Adiela Akoo in conversation with tom mclaren
Adiela Akoo in conversation with Tom Mclaren - join me as I chat to actor/model/author Tom Mclaren about life, acting and superpowers... and discover a few interesting things about Tom that you may not have known...
The first time I encountered Tom Mclaren on the silver screen, was through the gaps between my fingers - no other way I'd watch a horror movie - and he was playing the role of a priest performing an exorcism! It was also by way of a discussion on the subject of the paranormal that we became friends, well over a year ago. So if you've guessed by now that horror is Tom's favourite genre, you would be correct. But let's explore further...
(Adiela) You began your career in corporate finances working behind the scenes at both Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. Studios. But in 2012, you changed course to pursue your passion for acting. What was the catalyst that brought about this change?
(Tom) I have a long list of reasons why I made the change, but mainly I had grown tired of the corporate business world. I couldn't see myself trapped in that box for my entire life. I knew, as a person, I was capable of so much more than what I was being given, so the best outlet to express my creativity was in the acting world. It's been a fascinating journey to see my range. The best part of being an actor is playing characters that are completely different from me. It's like playing out a dream. Where else can I be a psycho carrying a gun or a priest performing an exorcism?
(Adiela) That does sound fascinating and the best part is that when you love what you're doing, it doesn't feel like work. So what does your typical day look like?
(Tom) I prefer to slowly kick-start the day one small step at a time. By noon, I'm ready to breathe some fresh air and join the rest of the world, go to the gym, and eat out for lunch. The afternoon is my most productive time dealing with the day-to-day business of a working actor - searching and prepping for auditions and jobs. The evening is for quiet time at home with my wife Mary and our two cats. Love discovering a movie I've never seen or rewatching an old favorite.
(Adiela) Speaking of old favourites, working on Lost in Space was a dream come true. Why? Do you think that we're able to manifest things we feel strongly about?
(Tom) As a boy, I grew up watching reruns of the original classic series "Lost in Space." It was my favorite TV show. What boy didn't want to be Will Robinson, having daily adventures on a spaceship or an alien planet with monsters, explosions, and a robot? I stayed loyal to the show into my adult years. In the 1990s, I met the entire cast many times and ended up becoming close friends with Angela Cartwright and Marta Kristen.
When the Netflix reboot happened, I thought to myself: if there was ever a show I wanted to be on, this was it. Finally, in 2018, my moment came and I had to pinch myself that it was real. I flew to Vancouver for an amazing opportunity. It was truly a full circle moment - I can now say that "Lost in Space" has impacted my entire life.
As for kismet or fate or whatever it should be called, I think you do have to take control of what you want and make it happen. We have to put our voices out into the universe...you may or may not get a response, but you'll never know until you try.
(Adiela) True! Reminds me of the African proverb that says: "When you pray, move your feet." In other words, prayer... or putting your voice out into the universe... also involves a call to action...
But when there is no call of 'Action', when the cameras are not rolling, who is Tom McLaren?
(Tom) I'm a homebody. I was a shy introvert as a child and to this very day, I am sometimes uncomfortable in group settings. My marriage is the most important thing in the world to me. I'm lucky to have found Mary, and that's an understatement. I don't know where I'd be without her. I never understand when actors describe the greatest moment in their life and they talk about winning an award, booking a part, or something along those lines. To me, the greatest thing is to experience true unconditional love with someone you are in total sync with. That's what fills my heart day in and day out. I'm a lucky guy from that perspective.
(Adiela) Absolutely! Especially in this day and age, and there's no doubt about who your favourite person is, but what are your favourite foods?
(Tom) I grew up in the Midwest in a meat and potatoes family, so I still insist on a burger and fries at least once a week. I love chocolate, it's the one food I need every day. I love Italian food, lots of pastas and red sauces.
(Adiela) Favourite colours?
(Tom) I don't really have a favorite color, though blue is very calming to me.
(Adiela) Favourite space?
(Tom) I have a few spaces in my house that I love. There's one chair in my dining room where I can look out at my backyard and see only nature. Add one of my cats on my lap, and I can sit there and daydream for hours.
(Tom) I am a collector of many things, which is definitely my father's influence. I collect dvds, books, photographs, etc., mainly on TV and movie-related subjects.
