By Sharon G. Jonas
When Cliff Dies (Dee-es) retired at age 65 after 48 years in the workforce, he swore he’d never take another job again – unless it was fun. He didn’t expect what happened next.
One Saturday while reading the newspaper, an article about how seniors could land bit parts in movies and television shows caught his eye. “I thought, what the heck do I have to lose,” said Dies.
Now he’s having the time of his life taking on the challenge as a background actor, landing an impressive list of small roles in star-studded shows, films and commercials.
For the last three years, following his initial sign-up and profile at Central Casting in New York, Dies has been getting email “requests” almost daily for various parts. “At first I thought nothing would happen. I waited and waited. Then the phone rang and they asked if I was available for ‘Blue Bloods’ with Tom Selleck, one of my favorite shows. And that’s when it started.”
Presenting a photograph of himself as a mourner in a church scene from that first role, Dies explained that the job required him “to just sit there.” But some parts “just sitting there” have proven to be more challenging, including the time he was a fisherman on a dock in New York City while filming with Michael J. Fox for “The Good Wife.”
It took several hours “freezing my butt off and I was edited out of the scene anyway,” said Dies. His easy-going demeanor and kind eyes have him typecast as “a good guy” in most shows. He has been a doctor, juror, office worker, teacher, college professor, sailboat captain, passerby and patrons of bars and restaurants.
He recently worked in a yet- unnamed film starring Richard Gere, the details of which he is unable to discuss. “We aren’t supposed to talk about films before they’re released. We also aren’t allowed to approach the main actors, unless they talk to us first…” But Dies says some top actors, like Gere, are “so nice” that they have approached him for conversation. “I enjoy the technicality of making shows, but I’m also a little star struck too.”
No longer just a face in the crowd, Dies also lands “feature parts,” or solo, non-speaking roles in background scenes. Considered a step above background acting, he has appeared in movies such as “Wolves of Wall Street,” where he walked solo behind Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill as they engaged in conversation.
His latest challenge had him responding to the main characters’ actions. In the pilot of “Ironsides” he can be spotted at a restaurant table looking up from a newspaper as an argument between the two main actors becomes louder. Taking on speaking roles require “pounding the pavement and going on auditions” says Dies, a demand he isn’t willing to assume.
Never having formal acting training, Dies says he is a “reactor” rather than an actor. Now a member of the Screen Actors Guild – AFTRA, he says he enjoys their film viewing program followed by Q & A sessions, which are designed to give insight into acting techniques.
Often attending with his wife, Nancy, invited attendees are given time to ask leading actors, such as Robert DiNiro, questions about facial expressions and other tricks of the trade. Being a union member has other benefits as well including getting extra pay for inconveniences such as filming in inclement weather. “When it’s raining they call it wet pay,” says Dies. “If someone smokes in a scene, even though it’s just a simulated vapor, we get extra compensation.”
He credits Nancy for helping him get more work by providing him with professional head shots for Christmas. “That really made a big difference,” says Dies. “She’s very supportive and she gets a kick out of it too, especially when we watch a show like ‘Law and Order’ and I’m in it.”
Having five movies, a Pepsi commercial and a list of television shows under his belt – including three episodes of “Law and Order,” two on “Blue Bloods,” “The Good Wife,” “Elementary,” the cable series “The Knick” and several pilot episodes including “Tin Man” and “Ironsides,” and films including “The Wolf of Wall Street.” “True Story” and “Still Alice,” Dies, now 70, is living proof that for seniors retirement isn’t necessarily the last act.
He also told this magazine he is a strong supporter of the annual Long Island International Film Expo that sets up house at the Bellmore Movies. This year’s LIIFE festival runs from July 9-17.
He suggests that anyone wanting to get into this work contact Central Casting’s Hotline in New York at 646-473-9033 or by going online at their website: www.centralcasting.com to find information about how to register.