May 01--A Culpeper actor walks the Red Carpet this weekend at a preview screening of a brand new Indie film based on the true story of an escaped Virginia slave who fled the plantation for Pennsylvania well before the Civil War and Emancipation.
Brian Strecker, known in the acting world as H.B., earned a part in "The North Star" in spite of myriad self-doubts and a 13-year gap in acting jobs . A longtime living history participant with a knack for getting into character, Strecker, 48, portrays Jeremiah Daniels, a Quaker shopkeeper who stands his ground in an opening scene of the movie.
"He was great for the part and had an amazing audition," said Thomas Phillips, writer and director of 'The North Star.'
"He had the part after the first line during the audition."
The movie, filmed last summer in Pennsylvania, stars former Washington Redskin linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in his acting debut. He plays Big Ben Jones, a slave in the 1840s who flees the Old Dominion for Pennsylvania, where local Quakers help him to freedom.
Following two earlier sold out shows, "The North Star" screens Saturday at the Newtown Theatre in Newtown, Pa., where famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass -- portrayed in the film -- once spoke.
Strecker, who lives in downtown Culpeper, will participate in a cast Q&A following the screening.
"I am so looking forward to this weekend," Strecker said, "but I must confess being a little nervous about it as well. I can't believe I am participating in a Red Carpet event for a film I am in. It's not as if I am a star or anything, but this is all the same a bit overwhelming in a very positive, yet realistic way."
He is a star in his own right.
By day, Strecker works as an academic advisor for an online university and previously had a career in banking. He spent his early years in Germany, the son of a counterintelligence agent, and moved to Culpeper a decade ago to be closer to family. He considers himself a devout Catholic and once pondered a career in the priesthood.
"I always felt called to somehow have a positive effect on a lot of people," Strecker said in a sit-down interview at his home a couple of weeks ago. "That doesn't mean I have to be in the limelight. I prefer not to be, but I believe all of us are called to love. What is incredible about theater and film acting ... you have an opportunity to connect with people."
Strecker said he also always felt called to act, a trade in which he dabbled during his years living in Alexandria, where he worked in banking. His full-time job allowed him flexibility to audition for parts in industrial films.
Strecker participated in community theater including productions of "Hamlet" and "The Crucible," and also landed parts in training films for the FBI and the Red Cross. He once did a commercial for Xerox in Germany because of his ability to speak the language.
Strecker laid down his acting aspirations when he lost his banking job, and hadn't acted in 13 years when he auditioned -- on a whim and a prayer -- for "The North Star." He said his recent weight loss of nearly 35 pounds coupled with the support of a friend, Kellie Doyle, a Culpeper-based author, gave him the confidence to give it a try.
Strecker, articulate and methodical, certainly stood out at the audition last summer in Pa. that attracted hundreds of other actors from Philadelphia and the New York Metro area. Doyle accompanied him, providing major support.
"A big part of acting is listening," Strecker said. "Dressing appropriately is also very important."
Because of his background in living history, including gigs at the Culpeper museum, he had the wardrobe appropriate to the period film. In hearing about the open casting call for "The North Star," Strecker decided to take a risk and dress the part, donning garments appropriate to the 19th century.
He admitted he got some looks.
"I was way overwhelmed," Strecker said. "A lot of (the actors at the audition) were looking at me like who is this weirdo in these funny looking clothes trying way too hard? I felt so out of sync."
Turns out, his clothes are what got him noticed by the casting crew.
"Immediately I could tell the energy in the room changed. They liked it, and that made me excited," Strecker said.
Nearing the end of the general audition, the Culpeper actor was asked to audition for the specific part of Jeremiah Daniels. The casting director told Strecker what they were looking for in the character -- a compassionate, empathetic man very concerned about the plight of slaves.
"He said, 'I need to see love from the very utterance of the first line,'" Strecker recalled.
They were speaking his language.
Six days later, Strecker got the call that he got the part. He returned to Pa. in August for the one-day shoot on set, appearing alongside Broadway actress April Woodall and N.Y.-based actor Doug Gibson.
In the scene, Woodall, playing a Quaker woman, enters the store. She is a customer, but also a very good friend of Strecker's character.
"She comes in and lets me know that she has just picked up some runaway slaves and that one of them is very, very ill and she needs medicine," he said. "Then two different men walk into the store and she suddenly leaves. They are slave hunters and they intimidate me initially, but then eventually I dismiss them because I start to realize, wait a minute this is my store, and my space, I'm in charge. It was my instinct."
In the scene, Strecker wore what he wore to the audition -- at the request of the movie makers.
The Culpeper man described the experience as "tremendously positive," talking at length about the industry connections he made throughout the process. Strecker is hopeful good things will come of it, and that "The North Star" can soon show in a local venue, perhaps at The State Theatre, reopening Saturday on Main Street in downtown Culpeper following 20 years of being closed.
In a statement, the film's director, Mr. Phillips, said, "My wish is that 'The North Star' will resonate positively with its audience, show the good of humanity in such a dark time in American history and shed light on the thousands of courageous individuals that took the perilous journey to freedom."
Strecker's friend, Ms. Doyle, said she was thrilled to see him get back into acting. She wouldn't miss accompanying him to this weekend's Red Carpet event.
"Brian pays attention to the details," Doyle said. "He learns the subtext of the dialogue. He wants to know the back story, motivation and relationship to other characters of his character. He does his homework and comes to the set prepared. Brian has talent and it's wonderful that he gets to use it."
A history buff through and through, Strecker loves the nonfiction quality of moving images.
"It captures reality. You can't be bigger than life."
(c)2013 the Culpeper Star-Exponent (Culpeper, Va.)
Visit the Culpeper Star-Exponent (Culpeper, Va.) at www2.starexponent.com
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