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updated: 3/13/2012 1:04 PM

Local actor to play buddy of attempted abortion survivor

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  • West Chicago native Jason Burkey admits that his life as an actor has kept him racing from one audition to the next.

      West Chicago native Jason Burkey admits that his life as an actor has kept him racing from one audition to the next.

  • Jason Burkey

      Jason Burkey

  • Video: "October Baby" trailer

 

Jason Burkey knows just how important growing up in the Chicago area can be for a struggling young actor.

"I can drive in the snow!" Burkey said. "That's a big thing in Nashville because people really freak out there in inclement weather."

Burkey was born in St. Charles and grew up in West Chicago, just down the street from Wheaton Academy High School where he graduated in 2003. Now he lives in Nashville, a city that gets a little snow now and then, although it's a place known more for producing country and western artists than actors.

Still, Burkey hasn't done too bad in the acting field, having racked up credits in videos, commercials, TV shows and movies.

His latest independent feature, "October Baby," opens in movie theaters March 23. In it, he plays Jason, the childhood best friend of a teenager named Hannah (played by Rachel Hendrix).

When Hannah discovers a shocking secret -- she's not only adopted, but she survived an attempted abortion -- Jason rallies to her side, volunteering to take her on a road trip to discover the identity of her birth mother.

Burkey admitted that he didn't have to work very hard to be cast by the sibling directors Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin.

"They had written a script with us (Burkey and Hendrix) in mind to play these characters, tailored to our own personalities," the actor said.

The Erwins had directed Burkey and Hendrix on a failed TV pilot called "Alumni" a year earlier.

They had such a good time on the set that the Erwins -- former camera operators at ESPN -- wrote their first feature film, "October Baby," just for their old cast.

"They said, 'We're getting the band back together again!'" Burkey said.

Yep, just like an Andy Hardy MGM musical.

"In other projects, I've played characters who were much more of a challenge for me," Burkey said. "But since this part was written for me -- and the character's name is Jason, right? -- it wasn't too much of a stretch.

"The scenes became so real to me, as if they were happening to me, Jason Burkey, to me, and not my character, especially in the emotional scenes with Rachel, who's incredible. I've never had this sort of chemistry before. We're such good friends. I think that really shows on the screen."

Burkey admitted that he grew up in a very supportive family, so there wasn't a lot of angst over his decision to try acting, even though he earned a degree in media production at Taylor University in Indiana and spent time in Los Angeles flirting with a career as a filmmaker.

His father, Gregg, worked as a captain for American Airlines, so young Burkey became familiar with lots of traveling, a useful experience for an actor.

Employment-wise, his mother, Debbie, was mostly a stay-at-home parent, although her experience as an actress and stage director fanned a showbiz interest not only in Burkey but in his older sister Heidi, an occasional actress and documentary maker in Orange County. (For the record, Burkey has two older brothers: Brett and Nate. At 26, Burkey is the baby of the family.)

Burkey credits his close-knit family for supporting him but also gives credit to his suburban roots.

"Chicago is such a great city in general," he said. "I love everything about it. It's artistic. There's always something to do. And I love the people. They're genuine.

"The Northwest suburbs in Chicago, it was an encouraging and growing environment. The schools I went to were very encouraging, not telling you what you should do, but encouraging you to do what you want to do, seeing what you were good at and pushing you along in that direction."

"And it was awesome to be that close to the city and be stimulated by the art and by the creativity there."

Burkey has a new movie coming out later this year. It's called "The 10 Commandments of Chloe."

Instead of a regular script, the actor and his co-workers improvised their dialogue. Unlike with "October Baby," Burkey had to audition for this role.

"When I first moved to Nashville, I decided that since I've always loved acting, I should try it," Burkey said. "Why not give it a shot? I was willing to do whatever it took to be a part of this profession.

"Starting off, I would work on anything, even stuff on Craigslist that didn't pay anything. I guess I didn't really think about all the effort I put into it. Looking back on it, it's like, 'Man! This is a really time-consuming career!'

"But I can't imagine doing anything else."

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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