(Adiela) On the subject of books, what inspired your book, Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive?
(Tom) My co-author Angela Cartwright called me one day in 2011 with this idea. It was the perfect project for me. I grew up spending hours and hours looking at my mother's movie photo books. I love classic actors from the past and have a mind filled with trivia, facts, and figures about all of them. Plus my business background brings a skill set that is essential on a complicated project like this. There's a business side and a creative side to doing this type of book. You need to wear both hats.
Now I can look back at the book with pride. The hardcover and softcover versions are still selling quite well. We won many awards and got tremendous press coverage. Overall, I'm very proud that we were the only outsiders allowed to mine this vast Fox archive and publish photos that were buried for decades. There's something for everyone in this book, from Bette Davis to Robert Redford to Ann-Margret and hundreds more. Fox was gobbled up by Disney last year, so the book is now a legacy collectible for a great studio that, sadly, no longer exists.
(Adiela) It is indeed fortunate that you were able to save a piece of Hollywood history with your book.
What projects are you currently working on?
(Tom) Mary and I formed our own company, Next Chapter Entertainment, in early 2020. We have divisions for production, publishing, and talent management. We initially planned to focus solely on low budget independent feature films, but it quickly expanded into much more. It's our outlet to do what/when/how we want. Mary was a distribution executive at Fox for a long time. She was the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of International Theatrical and Worldwide Home Entertainment. She brings a wealth of experience to the plate. It's an exciting new phase of our lives and we're happy to have something we can control, as opposed to being just work-for-hire employees.
(Adiela) Wonderful! What's next?
(Tom) Next Chapter has two feature films in active development, the first of which will hopefully start production in 2021. The first completed project however will be our book "Thornsby by Fred McLaren: The Complete Comic Collection." It's a tribute to my dad's syndicated newspaper comic from the 1970s. It was the high point of his life and we will print the entire run of 768 cartoons, plus tons of bonus promotional and publicity materials, photographs, and my own memories and anecdotes. It's a true labor of love, and set to be released this fall.
As an actor, I have several indie films due for release in the next year. My most recent feature film "As I Am" is on iTunes, Amazon, and Heretv. My next movie is "There's No Such Thing as Vampires," which just debuted in the Fright Fest and Dances With Films festivals.
In addition to my "Lost in Space" episode, I have about 20 feature films currently in distribution. The ones that have legs and still get attention are "Expelled" with Cameron Dallas, "Exorcism of Molly Hartley" with Devon Sawa, "Santa's Little Helper" with Mike 'The Miz' Mizanin, and a few others.
(Adiela) Great stuff and lots to look forward to there. What are some quirky/fun things that your fans don't know about you?
(Tom) Here's a few rapid fire answers... I have zero patience for bad customer service. I hate to cook, but I love to do the laundry. I have a mint condition collector mentality. I don't like eating leftovers. I will never do karaoke.
There's a long story behind this one, but on 9/11 I was standing in line for the White House tour when the plane hit the Pentagon. Mary and I debated between the White House and Pentagon tours that morning. She wanted the Pentagon, but we are lucky I chose the White House.
(Adiela) Lucky indeed! I recall you telling me that horror is your favourite acting genre. What fascinates you about this particular genre? Have you had any paranormal experiences of your own?
(Tom) I've loved horror since I was a child. I grew up watching the old classic Universal monster movies. The spooky atmosphere sparks an indescribable sensation in me that ignites my imagination. It seems strange to say, but it is comforting to me in some way.
Like David Duchovny in The X-Files (my favorite show as an adult), I want to believe. I've never experienced anything paranormal - yet. My mother once told me she believed there were ghosts in our house. There was a short period when I was alone in this house, after my parents had divorced and moved away, when I felt someone was actually hiding in the house. I remember trying to get from the second floor to the first floor and out the front door in absolute terror. I returned with a friend about one hour later and of course, we could not prove that anyone had been in the house.
(Adiela) If you could have a superpower, what would you choose?
(Tom) I'd want healing superpowers. We could accomplish so much more in our lives if we could wipe away pain, suffering, hatred, and other destructive things.
Also, not sure this is a superpower, but I'd love to clone myself. As I get older, I realize time really does fly. If only I could be in two or three productive places at the same time!
