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Brackenridge native lands lead role in ABC drama 'Members Only'

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 8:42 p.m.
Chris Conroy
Actor Chris Conroy
Actress Olivia Thirlby, designer Garung Prabal and actor Chris Conroy on the set of a 2013 movie-style commercial for Target that launched Prabal’s line at the store.
Chris Conroy, a freshman in 2001, and older brother John, a junior, both attended St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights.
file photo
Chris Conroy played basketball at St. Joseph High School.
file photo
St.Joseph's Chris Conroy is pressured under the basket by Elk County Catholic's Doug Straub (15) and Mike Prechtl during a 2004 second-round PIAA playoff game at Clarion University.
Actor Chris Conroy at the New York premiere of his movie 'Beneath'
Actor Chris Conroy, a Brackenridge native
Chiller Films
A scene from “Beneath,” starring (from left) Bonnie Dennison, Johnny Orsini and Chris Conroy

Although his first major television role will put Chris Conroy in a private country club, the Brackenridge native attributes his success to a Pittsburgh working-class ethic.

Conroy, 26, is set to star in ABC's new television drama “Members Only” (formerly “The Club”), which has been picked up by the network but not put on its fall schedule yet. Shooting for the show, scripted by “Erin Brockovich” writer Susannah Grant, is slated to begin in June.

Among those set to join the cast are Betsy Brandt of “Breaking Bad” fame and “Real Husbands of Hollywood's” Boris Kodjoe.

In the upstairs-downstairs drama, Conroy will play Forty Holbrooke, a wealthy young man whose mother leaves him everything after her death.

Conroy is looking forward to playing a lead role on the drama.

“The show is excellent. The script is excellent,” he says. “The opportunity to play this part is just amazing.”

Although it's an exciting experience, he says he has stayed down to earth about the upturn in his career.

“I haven't chased stuff. I'm going after work,” he says. “To be honest, to find my calling — and I really believe (acting) is it — is one of the greatest feelings that anyone could have.”

The 2005 graduate of Harrison's St. Joseph High School didn't set out right away to become an actor. Conroy studied cinematography at Point Park University.

“My journey into acting is a little bit uncanny,” he says. “I was actually doing camera work in that year after school. I was bartending. Doing odds-and-ends jobs.”

He moved to New York City about three years ago.

His dad, Kevin Conroy, who still lives in Brackenridge along with Chris' mother, Diane, says he knew his son would be a success, like the couple's two other sons, John and Greg. John is a writer for the University of Pittsburgh, and Greg is studying sports management.

Still, the acting career of his middle son came has come as a bit of a surprise.

“He was pretty driven,” the elder Conroy says. “I thought he'd be in the movies somehow. But I thought it would be on the other side of the camera.”

Remembering Chris and his brothers doing character impersonations and, in general, hamming it up, Conroy's leap to the screen makes sense to his dad in hindsight.

“We're not shocked, but only (surprised) by how quickly it's happened,” he says.

While things seemed to move quickly for the film-student-turned-aspiring-actor, a lot of work went on behind the scenes. In New York, Conroy didn't immediately seek to audition. He focused on learning the craft.

“Eventually, there came a time when I kind of went for broke,” he says. “I've always had a bug for this. I never had the tools to do it.

“It wasn't on a whim,” he says of his pursuit. “But it was kind of all of a sudden.”

A number of films coming out this year will feature Conroy. They include “Catatonk Blues,” “Those People” and “The Grief of Others.” He also starred in Chiller Films' horror movie, “Beneath,” which can be seen on Syfy's sister channel, the Chiller Network.

He considers “Beneath” his breakthrough role because it was his first leading role.

Conroy, who modeled for Dick's Sporting Goods ads, gained recognition when he appeared in a 2013 movie-style commercial for Target that launched designer Garung Prabal's line at the store. The “love story” featured him with actress Olivia Thirlby.

Regardless of the role, Conroy says he strives to stay true to the lessons of his hometown. He draws on that for inspiration, on and off the screen.

“I'm really holding onto my Allegheny County roots. I'm not letting go of those,” he says. “Even though I'm in New York, I'm making sure those roots really stick with me. They're the reason I got to this place in the first place. I can't talk about it enough, how having those values benefitted me. I really give praise to Pittsburgh and, especially, the Brackenridge and Natrona Heights area.”

Although not all of his work will offer the opportunity to take roles that are specifically working class, Conroy says he feels a responsibility to represent the kinds of characters he'd see in his hometown.

“It may not look exactly like that, but there is, 100 percent, elements of that I bring to every role,” he says. “A lot of the roles that I've gone out for have been characters that have ambition. Having an appreciation for hard work has really benefited me.”

Whether it was playing basketball and soccer for St. Joseph's or starting to work at a young age, with an early stint as a newspaper carrier, Conroy credits his experience growing up in the Alle-Kiski Valley as a major driving force in his career.

“I want to play characters who have dignity, respect and love for family. Those are all the values I grew up with.”

Julie E. Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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