Go Deeper

Where in the World is Thaddeus Phillips?

Posted September 9th, 2013

Theater director Thaddeus Phillips (Whale Optics, Red-Eye to Havre de Grace has gone off the theatrical radar. He writes in with this exclusive and illegal report (a confidentiality agreement was signed and is now being broken) revealing that he is currently on location in Colombia playing the role of the most infamous American drug smuggler, Barry Seal for a new television program. What is he doing? Just look at these pics! Then click through to learn more about what’s kept him from this year’s Fringe Festival (although he’ll be back with us later this fall).


While performing ¡El Conquistador! at the Teatro Nacional in Bogota in April, I was asked to audition for a role on a TV show – a show with Ninjas in the title. That could be fun…I guess… I thought. I went. I was not cast but that was ok, because as it turned out, there were no ninjas in the show. But my audition tape remained on file. Months later I got a call out of the blue to play Ellis Mackenzie (Barry Seal’s alias) the personal pilot for Rodriguez Gacha one of Colombia’s most powerful and insane drug lords in the 1980’s in a new series about Gacha’s rise and fall.

I show up – having spent three days to prepare the role of Ellis (aka Barry) researching everything I could find. He was the youngest pilot to ever fly a commerical airline, he flew weapons to Cuba, reportedly filmed Jeb and George W. Bush unloading cocaine from a plane, was assassinated by three guys from Cali or Oliver North outside a Baton Rouge Salvation Army, etc. etc. When I got there though, the director just wanted an ex-Vietnam pilot with tattoos. I plunged through and he liked what I did, just asked me to speak much slower, a la “Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards.” I did so, speaking in Spanish with a heavy Louisiana drawl. To my surprise, it worked!


I show up a week later to film more scenes – and after my first sentence the director screams “Corte! CORTE! Que HACE?!?!” (Cut, CUT! What are you DOING?!?!) and yells in fury about how I’m talking so slow like Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards? Confusion ensues in my mind and I have yet to recover. Some days are better than others but most are very fun, except . . .

This turns out to be a bad thing, especially when you have primed the fuel for the engines and then if you do press that little red button, well, the propeller starts, when no one planned for it to start.

Having never done TV, I was excited to have real stuff–reality–around as the set at props. Somehow, being in “reality” feels more fake. Driving up to a farm in a 4×4 with extras with machines guns all around and horses crossing the road just feels really weird. And since it is all being filmed, it is very hard to lose yourself and not be self-conscious. The spikes of whiskey the actors have been putting in the prop coffee have helped.


We are all set up with wireless microphones, hidden in our costumes, so of course the sound team can record each voice. The result of this little technological accoutrement is that the actors talk very very low–so low, lower than they would in real life, that the only way I can tell they are done talking is when their lips stop moving. This makes “acting” and “reacting” to the scene a bit dicey.

There are three styles I am seeing: 1: My method acting where I want to know who I am, where I have been, what I want, what is happening, etc. 2: Some odd Euro style based on “Actions” which can be useful but neglects major elements like the text and what is actually happening but helps one find the camera and push anyone else out of the frame. 3: Those who just have it down. Colombian actor Juan Sebastian Calero is a genius and is playing Rodriguez Gacha. Mr. Calero is the real deal, and once he is in character – you feel you are in the room with Gacha. It is nothing short of an honor to work with him. Gracias Juan Sebas.

When we film scenes in the drug lord’s house it is supposed to be in a farm in an area of Colombia with an average temperature of 100 degrees, but we are filming the interiors in an studio that is 50 degrees. It is a fun challenge to act like you are not shivering in your 1980’s short sleeve shirt only buttoned up half way.

An interior scene in house is filmed in May. You actually film the exterior shot entering the house in August. In June and July the weight gained while being at my parent’s houses and eating too much is something I hope the editors can fix in post-production.

I have learned quickly and the hard way that I actually do not speak Spanish. I can learn the lines with time, and show up knowing them, but I am in the super minority of actors on the show who are word for word off book – most of them check the text on their mobile phone 10 minutes before the scene, which is cool if they are all gonna be acting in a language they know. This harsh reality hit me like a brick on the show and makes things really messy when something needs to be improvised. One advantage is that when the director is yelling at me, I don’t know what he is exactly saying, which makes it much less intense and personal.

I really don’t know how this will turn out, but anyone can find out as in October when it starts airing across the USA. Yes, in Spanish, and thus it will be playing nightly in any taqueria or Mexican restaurant in South Philly, especially El Jarocho on 13th.

Thaddeus Phillips will be returning to FringeArts at the new space in November with the World Premiere of 17 BORDER CROSSINGS, a dark, funny, visual, somewhat literary and perhaps true solo work about international border crossings that is also secretly a retrospective of all his theatrical work.