Will Bradley, BU '09, poses for a photo inside Pearce Auditorium. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Humble Nomad

Brenau alum Will Bradley scored what most professional actors would consider plum roles in bicoastal theater productions, feature films and in a recurring role for a popular television series. What he’s learned is this “overnight success” thing in show business sometimes takes years.

He paces on stage at Pearce Auditorium. Hands in his pockets, he leans back and looks up, taking it all in. It’s strange and a little bittersweet to be there, he says, after nearly eight years away.

Will Bradley, BU ’09, from Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia, graduated from Brenau with a bachelor’s degree in theater. He spent the rest of his 20s living the seemingly romantic lifestyle of a nomadic starving artist. Bradley’s IMDb page touts roles such as Mario in the made-for-TV movie The Normal Heart, starring Mark Ruffalo, and mysterious heartthrob Jonny Raymond on the teen-favorite series Pretty Little Liars. However, he eschews glamorizing the life of a young actor who, some might say, “made it” in show biz.

“I’ve lived in my car,” he says. “I’ve lived off of people’s couches. I’ve stayed in guest houses of mansions in Beverly Hills. I’ve been all over the place, but through that I’ve become sort of humble about what it took me to keep going. I found the only thing that matters is how hard you work.”

Winding road

After graduation, Bradley spent six months doing plays in Atlanta before visiting a cousin in Los Angeles, who had some connections in the industry. “I auditioned for this production of Camelot that was happening at the Pasadena Playhouse, which is a very historic theater. I didn’t know that at the time, because I was completely ignorant to everything in LA. But I got cast in the production. People came to see that in droves, and through that I found my first agent and a manager.”

Will Bradley, BU '09, poses for a photo inside Pearce Auditorium. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)Soon thereafter, Bradley joined what he called “the most influential production” of his life. Bradley was one of two actors cast in Tom Jacobson’s play The Twentieth-Century Way, first produced in Los Angeles in 2010. The two-person play is about homosexual entrapment in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century – based on a little-known incident in Los Angeles area history. The play, according to Variety, explores “the collision of reality and fantasy as two actors juggle various roles to entrap homosexuals for ‘social vagrancy’ in the public restrooms of 1914 Long Beach, California. Local police at the time hired two actors to hang out in places frequented by homosexuals to entice suspects into breaking the law.”

The play opens with the two actors, portraying actors idly waiting to audition for a movie. One proposes that, to pass the time and hone their acting chops, they improvise scenes from the various vice raids. Soon, as one reviewer described the performance, they are “taking on a dizzying array of characters — cops, journalists, lawyers, ‘vagrants’ – then pausing to play themselves.”

Advancing quickly to the 2010 New York Fringe Festival, the play, selected from more than 200 entries, finished with plaudits as one of the four Best Productions that year. It returned for a brief encore run a month later. And in 2015, Bradley and Robert Mammana reprised their roles in the off-Broadway Rattlestick Theatre production. Alexis Soloski, a theater critic for The New York Times, praised the performance of “the fine actors” who “switch from one role to the next in far less time than it takes to swap out a cravat or add a boutonniere. … The performances are precise, if exaggerated. And sometimes even moving.”

Opening Doors

For that first 2010 production, Bradley was nominated for LA Stage Alliance Ovation award for best actor in a lead role. He and Mammana received an LA Weekly Award for Best Performance by a Two-Person Ensemble for the same play.

Working on the play introduced Bradley to director Michael Michetti, who “has done all kinds of things in Los Angeles.” Bradley and Michetti collaborated on several things in the last seven years, keeping Bradley busy with projects here and there, including his first television production on Animal Planet. Bradley, who played a monster that ate his friends, called it both “fun” and “a disaster.” He also had a part in the MTV series One Bad Choice.

Will Bradley, BU '09, poses for a photo inside Pearce Auditorium. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)However, the off-Broadway production of The Twentieth-Century Way introduced Bradley to manager Ted Brunson, who has been with him ever since. He signed with a talent agency in New York and stayed on with them almost seven years. “That, by the way, was after a lot of rejection through other agencies in LA,” he says.

New York, he says, was tough. He spent three years there, and while he was fortunate enough to have a comfortable apartment through a friend, he doesn’t hesitate to admit he struggled. He did a few off-Broadway shows, “a little thing” in Jersey, assistant directed a film with a friend, and he landed his small part in The Normal Heart.

“But those three years were rough,” he says. “I went broke. I mean, totally broke. I had moved out of my apartment and was staying with a friend in Brooklyn when Michael Michetti sent me an amazing play called Stupid F—— Bird.”

The play, a modern adaptation of Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, was moving enough that Bradley packed his few belongings, drove cross country and lived in Los Angeles for a mere $25 per show. The production was such a massive hit in the theater world, the casting director of Pretty Little Liars reached out about a five-episode run.

New Home

To some, his run on Pretty Little Liars might seem like “a big break.” But for Bradley, it wasn’t the most pivotal moment in his career. Nor is he sure he had one. “My sort of artistic soul started to focus more on theater,” he says. “I realized that LA was a community in need of great theater. And I realized I had a kind of mind and skill set that could contribute to that community in a way that was far more rewarding to me.”

Bradley credits Brenau for many of these skills. He was struck in both Los Angeles and New York that many of his peers did not have the same training he did. He thanks Jim Hammond, BU ’80, professor of theater and artistic and managing director of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, and Brenau associate professor of theater Gay Hammond in particular.

“A lot of the seeds were planted here at Brenau,” he says. “I forget sometimes that I was trained and tempered by some world-class theater artists. There is some amazing theater being done here, artistically. I came to realize how lucky I’d been when I got out there.”

Gay Hammond says the success of students like Bradley is rewarding for her as a professor. “That’s what it’s all about,” she says. “We’re hoping we’ve equipped them for the kind of life they want to pursue. I tell them when they’re here, whether that is acting or branching out into something else, I want to make sure we’ve given them what they need to make themselves whatever they want. But of course, when it’s somebody like Will, it’s even more satisfying.”

Bradley, who was spending most of November and December 2016 back home with family in Cleveland, Georgia, stopped by the Brenau campus several times during his holiday. He planned to return to Los Angeles in January to get to work on Anonymous Heretics, the theater company he started. Whilst home, however, he says he has thought often about the current Brenau theater students and their likely idyllic conceptions of what their careers could be.

He sacrifices for his work, he says. His personal life often takes a hit for the sake of the job, and those are choices he makes actively and willingly.

“It’s really hard,” Hammond says. “He is very honest and open that it hasn’t been easy, while his work has been very successful. And I think that’s what makes his perspective something great for our students to hear, particularly those who may have pie-in-the-sky attitudes toward what that life is like.”

And while he would never discourage them from following his path, Bradley hopes they’d find the same greater purpose he pursues.

“I will continue to audition for film and television forever,” he says. “No actor would turn down the prestige, or the fun, or the money – God knows. But in theater, I’ve found a community that’s really embraced me as an artist. And, as an artist, I’ve had to decide that I’m in this whether it costs me a fortune or makes me a fortune. I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the love.”

Will Bradley, BU '09, poses for a photo inside Pearce Auditorium. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

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