A star on the rise

CATCHING UP WITH... SHAWN HATOSY

Maryland native Shawn Hatosy's control of the nuances of acting launches him on a film career.

August 22, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

And to think that Shawn Hatosy was thinking of getting his teeth bonded.

Hatosy, the Silver Spring-born star of "Outside Providence," which opens Sept. 1, was auditioning for the role of Timothy "Dunph" Dunphy two years ago when the movie's director, Michael Corrente, asked him to open wide.

"Michael was like, `Show me your teeth,' " Hatosy recalled the other day during a telephone interview. "And I showed him, and he kind of had this look like, `Eeeuww!' He was like, `Yeah, they're pretty bad, but not for Dunphy. For Dunphy they'd be pretty good."

Let the record show that Hatosy's teeth aren't that bad. In fact, they're just snaggled enough to give the 23-year-old a baby face capable of innocence and just the slightest bit of mischief. It's a look that has helped lead to, if not a meteoric rise to stardom, at least a steady build to solid success.

And it wasn't Hatosy's teeth that gave him his first big break (an episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street" in 1995), or that got him a breakout role in the comedy "In & Out," or that made Kevin Costner write a role for him in the doomed apocalyptic epic "The Postman." Hatosy's effect on the filmmakers who have worked with him is much more ineffable than a couple of endearingly crooked ivories.

"People come here who are very good, or even great, but nothing ever came in here like Shawn Hatosy," says Pat Moran, the casting director who auditioned Hatosy for the "Homicide" appearance. Moran recalled that Hatosy, who played a prep school student accused of killing his grandparents, read for the role with veteran actors Ned Beatty, Richard Belzer and Henry Strozier.

"This little kid came in and sat in my chair, and I tell you, I was speechless," she says. "I didn't know what to say. Just to make sure I wasn't insane, I gave him some direction, I said, `Pick this up, put this down,' and he did it with the subtlety and ease of a pro."

Moran notes that Hatosy, who was 19 at the time, "shouldn't have had any of that range at all. And acting is certainly about listening, which he did, instead of dropping the action and just waiting for his line. He could also change gears in a subtle manner. ... And the fact that he had red hair didn't hurt."

An early calling Hatosy grew up in Frederick, the son of a graphic designer and a loan officer. He says he knew from an early age that acting was in his future. "I just always enjoyed being the center of attention. If I was with a group of people on the bus or just around my parents, I always really enjoyed telling jokes or trying to get some sort of reaction."

He began appearing in local community theater and commercials when he was 10 ("Maryland Public Television and local Pizza Hut commercials, that sort of thing") but began pursuing the stage in earnest at the urging of Carl Freundel, the drama teacher at Linganore High School.

"He taught me so much, not even just about acting but music and poetry," Hatosy recalls. "He just had such a passion for it. It affected not just me but our whole school.

"We were doing all this innovative theater that we'd never seen before. Growing up doing community theater. It was `Grease' and `Oklahoma!' or `Annie Get Your Gun.' Then we got there and we started doing these heavy, heavy dramatic pieces that just kind of turned me on to it, really. We were doing Sam Shepard plays and `Macbeth' and that kind of thing."

Freundel, who is now a professor at Essex Community College, says that when he arrived at Linganore, he immediately began hearing "all these rumors that there was this really good actor who had done a lot of commercials. Then when I had him in class and saw how hard he worked and how disciplined he was, I got really excited. He was much more humble and dedicated to the craft than most of the actors I'd come across."

Freundel recalls that, whether Hatosy was starring in a version of "Wuthering Heights" or "Macbeth," "he understood emotions and qualities and nuances within the soul that no one his age should have a right to know."

Although Hatosy's application to Juilliard was denied, his appearance on "Homicide," as well as a tiny part in Jodie Foster's "Home for the Holidays," which was filmed in Maryland, convinced him that he could take a shot in New York. Moran called a friend who managed Melissa Leo and other young actors ("Never prior to or since have I called him about an actor," she says); Hatosy stayed with cousins who live in Queens and began to audition for roles.

Although his plan of landing a stage role didn't pan out, he did get roles in commercials and guest spots on a few TV movies and shows such as "Homicide" and "Law and Order." "Things just really started rolling," Hatosy recalls of his salad days. "Fortunately, I didn't go through a period where I was depressed and struggling. I had the family there, I had the people to help me out, and who knows, without that, what would have happened."

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