He played in Thomas Magnuson’s Dollar Baby The Man Who Loved Flowers as Flower Vendor.
SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Tom Swift: Tom Swift, actor, director, producer, once and future playwright. Have been acting for sixty years, professionally for forty. During those forty years, I have held thirty so-called “real world/day jobs” to support my acting habit; among them, zoo keeper, social worker, legal secretary, small kitchen appliance demo at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, commercial sign maker, university office manager, theater house manager, and substitute teacher. Ya do whatever it takes.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become an actor?
Tom Swift: Six years old, backyard production of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, directed by my older brother, Jim. I played the titular beast — no lines, but I attacked that two-by-four sheep we built with a ferocity that chipped one of my teeth.
My mother was the director of the Wesley Players at SMU and cast Jim and me when when she needed kid actors. Sixth grade school play, I was Santa Clause. I was “bitten hard” when young and never recovered. Made the decision to fully commit my life to the professional theatre at twenty-seven.
SKSM: How did you become involved in The man who loved flowers Dollar Baby film?
Tom Swift: Thomas (Magnuson, our director) placed the audition announcement in one or more of the many web and networking sites. Since I had been studying the Sanford Meisner Technique with David Cox and film acting with C. K. McFarland, it seemed that the student-directors’s films could be as much a lab for me as them, so I went for it.
SKSM: What do you think it is about the story that attracts people so much?
Tom Swift: I’ve been thinking about that very question ever since we made the film. In general, it seems that there is type of reader and movie-goer that simply likes to have the crap scared out of them, especially if it involves palpable rising tension, which then explodes with no warning. Add to that — spoiler alert — that the main character, Love, is out of touch with reality, suddenly and brutally murdering a perfectly innocent woman, a proxy for an unseen source of heartbreak, and the effect is dark, bottomless pit dark. That experience is so different from our day-to-day lives that our empathetic imaginations are fully engaged, if not completely fulfilled.
Either that, or people just love violence.
SKSM: Did you have to audition for the part or was it written directly for you?
Tom Swift: I emailed for an audition slot, got it, did it, thought I was terrible, and even though they were very complimentary, I didn’t hear anything, so I thought that was that and forget about it. Six to eight weeks later, Thomas sends an email casting me as the “Flower Vendor.” Their plans called for the shoot to be on the Courthouse Square in Georgetown, my hometown since I was thirteen years old. As I was moving to Austin after fifty-three years of family association with that wonderful little town, shooting “Flowers” there was the perfect closing curtain.
SKSM: You worked with Thomas Magnuson on this film, how was that?
Tom Swift: He took every problem (they inevitably crop up) in stride, always calm and focused. A less mature director could be expected to get a little panicky, but if Thomas was feeling any of that, he hid it quite professionally. It was a pleasure working with him. [And McCallum High School Cinematic Arts Department Chair, Ken Rogers, Thomas’s supervising teacher/mentor, built the perfect street vendor’s flower cart, complete with huge wooden wheels, giant umbrella and dozens of gorgeous prop flowers!]
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when they made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Tom Swift: While the crew was setting up our first shot, David (Lee Hess, the lead) and I were sitting on a nearby bench, our arms bent at the elbows and resting on the top of the bench back so that we could face each other somewhat, just getting with the small talk and the like, when we were suddenly and simultaneously baptized by the fecal contribution of one of Georgetown’s famous Courthouse Square Green Herons sitting in the shady tree, ten feet directly above us. Utterly disgusted, we looked at each other and then up into the tree (ill-advised, to be sure) and immediately went about solving our wardrobe problems, David to his car for the spare shirt he had brought (a sure sign of an experienced professional), and me to Walmart to buy another t-shirt (a sure sign of a first-time amateur). Since then, when we see each other, David and I always make reference to our initiation into the “Brotherhood of the Shat Upon.”
SKSM: Do you still have any contact with the crew/cast from that time? If so with who?
Tom Swift: I keep up with them on FB, and Thomas and I updated each other by e-mail a couple of times, but it’s the nature of the business to busily move to the next project, while keeping the wonderful people you just finished working with in your heart.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Tom Swift: Three short films I appear in have been accepted at several prestigious film festivals, including Austin and Aspen. Very proud of those projects. And of course, the local theatre auditions are an ever-present opportunity.
SKSM: Are you a fan of Stephen King’s work?
Tom Swift: Yes, in the same way that I love waking up from an awful nightmare to find that I am, after all, perfectly safe.
SKSM: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Tom Swift: That zookeeper job I mentioned? I was a nightkeeper, going to work at midnight. My partner and I (still best friends thirty-five years later) had a very clear mission: check every animal as often as possible to be sure everyone was ok. 2,000 animals on 50 acres. Left me free during the daylight and evening hours for auditions, classes, recording sessions, shoots, rehearsals, and theatre performances, etc. It was the perfect job for an actor who loves animals. I learned so much during those five years in Dallas before moving to New York. And how many people have you met who have actually sat upon the back of an adult rhinoceros? Ten or twelve times over those years. I just adored that big girl, and she was ever so gentle with me. I would have been summarily fired if found out, but she — and my partner — kept my secret!
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Tom Swift: Keep supporting the arts, folks. They’re what make us civilized.
SKSM: Do you like to add anything else?
Tom Swift: Sure. What’s the difference between a poorly dressed uni-cyclist and a well-dressed bicyclist? Attire. (Sorry. When you grow up with a name like Tom Swift, all you got is lame jokes. It’s a character flaw. I apologize.)