University at Albany

Frank Whaley interview with The A.V. Club April 9, 2015.

AVC: So how did you find your way into acting in the first place?

FW: Well, that’s a good question. It’s unlikely that it happened for me. I was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, to a very un-showbiz background, grew up very, very poor, and I ended up getting involved in a program called the Educational Opportunity Program, which was for disadvantaged youth. To this day, it’s still a really good program for inner-city kids who can’t afford college. So I was lucky to get that program and get kind of a free ride to college, all expenses paid, at SUNY Albany. I’d always loved to perform, and I’d done a couple of things in high school in the drama program, but on a small scale. When I got up there, I went to all the departments, and when I went to the Theatre Department, I started talking to them, and… I just kind of fell in love with it.

So I did plays and workshops and one-acts, and I started to write at that time. It was really fortunate that I got into that program, because I was on the wrong path. The guidance counselor at my high school actually suggested that I do drama, because I was in a lot of trouble when I was 17 and 18, and I was actually arrested several times for petty stuff. But this changed everything. So that’s what really started it for me as an actor: stepping foot into that theatre at SUNY Albany. It was like I’d had a hood over my face and somebody pulled it off. I said, “Oh, this is it!” I just loved everything about it. It was four years of learning, and I had this little capsule to learn and to play on the stage and discover theatre history and learn stagecraft and all that stuff. And then when I finished my last final, I got on the bus from Albany with my drums—I had a set of drums that were in Hefty garbage bags, because I didn’t have cases for them—and my duffle bag, and I had, like, $500 in my pocket that I borrowed, and I moved to New York. And that was it.