Northwest Arkansas boasts the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas system and, as such, will see nearly 28,000 students work, study and live within its confines every year. With numbers like that, it’s a good bet that many of those students will leave lasting impressions on the area, even after they’ve moved on to make their mark on other parts of the world. Today, we’re expanding on a series we’ve done occasionally called “Where Are They Now” — a chance to check in with some of the former University of Arkansas students who have gone on to share their talents with the world. John Gloria and Craig Brooks’ time in the UA Department of Theatre overlapped in the early 1990s — they both cite a show they performed in together, 1991’s “The Cradle Will Rock,” as one of their favorites —and the two have remained friends as they continue to grow their careers in Los Angeles.
Craig Brooks has been a successful showrunner and producer for television for 20 years, working on reality television and game shows for many companies, including MTV, Fox, The WB, BET, VH1, TBS, NBC, and ABC.
Tell us a little bit about your experience at the UA. What did you study, what were some highlights, etc.?
I have many great memories from my time at the U of A. One of my favorites has to be from the show “The Cradle Will Rock,” directed by Amy Herzberg. It was an amazingly talented cast and director and one of the first shows I did where I felt a real connection to the material. I also have fond memories of competing in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. I was fortunate enough to be John Gloria’s partner in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition at ACTF in my sophomore year. John and I (he was the candidate and I was his scene partner), won at our regional competition and were selected to go to the finals at the Kennedy Center that year. It was a moment where I realized that maybe I could actually, one day, act professionally. It was a great confidence builder for me. I went back the following year as a candidate (instead of as a partner) and unfortunately tanked after the first round. It was still a great motivator, and my senior year I was nominated again and made it to the regional final 16, which felt like a great victory.
Tell us a little bit about where you ended up: What do you do now? What was the path there? Why did you choose that path?
I have lived and worked in Los Angeles for the last 18 years. I am currently the vice president of development for A. Smith & Co., the company that’s behind a variety of big TV series (American Ninja Warrior, Hell’s Kitchen, Titan Games, to name a few). I just started in this role in January, and I’m really excited to be working with a company that has such diverse and successful track record in the industry. I love development and really enjoy taking a germ of an idea and turning it into a full-fledged show. Before working for A. Smith & Co., I worked as an executive producer and showrunner on a variety of different reality series. I have worked extensively in game shows over the last 10 years or so and have really enjoyed it. Giving away money and playing games while doing it is a fun way to make a living.
I got my start in TV working in Miami for a voiceover studio. I moved there while my wife was in graduate school. I worked as the artistic director of the studio, and we focused mainly on dubbing foreign films into English. I was fortunate enough to direct the original voiceover for an animated series along with dubbing a variety of feature films and TV series. That taste of working as a producer — I handled all the casting, and script revisions along with directing the voiceovers — gave me a real interest in working behind the scenes. I had always had a huge passion for filmmaking and directed short films from the time I was in junior high school working with my three brothers and friends. I had always dreamed of directing a feature film and had a desire to work in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, so after my wife graduated, we moved here, so I could pursue a career.
Can you share about when you first started out on your path to your career? What were some of the biggest struggles you had? Were you ever tempted to give up? If yes, what kept you motivated to keep pursuing your goals?
When I first moved to L.A., it was tough to find work. Luckily my wife was able to find work in her field — physical therapy — right away, and that along with a little savings, provided me the chance to look for an entry-level job in the entertainment industry. I had experience as a voiceover director, so I cold-called every voiceover studio in L.A. On what must have been my 50th call, I got a break. A casting director named Terry Berland was impressed enough with my chutzpah to cold-call her to give me a shot at directing voiceover auditions for commercials. The first day I worked with her I was shocked to be directing auditions with really big talents — Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob, SNL’s Laraine Newman, to name a few. It was eye-opening and a great break, even though it was just running auditions for commercials. It was a real job in L.A., working in some way in the business. It was the first moment that I realized that it was possible, and although it was only sporadic work, it was super encouraging.
