When he was a student at Redwood Falls High School, Class of 1984 grad Jonathan Dixon enjoyed acting in the annual three-act and one-act plays.
Now a counselor based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Dixon is still involved in theater. Over the years he has played everything from a Nazi commander in The Sound of Music to Salieri in Amadeus.
As it happens, New Mexico is a hotbed of movie and TV production. About a two minute drive from Dixon’s home are the Greer Garson Sound Stages, where a number of New Mexico-based productions have filmed.
Dixon recalls driving by the stages when No Country for Old Men and True Grit shot scenes there, and seeing Jeff Bridges walking around between scenes in his Rooster Cogburn outfit.
In the past year, Dixon has gotten the occasional day’s work in a small role in a Hollywood production.
The most recent was a one-day job as a store clerk in a movie produced by Clint Eastwood’s daughter.
Earlier this spring, the A&E network’s show Longmire began production on its second season based in those stages.
“It is a show based on a series of mystery books, about a Sheriff (named Walt Longmire) solving crimes in rural Wyoming,” Dixon said. “It's quite a good show -- very humane in a dark, bleak rural kind of way.”
In early May, Dixon’s agent heard Longmire was auditioning in Albuquerque for several small roles, and sent Dixon to a casting call.
“Around here local people tend to get one to three lines which just require a certain look and not much real acting,” Dixon said.
Dixon, who’s appeared in several dozen plays in Santa Fe, was hoping for “something with some substance, that actually required acting and might make an impression. (I also wanted) a character who didn't die, and might even have potential to come back.”
Dixon explained that when he watched the first episode of the new season, “I was surprised to see an actor I've done a number of plays with here.
“I thought, "Good for him!" — except, he played a cook in a diner who stuck his head through from the kitchen and said, ‘I can make whatever you want’ ... and a few minutes later he was lying dead on the floor. That's the kind of thing I didn’t want.
“I did well at the audition with the local casting director in Albuquerque, and the next day I got called in again to the studio near my house.
“I did the scene again for the director, and when I finished the director turned to the producer, and the producer just nodded.”
Page 2 of 3 - After a week of waiting, Dixon found out he had a part with a page and a half of dialogue with Robert Taylor, Sheriff Longmire himself.
Dixon was even emailed a copy of the complete script and told he’d get his own dressing room.
“I wasn't expecting that. I guess your treatment goes up once you're not just a nameless background extra,” Dixon said.
Dixon’s character is a businessman, and when he showed up for his costume fitting, everyone agreed the first costume — “a really slick, snazzy blue suit, with a blue shirt, blue tie, and very shiny black shoes” — wasn’t quite right.
The costume designer said she’d stop by Men’s Warehouse for several more outfits during lunch, and asked Dixon to come back wearing whatever he had worn to the audition.
“So she took photos of me in all the different outfits, and all during this I was thinking, ‘Wow! A real costume fitting for a real show!
“This isn't some low-budget thing where I have to bring my own clothes. She actually went out and bought three or four suits just to try on me!
“So, of course that night the costuming assistant called me and said that of all the costume combinations they tried, the outfit the director and producer liked the most was … my own clothes that I wore to the audition! So after all that I'm going to end up wearing my own clothes anyway!”
Dixon added, “Actually, it feels kind of rewarding to feel like I’ve actually had some kind of creative say in inventing the character, in an actual “collaborating” kind of way, and that they liked the ideas I came up with.”
Dixon shot his scene on Tuesday, May 28.
“At first I was kind of nervous to be going into the sound stage, because I had just seen those actors, and that set, on TV the night before.
“Robert Taylor as Sheriff Longmire can be a bit intimidating in a quiet Western-guy sort of way — but when we started running through the scene it was just like any other ‘acting with-other-actors’ I've done in the past, so I got over the intimidation pretty quickly.
“It also helped that when I looked into his eyes right before filming, we suddenly bonded in that way that actors do, looking at each other nervously and both clearly thinking, "I really, really hope we don't blow this!"
“And — I'm happy to say — he was the first one to miss a line! Of course, he was also trying to juggle two complete scripts in his head, while I only had a page or two.
Page 3 of 3 - “I saw firsthand that TV actors work like horses. There was nothing glamorous at all.
“Due to changes in the shooting schedule because of weather, they were having to hold several scripts in their heads at any given time, filming on a couple different episodes in the course of a day, etc. They work something like twelve hour days, and then have to go home and memorize. It must be pretty disorienting.
“Everyone seemed to like what I did very much. Robert Taylor said, ‘That was fantastic’, and as I was leaving he and Adam Bartley, the young fellow who plays ‘Deputy Ferg’, gave me hugs.
“‘Deputy Ferg’ is originally from Eden Prairie, by the way, so we hit it off right away talking about Minnesota.
Dixon said the episode he’s in is titled Tell It Slant, and is currently scheduled to be aired on the A&E channel on July 1.
As for any future professional acting jobs, Dixon is still auditioning for New Mexico-based productions. However, in the future he’ll have another advantage going for him.
“This Longmire episode was the third project I’ve done associated with the Screen Actors Guild, so I got a letter from them asking me to join,” he said.
“The only problem is there’s already a Jonathan Dixon registered with the actor’s guild, so I’ll have to change my name somehow.”