Hollywood jack-of-all-trades Zack Ward is a defender of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Except for one thing.
“The scores suck,” Ward argued to a class of mostly freshman drama students in Sandra Seaton’s class at Lake City High School on Thursday morning. “Go ahead. Hum me the theme song.”
But what about “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its ’70s pop-fueled soundtrack that sparked a renewed interest in vinyl, some students protested.
“Those are needle drops, that’s not a score!” Ward said, to laughter from his audience. “That’s like saying the songs on the radio are awesome.”
Ward, perhaps best known for his turn as bully Scut Farkus in the 1983 holiday cult classic “A Christmas Story,” shed the bully persona and instead assumed the role of teacher on Thursday at the high school in Coeur d’Alene. Ward married his wife in Coeur d’Alene at the home of a family friend, who’s an administrator at Lake City High School. Now 49 years old with dozens of Hollywood credits both in front of and behind the camera under his belt, Ward urged students to break into the craft the same way he did.
“Fail as much as you can,” Ward said. “You don’t fail. You succeed in finding out what doesn’t work.”
Students listened as Ward related his own experience in high school, as a child actor who was earning credits in films as well as television commercials. The notoriety didn’t prevent Ward, the child of prolific Canadian actress Pamela Hyatt, from being the target of bullying himself as a teenager.
“People were horrible to me,” Ward said. “In Canada, we had this thing called ‘turtling.’ Do you know what turtling is?”
Ward then brought a student up to demonstrate the action, popular in hockey fights, when a person pulls the shirt over the head of the victim then punches them repeatedly in the face.
The bullying wasn’t just physical, though. Ward described himself as “a freaking unicorn” due to his red hair and green eyes. He was often called “Carrot Top” growing up, which allowed him to practice coming up with witty retorts and improve his comedic timing.
“I got to do that for years,” Ward said. “So I’d go to school and they’d say, ‘What’s up, Carrot Top?’ And I’d say, ‘Dude, carrot tops are green,’ or ‘Can’t your mom afford vegetables?’ ”
Having what Ward termed “a very punchable face” led not only to the job as the schoolyard bully Farkus, but also later roles in video game film adaptations and also summer blockbusters, including 2007’s “Transformers” adaptation.
“It’s the first one, the good one,” Ward. “The Army Rangers were in Qatar. And then I get killed by Scorponok.
“I pretty much always get killed off,” he continued. “They kind of hire me for jobs where they’re like, ‘Let’s kill him.’ I’ll take it. It’s a job.”
Not all questions led to self-deprecating humor. Mia Loera, a freshman, told Ward she was considering a career as an actress and wanted to know the best way to begin in the industry.
Ward put it bluntly.
“What do you do now? What are you doing in film now? What are you fighting for now?” Ward asked, rhetorically. Film school costs tens of thousands of dollars, he said, and opens the door to jobs in Los Angeles that pay very little or nothing.
“Shoot something, make it work,” he said. “If you really want to be an actor, you will be acting. You will find something in the local area that you can work on, for free, as an extra.”
Loera, who along with classmates paused for selfies with the actor and requested an autograph, said she appreciated Ward’s no-nonsense but also empowering answer.
“I liked that he was able to interact with me a lot,” Loera said. “It was an honor for him to be in class. I didn’t really know who he was, at first, and he taught me a lot. And I’m really going to start going local and looking for stuff.”
Her classmates, Baylee Sanchez and Paisley Ganske, also said they needed a bit of a refresher from their teacher before recognizing Ward. He described himself as in the sweet spot between recognizable stardom and anonymity, while also getting to work with big-time directors like Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg and Cameron Crowe.
“It was really inspiring, because I really didn’t think that much about acting at first,” said Sanchez, a freshman.
Ward said he appreciated the students’ questions, which allowed him to speak plainly about his passion. It’s a tone he likes to take with his audience, which will include visitors to the Lake City Comicon on Saturday.
“I like to break that wall between celebrity and fan,” Ward said. “I always try to talk to them the way I’d like to be talked to.”
That includes answering questions from star-struck teenage girls. Did Ward know Tom Holland, the hunky Brit currently portraying Spider-Man in the Marvel universe?
“No,” Ward said.
“What?” came the incredulous response from the audience.
“You sound so disappointed,” Ward deadpanned. “You’re like, ‘Shut up, you!’ ”
Ward later suggested he’d return to Lake City High for a screening of his second feature film as a director, a practical effects adventure film titled “Patsy Lee and the Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms.” He also promised to return the direct messages of students on social media, if they had additional questions about the craft.
“I’m happy to answer anything that’s a legitimate conversation,” he said. “I’m here to help the process, any way I can.”
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