Try 1 month for 99¢

Have you watched a TV show or commercial and seen a person that looks vaguely familiar? Like maybe you recognize him or her from somewhere?

There's a chance -- and sometimes a good one -- that you actually may know the actor because several of them with Nebraska connections are popping up on the small screen, especially in commercials.

"There's something about actors and commercials," said Jim Hanna, a Lincoln native who makes his living in Los Angeles appearing in commercials and bit roles on popular TV shows, such as the hit CBS drama "NCIS: Los Angeles."

That big Viking with the horned helmet in the Capital One credit card ads? Well, he's Christopher Darga, who earned his master's degree in acting from University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

And the meth-addicted prostitute supplying Timothy Olyphant's U.S. marshal character with information on FX's "Justified"? She's Abby Miller, who grew up in Clay Center and earned her bachelor's degree in theater at UNL.

Here's a look at five character actors with Nebraska connections and why they may look so familiar to you:

Jim Hanna

His Nebraska connection: Hanna grew up in Lincoln, having graduated from Lincoln Southeast (1986) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1991). He's also a playwright who has had several local theaters stage his productions, including the Crooked Codpiece Company, which has had success twice with his musical "Soda Pop."

What you may have seen Hanna in: His latest commercial work includes spots for Mass Mutual, Abbott Diabetes Care and Lunchables.

On prime time, he recently played a hotel owner who is reluctant to give up information to "NCIS: Los Angeles" investigators and an assistant director in an episode of "Hot in Cleveland."

His story: Now 43, Hanna said he's graduated to the "casual dad" role for commercials.

He credits a spot he did for AT&T in 2003 for launching his commercial career. He played a father on a business trip who talks to his daughter on an AT&T phone. Hanna was told Steven Spielberg saw and liked the ad. It may have been part of the reason Hanna landed a role in Spielberg's "War of the Worlds," starring Tom Cruise.

"It's purely my physical look," Hanna said. "I look like an average suburban dad."

And even though he's been at it since 1991, he admits he becomes a bit starstruck at times. Like the time he worked opposite Betty White in TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland."

"I said my first line, and all of a sudden there's Betty White speaking back to you," he said. "It was kind of a trip."

In addition to his TV work, Hanna keeps himself busy on the stage; he's currently appearing in an updated take on Shakespeare's "Othello" at LA's Lex Theatre. He also produces and stars in the Web series "Jeff the Cat: Merchant of Darkness," a dark comedy found on YouTube.

Abbie Cobb

Her Nebraska connection: With her father stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Cobb attended middle and high school in Papillion. Her folks live in Gretna.

What you may have seen Cobb in: She is best known for her recurring role on The CW teen drama "90210." She played Emily, a sweet, naive girl who moved to Beverly Hills from Kansas. By the end of season three, Emily had changed. And not for the better.

"I was totally evil and destroyed myself and everybody around me," Cobb said.

Her story: Cobb said she's discovered her family and friends back home are extremely excited for her as her career is taking off.

Her resume includes appearances on "Jonas" and "Imagination Movers" on the Disney Channel and on "Medium," "CSI: Miami" and "The Mentalist" on CBS. Her youthful appearance translates to roles as a teen.

"My friends and family weren't sure about this at first," Cobb said. "They thought of Los Angeles as a scary place where one can lose their morals. Now, everybody is really supportive and happy for me and excited about what's coming next."

When she first moved to Los Angeles, Cobb worked as a nanny. Her recent success has allowed her to concentrate solely on acting. She just booked a multi-episode arc on the new ABC comedy "Suburgatory." She'll play the "bitchy best friend of the villain."

"I feel so fortunate and lucky I don't have to be a waitress or a bartender or a personal trainer," she said. "I'm just an actress for now. That's really fantastic."

She's excited about her new gig on the ABC comedy. She laughs about her trend of playing "mean girls" of late.

"It's funny to me, because I'm nothing like that in real life," she said. "It's so fun to play a villain. I get to tap into a side of myself I thought I never had."

Christopher Darga

His Nebraska connection: Darga lived in Lincoln from 1980 to 1983 while working on his master's degree in acting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where one of his professors was the legendary William Morgan.

"I loved him," Darga said. "He cast me (in the title roles) in ‘Hamlet' and ‘Dracula.' I loved working with him."

After Morgan died, Morgan's daughter contacted Darga and asked him if he would be interested in her father's files on the two plays. He was honored by the gesture, he said.