(Adiela) I think I would choose the same, the world is in dire need of healing, and I absolutely could do with a couple of clones to help me bring all these creative ideas I have simmering in my mind to fruition.
Though I've often wondered about cloning, and whether we'd share our souls with our clones, along with a hive mentality or would our clones be soulless and indepenent thinkers? In the latter case, they may prove to be more trouble than help...
But the mere thought is enough to inspire the writing of a good horror, fantasy, psychological thriller, or even a romantic comedy...
What inspires/motivates you?
(Tom) I want my wife to be proud of me, in my private life and my professional life. So I'm always striving to be a better person. I end up being my own toughest critic although I know perfection is impossible. I recognize that how I hear things in my head is not how those same things are perceived by others. I always say the final answer to any issue is in the eye of the beholder. You have to find someone you trust, and see what their response is.
(Adiela) The best thing we can do is to keep striving to become better people than we were before which brings me to the question everyone contemplates, what do you think is the purpose of life?
(Tom) Be good to others and let your legacy be to make a positive impact on other people's lives. On a daily basis, I genuinely try to treat others the way I want to be treated. Sympathy and empathy are two different things, but both are good things to strive for. When I find someone who exhibits these qualities, it gives me faith in mankind. My biggest gripe is how people treat other people. I'm appalled by rude behavior and disrespect. We all have the power to make other people feel good, whether it be through a simple gesture or a kind word. Many of us never use this power, but think what the world would be like if we all did! People motivated by selfish behavior have no place in my world.
(Adiela) It pays to be kind! I wish more people would realise the true depth of that statement.
If you could send a message to your younger self, what would you say?
(Tom) First, don't stress so much! Have more fun! When I was younger, I was such a serious person and a worrier. As far back as grade school, I would skip watching my favorite TV programs because I had homework to do. Now, I don't honestly believe my career path would have been any different if I had received a B instead of a A on my chemistry test. But as a student I was convinced I had to get an A every single time.
Second, manage your expectations! Accept that there are factors you can not control and people who will disappoint you. I'm a work-in-progress on this one... it's a challenge to make lemonade when you discover life has given you lemons.
(Adiela) Wise advice! Expectations truly are the cause of much disappointment in life.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in acting?
(Tom) Be prepared to work hard. Unless you are gifted with powerful connections who can simply hand things to you, it is an uphill battle to succeed in this business. If you want to be a serious professional actor with longevity, it requires effort, ambition, motivation, perseverance, and self-confidence. It's a rough road... getting an agent, an audition, a job.
Training is essential. I recommend starting with acting classes. Bear in mind no acting teacher can teach you to be a good actor. Talent is something you are born with, but it can be nurtured through practice and experience. The classroom will provide tips and techniques that you will utilize in auditions and on professional sets.
On-the-job experience is absolutely essential. The stakes are higher when you're surrounded by pros and you will learn so much more when you leave the 'safe' confines of the classroom. Accept every job offer you are given during those initial years. Each one is a learning experience. Plus, you can build your resume and demo reels from these early jobs.
Don't go into it if you can't handle rejection and competitiveness. You'll find out very quickly who you friends really are. There are people who will be jealous of any success or attention you get, no matter how big or how small. You need a support system, even if it's just one person, to help you through these peaks and valleys.
After going through all these hurdles, you might get a job with talent, luck, and timing thrown into the mix. That's a 'tough love' way to look at it, but it's very realistic.
(Adiela) If you could do it all over again, rewind, is there anything you would do differently?
(Tom) No, I have no major regrets. The path I took was the right one for me. I wouldn't go back and be a starving actor at age 20 or 30. My life experiences and choices as a person and as a corporate businessman gave me various types of stability and allowed me to start over as a creative person in mid-life.
I do acknowledge Hollywood is constantly changing and it's harder than ever to get auditions for the category that I'm in. I would perhaps have started my acting career 5 years earlier knowing what I know now. But I wouldn't want to change history. I remain grateful. I've experienced many once-in-a-lifetime successes that I wouldn't trade for anything.
(Adiela) The beauty and wisdom of hindsight and that brings us to the final question -
A Time Capsule - what message would you leave to the world?
(Tom) The things we say and do can have a lasting impact on other people. So always think before you speak and pause before you act.
Beautiful words of wisdom! Thank you, Tom.
Watch the full interview and more come to life here:
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