Sasha Cohen, Journalist/Producer – Thursday, June 10, 2021
“Like all good actor origin stories, this one started in the 4th grade”. Jeffrey Marshall laughed about tackling his debut acting performance of a flower-loving bull in “Ferdinand the Bull.”. He never imagined that four decades later, his love of acting would take him to significantly more frightening pursuits than smelling flowers.
Today, Jeffrey can be found spending time with his family, working as a computer engineer, or on-screen, imitating secret agents and jumping off buildings. Let’s say he’s not often bored.
Through his fascinating life and triumphant return to acting in his forties, Jeffrey has learned a few pieces of invaluable advice. It’s never too late to chase your dreams. “You should always be ticking items off your bucket list. Your mind wants to quit far before your body needs to”, Jeff states before sipping his coffee.
Here’s the (hugely simplified) journey of how he came to those realizations.
Growing up in Upstate New York, Jeffrey loved acting in school theater and musicals. After high school, Jeffrey went on to study Criminal Justice for a year. Still, Jeffrey soon discovered he didn’t learn well in a classroom environment. Jeffrey dropped out of college, and in 1993 he joined the US Army, where he enjoyed the thrill of adrenaline and became a paratrooper.
Jeffrey served in South Korea for a challenging but rewarding year in which he made lifelong friends and widened his perspective on life.
Before leaving South Korea, Jeffrey picked up a magazine that was on a table. The cover had a headline about a strange thing called “The Internet” and “Information Technology.” He was so intrigued by the article; it changed his life and gave him a new calling.
Jeffrey was struggling with money at the time, but he used the money his late grandma left him to buy a desktop computer. Not only was he broke, but the computer was constantly breaking. Being unable to afford someone to fix it, Jeffrey taught himself to do it himself. Soon, it became clear he was a natural with technology. Jeffrey started fixing his friends’ gadgets and picked up a part-time job as a telephone tech support technician for a printer company while still enlisted in the Army. He continued to read trade magazines and constantly tinkered with technology. He learned even more from volunteering for small computer companies. After receiving several awards for his service and a “Soldier of the Year” title, Jeffrey finally left the Army. He was then hired as a computer technician for a major technology company.
On reflecting how he managed to break into an industry with only self-taught skills, he said, “Others constantly challenged my credentials. But I was able to prove my abilities. It was a struggle, but it pushed me to work harder and keep learning the newest technology.”
“Now, I’m a Senior VP at an IT company and work on everything from handheld devices to artificial intelligence.”
Despite being incredibly proud of the IT career he had carved for himself, Jeffrey still had unfinished business with acting. After he put his acting passion aside to pursue his Army career, he focused on earning a reliable living and raising a family. He knew Hollywood would have to wait. It wasn’t until his mid-forties that Jeffrey seriously considered giving his dream a second shot.
He joked that he lovingly refers to stunts, car racing, and acting as his midlife crisis. Some people settle down and try to live relaxing lives in comfort. Jeffrey opted for falling from high heights, action-packed training sessions, and facing harsh critics and the brutal world of acting auditions.
In his typical style of bucking trends, Jeffrey managed to thrive in the entertainment industry when it was facing the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. He took advantage of the fact that he now had access to the world’s most sought-after acting schools. Each was now accessible to anyone with Zoom and started studying online with various coaches. Though 2020 was a horrifically devastating year in so many ways, Jeffrey managed to join the SAG-AFTRA actors union and got both a manager and an agent. His determination and hard work paid off.
Remarking on his time in the Army, Jeffrey said it paved the way for his later work as a stuntman.
“The Army gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “You start seeing what you are capable of, both physically and mentally.”
One of the most challenging yet therapeutic aspects of starting acting was learning to show real and raw emotions to imaginary events. Jeffrey’s son had sadly died while he was serving in the Army. The trauma of that loss, some painful, botched military medical procedures, combined with his challenging experiences of serving in the military, forced him to suppress emotions.
“I learned to shut down emotionally at that point to some degree. It was how my mind dealt with the trauma and was my coping mechanism,” Jeffrey said.
“You hear people say that if you hold emotions in, they build up and eventually come out in one form or another. I think all my experiences, Army and non-Army, have helped me not only become a better actor but have been a therapeutic emotional release for me.”
Through studying the wide-ranging emotional spectrum of humans, he learned to face his own buried emotions. He said he was glad to “let some of that go.”
One powerful emotion he seemed to have control over was fear. While only just starting in stunts, Jeffrey has had his fair share of adventures. His favorites include stunt driving, stunt fighting, high falls, being lit on fire, racing cars, and scuba diving. He stressed that the stunts are all designed safely, well-rehearsed, and handled by highly-trained professionals. Some days he’s “banged up and bruised,” but that comes with the territory. Stunt work is a highly competitive and challenging field to break into. Jeff keeps working on his skills, networking with his peers and picking up stunt jobs when possible,
Despite all the training stunt work requires, Jeffrey said, “the most challenging part of starting in stunt training is to fight your basic human response to danger.”
“You have to fight your mind’s natural reaction to tell your body ‘NO,’ like jumping off a building the first few times,” he said.
“Then it gets easier over time. Same with fire; it takes a little getting used to feeling the flames wrap around you.”
Serving in the Army, self-teaching IT engineering, and acting in several Hollywood movies is a lot for anyone to achieve, even without suffering personal tragedies. When asked what helped him keep set and accomplish his goals, Jeffrey said he ensures he is always working on adding and subtracting items on his bucket list.
“It doesn’t have to have record-breaking activities on the list,” he said.
“For every item I take off the list, I add three back on. Once you have the list, prioritize; set goals and timelines.”
Jeffrey has learned “to want your goals so badly that you can taste them.” Ensure you have a mix of easy and challenging goals, and then reward yourself with an easy one when you’re struggling or need some self-appreciation. He always has a “random act of kindness” on his list to keep for a rainy day.
Balancing his many commitments has been the most challenging part of Jeffrey’s journey as a family man, a technologist, an actor, and a stunt person. But he makes it work. He always puts his family first, then takes classes and auditions on weekends and evenings. His day job has been generously supportive of his other career and has a flexible environment for a remote workforce.
Through determination and grit, Jeffrey has even managed to merge his two lines of work. He recently had the opportunity to combine his engineering and acting skills by writing, producing, and acting in a promotion for the multinational technology company NVIDIA. To this day, he is still innovating the technology world, even without a degree.
As for his future in the entertainment industry, Jeffrey holds a realistic level of optimism. That is to say, he obviously would love to act full-time but understands that it is a statistical longshot. Plus, he enjoys his computer engineering and feels he has the best of both worlds.
“Even if I don’t make it ‘big,’ I hope I can entertain someone, make someone laugh, make new friends and have fun. I like the camaraderie and support the acting and stunt community offer,” he said.
“But if acting does take off, I wouldn’t say no to Tom Cruise-Like money.”
After all, no mission is impossible.
For more information on Jeffrey Marshall, please visit www.jmacting.com of on Instagram at @Jeffrey_A_Marshall