Middlebury professor is ‘Taken’ with role on TV action series
MIDDLEBURY — A lot of folks wouldn’t mind walking a few miles in Alexander Draper’s shoes.
Most days, this associate professor of theater can be found imparting the finer points of acting to eager, aspiring thespians at Middlebury College, Draper’s own alma mater. The prodigal son returned to Middlebury more than a decade ago after having spent 15 years displaying his acting chops and paying his dues in the City that Never Sleeps.
It is that earned reputation that keeps earning Draper gigs on the stage, television and the big screen. And Addison County residents will have a chance to see the local professor in action on Friday, Jan. 19, at 9 p.m., when he guest stars on an episode of NBC TV’s action drama “Taken.” The hour-long thriller follows the exploits of Bryan Mills (played by actor Clive Standen), a former Green Beret-turned-deadly-CIA-operative.
Standen plays a younger version of the same character made famous by Liam Neeson in three “Taken” films, the first installment of which saw Mills rescue his daughter from a sex slave racket in Europe.
Mills famously warned his daughter’s captors of his “very particular, and very dangerous, set of skills” that he eventually unleashed on the bad guys. Those skills are now on full display in the TV series.
The brief plot line of the Jan. 19 “Taken” episode on NBC.com states, “A plane crash leaves Bryan Mills lost in the woods with a key witness to a murder investigation.”
Middlebury’s Alex Draper plays that witness.
He had a blast during his two weeks working on the episode last year in Toronto. He was on camera a lot, and the producers made sure he had a daring doppelganger to take his place for riskier stunts.
“It was surreal to see someone who is ‘you,’ but is very clearly not you, doing whatever they are supposed to be doing,” Draper said.
Draper, 54, currently serves as chairman of the Middlebury College Theater Department. It was during his time as a theater student at Middlebury in the ’80s that he participated in the inaugural season of the Potomac Theatre Project of New York City, known as PTP/NYC. It’s an off-Broadway ensemble that each year blends the talents of emerging Middlebury College theater students with established professional actors.
PTP/NYC offers an annual five-week repertory season encompassing two or three full productions, readings and a variety of complementary events that have drawn much praise. Draper serves as associate artistic director for the organization and has appeared many times in its plays as an Equity actor. Last summer. PTP/NYC staged “Pity in History” and “Arcadia.”
Draper said he is one of 380 Middlebury affiliates who have acted in PTP productions since the organization was established 32 years ago.
“A really important part of how you get your final training is actually doing (professional theater),” Draper said. “(PTP) was instrumental in charting my path, and the paths of many other graduates … The giving back of this shared knowledge is central to the program.”
As a professional stage, film and television actor, Draper’s 25-year career has included performing with the Mabou Mines avant-garde theater company in Paris; filming the Bollywood extravaganza “Kalapani” in the Andaman Islands; and appearing in the New York premieres of Dare Clubb’s Obie Award-winning “Oedipus,” starring Billy Crudup and Frances McDormand, Erin Courtney’s “A Map of Virtue,” the Presnyakov Brothers’ “Terrorism,” Neil Simon’s “Rose’s Dilemma” and Philip Ridley’s “The Pitchfork Disney.”
Draper’s resumé also includes film work and numerous credits for roles in network and cable TV shows like “Ed,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Sex and the City” and “The Good Wife.”
“I was in New York and did enough good work to the point where people really know who I am,” Draper said.
With that in mind, the metaphorical industry door that can become a barrier to novice actors tends to open a little more easily for Draper.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE THEATER Professor Alex Draper has filmed a guest-starring role on the NBC television series “Taken.” Draper’s episode will air this Friday, Jan. 19, at 9 p.m.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
It was during his run as Bernard Nightingale in the Tom Stoppard play “Arcadia” this past summer that Draper found himself with a few, rare weeks of down time. The hole in his schedule was not big enough to allow him to act in a play. But a tryout for a guest spot on a TV show wasn’t out of the question.
He met with his agent, who presented him with some options — including an audition for a major supporting role in an episode of “Taken.” Representatives of the show sent him some scripted scenes to rehearse.
While Draper wasn’t well-versed in the “Taken” films, he found the sample of the TV show script “very good.” He’s also a fan of Jean Luc Besson, who wrote the “Taken” movie scripts and is now very much involved in the NBC TV series.
Draper nailed the audition and was offered the role without having to read a second time.
He had never met “Taken” headliner Clive Standen, but quickly developed a respect for the man’s acting and physical abilities. Standen is well over 6 feet tall and does a lot of his own stunts, including disarming and dispatching the unfortunate criminals who get in his way.
“He’s awesome,” Draper said of Standen. “You watch him on set do his stuff, and I understand why people (tune in).”
Draper has done a lot of TV, but his role in the “Taken” episode was a departure from past roles. Previous appearances have required him to be at times intellectual, wordy, mentally unhinged and even intoxicated. In “Taken,” he’s forced to become more physical, in terms of running, hiding, fighting and firing a weapon.
He plays a professor (what a coincidence) who’s hired as a private contractor by the U.S. Department of Defense to facilitate a mission in Iraq. While doing that, he witnesses an event he wasn’t meant to see, thus making him a target. Skilled assassins start coming for him, and Draper’s character does his best to defend himself — with the help of super-agent Bryan Mills.
“(Mills) is in charge of making sure I get from point A to point B,” said Draper, careful not to drop spoilers.
He will say, however, that he spent a lot of time shooting action scenes in the woods near Toronto.
Draper will continue to act in movies, TV series and plays as long as it fits within his Middlebury College schedule. He stars in an upcoming horror thriller, called “The Vermont House,” that was shot at an old Victorian home off South Street Extension here in Middlebury. He plays a man whose marriage is crumbling. He decides to buy, and fix up, an old house as a reconciliation offering that might restore their relationship. But the haunted house has different ideas.
Producers of the film are currently showing “The Vermont House” at film festivals in hopes that a studio will buy and distribute it.
In the meantime, you can count on the Draper family to be sitting in from of their TV set at 9 p.m. this Friday. Draper’s biggest fans include his wife, Lorraine Tobias, their daughter, Nora, and son, Toby.
“It was great,” he said of the “Taken” experience, adding, “they don’t mess around.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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