"Is that a pledge pin... on your uniform??!"
When he uttered those immortal words as the bombastic Douglas C. Neidermeyer in the 1978 comedy classic, "National Lampoon’s Animal House," Mark Metcalf probably wasn’t thinking about how that movie would be cherished so many years later. Or how he would be so closely identified with this particular character.
“'Animal House,' I’m sure will probably outlive me,” said Metcalf, who now lives in Bayside. “That movie is 33 years old and was shot at the University of Oregon at Eugene. It was great fun to make and there’s this whole other experience that it’s still out there, still alive and affects peoples’ lives.
"I was in Columbus, Ohio, recently and people would bring their 12-year-old children up and introduce them to ‘Neidermeyer.’ They’ve watched the film and so three or four generations have seen the film and still laugh at it.”
During the mid-1980s, Metcalf reprised the Neidermeyer role in a pair of Twisted Sister music videos, “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and his tag line, “What do you wanna do with your life?” developed a following of its own.
From Hollywood to Bayside
These days, Metcalf is still very much involved in acting and producing, but he does it far away from the harsh glare of Hollywood. He’s made his home in Bayside since moving here in August 2000 with his wife, actress Libby Wick, and their son, Julius. Ask him why he moved his family to Wisconsin and Metcalf gives you a taste of his wry sense of humor.
“I was misinformed,” he says.
Actually, it was more serious and complicated than that. At that time, they were living in Los Angeles and Metcalf’s career didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
“I was tired of the business,” Metcalf said. “I came up on Shakespeare and Chekov. When you start doing movies like ‘Rage’ which only plays in Korea and South America...” His voice just trailed off.
Metcalf also recalled their angst over putting Julius into the local public school system.
“Public schools in LA have 12-foot high hurricane fences around them with signs that say ‘No Weapons on Campus.’ We both figured that if you have to say that, there’s something wrong.”
So they decided it was time to move. Metcalf wanted to head to Montana, but Libby wanted to return to Wisconsin. After all, Milwaukee’s west side, near 53rd and Vliet Streets, was her old stomping grounds.
“So, we compromised and did what she wanted to do,” Metcalf laughed again. “I had some money, so we bought a restaurant in Mequon called Kelly’s on Donges Bay Road and we re-named it . That way, I could go to Montana every day and didn’t have to leave Libby to do it. She knew about restaurants and I knew how to eat and how to drink.”
Unfortunately, the strain of running the restaurant led to the couple’s divorce.
“She still runs it, and I go up there to eat and I promote it whenever I get a chance,” Metcalf said. “My son lives with me.”
Before coming to Bayside, Metcalf was more than familiar with living in the Midwest. He was born in Findlay,OH. and was raised in Webster Groves, MO., a suburb of St. Louis, until age 14. After attending high school in New Jersey, Metcalf entered the University of Michigan with intentions of following in his father’s footsteps as a civil engineer.
However, in his sophomore year, he discovered the theater and he has never looked back. His first professional acting job was with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in 1971 and, after moving to New York City and working with numerous regional theatres across the country, he found his way into a host of roles in film and television. Besides Neidermeyer, Metcalf has a special place in his heart for his work in a pair of TV shows — "Seinfeld" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".
“I think that two episodes of 'Seinfeld' that I did, playing a character called the Maestro, will probably outlive me since 'Seinfeld' is a well-written show and you can still watch it three or four times a day. Then, I did a character called The Master on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for a season. I did the first season of that and a lot of younger people are fond of that.”
After appearing in the "Karen Valentine Show" in the early 1970s, Metcalf had roles in many memorable shows, including "Hill Street Blues," "Barnaby Jones," "Hotel," "Party of Five," "Star Trek: Voyager," "Ally McBeal," "Walker: Texas Ranger," "Teen Angel" and — more recently — "Mad Men."
After "Animal House", Metcalf started producing films, making television appearances, and producing "Girls in Suits At Lunch" for the A&E Network.
More recently, he is taking his first plunge as a director, working at the First Stage Children’s Theatre in Milwaukee in a production called “A Wrinkle in Time.” The show will run in January and February. He is also acting in a low-budget film called “Billy Club” by “a really talented local guy named Drew Rosas.”
Metcalf generally acts in one or two films a year and he also writes and does a podcast for Third Coast Digest, a local mini-Huffington Post type website.
Besides acting, Metcalf enjoys traveling around world and appearing at conventions, where he signs autographs and shares acting memories with his fans. Naturally, "Animal House" and his work with John Belushi, in particular, highlight many a conversation.
“When I worked with him he was really together, an excellent actor and really great to improv with,” Metcalf recalled. “In all acting you’re doing improv because you’re finding what’s happening between the lines and finding where the life is with the character. John was great to work with because he was so present, so alive and so creative, as a physical comedian, particularly.
“He’d go back and forth to New York every Thursday to do "Saturday Night Live," and then he’d come back to us on Sunday and we’d meet. All the rest of us lived at a hotel, but John had a house so he could get a little more privacy. We’d go over to his house and watch football, drink a little beer and laugh, and have some fun. He was a really good actor and a good guy.”
As an actor, Metcalf still very much enjoys the process of completely absorbing a character and then breathing life into that character for the audience.
“For every actor it’s different,” Metcalf explained. “To me, it’s really a matter of opening yourself up to as much experience as you can in experiencing the character’s life and the character’s experience as written through your own.
In other words, you bring it to yourself and you turn it around the same way Albert Pujols turns around a 90-mile-an-hour high fastball and puts it out of the park. You bring the words and the story, the character and the people of a piece of literature into yourself and transform it through yourself and put it back out publicly.”