Los Angeles, CA
Lou Wagner is a very special individual. He has that unique ability to take very little and turn it into a fortune. Take for example his size. At
5' 2", Lou was told his chances for success in this business were definitely slight. "Everyone said I'd never make it because of my size, " admits Lou, "but I quess I learned to turn that shortage into an asset!"
Upon arriving in Los Angeles from his native San Jose, Lou banged his head against every door in town trying to find an agent, and was always turned down because he was too short or looked too young. "Finally, somone kiddingly said I should get a children's agent, and I thought 'Why Not?'. After all, even though I was 25 at the time, I could easily pass for a teenager. So I strolled into Mary Grady's office (a leading children's agent), talked my way into an interview, and was signed that day!".
Such determination meant Lou was not afraid start at the bottom in search of what he wanted---or afraid to go to the top. After getting an agent, Lou immediately went to the best theatre group in town and asked for a job. "I went to Paul Levit," explains Lou, "who was running the prestigious Players Ring, and told him I'd work seven days a week, twelve hours a day for nothing, just for the opportunity to be around the very best! I got the job."
Lou became a jack of all trades, mailing programs, running lights, painting scenery, selling tickets, and all the while learning. From this initial exposure to the theatre, Lou landed a small part playing leper. "I was thrilled," recalls Lou. "I went from a schlepper to a leper!"
His hard work and tenacity throughout this period began to pay off when Lou began to land a variety of "smart alecky little kid roles" including parts on several successful series such as "Dragnet", "Lost in Space", and "Mayberry R.F.D.". He also landed a choice role in the hit movie "Airport", in which Lou, actually 29 at the time, played a boy 15. "It was a natural, " confesses Lou. "After all, with the countless work rules governing real teenagers, I discovered that every producer would rather work with an older, more mature actor if he could get away with it. I simply showed them how my short size could help them work around these types of rules!."
It was, as Lou recalls, "a crazy way to break into the business", but in the end it worked, for once in the door with a few credits and some experience under his belt, Lou began to land other, more substantial parts, such as starring roles on successful series' such as "Macmillan and Wife", "Columbo, and "Happy Days", and utimately his big breakthrough as "Lucius", the young idealistic ape in the widely hailed "Planet of the Apes" film. "Of all the work I've done, I'm still proudest of that, "admits Lou. ""I really believed in waht they were saying."
During the second stage of his career, Lou devoted every dime he had towards studying. His list of teachers and coaches reads like a who's who of Hollywood including Second City's James Frawley, a master at comedy and improvisational techniques, Lou Antonio, now a successful director, Madeleine Sherwood, and even Lee Strasberg of the famed Actors Studio. "I originally was a caretaker for them in return for room and board and, of course, some lessons," explains Lou. "And I'm still associated with them to this day."
This constant studying plus the continuous work and experience he was receiving, meant that Lou was ready when his next opportunity came along. Riding high in the mid 1970's after completing two more sequels to the "Planet of the Apes" films (one of which featured Lou as a co-star), and having found some financial security through landing a choice commercial role as "the Professor" in the original McDonald Land commercials opposite "Ronald McDonald" (a role he played for over 15 years), Lou landed a small role on a new series called "CHips". As Lou recalls, "it was originally just a small possibly recurring part. They were looking to add other characters to the show and so they were very eager to see what I coud do," Impressed with his work, and the public's response to Wagner's lovable creation "Harlan Arliss", the whiz kid mechanic with the chip on his shoulder because he was too short to become a cop, the producers of "CHips" expanded Lou's part, making him a regular on the show for five years, and eventually building whole stories and subplots around his character. "It was a wonderful time for me as an actor," explains Lou, "Because they were always coming to me for suggestions and ideas regarding my character, and allowing me the freedom to experiment with the role."
Now, having successfully completed five years on a top 10 show, and several box office successes such as "Airport" and the "Planet of the Apes" films, one is tempted to ask "What's next for Lou Wagner?" "Well," smiles Lou, "I may have stopped growing physically some time ago, but I hope I never stop growing as an actor!" There are a million roles left I'd like to play, and for a character actor like myself, I hope a hundred years left to do them!"
It's a dream he seems destined to fulfill, for if there is one thing Lou Wagner has never been short on, it's determination and success!