Actors, by trade, are people of many faces. But some of the faces Nate Bynum wears might surprise you.
Bynum has played dramatic roles, comedic roles, and even musical roles. He’s a stage and screen actor, favoring neither one over the other because he simply loves being creative. He is also a senior professor of theatre. A writer. And one day, he may even go on to be a producer and director.
Bynum has disrupted his craft by embracing a down-to-earth, businesslike approach to his fine art. And he’s moved beyond it into other areas that make his life—and the lives of the artists he teaches—more sustainable professionally.
“Acting is fine,” Bynum says. “I love it. It’s what I do. But I would like to see actors become writers, directors, and producers—to learn the business end of it as opposed to thinking being an actor is the end-all. It’s not. As an actor, you’re the last person hired, and there are lots of actors to choose from.”
With more than three decades of experience in his industry, Bynum is no stranger to the realities of acting. From roles in movies like Iron Man 3, My Dog Skip, and The Rainmaker to TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Crash to plays like The Killing Ground, Seven Guitars, and Urinetown, he’s seen it all—and brings that knowledge to bear practically as he approaches his roles.
While Bynum is a student of many different acting approaches — classical, method, masque, and more — in today’s acting world, it’s the role that determines the amount of preparation an actor can do. For the roles that allow for some groundwork, Bynum goes deep. He does character studies. He researches speech patterns, occupations and geographical regions related to the role. He practices with dialect and accent tapes. He examines the tone and nature of a given part as well as the show and director to which it belongs.
“The idea is this: You want to walk into the room and be the visual perception of what they see in their minds, so you have to make a choice as to which vision you want to or can present,” Bynum says. “That helps take away that part of the challenge of convincing them you’re right for the role. It then becomes your acting that helps you.”
For the roles that require him to act on his toes, Bynum relies on his well-honed improvisational skills. Perhaps this is why he so values the art of improvisation.
“I teach and use improvisation regularly because you never know what you might face out there,” Bynum says. “For instance, I never knew I was doing Ironman 3 until I got on the set. We did three auditions, but they didn’t tell us what we were shooting. It was very private because it was a big-budget movie.
“As an actor, you have to be able to adjust for the unexpected. I always tell my [student] actors, ‘Know your lines. Know your character. Be willing to go with the flow,’ because the stars you work with may come on set without having looked at the script, and they’ll say, ‘I’m going to go with this. We know how it has to end. Just follow along with me.’ Well, that’s your job. That’s what you have to do, so that must be part of your training.”
But only part. Bynum believes that training for today’s actors must go well beyond creative flexibility. The interdisciplinary stage and screen acting curriculum he created at UNLV reflects this. In addition to film and theater courses, Bynum’s curriculum includes screenwriting, Shakespeare, voiceover, and production classes.
“When I got here, and the first thing I realized was that we’re four hours away from L.A., but we weren’t training students to work in L.A.,” Bynum says. “That made no sense to me.”
Bynum knows Los Angeles well. He recently shot four commercials there: one for Cox Cable, one for Sears, one for FedEx, and one for a new pharmaceutical that strengthens bones. He’s also being considered for two movie roles and one TV role.
Bynum is quick to note, however, that he’s actually got much more than this going on — and indicates this is the case because he’s branched out beyond acting.
“If you know how to direct, produce, write, and do other things, there are just going to be more opportunities for you professionally,” Bynum says. “That’s why I write more than I act now.”
In addition to two scholarly articles he co-authored this year, “Stemming the Tide: The Presentation of Women Scientists in CSI” and “Using Reader’s Theatre to Improve Reading Fluency in African-American Male Students With Learning and Behavioral Challenges,” Bynum is in the middle of writing biopics (biographical movies) on singer Joe Tex and comedian Flip Wilson. The writing project he’s most excited about, though, is a period piece he adapted from the Margaret Culkin Banning story “Women Come to Judgment,” which won a Harpers [Magazine] Prize in 1924. Bynum’s script of the same name tells the story of a young feminist in the 1920s who, after graduating from law school, returns to her hometown to discover that a local court is ignoring a rape case. At the time women had won the right to vote, but they were not permitted to sit on juries. Bynum’s protagonist realizes that to gain justice for the rape victim, she will first have to fight for women’s inclusion on the jury.
“I tend to write about topical material that has some social grit to it,” Bynum says. “All actors are recorders of history. We document the world as it is now. However, because I’m also a professor, I gravitate toward this notion of, ‘How can I contribute, how can I make a difference, and how can I get my voice heard through my art?’”
Bynum was recently informed by a major production company that his pilot submission of Women Come to Judgment was accepted. If that’s any indication of the impact he’s making as a professor and an artist, his unique approach to this business of acting has paid off.