'Longmire' role arresting development for Barrington native
Clint Eastwood, a role model for a former Barrington boy?
"Absolutely," Bailey Chase said. "I was growing up with a single mom who'd be at work when I came home from school. So I'd just turn on the TV. I grew up watching old Clint Eastwood westerns. I adopted him as one of my male role models."
Bailey and the Bard
Bailey Chase wasn't happy with the "by the numbers" roles he was getting after he moved to Hollywood. "I didn't want that to be the high water mark of my career," he said. So he bumped up his game by going to — where else? — the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art to study Shakespeare.
"That wound up being my graduate school," he said. "Looking back on it, I realize how significant this experience was. I realized that I'm not going to be a sports psychologist. I'm not going to law school. I'm not going to business school. That's what all your other friends are off doing. But I said no.
"From that point on, it was acting. I went all in."
And, it turned out, an inspiration for his acting career and his character on the new A&E western drama "Longmire."
"Yeah, I wanted to be like this guy," Chase said about the Oscar-winning director/actor.
Chase was born in Skokie and lived in Barrington. His parents divorced when was 4, and he moved to Florida, but came back to the Northwest suburbs for summers and alternate holidays.
He earned a full ride at Duke University on a sports scholarship and majored in psychology. Then he thought about going to grad school.
"I had grand visions of being in professional sports," Chase said. "But when reality set in, I went, oh, OK. I'll just move to Hollywood and be an actor.
"I didn't want to look back on my life and wonder, 'What if I had done this? Or I had done that?'"
So he gave himself two years to make it an actor in Hollywood. Two years.
"It was kind of a test run," he said. "I started waiting tables. Did some commercials. After a couple of years, I wasn't happy with the roles I was getting. I started to look at other things. I started applying to grad schools. I was actually thinking I might go to Northwestern and get a master's in psychology."
As Eastwood's Dirty Harry would say, that's not going to happen.
Chase landed a plum recurring role on the popular TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as Graham Miller. So, it could be said that series producer Joss Whedon was responsible for robbing Northwestern University of a graduate student and giving Chase's acting career a booster rocket.
"That's one way to look at it," Chase said.
The 40-year-old Chase (his birthday was May 1) is a walking resume of a working actor's life. He's done TV soaps ("As the World Turns"), sitcoms ("Saved by the Bell: The New Class"), network prime-time shows ("Criminal Minds," "Castle," "Ugly Betty" and many others) plus cable programs, such as "Damages" and his current western drama "Longmire."
"Longmire" stars Australian actor Robert Taylor as a Wyoming sheriff, the titular character from a series of mystery novels written by Craig Johnson.
Chase plays Branch Connally, a sheriff's deputy who, in the series premiere, quietly goes about planning his political campaign to take his boss' job for his own.
We heard Chase actually auditioned for the role of Longmire, not Branch Connally.
True, Chase confirmed. The casting directors wrote that they really loved Chase, but he "didn't have enough miles on him to be Longmire," he reported. They really thought he would make an ideal Branch Connally. But would Chase be interested?
"I had some concerns for a while," the actor admitted. "Branch is not well-established in the books. Quite honestly, he wasn't written as strongly, especially in the pilot episode. They really flushed him out over the course of the first season, and created this rivalry (between Longmire and Branch) that's very palpable. I couldn't be happier with what they've done with the character."
These days, Chase lives in Hollywood only with his golden retriever, Blue. But not for long. He recently became engaged to a woman he said "is not in the business."
Chase long ago dropped his family name, Luetgert, and replaced it with his middle name.
"I spent 20 some years telling people how to spell Luetgert and to pronounce it," he said. "Chase is a family name, and it feels right. After two years of being in Hollywood, this was symbolic of my commitment to acting. Some people like this. Some people don't."
Chase admitted that when he first broached the idea of acting as a career, his artist mother (she died in 2008) supported him from the get-go. But his more traditional dad pressed him to think about business school or law school.
"He never quite understood the acting thing," Chase said. "But now that things are working out, he's behind it."
— Dann Gire
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