Brian Gilleece '03 remembers exactly what he was thinking when he packed up his U-Haul in 2011 to make the move to California. "Finally I'll have a chance to pursue my dream." Always a natural performer – whether entertaining audiences in his elementary school talent show, or messing around with the family camcorder – acting never seemed like a viable profession. "In Woodbury, it seemed everyone around me grew up to work in insurance, or they made the move to NYC for Wall Street."
For Gilleece the path to Hollywood – both literally and figuratively – has been a winding one. Upon graduating from Holy Cross, he earned his B.A. in Marketing from Western New England University in Springfield. Post-graduation included stints in professional hockey and radio as an on-air personality.
"That was a really fun time," said Gilleece. "I had a chance to hone in on my hosting and improv skills. All of this fed into my passion for performing, and it finally clicked for me; I wanted to be in front of the camera."
It was an eventual sales job at a fire and life safety company that offered the opportunity to relocate. "Outside sales is the perfect day job for an actor. It has allowed me a steady income and the flexibility to pound the pavement, and meet people in the industry. Not to mention that every actor has to be a great salesperson."
His first few professional acting gigs came in unscripted television - on a dating show hosted by comedian Iliza Schlesinger, and then a competition show hosted by Bam Margera. He was the winner on both. Shortly thereafter he met his manager (now wife) who recommended that if he wanted to be taken seriously as an actor he would need to exit reality TV, and find a great professional class.
"I've always felt like a storyteller, and I love episodic television," said Gilleece. "I am a huge fan of Law & Order SVU and of Christopher Meloni's role Elliot Stabler, in particular. In a role like that, you get to explore deep character development over the course of a series, and I would love the opportunity to do that with a character."
He took the advice, studying at the prestigious Stan Kirsch Studios, and the work soon followed including a commercial for Nike Golf directed by Derek Cianfrance which the Directors Guild of America named Commercial of the Year. He also booked roles in film - Daddy Issues (Netflix) and The Big Day (Amazon), and television – CBS's The Inspectors, CLEO-TV's The New Shade of Black. However, it was on the set of Westworld last summer where he really felt that his dreams were starting to come true.
"Westworld has been an incredible experience, the show has such a passionate global following and to now be a part of that universe and have so many people from around the world connecting with me is surreal."
Not only did he work with leads Aaron Paul and Evan Rachel Wood, but had the opportunity to perform his own stunts on one of the most prestigious and expensive shows on television. His set alone included over 150 extras and shut down 4 Downtown Los Angeles streets.
And then, finally, Hollywood came calling.
Multi-hyphenate Ryan Murphy's newest (and very adult) Netflix series looks at an alternate history of the Golden Age of Hollywood. "I was up for something else on the day that I booked the role," Gilleece said. "My agent asked me to go read for casting and I had a great conversation with them. I shot my scene two days later. It all happened very quickly." He would end up interfacing with many of the cast as it was their last shoot day and most of the key players were part of his scene.
Brian Gilleece '03 (center) with cast mates Dylan McDermott '79 & Darren Criss
"I was chatting with (cast members) Darren Criss and Jake Picking and then commented on Dylan's (McDermott, class of '79) wardrobe - he was wearing this great 50's suit." said Gilleece. "He asked me where I was from. I said 'Woodbury, CT' and he said 'no kidding, I grew up in Waterbury.' Which lead to the inevitable 'where did you go to High School' discussion – quickly discovering that we had both attended Holy Cross. We talked a lot about Waterbury and growing up in the area. Dylan and the rest of the cast were great. Those are the best days, to connect with people who have been were you've been, and are now very successful. It makes it easier to see the roadmap for yourself."
Brian has some advice for up-and-coming actors.
"First, you have to be where the work is. If you want to be in film and television, move to California or Atlanta. Stay in New York City if you want a career in the theatre. Second, your youth in this business is very valuable. Finally, be invested in your passion 100% as soon as you possibly can – something I wish I had done sooner myself. Read as many things about the business of acting as you possibly can. Understand that there will be people along the way who know more than you and are willing to share their expertise. The best thing you can do is listen to that knowledge and grow from it."