In search of the `Dream Job'

After a stint in Geico's `tiny house' and a noble stab at reality TV fame, actor Grant Thompson embraces his dignity, dreams and gray hair.


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 9:46 a.m.

It's Thursday morning, and I have gray hair.

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Grant Thompson graduated from Oak Hall High School in 1994 and Harvard in 1998. His parents, Rick and Aase Thompson live in Gainesville.

BRYAN BEASLEY

Facts

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

BIOGRAPHY: Grant Thompson, 28, is a 1994 graduate of Oak Hall School, where he was a three-time class president and the 1994 State of Florida Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He graduated from Harvard University in 1998 with honors in history and as a three-year basketball letterman. His parents are Rick and Aase Thompson of Gainesville, and his brother, Scott Thompson, is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

ACTING CREDITS INCLUDE: Films: "The Butterfly Effect" and "Bring It On"; TV: "The OC," "Six Feet Under," "The Practice," "7th Heaven," ESPN's "Dream Job"; Commercials: Geico (the "tiny house" commercial), Dominos, Honda, Sears, Toyota.

Not a lot mind you, but it's definitely coming in on the sides. I might have to get some of that gray cover-up in a box - "Just For Men" or something. I've never colored my hair. Does this mean I'm getting old? I would think that, if you're starting to get gray hair, then you should definitely have a distinct answer to the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I don't know if I have that answer though. I'm a paradox.

That shouldn't be surprising though. Even growing up, I was the kid that studied both English and science with equal fervor. I trod the boards of the stage and hit the boards on the basketball court. Well, actually I was only about 145 pounds sopping wet at the time, so I hit a lot more three-pointers than I got rebounds, but my point is that my interests have always been far from narrow, which has been both a curse and a blessing.

I thought my college major would be math; it ended up being history. I was sure that my summer job as a financial analyst on Wall Street would be exciting and fulfilling - a romantic concept that seemed a bit distant when I was Xeroxing spreadsheets at 2 a.m.

So last fall when I decided to put my Los Angeles acting career on hold to participate in a quote unquote reality show for ESPN, those that know me the best were not that surprised.

I have been living and working as an actor in L.A. since I graduated from Harvard in 1998. There have been roles on television series, a couple of movies and a handful of commercials. Right now, it's just coming to the end of pilot season, when they cast the new television season. Yesterday, I had what's called a network test, during which the final two or three actors being considered for a role audition in front of a room of 30 or so executives whose apparent function is to look simultaneously inscrutable and intimidating. I didn't get the job. Which happens.

See, it's a ridiculously competitive world in the acting arena, so I should be pretty happy with what I've been able to accomplish. And I am. But when you mix in the literally hundreds of rejections that go along with the successes, the lack of predictability in the whole setup is pretty brutal.

I had watched the first season of the ESPN show, "Dream Job," and been intrigued. The idea of the show is that 12 competitors perform the tasks of a "Sportscenter" anchorperson on live TV. One person is eliminated each week in true reality show form, and the person left standing at the end wins a one-year on-air contract with the network.

I had never commentated sports before but have always been fairly quick on my feet and I thought my performance background would help me as well. And oh yeah, I love sports. I mean foaming at the mouth, borderline psychotic, white hot, irrational love. This might also come in handy.

Lo and behold, the show selected me to be one of the 12 competitors, and I had to make a decision. I was up for a couple of roles back in L.A. To do "Dream Job," I would have to leave Hollywood and move to New York for the fall. Not incidentally, since this was reality television, we were not getting paid except for a meager weekly food stipend.

What an opportunity, though. I watch "Sportscenter" only slightly less frequently than I breathe an to be a part of that was too much of a life adventure to pass up.

The show started, the weeks went by, and I did pretty well. I got to interview athletes, write commentary, even travel on location to do a story on the Vermont basketball team. Ten weeks later, and suddenly I was down to the final two contestants.

