Rise to Confidence: Interview with Longmire's Adam Bartley

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Good things come to those who wait, including actors and, in this case, Adam Bartley. A trained stage professional, he decided a few years ago to roll the proverbial dice and move from Alaska, where he was living and performing in a musical stage production, to Los Angeles in search of feature film and TV work. It took two pilot seasons, but on his second time around, the actor was cast as Deputy Ferguson (also known as “The Ferg”) in the A&E crime drama Longmire. Having previously appeared on TV in a few smaller parts, this was his leap into the spotlight, and one for which he was quite grateful.

“Talk about a magical time,” recalls Bartley. “It was the third round of casting for this part because [the show’s producers] just could not find who they were looking for. They saw some pretty big guys, I’m talking 6’ 5” guys, but apparently no one seemed right. Finally, a really close friend of mine, Leo Geter, who I did theatre with years ago and who worked as a writer on The Closer, showed Longmire’s executive producers a video of me. So they called me in to audition and it was just one of those things

“It was the perfect part for me, and I didn’t have to do very much. Everything about it felt right, you know? There are a number of things about Ferg that are like me, and when I went into the audition, it was one of the warmest environments you could ever imagine. The room was full of people laughing and smiling, and afterwards I walked out of there thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I may just have booked a TV show,’ and I did.”

Despite having spent a limited amount of time working in front of the camera prior to Longmire, Bartley brought a wealth of experience as a performer to his new role.

“I’ve been a singer and musician my whole life,” he notes. “I sing jazz in Los Angeles, including concerts as well as other venues, and here in Santa Fe, New Mexico [one of Longmire’s filming locations], but ever since I was a junior in high school I always knew I wanted to act. I went to college at SMU [Southern Methodist University] in Dallas, Texas, which is a great theatre school, but we didn’t do that much work with regard to film and TV.

“Honestly, I really never thought I’d be doing something like this. Los Angeles was always daunting to think about. There are too many people trying to do the same thing. I think my stage work over the years is some of the best training for an actor, because you get to spend as much time as possible creating characters and just working. The more you work, the better you get at it. I think film and TV is such a wonderful big platform and now I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.

“It’s so weird. As an actor, you always think with film and TV that you have to do less, but it’s actually the opposite. You have to do more because the camera doesn’t lie, so it’s really about experimenting with your smallness, subtlety, and the quiet real moments we have as human beings. Once you open the scope and scale to that, it’s just limitless and the experiment is so wonderful. “

Longmire takes place in the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming and stars Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire, an old-fashioned sheriff and a widower who returns to duty a year after his wife’s mysterious death. He works with a somewhat eclectic law enforcement team that includes a former Philadelphia police homicide detective, Deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katie Sackhoff), Deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), the son of a rich and influential local real estate developer, and Bartley’s character of Deputy Ferguson. The actor laughs when thinking back to when he first stepped into Ferg’s big boots.

“I’ll never forget my first day on the Longmire set,” says Bartley. “Again, I’ve spent most of my life working onstage, and with the theatre you’re trying to reach the back of the house, so in general you’ve got to be a bit ‘bigger’ with your performance. On Longmire, my very first scene was with Robert Taylor, who’s since become my best friend. He walks up to me in the scene and practically whispers his line. It was barely audible and I could hardly understand him. I looked at him as if to say, ‘What?’

“That was such an education, and it continues to be, working with actors like Rob, who is just brilliant, as well as working in front of a camera, which is so different from the stage. It allows you more room to travel and grow and, as I mentioned, for subtlety.

“Something else that sticks out in my mind when I first started work on Longmire is the flight down from Los Angeles to New Mexico with the rest of the cast to shoot the pilot. We got on the plane and within like ten minutes we were all laughing our butts off and having a great time. We bonded so quickly, and everyone was floored by that because it doesn’t happen all the time. That’s a testament, though, to Greer Shephard and the rest of the show’s executive producers. When it came to casting this show, they weren’t just picking good actors, they were picking people who could live and work together and really become a family. That’s part of what makes this so special, the fact that we’re one big family.”

As with each of Sheriff Longmire’s deputy’s, The Ferg makes his own unique contribution to helping uphold law and order in Absaroka County. Like all new jobs, he was rather unsure of himself at first and wondered whether or not he was up to the challenge. Bartley used that insecurity to his advantage to create a character that viewers could identify with and eventually come to care about.

