In public, McFarland native Dominic Fumusa has people approach him and say he looks familiar: Did we go to school together? What TV show are you on?
Although the chance that they went to school with Fumusa is slim, recalling him from TV is a definite possibility.
A 1987 McFarland High School graduate, Fumusa spent seven seasons on the acclaimed Showtime series “Nurse Jackie,” playing Edie Falco’s husband.
And Friday, he’ll be on movie screens nationwide as one of the main actors in the film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” directed by Michael Bay. In his biggest movie role, Fumusa will portray marine sergeant John “Tig” Tiegen, one of six men stationed near the American Embassy after Islamic militants killed four people on Sept. 12, 2012 during an attack in Benghazi. The six were hired by the CIA to secure the embassy.
The slow progression to working with a highly recognizable director began with McFarland High School teacher Gene Olson.
“He was exceptional, he was a very talented teacher and inspiring person who worked in a small town but saw the bigger picture,” Fumusa said. “He really exposed us to things from all of the arts. He was a Renaissance man and a great first (acting) teacher.”
At Lawrence University, Fumusa studied political science, but he continued to act. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Fumusa earned his master of fine arts in acting from the University of Illinois in 1994.
Fumusa’s professional acting career began in Chicago’s non-equity theater scene and, by 1996, he advanced to a production of “Hamlet” in Boston. Following that, Fumusa performed supporting roles for nine months in multiple Shakespeare productions at the prestigious Stratford Festival in Canada.
“I think (doing Shakespeare) gave me a lot of discipline,” he said, “and a sense of what hard work in the theater can do for you.”
After the festival run, Fumusa pursued his dream of living and acting in New York. By 1998, he did his first Broadway play: a revival of “Wait Until Dark” with Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarrantino.
Fumusa later did a 12-city tour of “Tuesdays with Morrie” in 2005-06 portraying author Mitch Albom. Harold Gould played the title character. The established actor, who died in 2010, became a mentor to Fumusa.
Fumusa’s work on stage led him to playing Edie Falco’s husband on “Nurse Jackie.”
“One of the great things about doing theater in New York,” Fumusa said, “is that all the film and television people who are working in New York are going to the theater.”
About a month or two before being hired for the series, Fumusa was performing in the off-Broadway show “Fault Lines,” directed by David Schwimmer of “Friends” fame. Falco came to one of the performances. During his audition reading with Falco, she remembered seeing Fumusa in “Fault Lines.”
“She said, ‘I really liked you in that play.’ So there’s a connection there. It’s not totally random,” Fumusa said.
During the series’ seven seasons, Fumusa was able to stay in New York with his wife, Ilana Levine – who has appeared on Broadway and in films – and their children, Georgia, 12, and Caleb, 9.
“Being on that show allowed me to live a normal, stable life,” he said. “Not just financially, but the location. I knew for at least half of the year I was going to be in New York City.”
Even though his career puts him among some of entertainment’s top names Fumusa’s life is not filled with Hollywood galas and limousines. He takes his children to after-school activities and decided to move to Brooklyn eight years ago after spending his first 14 years living in various parts of Manhattan. The family comes back to McFarland two to three times a year to see Fumusa’s parents Peter and Clara.
Fumusa, 46, is one of 10 children, all of whom grew up in McFarland and graduated from McFarland High School.
“It’s great because when I come home it feels just like it did when I was a kid. I love that about it; I love being from the Midwest. I love having that connection … I’m so grateful for my childhood. It was a great place to grow up and I like going back and seeing my family and some old friends.”
Fumusa’s family and friends will be able to watch him on the big screens starting tomorrow when “13 Hours” is released nationwide.
For the first time, Fumusa’s role is based on a real person. To better understand what happened in Benghazi, he spent time with Tiegen, who was one of three members of the security detail on set during filming. Additionally, Fumusa spent a week in Los Angeles training with Navy Seals to prepare for the role.
“I got to shoot all of the guns and on the last day (of training) used live ammunition to test our accuracy,” he said. “I am not a gun person so this was a new world for me, and I’m not a military person. But I have a tremendous amount of respect for the military and it was one of those special experiences I’ll never forget – getting to know these guys and learning their story. It was a thrill and an honor to get to play this kind of a part.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like if those bullets were real. In the movie, I’m shooting blanks in a machine gun and people are shooting at me with fake explosions going off and I know, barring some freakish accident, at the end of the day I’m going to be fine. But to know this really happened and these people were voluntarily putting their lives at risk to try to save the ambassadors and certainly they saved many more American lives. It’s just a humbling experience to have gone through and I’m really grateful for it. I’ll never look at our military the same way again.”
Fumusa was in New York during the audition process so instead of reading before Bay, he sent in an audition tape.
“As crazy as it sounds, I got hired off of that tape and I never met Michael Bay until we started working together.” Fumusa was surprised to receive such a large role based on a taped audition. “I’ve made tapes like that before and in my experience, it’s not my best way to get a job. But for some reason this time it worked out and I’m so grateful for it.”
With Bay at the helm, the audience can expect a large production value. Fumusa said making the film was a massive enterprise with more than 300 cast and crew members on set.
“When you’re making a movie of that size, the biggest luxury is time,” he said. During his time on “Nurse Jackie” they shot about fives pages of the script per day; on the set of “13 Hours” it was, at most, two pages a day. “That time allows you to explore so many more ways of thinking of doing things.”
For about three months, Fumusa and his co-stars filmed in Malta and then spent a week in Morocco, which was “as close to Libya as we would want to get right now,” for specific exterior shots.
Fumusa’s wife and children were also able to go to the set for three weeks. Fumusa enjoyed filming in Malta, where they were surrounded by “good people, good weather, and good food.”
Fumusa has two other films currently in post-production (“Staring at the Sun” and “Our Life Will Be Ours”) slated for release this year. He was also involved in a pilot for “The Wilding” on USA network. The show has not been picked up for a full season yet.
After 20 years as an actor, he has been on sets with Will Smith, John Krasinski, Jennifer Aniston, Ethan Hawke, Tomei and Tarrantino, but he looks at everyone as a co-worker and not a big name celebrity.
“Since I’ve been doing this for such a long time I like to think I’m there for a reason. I earned my way on to that set. To me, we’re colleagues and you just need to focus on the work. That’s the business I’m in,” he said.
“It’s so great to work with such talented people and what I’ve been fortunate to do as I’ve progressed in my career. I find myself more and more often in rooms with these people,” Fumusa said. “I’m really grateful for that and it’s a wonderful feeling.”