I then scoured job ads online and applied for any possible jobs in the business. I interviewed 17 times for junior agent positions, casting assistant jobs, office manager and production assistant work, with no luck. Then I got a few breaks. I replied to a Craigslist ad for a “Reality TV Think Tank” that sounded a little sketchy, but what did I have to lose? It turned out to be an amazing opportunity. The showrunner and one of the executive producers for American Idol, Brian Gadinsky, was starting a think tank to come up with reality TV show ideas, and he wanted me to be a part of it. This was the first season of Idol, and reality television was booming. I also had a friend from high school working on an MTV show that got me an interview for a field producer job. I got hired, and between the two of those experiences I was on my way to learning the ropes of producing and developing reality television. And as I met people in the business and worked hard, my contacts and relationships increased, and I was able to continue working. This business is based on relationships, relationships and hard work. If you are a hard worker and willing to put in the time and effort and easy to work with, people will want you on their team. The adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” is true to an extent. I would add that it doesn’t matter who you know if you aren’t willing to work hard. Knowing the right person will get you a shot, but hard work is the only thing that will keep you working.
What advice would you give to someone who might be pursuing a career in the area that you find yourself?
I would tell them that if you want to be successful in the entertainment industry you have to give it 100%. Moving to Los Angeles was a big step for me. I have a few friends that want to work in the business but won’t relocate to L.A. or New York City, and in a lot of ways, that is the only thing stopping them from a full career in the industry. If I can do it, you can too. Talent is important, but a strong work ethic and positive attitude are also what will keep you working. I think in some ways, taking that leap and following your dreams is the biggest step towards success. It’s at least a big step on the path. So being in a place where there is work in the field you want to be a part of is hugely important. That and not giving up. There will be obstacles. I have worked as a freelance producer up until this year, and it was job to job. There are times I’ve been out of work for two or three months. It can be stressful when you are living off of savings and looking for the next job. Luckily, those times have been few and far between. But even in those times, there is something about that life that is freeing and in a way a reminder of the commitment to working in the entertainment business. If you are all-in, you will push through those moments and keep working towards the next opportunity. That is definitely one of the keys to success — to keep working, whether you are being paid or not. You can write your screenplay, or work on your podcast, or develop the next great game show. If you are working, breaks will come, and you will be ready for them.
After earning a B.A. from the University of Arkansas and a M.F.A. from the University of California at Irvine, John Gloria moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He’s had great success in commercials, television and movies; in just the last year, Gloria has booked roles on The Neighborhood, NCIS, 13 Reasons Why, La Femme, Saved by the Bell and A League of Their Own and has a recurring role on NBC’s Good Girls.
Where did you grow up? And what inspired you to become an actor? Was there a film or a play that just made it click for you?
I was born in Memphis, Tenn., and moved to Huntsville, Ark., around the age of 13, where I graduated from high school. I got a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and Drama from the the U of A and then a Master of Fine Arts degree from UC Irvine. A drama teacher named Vickie Thompson came to Huntsville my junior year, right around the time I was watching a lot of television with my mom, who opened a video store while we were in Huntsville. My senior year, I won first place at the state forensics and drama tournament in the solo acting category with my own adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart, and suddenly realized I was a lot better at acting than athletics. But Vickie was the first person to tell me that if I wanted to move to Los Angeles and make it as an actor, I could do it — and I believed her.
What year did you graduate from UA? And what was your major? What role would people be most likely to remember you for?
I graduated from the U of A in 1992, and while it’s hard to say what role I might be best remembered for there, I’d boil it down to one or two in which I feel I did by best stuff: various roles in “Voice of the Prairie” or Larry Foremen in “The Cradle will Rock,” both productions directed by Amy Herzberg.
Did you do theater first or go straight to Hollywood?
After graduating from UC Irvine in ‘95, I did my third season of summer Shakespeare at a company called Shakespeare LA with artistic director Ben Donenberg (the first two I did while still at UCI) and immediately began pursuing a career in “Hollywood” right after.
