by Grant Moser
TV actor Michael Grant Terry stood on the stage at the Germantown Friends School (GFS) auditorium on Nov. 7 to deliver a speech as part of the school’s Alumni Speaker series. It was on this same stage in his senior year (2000-2001) that he made up his mind to make acting professionally his goal.
“We were doing a play called ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come,’ and I had this moment on stage where I felt completely lost — in the best way,” Terry explained. “I was under the lights and completely in the moment. I was able to not think about my lines or my blocking; just being my character. That idea of immersing the audience in something they can also get lost in was really appealing to me, and that was what made me want to act for the rest of my life.”
Terry, a Roxborough native who declined to state his age, grew up next to the Schuylkill Nature Center in Andorra. His property ran right up to the nature preserve so there weren’t many other houses around, which was unfortunate at Halloween but did allow his friends and him plenty of space to have massive snowball fights or play at adventures.
He is the son of Will Terry, an English teacher at GFS, and Holly Terry, a third grade teacher at Plymouth Meeting Friends School. He is the youngest of three children. Terry acted at GFS since the third grade, doing at least one play a year. He credits the school with giving students so much access to the arts, including having camera equipment on hand so they could learn about shooting films.
That access influenced him to choose Emerson College in Boston after graduation because they had impressive film resources, and he was interested in making films. During his first two years he made two student films: “Blessed is He” and “The Right to Bear Arms,” and he also performed in plays each semester. In the end, he earned a double major in theater and film.
Through Emerson, he was able to spend his last semester of senior year in Los Angeles, interning at a company of his choosing. Unlike many of his fellow students who choose casting agencies, Terry took a position at Working Title Films, a script development company. He worked in script coverage, which meant he would read scripts sent in and write a synopsis of each story, its potential and its problems.
His biggest surprise working there was how many times scripts are revised. “They’re revised like 80 times,” he said, “by different writers. The progression of scripts from start to finish is amazing. There are still scripts there now in development that I read when I was there in 2005.”
The job also got him in the practice of being able to read four scripts in a day and analyzing each one quickly, a valuable resource for a young actor who will spend a lot of his time reading scripts.
Before he graduated from Emerson in 2005, Terry and his fellow students put on a showcase of scenes for a group of agents and managers. His performance got him signed to an agent and a manager, and he started getting auditions. He booked several television appearances quickly, including an episode of “Cold Case.” Then things began to slow down, and he began waiting on tables in restaurants. It was a tough time for him.
When Terry gave his speech to the GFS students last month, he focused on how the school had helped him develop his character enough to get through that tough period. “When I started investigating what built my own character,” he said, “it was GFS. One of the main things to make it in this business is work ethic, and what I have now, GFS is directly responsible for.”
Terry’s level of self-confidence, he said, can also be attributed to his experiences at GFS. “I always feel that if an artist has one foot in their art and one foot out, then they’re not going to make it work. You have to do it all or nothing. If you’re not comfortable all the way, that shows in one way or another.”
A key moment was during the run of a play with the Blank Theatre Company, which is operated by Noah Wyle, an actor who gained fame on “E.R.” In 2006, Terry booked a play (“Lobster Alice”) with Wyle and two other actors, and it was a big success. It also introduced him to new casting directors. Later that year he went for an audition at Nickelodeon.
The casting director said he was horrible for that part but that he was perfect for “Stupid Kids,” a play she was casting. That play was a success, and it led to his getting a part in a film titled “The Assistants.” In 2008, he booked the role of Wendell Bray on the television show “Bones,” a role he has now been playing for four years. Suddenly he was making his living as a professional actor.
“Bones” debuted on the Fox network in 2005. Interestingly, there is another local connection to “Bones” since its male star is David Boreanaz, 43, who is the son of Dave Roberts, long-time weather reporter (now retired) locally on TV Channel 6. “’Bones’ has also given me more recognition with casting directors,” said Terry. “On top of all that, the cast members of ‘Bones’ are the nicest people in the world.”
Terry, who has also appeared several times this year on the TV show “Grimm,” has big plans for his future. He just started a production company so he can create his own projects and write his own scripts. However, he knows it’s all about hard work. “Like the audition for ‘Bones,’ you don’t know what thing is going to be a ‘break.’ I’ll go on 80 auditions and book like one or maybe two. You never know what you’re walking into. I went in for the ‘Bones’ audition like any other, thinking of it as a guest star role. I didn’t know it was going to turn into this.”
For more information about Terry, visit his web page on www.imdb.com.