Jon Lee Brody did not know what movie he had been cast in until he showed up for wardrobe and saw the uniform.
"Am I in a 'Star Trek' movie?" the Palatine native asked.
Taught to seek the high road on discriminationFremd High School grad Jon Lee Brody grew up in Palatine the son of a Jewish father and an Asian mother.
Yes, he experienced discrimination because of his appearance.
"Absolutely," he said. "It's sad that it exists in our world, and I don't know that it will ever go away, but growing up in Palatine, I definitely got it. It was something I had to deal with and it helped me develop a thick skin."
Brody said his parents were united in teaching him how to approach discrimination. He didn't always listen, he said, recalling a time in junior high school when a classmate hurled a nasty racial slur.
"He lived to regret it," Brody said. "Little did he know that I was a secondary black belt in tae-kwon-do. I taught him a lesson. But my parents were like, 'Don't let them get the better of you like that. It's not worth it.'
"We can't control what people say and think. We can only control how we react to it," he said. "My parents taught me early on to take the high road. I was lucky to get that lesson."
-- Dann Gire
"Yes," the wardrobe person said. "Didn't you know that?"
He hadn't. But then cold reality undercut his momentary joy.
"I noticed I was a red shirt!" he said. "So, I thought, 'I won't be doing many sequels.'"
If you're a "Star Trek" fan, then you know that characters in red shirts rarely survived in the original 1960s TV series and subsequent motion pictures.
Yet, even burdened with the knowledge that his USS Enterprise security guard might not make it out of the upcoming "Star Trek Into Darkness" alive, this struggling actor and graduate of Fremd High School felt super excited.
Uh, make that "super, super excited."
"There are so few jobs for actors out here," said Brody, 29, from his home in Los Angeles. "To book a job was good enough. Then to find out it's 'Star Trek' and it's J.J. Abrams, one of my favorite directors in the business, that increased my excitement exponentially. I got to carry a phaser rifle."
Plus, Brody wore a black undershirt with his red uniform.
"It was the Chicago Bulls' colors!" he gushed. "I can't complain."
Spoken like a true former student-athlete from the Northwest suburbs.
At Fremd, Brody became a fixture in the football, basketball and track programs.
"My goals were to become a professional athlete," he said. "I wanted to be like Michael Jordan and Walter Payton. That didn't work out."
A lot of Brody's youthful plans didn't work out. And yes, those all involved a girl.
"When I was in college, I was dating this girl, pretty seriously, I thought," he said. "My plan was to marry this girl, go to law school, become a corporate lawyer and raise a family. That was the plan."
During their senior year at the University of Illinois, the girl abruptly put the brakes on the plan. Brody went into severe life-plan recalibration.
"You can't make a road map of life. Life will throw you curveballs," he said. "Life is just too short to go on the fixed path."
So, he took the unfixed path.
"I always wanted to be an actor," he admitted. "I enjoyed the plays in high school, but couldn't do them because of my athletic schedule. I was in one play in elementary school and I got pretty good reviews for that."
With his U of I degree in economics, Brody took acting lessons from the Piven Theatre Workshop in Chicago.
"What's the worst that could happen?" he pondered. "If I don't do well, then I could always go to law school or become an accountant."
First, Brody got "background" work as an extra on the Chicago set of the Batman sequel "The Dark Knight." He's in the restaurant when Harvey Dent first meets Bruce Wayne. "Don't blink at all or you will miss me," Brody warned.
Next, Brody worked as an extra on "Eagle Eye" and became convinced he needed to move to L.A. if he really wanted to be a successful actor. In 2008, he bought a one-way ticket and never looked back.
Today, in addition to tackling small roles, Brody has formed his own production company called Iron Will Productions. The title was inspired by the "iron will" philosophy of achievement preached by the Fremd coaching staff.
"I don't consider myself naturally talented or naturally gifted," Brody confessed. "So I always worked really hard to be a starter on a football or basketball team. If I was going to excel in acting, I would have to have that same drive. I would have to work my (butt) off."
He observed that many local actors book a job or two and become complacent, thinking they've got it made.
"I call it the 'land of entitlement' effect," he said. "When I get a job, I work even harder because I want to get to the next place. That all comes from the sports program at Fremd High School."
He runs into a lot of Chicagoans while auditioning for movies and TV shows.
"Chicagoans have the blue collar mentality," Brody affirmed. "We're going to work for what we want. Some people in L.A. are pretty laid back. They might have a relative who's a studio head, and they think they're entitled to that job, and they do get that job. Instead of working for it."
As of Aug. 1, Brody will have been an L.A. guy for a whole five years. He's done a few things here and there, plus his production company has put together a comedy series pilot titled "Police Guys" that he's shopping around Tinseltown. (You can see it at bit.ly/16cm0N5.)
"I think what I love the most about acting is the same thing others might hate about it," he said. "The unpredictability. The corporate world, it is what it is. You live in a cubicle. Then you move up to the next cubicle. You move to a bigger office. Then you move to a corner office.
"In acting, you can go from Joe Nobody to international superstar like that! That's the thing about acting. It's exciting to create a character. I get to channel the little kid in me. It's like when I played Power Rangers or G.I. Joe."
He frequently had to pinch himself at his recent good fortune.
"I'm getting paid to sit in my trailer and pretend I'm on a space ship. That's awesome!"
All because that girl dumped him back at the U of I.
"I learned from that break-up to take life as it comes," he said. "If it happens, it happens. Right now, life is good. Right now, I'm getting interviewed by my hometown newspaper. It doesn't get better than this. I'm very thankful."
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are looking for suburbanites working in showbiz. If you know someone who has a good story to tell, contact them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.