Tell me what life has been like for you there? I know there’s been music, too, so please talk about that.
I can’t lie: Life in LA has been tough. An actor’s journey is uncertain all along the way. It’s mostly rejection with a few nuggets of success here and there, at least for most actors. There are those who catch breaks early, but those for the most part are rare. For the rest of us it’s a labor of love and an ongoing practice of faith in yourself and your abilities. During the toughest times, you have to remind yourself that this is who you are and what you do, and that seems to carry you through.
In 1997 I did an indie film with David Elliot called Nothing Sacred which gave me hope I could make it in the biz. That gig was a total blast, shot in San Francisco, and David and I are still good friends. (He’s a writer here in LA now.) I got my Screen Actors Guild [union] card somewhere around 1999 in an Amtrak commercial directed by Todd Phillips. Yes, the same one who directed Joker — an amazing movie if you haven’t seen it. Somewhere around 2002, I began having a lot of success acting in commercials — until a few years ago when management decided to begin using mostly nonunion actors (to the tune of about 70%) at which point, after more than 20 years in the business, I found myself struggling all over again just to make ends meet.
While I was in my 30s, I started playing guitar and writing music — Mom was a singer and Dad a professional guitar player — and started a band called Good Ol’ Country Railroad which played around LA for about seven years during which time we made our own self-titled record (which you can find on Spotify) and music video for our song “Ensenada,” which I believe you can still find on YouTube. I am incredibly pleased that after nearly an 11-year hiatus, we seem to be getting “the band back together” with an aim at a reunion show soon and hopefully a second act.
Tell me some of your favorite roles.
Over the years, between shooting commercials, I was steadily building a base of casting director contacts in the world of television and shooting the occasional episode. Some of my favorites have been as “Curtis” in an episode of Back to You in which I got to share the stage with Kelsey Grammar (who I grew up watching on Cheers), as Hugh Laurie’s lawyer in an episode of House, as a police detective in a scene with Joe Mantegna on Criminal Minds and most recently as a baseball coach in the pilot episode of Amazon’s upcoming TV adaptation of A League of Their Own.
How did this recurring role on the NBC hit show Good Girls come about? And tell me about the character?
My recurring role as “Luke, the Cop” on Good Girls was a surprise. They hired me to do one episode which shot last fall (No. 306). Earlier this year, casting called to say that “Luke” would be appearing again in an upcoming episode and asked if I would I be available. “Uh, heck yeah, I’d be available,” I said, and made my second appearance in episode 313 which shot right before production shut down with the rest of the world. The first time we see Luke, he’s basically a “by the books” cop who’s just kind of doing his job. But the writers seemed to pick up a “folksy” quality I brought to him and wrote that into the dialogue in his second appearance. I can’t say anymore about him until after the episode airs except that the second time around he’s playing a much more important role in the storytelling. I was extremely excited, humbled and honored to be given the opportunity. The writing on the show is top notch, along with the acting and directing. In fact, it excels in every area and happens to be incredibly entertaining show to watch, so I’m super stoked to be a part of it.
What is your great dream for your career? What role have you always wanted to play or what director have you always wanted to work with?
One of my dreams is to be on a show full time because I think it would be a lot of fun to play a character over a very long story arc. And it also goes without saying that the regular work would be really nice for a change! I can’t think of any actor who wouldn’t want to work with Clint Eastwood, so show me where that line starts. I still think the Cohen Brothers are in a completely different stratosphere as filmmakers, but I’d also really like to work with Paul Thomas Anderson. As far as television goes, Vince Gilligan is simply “the man” and I’d kill to work with that guy. But one of my other dreams is to make my first feature film because I began writing screenplays about 10 years ago and actually made a film in 2012, a short called Station Zero which won two “best narrative short” awards at festivals. I didn’t direct it. A very good friend and cinematographer named Justin Duval did that. I’m more interested in writing, acting and producing. I think it’s really important to have another eye and trusted compatriot in the mix. Directing is an entire career in and of itself.