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updated: 2/26/2013 11:00 AM

Argonne scientist moonlights as 'Breaking Bad' actor

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  • Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's "Breaking Bad."

       Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's "Breaking Bad."
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Marius Stan got on "Breaking Bad" because his kids actually wanted to be on it.

       Marius Stan got on "Breaking Bad" because his kids actually wanted to be on it.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's Emmy Award-winning drama, "Breaking Bad."

       Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's Emmy Award-winning drama, "Breaking Bad."
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's Emmy Award-winning drama, "Breaking Bad."

       Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's Emmy Award-winning drama, "Breaking Bad."
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's Emmy Award-winning drama, "Breaking Bad."

       Marius Stan, a senior computational energy scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, talks about his secret hobby -- as an actor on AMC's Emmy Award-winning drama, "Breaking Bad."
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Marius Stan, right, films a "Breaking Bad" scene with star Bryan Cranston.

      Marius Stan, right, films a "Breaking Bad" scene with star Bryan Cranston.

  • Video: Marius Stan on "Breaking Bad"

 

He's spent years contributing to important, high-level science projects -- helping make nuclear power safer and improving the durability of energy products.

Yet, what's made Argonne National Laboratory scientist Marius Stan famous is his side job -- a small, recurring role as Romanian car wash owner Bogdan Wolynetz on AMC's "Breaking Bad."

In the Emmy Award-winning TV drama, Stan has a few intense (and sometimes expletive-filled) exchanges with main character Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston.

What makes Stan so memorable to "Breaking Bad" fans is his heavy Romanian accent and his bushy eyebrows, which he never trims. His eyebrows even have their own Facebook fan page, which quotes a line from the show where White swears at Bogdan and his eyebrows.

"In most cases, eyebrows like this would be a nuisance. But for me, it's worked out well," Stan said, laughing.

How a 51-year-old genius scientist ended up on a critically acclaimed TV drama is a Hollywood story on its own.

Basically, it happened because of his kids.

In 2008, while Stan was living in New Mexico and working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, his teenage daughter, Patricia, and son, Tiberiu, saw an ad seeking extras for a new TV pilot being filmed 90 miles away, in Albuquerque.

The kids wanted to audition. But because Patricia was only 15 at the time, Stan and his wife, Liliana, had to go along.

The whole family ended up being photographed, and the producers immediately zeroed in on Stan. While the rest of his family got nonspeaking parts, Stan got to say a few lines on camera.

Stan enjoyed what he figured were his 15 minutes of fame on "Breaking Bad." Then show staffers called him back again. And again.

"Every year, they called me for one scene," he said.

Stan's been in five episodes, taking a few vacation days from work each year to fly to Albuquerque for filming. Despite his small role, people frequently recognize him on the street and shout, "Hey, Bogdan!"

"I don't comment much. I just say, 'Glad you like the show.' They take a picture of me and put it on Facebook," said Stan, who lived in Woodridge for a while but now lives in downtown Chicago.

Stan is very modest about his stereotype-defying hobby and tried to keep it a secret from his co-workers at Argonne, just as he'd done at Los Alamos. Only recently did one of his co-workers recognize him from TV, and the cat was out of the bag.

"(Acting) is just one of many things I like to do," says Stan, whose technical title at the Lemont laboratory is senior computational energy scientist.

Stan's bare-bones, white-cinder-block office gives no hints of a showbiz life. White boards filled with equations cover the wall. Science books fill bookshelves. A periodic table of elements hangs over his computer.

The only clue lies on a name tag lanyard hanging by his coat rack. Organizers from a recent science conference must have recognized him and stuck a purple ribbon into his plastic holder. Instead of saying "Speaker" or "Staff," it says "Superstar."

Stan hopes, in some roundabout way, that his "Breaking Bad" experience will help people look at scientists in a new light, and spark an interest in his field. During a recent live Q&A on Reddit.com, Stan was encouraged to hear fans ask so many questions about things like solar panels and computers, and not just questions about his eyebrows.

"I would not label anybody by their job title," he said. "People do so many interesting things outside of work."

Rather than gossip about life on a Hollywood set, Stan prefers to talk about plans for a computational microscope that would allow people to look at chemical combinations virtually. Or, he finds "the science of making a TV show" interesting, including the sophisticated light, sound and computer equipment.

Stan maintains a sense of humor about it all, ending the recent Reddit session by saying he has to run, because he's giving a seminar in 15 minutes and needs "to comb his eyebrows."

Stan said he wouldn't mind doing more acting, but he also has other interests he wants to pursue, like writing a book.

"I never planned for this to happen, so if it happens, good. And if not, OK," Stan said. "I'm a very lucky man."

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a great feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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