• Dustin Whitehead

An Introverted Actor

I grew up in the theatre. My mother is a costume designer, and when I was little, I would go to rehearsal with her and watch the actors and technicians make magic. But unlike other children raised backstage, I was terrified to participate. When I first started even considering acting late in high school, I had a very simple idea of what it meant. I just knew that I wanted to pretend. I used to put myself to sleep by imagining being a part of the worlds I saw in the movies and TV shows that I loved - Dead Poets Society, Navy Seals, Goodfellas, My So-Called Life, Almost Famous. I would make up a story placing myself in the seat of the hero. There was one story I came back to often where the school got taken over by terrorists (like in the movie Toy Soldiers, which was always my first choice when we were selecting movies at Blockbuster Video for Friday night movie nights) and I had to hide in the AC vents (Like in Die Hard, one of my favorite Christmas movies) and steal weapons to save whatever girl I had a crush on at the time.

I knew that there was something to this private hero’s journey that I was on. However, as an undiagnosed introvert, I had a terrible time putting my dreams of acting into action. The first

Dustin Whitehead on Set

few times I auditioned for plays in high school and early college, I was so nervous that I couldn’t find my footing. I remember at least twice crying in my car outside the theater after an audition. After many failed attempts at auditioning for projects, my mother connected me with a friend of hers named Deborah Jordan who ran the theatre program at Jacksonville University. I auditioned for the program with a monologue from the movie Good Will Hunting. She smiled, told me not to audition for theatre projects with film monologues, and offered me a spot in her program. I was twenty years old at the time. I went on to have a transcendent experience at JU. I met some of my best friends in the world and Debi taught me to believe in myself and that acting is work, not a gift that only a few have. She encouraged me to apply to graduate school, which brought me to Chicago, where I spent almost ten years discovering myself and defining what being an artist means to me.

I often wonder why I chose that Good Will Hunting monologue for my JU audition. Maybe it was because I related to the narrative. I got in fights in high school. I was pensive and mysterious like Will. I wanted to get in my car and go on an adventure to a new life out there somewhere. That all spoke to me on a deep level. But when I look at it more, maybe I was in awe of the artists that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were. They were two young actors who wanted to tell a story their own way. They wrote it themselves, built the team around it, raised money, and made a movie that truly moved people. That is exactly what I wanted to do and exactly who I wanted to be as an artist. That movie was my call to arms, my aha moment. It helped set me on my path. Matt and Ben were my introduction to what I now call the “Actor-Filmmaker”.

In the nearly 20 years since that first audition at JU, my journey as an artist has been shaped by the exciting worlds of theatre and filmmaking. As an actor, I have found great joy and influence on stage and on set. I have also done a fair amount of writing and a lot of directing.

And over the past few years, my creative journey has consistently led me to the important role of producing. Any of these titles alone would be enough for one person to build a significant career. However, I find that the best directors, producers, actors, and screenwriters have a strong understanding of the other positions on set. The more directing I do, the better I am at producing. The more acting I do, the better I am at writing. This philosophy is something that keeps me on my toes. It serves as a constant reminder of the value of learning.

“Whether you like it or not, the pandemic forced us to try things that would be harder to do in regular times.”

  • Lisa Bunnell, the president of distribution at Focus Features (Variety Magazine, 2020)

Read more about Dustin's journey here