The other finalist and I traveled to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, to tour the "Sportscenter" set, meet with commentator and talk show host Dan Patrick and do a radio interview. If I were able to make it through one last episode, then my life in L.A. would be over for the time being, and I would be moving to Bristol to work as an ESPN anchorman.

At this point, a couple of commercials that I had shot in the prior six months had begun to air. One of which, the Geico Tiny House commercial, becomes this sort of cult hit. The spot is a mock reality show promo that professes to have put a recently married couple into a house only half the normal size. Viewers at home loved the commercial and even started a petition to have Tiny House become an actual show.

So now, it's two days until the finale of "Dream Job." My agents back in L.A. want me back in Hollywood to build on the recognitio of Geico and everything else, but ESPN is having me sign contracts that will control my lifeif I do indeed win the competition. A pernicious little voice under my not-yet-gray hairs whispers, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Cut to the end of the last episode of "Dream Job." I'm standing in front of the judging panel waiting to find out if I'm the winner or the loser. My family and my girlfriend, Samantha, are in the audience and it is just one of those life moments. A moment where your life is going to be pushed dramatically in one way or the other in a matter of seconds.

I look at Sam and I smile. Honestly, I am OK with whatever is going to happen. Maybe that's because my life's calling can not be shattered at that moment. I didn't grow up with the singular goal of becoming a "Sportscenter" anchor. If I end up doing that, fantastic; I will attack it with passion. But if I have to head back to L.A. and continue with my goal of performing as an actor, then that'll be good too.

I lost by the way.

You're not surprised, are you? I mean, I just wrote a bunch of revisionist craziness about being fine with losing. Clearly I'm trying to make myself feel better.

No, not really. I'm back in L.A. trying to find the optimal mix of those myriad interests that I've had my whole life. I just appeared as a guest star on the show "The OC," and I've met with DirectTV about hosting a sports show for them. So sports might indeed still be in the cards for me. Or maybe just acting. Or writing, too. Hmm. Hopefully, I'll smash all these interests into a job that maybe, just maybe, will be exactly what I want to be when I grow up.

I'm a paradox. Remember?

At this point, a couple of commercials that I had shot in the prior six months had begun to air. One of which, the Geico Tiny House commercial, becomes this sort of cult hit. The spot is a mock reality show promo that professes to have put a recently married couple into a house only half the normal size. Viewers at home loved the commercial and even started a petition to have Tiny House become an actual show.

So now, it's two days until the finale of "Dream Job." My agents back in L.A. want me back in Hollywood to build on the recognitio of Geico and everything else, but ESPN is having me sign contracts that will control my lifeif I do indeed win the competition. A pernicious little voice under my not-yet-gray hairs whispers, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Cut to the end of the last episode of "Dream Job." I'm standing in front of the judging panel waiting to find out if I'm the winner or the loser. My family and my girlfriend, Samantha, are in the audience and it is just one of those life moments. A moment where your life is going to be pushed dramatically in one way or the other in a matter of seconds.

I look at Sam and I smile. Honestly, I am OK with whatever is going to happen. Maybe that's because my life's calling can not be shattered at that moment. I didn't grow up with the singular goal of becoming a "Sportscenter" anchor. If I end up doing that, fantastic; I will attack it with passion. But if I have to head back to L.A. and continue with my goal of performing as an actor, then that'll be good too.

I lost by the way.

You're not surprised, are you? I mean, I just wrote a bunch of revisionist craziness about being fine with losing. Clearly I'm trying to make myself feel better.

No, not really. I'm back in L.A. trying to find the optimal mix of those myriad interests that I've had my whole life. I just appeared as a guest star on the show "The OC," and I've met with DirectTV about hosting a sports show for them. So sports might indeed still be in the cards for me. Or maybe just acting. Or writing, too. Hmm. Hopefully, I'll smash all these interests into a job that maybe, just maybe, will be exactly what I want to be when I grow up.

I'm a paradox. Remember?

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