Air Force veteran turned actor Vaughn Page speaks to Close-Up Culture about his role in the David O. Russell film, Amsterdam.
Set in the 1930s, the film follows three friends, two soldiers and a nurse, who find themselves at the center of one of the most shocking secret plots in American history. Page emerges in the off-beat mayhem throughout the film as Patient Victor Barnes.
Hi Vaughn, welcome to Close-Up Culture. You come from a military background. Can you tell us about that and what led you to the world of acting?
I spent six years in the Air Force as A.G.E. mechanic. Our job was to maintain and fix all the ground service equipment that the crew chiefs used to do maintenance on their aircraft. I was stationed in Japan at Kadena Air Base for three years, and I finished up my enlistment in California at Edwards Air Force Base.
Life in the military led me to the world of acting. I had a comfortable life in the Air Force, but after being stationed in California and making friends in the South Bay area, I didn’t want to live anywhere else. I knew it was either I get out and take a chance or the Air Force is gonna move me to somewhere else in a few years and I won’t get this opportunity to pursue my dreams again. I separated from the Air Force in April 2017 and enrolled at El Camino College using the GI bill to study acting for the stage. After my first acting class, I knew I was in the right place. Discipline and attention to detail are two things highly stressed in the maintenance career field, and I have applied those same principles to my acting career.
Your first feature film role is in David O. Russell’s Amsterdam. How excited were you to take on this project and the role of a WWI veteran?
It sounds cliché, but to work on a David O. Russell feature for my first film, and with such an immensely talented cast, was a dream come true and overwhelming all at the same time. Once I settled down and started breaking down my character and creating this back story, it all just kind of came full circle that for my first major role, I’m playing a veteran. More than excitement, I felt honored that David trusted me with this character.
David O Russell is one of the most acclaimed directors of recent years and this cast is incredible. What was your experience like on set?
I loved working with David. He created this warm environment on set that just made you feel welcome and his love for the art just bleeds through. You can’t help but get caught up in the fever and the passion of the project. David has this gift, this innate ability to not only see your potential, but pull it out of you and have you bringthat to your character. Every day on set truly felt like a master class in acting.
Everything was so compartmentalized; you never knew who you were going to see on set any day. It felt like the first time going to Disney World, when you get to see all these characters from your favorite movies and TV shows brought to life. And, in this instance these people had always been characters in my life and now they’re introducing themselves by their first name to me.
Underneath my mask, I was damn near drooling and the only thing I could ever get out was “Hi my name is Vaughn…and this is my first movie.” One day you’re sitting two feet away from Christian Bale and you just get to watch him do close-up takes, and another day you’re walking up to the penthouse to eat lunch with Margot, John David and Chris Rock. It felt like I was playing for the ‘dream team’. To share the screen with some of the best to ever do it and have them treat you as an equal, is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
What will be your biggest takeaway from working on Amsterdam?
One of my biggest takeaways from working on “Amsterdam” is that no matter where you’re at in your career hard work is non-negotiable. Another one is to take calculated risks and seize opportunities. I improvised and took chances, and ultimately that’s what helped me get extra days on set. Enjoy each and every moment on set and live in the present.
Your career is still very young, but you’ve already worked on some incredible projects. What are some of your standout memories from your acting career so far?
I am proud of a delivering a line that was so funny, Christian Bale spit his drink out laughing and after the take he complimented me. Trying to keep a straight face and hold my laughter, while standing next to Chris Rock as he’s doing take after take, line after line, and each one funnier than the next. Each project I work on, I make it a point to get to know everybody involved whether it’s cast or crew. It’s just always nice to hear other people’s stories of how they got there, and nobody’s story is ever the same. I really enjoy those moments. Another standout project for me was getting to be part of the “Star Trek” franchise. Honestly, when your dreams come true, being behind the scenes and getting to see how it’s all put together is truly incredible.
What type of roles would you love to take on in the coming years?
Well, my home is comedy. But I’m a massive science fiction fan, so I’d love anything that would send me into space, whether that be portraying an astronaut or going to fight an alien race to save the world. I’ve always been the “underdog” and I’d love to tell stories about underdogs who make it against all odds, stories that inspire hope. Those are the stories that I hung onto growing up.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
My plans are to take the momentum from this film and build on it. I’ve had multiple people close to me encouraging me to start writing about my own unique life experiences. Ultimately down the line, I want to be in a position where I can help create opportunities for people who truly want to work in this industry, whether it’s in front of or behind the camera. My dream is also to go on USO tours and give back to the people that fight for our freedom.
Title photo by Jackson Davis