“It’s funny, there are a lot of parallels between me and The Ferg,” says the actor. “This is my first big job, and for Ferg it’s his first big job, too. Walt gives him a chance, and there weren’t many challenges with the character in that he came quite naturally to me. The thing is, you don’t want to play the same thing over and over again. You want to bring a complexity and three-dimensional quality to your character. Initially with Ferg, he’s very ‘green,’ brand new in the job, lacks confidence, doesn’t trust himself and isn’t sure if he can do this. As an actor, you start from there and then build upon that.

“There was that great scene last year in episode three ["A Damn Shame"] where Ferg turns in his badge, but Walt refuses to accept it. He says to Ferg, ‘I hired you for two reasons,’ and when my character asks the sheriff what the second reason is, Walt tells him, ‘We’re still waiting to find that out.’ That’s a huge moment for Ferg where the audience got to endear itself to him and jump on his bandwagon and root for him. It also established a wonderful rapport between him and Walt. Here’s this guy in training and there’s something that Walt sees in him, even if Ferg doesn’t see it in himself quite yet.

“I just love that scene, and it helped set up the rest of season one for me and my character. From there, the show’s writers began writing a much more confident Ferg, and that has been especially true this [second] season. There’s another neat scene in an earlier episode this year ["Carcasses"] involving the Holly Whitish [Heather Kafka] character. Ferg is sitting around in the sheriff’s office with everyone and he raises the point of, ‘So, 20 years ago, she [Holly] was raped by this guy who we found dead on her property, and we’re not going to investigate her as a suspect?’

“Vic looks at Ferg, then Branch looks over at him, and Walt finally goes, ‘I wasn’t saying that. Go ahead, investigate it.’ It’s a moment where my character grows up. He subsequently finds the gun at Holly’s house that killed the guy, so Ferg ends up helping solve the case and garnering some respect from the people in his office, which was great.”

At the time of this interview (late June 2013), the actor was busy filming another second season episode of Longmire that he is especially excited about. “Oddly enough, yesterday was what I refer to as my ‘Robert Taylor day,’ because I was in every scene,” enthuses Bartley. “The Ferg is a huge part of this particular episode. They’re revealing more about him and his relationships with some of the other characters and how he’s growing and becoming a much more confident cop.

“The first season of Longmire was about Ferg discovering that he could do the job as well as that he belongs and has talents to bring to the table like everyone else. For example, he collects minerals, and that helped them solve an investigation. Ferg is also a fly fisherman, and that helped them with another case. Little things like these kept popping up, and that continues in the second season. This time around, though, I’m calling it my character’s ‘rise to confidence.’ It’s not about belonging any more, it’s about doing the job better, becoming more integrated into the office and have Walt trust him more.

“I can’t give away any spoilers, but I can say that there are a few Ferg episodes this year where quite a bit more is revealed about him. We learn more about his history as well as his other talents and just about the mettle of the man kind of thing.  These characters are us, and over time, we bring more of us to them. That’s its own acting challenge, I think, and a fantastic one.”

Besides Longmire, Bartley has guest-starred on Vegas, Justified, Chuck, and Criminal Minds, while his big screen credits include Qwerty and In Security. When asked about his toughest role to date, the actor refers back to his stage work.

“About six or seven years ago, I did a play called Tuna Christmas in this little town of Creede, Colorado that just puts on amazing theatre and repertory productions,” he says. “It’s basically a show about two guys who play nine or ten characters apiece. Most of the time its performed as a wild farce, but we did it as an experiment in creating believable characters, half of which are women, and how each of them march to their own beat and sort of find their authenticity. It was challenging in every way, but I think it will serve me forever, because whenever I play a character, it’s about finding out what’s real and human about him or her. That’s what people really respond to. The more they like and feel for these characters, the more they can connect with them.”

Some people play the lottery in the hopes of striking it rich. Bartley likens the audition process to playing the lottery, and whoever "wins" gets the chance to show the world what they have to offer. The actor certainly hit the winning combination when booking his role on Longmire, and knows how lucky he truly is.

“There are so many talented actors who don’t ever get a chance to do what I’m doing,” he says. “I have so many friends who have been in Los Angeles for eight or nine years and haven’t even been able to get an agent or a one-line co-star role yet. My God, I just feel so blessed, and I do feel like I’ve earned it as well. I’ve worked extremely hard to get to where I am and I’m going to keep moving forward with it.

“I’m so thankful just to be at the table and having people watching me on a weekly basis and getting to know my work. It’s unbelievable how different that is from being a struggling actor who goes into an audition room and tries to get a part. There’s a sense of lottery to it, and the chance of it is incredible. Talent is something you have to have when you get the opportunity, but getting that opportunity is the hardest part. So this is a very big deal for me, and one that I’ll never take for granted.”

Please note, all Longmire photos courtesy/copyright of A&E.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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