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How the Actor "Jesus" Came to Christ


Bruce Marchiano's Story


There's so much to tell...and at the same time, so little to tell. In so many ways my upbringing was so typical, and in so many, so untypical.


I grew up in southern California, Orange County to be exact. Back then it was all Orange groves with a scattering of suburban housing tracts. What a wonderland it was for me and my buddies - Kevin Connoly, Joey Goode...We would disappear into those orange groves for entire afternoons, playing all sorts of imaginary games. And the building sites - wow! There were all sorts of neat things lying around that we could use for clubhouses and all. I remember we even built a puppet theater in Kevin's garage with those building scraps. We modeled it after Disneyland's 'Tiki Room,' charged admission and everything. I don't remember what kinds of reviews or crowds we got, but it was great fun, that's for sure.


There can be no doubt my love of acting was birthed in those orange grove and backyard role-playing games. I remember Superman was real big back then. Of course everyone wanted to be Superman. I don't remember how often I got that title role, but what I do remember is that the reason I loved playing Superman was different from the rest of the kids. They all wanted to play him because he was so powerful, but I wanted to play him "because he saved people." I remember it distinctly, and looking back, I can't help but think that even way back then the Lord was shaping me for the future He alone knew what I would step into.


Interesting thing about my growing up, I was by no means the cool so-cal surfer kid. In fact, I didn't like the beach at all until I was well into my high school years. You see, I was a real chubby kid - loved to eat, and the cultural environment I was raised in was anything but dietary.


My father is Italian and my mother is Syrian. The two of them met here in California, dancing at the Figueroa Ballroom in the big band swing days. My father and his buddies were out on a vacation from New Jersey and mom was living out here, transplanted from Rhode Island with her Syrian family. Dad took one look at Mom and his ship was sunk. The next thing he knew he was raising a family on the west coast.


But given that, all the relatives I remember, and all the family gatherings, holidays, and weddings were all steeped in the Syrian/Arabic culture. I remember belly dancers at all the weddings, and the old uncles would grab their traditional instruments and provide the music, and we'd do a line dance called the 'dubke,' and all the Syrian women would get together for days in advance, cooking and cooking, and cooking some more.


But you can imagine the food I grew up on - dishes considered exotic/gourmet these days. And the sign of a healthy kid was the quantity he ate. I remember stuffing myself with my grandmother ('Sitto' in Syrian) standing behind my chair exclaiming in Arabic what a healthy child I was.


And 'healthy' I was! More, more! And my mother made this pudding dish that if you didn't take it away I'd clean out the entire pan in one sitting. Wow!


In any event, I was an overweight kid, and when it came to things like the beach and the locker room, it wasn't so nice. My only saving grace is that I was pretty athletic, so the way my brother puts it, "You never looked really fat, you just looked like a big square." Gee thanks, bro.


But I would struggle with my weight on and off until my 20's. One afternoon I stood in a clothing store buying a pair of pants. The girl behind the counter was real cute, but she didn't look at me even once, let alone twice. I can remember it distinctly - it hit me so hard I went home that day determined to get fit. And get fit I did. Praise God! It was such a big thing to me, to this day I wonder who that girl was, and if I'll ever get the chance to thank her for ignoring me.


But that weight was a big thing, I'm convinced that it shaped my sensitivities for the future. To this day, I find myself always gravitating toward the underdog - the guy left out - doing everything I can to impress the truth that God has a plan for his or her life.


In terms of my acting, I was on stage for the first time at 13, in a high school production of 'Oliver.' I was in the chorus of orphan boys and Fagan's gang and had one big line. Boy, did I practice it, over and over: "What next is the question?"


I'll never forget, one rehearsal the director said to me, "Bruce, I wish all my actors were like you. You're always in character." Wow! That validation meant the world, and I knew from that age on that I wanted to be an actor.


Following high school, university, post-grad, and 2 years in an office job that I thought would make me go out of my mind, I finally moved the 60 miles to Los Angeles. I got an apartment on Beachwood Drive (the street you drive up to view the Hollywood sign), signed up for acting classes, and dove in.


One morning in 1984 my phone rang and it was the casting director for 'Murder, She Wrote.' He asked me if I could do a walk-on - 3 lines - for the show, and I was ecstatic. It was my first professional gig, and as far as I was concerned, it was "Kevin Costner, step aside!"


Well, as wonderful as that first acting job was, it would only launch me into several years of struggle. I'd study by night and pound the streets by day, doing everything I could to get someone on the other side of the desk to take me seriously. There were occasional opportunities, occasional jobs, an agent here and an agent there, but the bottom line was struggle.


The only upside was that everyone was struggling. We were a whole community of out-of-work actors, drinking coffee all day long and 'talking film.' I made some great friends and had some great fun. And there's an interesting thing about struggle - one gets pretty inventive and creative in how to have fun. And sometimes that's the best fun of all.


One of my greatest joys then (and now) was softball. Saturday was the entertainment league where different TV shows would put teams on the field. It was very competitive, and guys like me who weren't on a show were brought in as ringers. I remember one great player who played for the Days Of Our Lives team. He was so good that they actually gave him a regular walk-on role, just so they could claim him as an official player.


Sundays were pickup games at North Hollywood Park. We'd play game after game, starting around 10 am and going all the way through 5 or 6. It was wonderful, out there sweating in the sun all day long, fielding grounders and running the bases.


I remember one player in particular that used to come out to those games. He always played the outfield, and his brand new glove was a dead giveaway that he wasn't the most experienced guy in town, but he got better and better as the weeks went on. He was quieter than the other guys, but when he did open his mouth, it was so funny that the game would almost stop. He drove an older black Porsche, and I'll never forget the day he walked on the field and everyone was congratulating him for an appearance on the Tonight Show. Then years later, I turned on the TV and there he was in his own sitcom. It was Jerry Seinfeld.


But movies were my life, and unfortunately, it was a pretty one-sided affair. I loved them, but they had yet to love me. And when I did work, it was always a character somewhat 'rough around the edges.' A boxing manager, an ex-con living in his car, a black market dealer, . . . It was undoubtedly my dark looks, and that was just fine with me, as long as it got me work.


And then in mid-1987 my head was spun around by a beautiful young actress. She was a honey-dripping southern girl, and no need to say more. Suddenly it wasn't just movies anymore, it was movies and this girl. She and I would go out for the next 2 years, and for me it was a roller-coaster of emotional feast or famine, crashing late one hot July night.


By that time, though I still wasn't consistently working, my career was taking on a nice pace. I had latched on to a talent manager who was passionately pushing me, and it