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Judson Mills appearing at PPAC January 9-14
By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
Judson Mills who has appeared in some 20 feature films, was a series regular appearing with Chuck Norris on TV in Walker, Texas Ranger, and has had more than 35 guest starring roles on TV, but when he arrives in Providence with The Bodyguard this month he will be taking part in his first touring production of a Broadway show. It will be on stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) from January 9th through the 14th. Mills spoke with The Smithfield Times from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Born in Washington, D.C., he grew up in Northern Virginia in a little stone house in the woods built by George Washington (before he was president). Mills spent a good part of his high school years hunting and fishing and living a “small town life.”
“I miss it,” he confides. “It teaches you self-reliance. “It sets you up to be grateful.”
It also provided him with some of the tools he needed to succeed as an actor, he believes.
“You develop confidence and accept challenges,” he says.
His first foray into acting began at High Mowing, a private secondary school he attended in Wilton, New Hampshire. From there he studied at Barry University in Miami, Florida and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
His first professional job, a role on the soap opera As the World Turns, proved to be a three year gig, and he got it right out of school.
Now nearing age 50, Mills has compiled a substantial list of credits that mark him as a seasoned and experienced veteran performer, however, he hasn’t been involved with stage work since his early days as an actor.
He explains how he came to be cast as Frank Farmer, the male lead in the musical that was based on The Bodyguard, the 1992 Oscar-nominated film starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.
“My first theater buddy and college roommate Alex(ander) Dinelaris wrote the book for the show,” Mills mentions. “They were having some difficulties with casting the part. We spoke. I auditioned, and here I am.”
Interestingly enough, his role in the musical doesn’t require him to sing, except for an intentionally shaky, inept rendition of “I’ll Always Love You” in a scene at a karaoke bar.
“I sing it poorly . . . on purpose,” he relates with a laugh, noting that he does include singing in his on-going preparation in case he might ever be called upon to do it seriously in some future endeavor.
Canadian-born Deborah Cox, who plays songstress Rachel Marron in the show, does plenty of singing for everyone. Grammy-nominated, the multi-platinum R&B/pop recording artist and film and TV actress made her debut in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. She also starred on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde and as Josephine Baker in Josephine at The Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida in 2016. She has collaborated with Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, the Isley Brothers, Cyndi Lauper, Sarah McLachlan, and notably with Whitney Houston herself.
“She’s fantastic,” says Miller. “I hadn’t met her before, but we have very good chemistry. We have a very similar work ethic and a similar spiritual outlook. She’s a great mom, a great person, and we just have excellent communication. We confer by text after almost every show and discuss how we can improve a scene or a moment.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the story line in The Bodyguard, Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent, is hired to protect Rachel, who is being threatened by a stalker. However, they get off to a rocky start when she doesn’t take Farmer or the danger seriously. By the time it becomes apparent that there is good reason for concern they have developed strong, but ambivalent feelings for each other, and the relationship is complicated by Frank’s professional responsibility and, in a departure from the movie, by Rachel’s sister Nicki’s own feelings for Frank. The drama which ensues has operatic intensity and a poignant resolution, but it provides a fine platform for the outstanding musical score and the heartbreaking romance that ensures the audience’s compassion and emotional response.
For Mills, the challenge is to play the role of a one-time Secret Service agent convincingly, which means he must remain understated, professional, and correct while at the same time not seeming to fade into the background.
“After all, that’s what a successful and proper bodyguard does, act alert but unobtrusive, but that’s boring,” he observes.
“The challenge – and it’s very challenging – is to keep the audience engaged.
“You can’t overact to convey the intensity, the inner effect that the interactions have. It’s all about less, all about focus. The difference for a film actor is that on camera it’s easier to show the internal qualities. The close-up shot can capture the eyes, the expression. On stage the first five rows can see that, but for everyone else you come across only as subdued.
“It’s a real challenge, an artistic challenge, but it’s a good kind of problem to have. It keeps you focused. We work at it every performance, and we work hard to get it right.”
You can see the results for yourself by calling the PPAC box office at 401-421-2787.