot some, yeah. People ask me to do headshots sometimes, but I’m not so great at them; Jason Trost, a friend out here also from Buffalo, does better. I have to tell you a Jason Trost story. He was considering coming out here, and one day I said, “Jason, you gotta come out. I see this guy whose taking your roles. He looks like you, you could do this stuff, so you should come out and shoot that son of a bitch; I think his name is William Fichtner. And Jason said, “Jack, that’s my cousin.” He came out and lived on my couch for a while, and he does my headshots. We have dinner at least once a month. He was in Buffalo at Christmas.
Do you ever come back?
I’ve been back three times, the last was about three years ago; I should get back more because my daughter’s there now. Every theater in town has offered me something to come back, but the logistics and the finances of it just won’t let me do it.
Do you miss it?
I miss my friends and my family. It’s one of the friendliest cities in the world. You don’t have to travel twenty-five miles to have a drink with somebody; I find that a little tough here. I suspect I could get a date in Buffalo; I may be fooling myself. Out here, I always wonder, “What do you want?” “Do you have money? Can you get me in movies?” No and no.
What I don’t miss is snow; the next couple weeks, I may drive up to the mountains to where the edge of snow is, walk around, take a couple selfies and come back home. I like walking out in the mountains, going out in the deserts, walking up sand dunes in Death Valley.
So all in all, it’s been a good move.
I’m old now, and I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing. I’ve done a lot of things I like; going to Sundance was special. I’ll keep looking for other stuff. Nobody’s looking for gray-haired senior citizens particularly, so I’m very happy the folks at Cracked just bend over to use me in things. They paid me a couple hundred dollars a day to be a comatose king. They said, “It’s not really acting, you’d be lying in a bed in a starship; would you want to do that?” Are you kidding me? Absolutely!
Acting is always that thing where you can leave everything behind and be something else—fantastic, wonderful, evil, nasty—and forget everything horrible in your day.
Last words for the friends here?
I had a great twenty-five years, and I remember it all fondly. I worked in just about every theater in town. I can’t complain about any of it.
Playwright Donna Hoke covers theater for Spree and Forever Young.