Monday, February 16, 2009

Jonathan Sale Forges a Career in NYC

Posted by Bruce Miller
Back in the mid-90s when Theatre IV was still in the theatre-for-adult-audiences business, we produced what I thought was a wonderful production of a play called Stand Up Tragedy (pictured below). John Moon directed. Rusty Wilson, Ben Hersey, Rick Brandt, Richard Travis, Tye Heckman and others co-starred with several talented young teens who played New York gangbangers. One of the teens (maybe he was in his early 20s by then) was a young Richmonder named Jonathan Sale (pictured as he looks today above and to the right). Although he was a clean cut student at the University of Richmond, he had a great urban vibe that served him well in the show.

After graduating from U of R with a double major in theatre and Spanish, Jonathan toured for a year or so with Theatre IV, and then headed to San Francisco where he earned his MFA in acting from the prestigious professional theatre grad program at American Conservatory Theatre. He moved to NYC, married in 2003, and for the last several years has been building an impressive career Off Broadway and in television and film, finding work both as an actor and director.

Recently Jonathan made a fun national spot for Holiday Inn Express, using the rap skills he first honed as a street punk in our fondly remembered production of Stand Up Tragedy. You can catch his commerical star turn at Jonathan's the white guy, and this credit sits proudly on his resume alongside several gigs on Law and Order, Ed, Guiding Light, As the World Turns, a growing list of independent films, some Off Broadway plays, and numerous other TV commercials.

Most recently, Jonathan directed and produced the short film Sovereignty (, written by Rolin Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and producer of Showtime's Weeds. Sovereignty began its life as a short play in the Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, starring Jonathan’s wife, Heather Dilly (pictured to the right, and below and to the left). Sovereignty the film just won Best Short Film at the 2008 Artivist Film Festival, the 2008 Peace on Earth Film Festival, and the 2008 Non Violence International Film Festival. Heather Dilly, star of the film as well as the play, won Best Actress for her work in Sovereignty at the 2008 Long Island International Film Festival.

As Jonathan’s career becomes more impressive year by year, it was interesting to find on the www this interesting coverage of an acting project a few years back. Prior to devoting his time to becoming an award-winning filmmaker, Jonathan made his mark on the world of video games. He was the “motion-capture” actor for the main character of Tommy Vercetti, the antihero of the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The character's snarling voice is provided by well known film actor Ray Liotta, but the body and movement are all computer generated on top of the actual movement provided by Jonathan Sale.

When asked by a video game reporter to describe the experience, Jonathan said, “I wore a Spandex/Velcro body suit that included hats and shoe wraps with 33 balls covering the suit. Each of the white spheres was a little smaller than a ping-pong ball. About 20 feet off the ground there was a grid of 14 cameras that read only the light reflected back to them from the balls. The cameras compiled this info in the computer and made a moving model that they later put the skins over for the game. They also filmed all of the scenes with two digital video cameras and later cut that footage together for the voice actors to work with. Ray Liotta spent a week in the booth matching my performance. I always thought that was pretty cool.

We filmed the project six to eight hours a day, five days a week, with two weeks of rehearsal and one week shooting . After rehearsing for two weeks we all knew each other pretty well. We were in this terrific studio in Brooklyn in which every room is decorated as a different set. And I don't mean the rooms that we shot in; I mean every room. The room where the staff would meet looked like a spaceship boardroom. The hallway looked like the inside of an Egyptian tomb; the lunchroom looked like a tropical forest. It was really cool.

The studio where we shot was a huge concrete room with a big square taped off on the floor. That was the playing area. Outside of the taped area, some of the cameras couldn't see us and therefore the computer couldn't calculate us fully and we would disappear.

When we showed up and donned the spandex for the first time, we were all a bit shy, but it wasn't nearly as embarrassing as we thought it would be. We kind of looked like blue/black or red/black superheroes. Everyone was creative and great to work with.”

Asked for any advice he could offer to future motion capture actors, Jonathan wisely offered this: “The more I treated it like a regular acting job, the better. When I was really acting well, it showed through the motion capture. Also, stuff your Spandex mo-cap suit. That's the key.”

There you have it, my friends. And all this time we thought cod pieces were only for Shakespeare.

--Bruce Miller


Joy W. said...

I love Jonathan! We did Lost in Yonkers together at the Mill. He was teriffic then!
Glad he's doing well!!

Annie and Elyse said...

Oh my gosh that guy went to U of R? We LOVE that commercial! The first time we saw it we died laughing and then looked it up online and watched it again. Very cool.