What you may have seen Darga in: He's one of the Vikings -- the big one with the helmet with horns -- in the Capital One credit card ads. More recently, he had a "very small part" in the Steve Carell movie "Crazy, Stupid, Love." He was Lowe's salesman No. 1.

"I didn't end up in the cutting room floor," he joked.

TV viewers will see him soon in an  upcoming episode of "The Closer." Past TV credits include "Lie to Me," "The Mentalist" and "Dexter."

His story: After graduating from UNL, he returned to his Detroit hometown to teach two years at the University of Detroit, where he had earned his bachelor's degree.

In 1986, he headed to Los Angeles and has been working steadily since, supplementing his income with his work as a sculptor.

"The key out here is to have talent and lot of luck and persistence," he said. "I know a lot of people who left after four or five years because they couldn't take doing it anymore. Guys like me who have been doing this for 25 years are few and far between. I see the same group of guys at auditions."

He said the Capital One Viking commercials are "standard fish-out-of-water" kind of humor. They have struck a chord with viewers.

"We're big, dumb lovable doofuses," he said.

Darga, 53, hasn't been back to Lincoln since he left in 1983. He said he enjoyed his time in the Star City while he was here.

"I gained a lot of (acting) experience," he said. "I played a lot of good roles and made a lot of friends that I still have today."

Patrick Wilkins

His Nebraska connection: Wilkins graduated from Lincoln Pius X in 1987 and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before heading off to New York City to study at the National Shakespeare Conservatory (1990-93).

What you may have seen Wilkins in: The opportunities are many because Wilkins has been busy since returning to Los Angeles in 2007. Recent commercial spots include Liberty Mutual, the American Egg Board ("The Incredible, Edible Egg") and Best Buy. He's the one skydiving with a terrified Best Buy salesperson.

Wilkins also had a ton of exposure from his American Express ad featuring Conan O'Brien. In it, O'Brien travels to Egypt to buy material and make curtains for the stage of his new late-night show on TBS. Wilkins is the backstage techie who wakes O'Brien from his daydream about the curtains.

His story: Wilkins, 41, moved to Los Angeles in 1993, but returned to Lincoln with his daughter Adeline in 2005 after his wife died.

"I had to get out of town and chill in Lincoln," he said. "I needed to be around family and friends. It's a very welcoming city. It was a nice experience for us."

He returned in 2007 and has worked regularly, even helping his 8-year-old daughter to break into the business. They've done three commercials together. Adeline is now a member of the actors union, the Screen Actors Guild.

"It took me 10 years to get in, and I was able to get her in within a year," he laughed.

Like his friend Jim Hanna, he often appears as the "casual dad" in commercials. His look has led to several spots, which has made him quite visible among friends and family.

"It feels good to be noticed," he said. "Before, I would come home a couple of times a year and my friends would tell me what they were up to and ask what I was doing. I would say, ‘I might be in a play.' Now, I don't have to answer that question. It's been really great."

Abby Miller

Her Nebraska connection: Miller grew up in Clay Center and earned her bachelor's degree in theater in 2002 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she performed in a memorable University Theatre production of Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things."

What you may have seen Miller in: The list is long. Miller has an extensive commercial resume, having appeared in ads for McDonald's, Target, Dunkin' Donuts, Domino's, American Express, State Farm, Nicorette and Qwik Trip.

She's also landed roles on such TV shows as "Mad Men," "Private Practice" and "Justified." She recurred on "Justified," playing a meth-addicted prostitute.

Her story: It's her eyes.

They are, in her words "ginormous." They are big, brown and beautiful and have led to many a part, she said.

"I call them my money-makers," she said. "My big eyes are something that helps me stand out."

She has talent, too, which gives her the range to play roles from a naive secretary on "Mad Men" to the prostitute on "Justified."

When Miller first moved to Los Angeles -- she went there after college graduation -- she worked as a waitress. Her recent success has allowed her to quit waiting tables and concentrate on acting full time.

She's filming an independent movie, "Congratulations," that she helped write. Her co-star is Brian Dietzen, who plays Mr. Palmer on "NCIS."

"I had to trust that it was going to be OK," she said of her decision to pursue acting full time. "I even had a conversation with myself about it while I was driving on the freeway."

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSjeffkorbelik.

0
0
0
0
0

Load comments