Story by Jeff Kronenfeld, photos courtesy of Sean Dillingham, December 2019 Issue.
Even if you don’t recognize the name Sean Dillingham, you’ve probably seen him on TV shows, films, and commercials. Whether he’s portraying a gangster, doctor or even wrestler, he brings a lifetime of experience as an actor and funnyman. Not only has he starred on screen with the likes of Kevin Costner, Andy Samberg and Bob Odenkirk, he’s also done improv with The Second City, The Groundlings and I.O. West. He often treks to California or New Mexico for roles, but he calls Phoenix, Arizona home.
Dillingham has appeared in shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Better Call Saul, Yellowstone and many more. His film credits include On the Road, Atomic Shark, and Krampus Unleashed, to name just a few.
One of his most recent films, The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre, is being shopped around at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The much buzzed about horror comedy seems poised to bring even more attention to Dillingham, who portrays an extremely well-hung old wrestler. We caught up with this veteran actor, discussing his recent projects and evens sharing some behind-the-scenes stories.
Echo: How’d you get into acting?
Dillingham: Being the son of a military person, I moved all over the United States as a child. I never really got to put down roots anywhere because you’d be in your hometown one year and be gone the next. Then you’d be back again and then you’d leave again. After a while, people are like, ‘hey, you’re back.’ After the second time they’re like, ‘you keep leaving and coming back. You’re weird.’ So, I was painfully shy as a child. I never got to establish relationships and friendships.
Thankfully, in the sixth grade, I was cast in a school play. That was incredibly freeing. In my mind, I was like it’s not me up there doing this, but me being this character. I fell in love with it. People liked my performances. I got a lot of attention and praise for it. Of course, once you get that positivity, you’re like I’ll keep doing that.
You’ve performed extensively on the stage and screen. What are some of the contracts between the two?
Film acting is a completely different type of acting than stage acting. All acting is not the same. When you’re on stage, you’re real big, loud and swing your arms, but on film, you have to minimize it. On a 50-foot screen, everything is going to be huge. You learn a whole other form of acting for it.
You’ve played quite a few mobsters, criminals and tough guys over the years. What are some roles you would like to try your hand at in the future?
I always play a mobster or cop because I can give a great dirty look. I can cut my eyes at somebody and it’s literally like daggers. As far as roles, there’s nothing that I can think of in particular.
I would like to do types of films. I think a World War II movie like Saving Private Ryan would be fun. To do a sea or boating film too, like The Perfect Storm or Jaws where you’re one of those Robert Shaw type of characters. I’d love to be a pirate for a Pirates of the Caribbean type of thing.
You have any funny or horrible behind-the-scenes stories you can share?
Maybe I’ve been lucky because usually these things I get cast on, I don’t watch. I was in the make-up trailer for This Is Us and the whole time was talking to Milo, the lead, having no idea who the hell he was. Then, we got on set and everybody’s like, ‘oh, that’s Milo.’ I was like, ‘oh, that’s the guy I was just bullshitting with in the trailer.’
I’ve never really dealt with anybody who was like, ‘okay everyone, the star is here!’
When I did Yellowstone, man, what a long day that was. That was a 16-hour shoot day. You’re probably thinking, ‘oh poor baby, you had to act for 16 hours,’ but the sheer boredom of standing around can be crippling. You get on set at 11:00 in the morning and next thing you know it’s 3:00 in the morning. You’re like, ‘fuck, you don’t have the shot yet?’ But, the guy that wrote it was also directing. His name is Taylor Sheridan. He wrote Hell or High Water and Sicario. They call him the new John Ford because he’s phenomenal. He was like, ‘we ain’t leaving until we got it.’ I can appreciate that.
Tell me about the movie The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre and your role as Big Wang?
First of all, that is the greatest name ever on my resume. I don’t want to give too much away, but the Manson Brothers is about wrestlers that are in the twilight of their career. They’re wrestling on a lower level, still trying to make money off their names. Some human growth hormone is accidentally introduced into the mix. There’s a reaction and zombies come about. I play one of the wrestlers named Big Wang. My character is pivotal in the emergence of the zombies.
I’m not saying this because I have a small part in this film, but I really think it has the possibility of becoming a classic. With names like Randy Couture, Bas Rutten, and DB Sweeney, it’s exciting. I think they knew that because they took a sales trailer to the Cannes Film Festival and started already selling the worldwide rights to it. I think they know.
I’ve asked the director how’s it looking and he’s like, ‘dude, it looks sick and you are funny as hell in it.’
I said, ‘I can’t wait to see that that transformation scene. I hope it comes out as good as it felt.’ I’d love it to be a classic transformation like American Werewolf in London. All he said to me was, ‘dude, you’re going to shit.’
When and where can we see it?
I’m not sure. I think it might play in theaters, but they’re going where the money is. It could be out by March though.
Why do you choose to live in Phoenix?
Two things. Number one is the weather. It’s pretty nice to go outside and the weather is at least consistent. I’ve lived in places like California where one day it’s hot and the next day there’s four inches of rain and the day after that it’s foggy or windy or the air is filled with smoke from fires. Say what you want, but Arizona’s pretty consistent. The only thing we really have to worry about the weather is the heat. Well, we have air conditioning, so put the windows up and quit complaining.
Number two, L.A. is a town of movie stars. Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, and Tom Hanks live there. Those are the A-list actors. Then there’s B-list, C-list and D-list. You know what I’m going to be if I move to L.A.? Number 300 in line. I go when the work calls. I have five agents across the southwest and I do a lot of hustling myself on the side. Arizona is centrally located. I’m seven hours from wherever I need to be. What do I need to live in that cesspool for and have a 900-square foot home? Come on.