Autograph June 2010

With Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams (1989).

Self-help gurus advise that you’re never too old to start realizing your dreams, and Art LaFleur is certainly proof of that. He has shared the screen with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars: Sylvester Stallone (Cobra), Gene Hackman (The Replacements), Bruce Willis (Hostage), Clint Eastwood (City Heat) and Mel Gibson (Maverick). But before he became one of the industry’s most reliable supporting actors, LaFleur almost walked away from it all.

After bouncing from job to job trying to find some direction in life, LaFleur—then in his mid-30s—came to a crossroads. “I’d been studying acting for two years, and I hadn’t gotten any paid work,” he says. “I started to question why I was an actor, and I went through a two or three month funk where I just questioned everything. What was I doing? What possible value does it have to anyone? Should I find something else to do?

“One day, I was sitting on the beach and this revelation came. I suddenly realized that’s what I wanted to be… that’s what I am. I finally committed fully to the fact that I was an actor, and within two months, I got my first paying job. Once I made that commitment, I was off and running.”

After a decade of small parts in television and films, LaFleur finally found success portraying real-life baseball players Chick Gandil in Field of Dreams and Babe Ruth in The Sandlot. “One of the things that attracted me to acting in the first place was the research, so I read up on both characters to find out who they were and where they came from,” he explains. “I remember that after I did The Sandlot, my daughter Molly was about seven. One of her little friends looked at me and said, ‘Molly, what does your daddy do?’ Molly said, ‘He plays dead baseball players for a living!’”

LaFleur with Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr., in 1990’s Air America.

Unfortunately, Hollywood has viewed LaFleur in a similarly narrow scope. “When you walk into the room for an audition, you leave an impression, and that kind of sticks. I could play a doctor or a lawyer or a judge, but it doesn’t happen that often. I’d like to play characters who are dads or working stiffs, and I feel I could do that, but if you’re not a big star, that’s just the way it is.”

Although he’s been acting for over 30 years, LaFleur admits there have been some rough stretches in-between jobs. “I’ve thought about trying other things to make a living because there have been times when I’ve had a hard time paying bills,” he says. “I can go out and walk down the street and be recognized by a lot of people as an actor, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t pay the rent. That doesn’t put your kids through college. If you’re in debt and you’re not working, you need to face it and ask yourself, ‘What else can I do?’”

One thing LaFleur has done is to start an acting class where he offers instruction and guidance to aspiring thespians. “If you want to be an actor, I think you first have to ask yourself why, and you better have a damn good reason,” he says. “If the answer is that you want to be famous, I think you’d better look again at what you’re doing. If you want to be an actor because you want to be rich, that’s another reason why you should question your choice. But if you want to be an actor because it feeds you spiritually and it’s something that you enjoy doing, then you should study.

Art LaFleur signed photo card.

“Acting is kind of like carpentry… The first time you cut a piece of wood, it’s not going to be easy. It’s cumbersome, you have to figure out how to do it and you might ding yourself a little bit. But the next time you cut a piece of wood, you’re going to be a little bit better. And the next time you do it after that, you’re going to be better. The more you cut wood, the better you’re going to get at it, and it’s the same thing with acting. You’ve got to take the dings as you figure it out, and you’ve got to keep trying.”