Actor Frank Whaley to Speak at School of Communication and Media Arts Graduation

News Story: August 16, 2016
Frank Whaley

Actor, writer and director Frank Whaley will be the featured speaker at the inaugural graduation ceremony for graduate students at Sacred Heart University’s School of Communication and Media Arts on Saturday, August 20.

Whaley, a Redding resident, has appeared in more than 80 films, including Pulp Fiction, Field of Dreams, Swimming With Sharks, Swing Kids, Career Opportunities, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, Broken Arrow, J.F.K., Red Dragon, School of Rock, World Trade Center, The Freshman, Hoffa, Vacancy and the upcoming Monster Trucks, among others. Whaley said he was pleased when Professor Justin Liberman, director of the film and television master’s program, asked him if he would speak at the ceremony.

“I was honored,” Whaley, 53, said in a phone interview. He said he’s given speeches before, though never at a graduation, and he wants to be sure he tells the graduates something meaningful.

“They need to know that the only thing that can get in the way of being successful is fear,” Whaley said. “You have to find a way to believe in yourself as a writer or filmmaker or actor. You have to know you have something to say and a story to tell.”

Whaley said his industry has changed since he started acting in the late 1980s. “Back then, you needed a lot of money to get a film made,” he said. “It was a lot harder to be an independent filmmaker.”

Today, technological advancements have created more opportunities for people to make more films, according to Whaley. Gone are the days when filming required someone to operate cameras and sound equipment, he said. Instead, people can record films with just a smartphone.

While making a movie may be easier, he said, there is a downside: getting noticed is more difficult because there are more films vying for viewers’ time. Even so, “it’s not bad,” Whaley said. “There’s a lot more diversity and a lot more voices.”

Born and raised in upstate New York in a lower middle-class family with no background in showbiz, Whaley got the acting bug in high school. Seen as an outcast, Whaley said his outlet was participating in his high school’s theater arts productions. Due to a financial aid program, Whaley was able to get a free ride to SUNY Albany, where he majored in theater and minored in photography. Following graduation, he moved to New York City in 1985.

“I was broke,” Whaley said. “But I got lucky. I made a little money doing TV commercials.”

His first film role came in 1987 in the movie Ironweed, and his career progressed from there. Many people know him from his work in Pulp Fiction, where he played the character Brett in the famous scene with Samuel L. Jackson and his “tasty burger.”

In 1998, Whaley reached another milestone in his career. He said he had an idea for a movie, but he wanted someone else to write it. Ultimately, he wrote it himself and, when the time came to hire a director for his new screenplay, Joe the King, he decided to direct it as well. “It wasn’t until I was doing it that I believed I could do it,” he said. “It’s important to take your own initiative.”

Whaley said that, out of the hundreds of films and TV productions he’s been involved in over the past 30 years, he is most proud of the work he has written and directed — work he once thought he never would do.

“I’ve had a unique career,” Whaley said of all the offbeat characters he’s played. “It’s been great. I’ve been really lucky to have the opportunities I’ve had over the years and make a living doing it.”

Liberman said he’s excited to have Whaley at commencement and so are the students. “He has a well-rounded approach to filmmaking because he’s really done it all,” the professor said.

The School of Communication and Media Arts commencement ceremony will take place on Saturday, August 20, at 10 a.m.