No light saber but HBO role suits alumnus just fine

October 24, 2011

Dan Franko has known he wanted to be an actor ever since he saw Star Wars when he was 5 years old – even though it was his second choice of career.

"Actually, I wanted to be a Jedi, but when my folks explained the whole ‘it’s not real, they’re actors’ thing to me, I went with that instead," said Franko, a ’97 graduate of Western Maryland College (now McDaniel).

Thirty-two years later, Franko will be playing a role much different from his light saber-wielding heroes – chief of staff for a senator in a new HBO show titled "Veep," in production now and expected to premiere sometime in early 2012.

"Veep" follows Vice President Selina Meyer, played by comedy actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus of "Seinfeld" fame. According to Franko, the Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell-penned script is hilarious, "if ‘The West Wing’ and ‘30 Rock’ had a baby," he said. "The cast is amazing. It was the most fun and welcoming set I’ve ever been on."

Franko was involved in community and dinner theatre throughout high school, and though he originally majored in Communication at WMC, he switched to Theatre Arts after taking a "Creating a Character" class with Theatre Arts professor Elizabeth van den Berg.

"We lucked out that Elizabeth ended up living and teaching here, because she could just as easily be teaching at NYU or Ithaca. She brings the same level of instruction and intensity to the program here that those kids get in those programs," he added.

While here, he acted in a variety of productions including "Starmites," "Cabaret," "Tartuffe," "Twelfth Night," and "The Rhimers of Eldritch. " And although his day job is in public relations and human resources for a state agency in Annapolis, he has pursued acting since graduation.

His previous acting experience includes roles on "The Wire," "Lovely Molly" – which just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and several other independent short films and television pilots in the area.

Franko shot his "Veep" scenes over a couple of days, in a sound stage in Columbia, Md., where they’ve built a replica of the entire wing of the vice president’s offices, and in Baltimore where a hotel doubled as a Senate meeting room.

His character is initially in just one episode, where the VP needs his support in order to get a bill sponsored, "but on a show like this, there’s always a possibility for a character to pop back up," he said.

For now, he plans to stay in the area. Although there’s not as much film production now as there was when Maryland had the great tax incentives, he said, there are still enough projects in the area to sustain a working actor, especially from HBO.

"For my wife Melissa (WMC ’97) and my son Jack, our careers and life are here," he said of their home in Piney Orchard, Md. "But don’t get me wrong…if I were offered a series regular part on JJ Abrams’ next show, I’d be on the next flight to LA!"