Chris Grabher, who grew up in Waitsfield and graduated from Harwood in 1999, has a supporting role in the film “Raymond and Ray” starring Ethan Hawke and Ian McGregor that will be released worldwide on October 21. Grabher, who grew up in Waitsfield, has through impressive roles in blockbuster movies (“The Transformers,” “Mascots” (directed by Christopher Guest), “Water for Elephants,” and others), along with bit parts and commercials, been able to support his family in Hollywood, but “Raymond and Ray” was a dramatic role, and would mean working with two actors he admired inordinately.
As it is rare for anything in Hollywood to come easy, which Chris learned early on, he knew he had to find a creative way to impress the casting director. He had just finished a bit part in a film called “Rachel Hendrix,” directed by Victor Nunez, and by chance, the same casting director was assigned to “Raymond and Ray.” Bypassing his agent, Chris called the casting director, who explained that she needed two actors who looked enough alike to play twins, and then added it would help if they had some tricks up their sleeves.
Chris went right to work. He wrote a scene about “brotherhood” and then called up an actor friend, Chris Silcox, who resembled him enough to ask him to film the audition piece he had written. “We filmed our own scenes,” he said, “and I sent it to the casting director. She let me know she was quite impressed and that she was putting it directly in the hands of the director, Rodrigo Garcia.” He liked what he saw, and got in touch with the actors’ agents, who said there were several more rounds of auditions we had to go through. They learned that they were the director’s choice for the roles, but then had to wait for studio approval. “That was a long three or four weeks,” Chris said. The call came in. They had booked the roles.
The film explores how two half-brothers react to the death of their father, whom they had a complicated relationship with. The brothers couldn’t be more different, but they’re bonded by their poor experiences growing up with their father. Grabher and his twin arrive as an unexpected duo for the brothers, providing comic relief to the family drama. The Hollywood Reporter called the film a “delve into contemporary masculinity and all its quirks that is as tenderly observed as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Viewers should find plenty to enjoy, not to mention identify with, with the film.”
Chris knew from his first play in the Waitsfield Elementary School (“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”) that he would be an actor/performer when he grew up. Next came “Alice in Wonderland” and he was cast again. He was the last thing from a show-off. “I found the experience of being onstage to be powerful and empowering,” he said. At age 9, his mother signed him up to audition for Circus Smirkus. He said he was so young that he didn’t quite get that it was a circus school. He was accepted, and was swept into the world of physical clowning, which came naturally to him. He rode unicycles, walked tightropes, learned magic tricks, performed mime, and loved every minute. (He remained with Circus Smirkus until he was 19.)
Once he entered Harwood Union, he joined the theater club and was in every play and musical at Harwood. He has great memories of being under the directorship of Diane Phillips and David Keefe, and later felt inspired by Peter Boynton, who recognized him as a serious acting student.
Grabher was the rare student who was popular with all groups, performing magic tricks and juggling in the cafeteria. When asked how he was around his fellow thespians, Boynton said, “Gentle, kind, funny, supportive, smart.” Grabher is grateful to have grown up in a such a creative community. “Those years formed who I am today,” he said. “My roots are there, and I hold deeply to them.”
After graduation he was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and soon he was booking regional commercials, and touring with children’s theater companies. Then one day he booked a national commercial for “Pilgrim Pride Chicken,” which got him a coveted Screen Actors Guild Card. With that, he packed everything he owned into his Honda Civic and took off to Hollywood, stopping one more time to perform circus tricks in Central Park to earn a few bucks. (Only to be ticketed by a police officer for not having a permit.) Once in LA, he was offered a role in a McDonald’s commercial. He was on a roll.
“He was the first of his generation to make it,” said Peggy Potter.
NOT AN EASY BUSINESS
Grabher says it’s not an easy business. I don’t recommend it,” he said, “But that being said, I love it.” The roll he was on turned into years of commercials, movie stunts, bit parts, and the rejections that everyone who goes to Hollywood must be prepared for. “You have to give yourself three years in the beginning to get your feet wet,” he said. “In the end, it boils down to time (how long are you willing to give it?) and how much you want to do it,” he says.
He very much wanted to do “Raymond and Ray” and it all worked out. He was inspired by being with Hawke and McGregor who did take after take to get a scene right, staying in performance mode and supporting each other even when the camera wasn’t on them specifically. Grabher could be talking about himself when he tells how Hawke is interested in what everybody is doing, and how both he and McGregor are very giving people. He said that watching the two of them and the other actors as well was better than any scene class he’d taken.
He wrote after seeing the film, “It’s so lovely. It’s a real actors’ actor piece. It almost felt like a play on screen. Very raw, very funny – so nice to see two amazing actors for it!” We are reminded that Grabher also “went for it!”
He admits at the end of the interview that he “does some things in this movie that are a little nod to Circus Smirkus.” He plans sometime in the near future to return to Waitsfield with his wife Amy and his two children, now 6 and 3, to meet up with his buddies from Circus Smirkus, and old classmates from Harwood. He knows the doors will be open.