Man with New Kensington ties seeing acting career take off
Actor Christian George is keeping his local ties on the big screen, starting Friday.
The Pittsburgh native, born Duke Christian George III, is also scheduled to be in an episode of “NCIS: Los Angeles” on CBS four days later.
It's a major step forward for the actor, who has family and friends in New Kensington.George will appear with Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton in director Brad Furman's movie about big-time gambling in Costa Rica, “Runner, Runner,” which opens Friday.
It's a substantial role for George, who has toiled in the business for more than 20 years to win such plum parts.
“It's very surreal,” George said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “And my first really big role is a tough guy from Pittsburgh.”
In “Runner,” Affleck's character also is from Pittsburgh. The writers tried for some Pittsburgh color, including a mention of Primanti Bros. restaurant.
Affleck's character runs a shady computer gambling operation. Despite his smiles, Affleck's character, gambling tycoon Ivan Block, has a dark side.
So, too, does George, whose character, Wilson, is from Troy Hill, and is the heavy who provides muscle when needed.
He sports a beard, unlike when he portrayed bad guy Emilio Ochoa in season one of CBS' remake of “Hawaii Five-O.”
George has seen the final cut of “Runner, Runner” twice, and he's impressed by the lead actors.
“Ben is fantastic in this role,” George said.
George credits director Furman with getting him the role, expanding it and retaining much of it in the final cut.“Originally, I had two lines. Then a couple days before they started shooting, Jon Bernthal — who was in the TV series ‘The Walking Dead' — left to do the upcoming ‘Wolf of Wall Street' with Leonardo DiCaprio,” he said.
“I got a call and thought I'd have to audition, but Brad pushed so hard and they just offered the role to me,” George said.
“Brad is one of the few generous and loyal people in this town,” he said. “There's nothing he won't do to help if he believes in you.”
George said Affleck, Timberlake and other actors were very friendly. He said he and Affleck, the director and star of last year's Academy Award-winning “Argo,” have many mutual friends.
“He was very friendly and good to work with.”
Timberlake also made it easier.
“All of the good things you hear about him are 1,000 percent true,” George said. “He epitomizes hard work and was very, very kind to me.”
Gemma Arterton played a Bond girl in “Quantum of Solace,” was the female lead in 2010's “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and starred opposite Jeremy Renner in this year's “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.”
George said the 20-something Arterton is “not only one of the most best-looking woman in world, she is a blast to be around. She's very funny. Very sweet and very happy.”
In “Runner, Runner,” Timberlake shines in the role of Princeton grad student Richie, who is unhappy about being cheated by gamblers. Soon, Ivan Block lures Richie with a promise of immense wealth.
Then FBI Agent Shavers, portrayed by Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”), tries to get Richie to work against Block and Wilson.
It's the man in the middle formula with a twist.
Bad guy on “NCIS”
George will portray a Croatian criminal on the popular CBS crime series.The episode is set to air at 9 p.m. Oct. 8.
He guest stars as Henri Volksam, who is arrested by the federal agents. Like the “Runner, Runner” heavy, Volksam has a beard.
In between takes, George said he had a chance to talk with rapper, actor and entrepreneur LL Cool J, who portrays Agent Sam Hanna, and Chris O'Donnell, who plays Agent G. Callen.
“LL Cool J was awesome,” George said. “His music has been a big part of my life. To be around him was very surreal. We talked a lot. He was very welcoming.”
George appears in Furman's first film, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” but if you blink, you'll miss it.
“They filmed quite a bit, but most was cut,” he said. “I was a prison guard at San Quentin.
“If you know me, you will recognize one of my ears,” he joked.
“My mom and dad are over the moon with this,” the actor said, referring to Candy George and well-known defense attorney Duke George.
“You can see him throughout the movie,” said the actor's mother, noting the beard.
She attended the movie's premiere last week in Las Vegas.
“It was an amazing film,” she said, “and Chris did such a good job.”
George's father, Duke, said his son attended Gateway School District elementary schools and then Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh before completing high school at The Kiski School in Loyalhanna Township.
Duke George said his son was “anything but a tough guy” that he portrays on the silver and small screens.
The attorney was able to spend five days in Puerto Rico, which was the stand-in for Costa Rica, during filming.“It was great to see,” he said, “and one time I sat at a table with my son, Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton. They were very nice.
“It was amazing for me — a kid from New Kensington.”Christian George said he has never forgotten where he was raised.“I still have a cellphone with a 412 area code, and last year I renewed my Pennsylvania driver's license,” he said.
Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.