Houston filmmaker Lance Marshall keeps busy making his movie A Time to Prey, acting in a locally produced sitcom, and taking the stage in The Normal Heart
By Michael Rowell
Photo by David Lewis
Lance Marshall is one face you don’t want to overlook in the sea of talented Houstonians—not that you could miss his svelte looks.
Marshall is one of Houston’s up-and-coming on the arts and film scene. You might recognize him from karaoke nights at JR’s. A few years back, his shining face and impressive vocals led us all as we drank and sang the night away. Now, a couple years later, he has moved on to larger stages and more meaningful roles.
I had the chance to meet with Marshall on a warm Saturday morning at Empire Café on Westheimer to talk about his exciting and tumultuous journey from the Houston bar scene to the often cathartic experience of becoming a serious artist.
Immediately, his gregarious and charming personality was evident. While standing at the counter perusing the menu to decide on our morning beverages, he noticed one of Empire’s signature drinks and quipped, “A SugarDaddy—I’ve been looking for one of those for a while!” Amid what became one of many rounds of eye-watering laughter, I ordered my strong black coffee (it had been one of those Friday nights) and he, with a smile on his face, ordered his SugarDaddy.
As we took our seats outside, hoping against hope that the humidity and heat wouldn’t be at their typical highs, Marshall’s partner, James Oxford, joined us. Marshall and Oxford met about a year and a half ago on, believe it or not, Gay.com, during a very trying time in Marshall’s life. Now, through the trials, Marshall and Oxford tend to finish each other’s sentences and have adopted a “kid,” a little Corgi they’ve named Holly. Instantly you can tell these two are great for each other. Introductions made, we soon settled into our conversation—and, as with most things, we started with beginnings.
While in Waco studying at McClennan Community College, Marshall accepted a position at a professional theater company in Houston.
“I had a friend that lived here in Houston who encouraged me to audition for a theater here in Houston. So I came down and auditioned, and both of us got a paid position as actors/singers/dancers at the theater. It was a great opportunity and an exciting experience, but it wasn’t where I belonged. So I decided to leave the theater after about a year on contract.”
These days, Marshall is a busy man. His schedule for Saturday seemed overwhelming: 10 a.m., interview with me; 1 p.m., shoot downtown for a locally produced television sitcom; and then rehearsal for the current Theatre New West production of The Normal Heart. All the while he was editing his independent film, A Time to Prey. Oh, and he holds down a day job at Karen Derr & Associates Realty (his boss, Derr, is one of the A Time to Prey actors). Oxford is a risk manager for an energy-trading firm.
The sitcom, As Told by Me, debuted last month on the Houston MediaSource public-access cable channel (Channel 17 on Time Warner). In this series about three roommates, Marshall plays an über-butch straight guy, Ceasar, who gets all the girls. As we discussed the series, Marshall’s on-camera girlfriend, Callie Murphy, walked into the café. On the subject of Marshall, she was all praise, “He is so talented and hilarious! Everybody loves him. His personality is so energetic and magnetic.”
In addition to As Told by Me, Marshall is also part of the ensemble cast of The Normal Heart, which continues through September 30 at the Bering & James gallery. This production of the groundbreaking Larry Kramer drama, which centers on a group of individuals in New York during early years of the AIDS epidemic, features Marshall as “Southern bitch” Tommy Boatright. As Marshall put it, “He’s super fantastic with two snaps and around the world!” The challenge for Marshall, he said, is to transition from the butch straight guy of As Told by Me to the flamboyant Boatright. “I occasionally find myself walking on to either set, still in the previous character, and acting the complete opposite of what I should,” Marshall said. “It’s a big transition from girl-crazy to catty.”
The biggest thing going on in Marshall’s life right now, other than Oxford, is the screen thriller/drama A Time to Prey. “Think Requiem for a Dream meets Crash. It’s really intense,” he said. From the film website, “This film is a dark look at the lives of people whose childhoods were less than perfect, far less. These people live with a past that few can imagine.” To get the film from Lance’s screenplay to the screen, Marshall and Oxford started their own production company, Watergun Outlaws. They are working with local indie filmmakers Larry Czach and Chris Spisak, who made Jack Everyman, a movie released earlier this year in which both Marshall and Oxford appeared.
Marshall explained that making A Time to Prey has been cathartic for him, because most of the material in it comes from his past, though it isn’t autobiographical. The majority of Marshall’s experiences actually occur to one of the female leads in the movie. “It ended up being very clear as to why the characters played out the way they did,” he said. “I needed to witness what had happened to me and what I had done, not re-live it. This way it became a healing process for me.”
Marshall still gets emotional when talking about the film. Being that the movie comes out of a troubled past, it is not for the faint of heart, he warns. Marshall and Oxford plan to host a private screening in Houston before they submit it to the Sundance Film Festival in 2007.
The journey has been long and hard, but this Houstonian is all smiles and hope. Difficult times are certain to be ahead, but through all this, Marshall has found his peace. He said that he hopes that his movie—and everything else he does—helps people to “find what makes them happy, and do it.”