Filmmaking | Interviews

Talking with Actor/Director Will Lyman

1 Oct , 1998  

Written by Steven Abrams | Posted by:

Home grown celebrity and board member of the Screen Actor's Guild in Boston, Actor/Director Will Lyman talks to NewEnglandFilm about his latest projects.

You may not recognize Will Lyman by sight, either, even though he has numerous television appearances to his credit, including a stint of NBC’s critically acclaimed series "Law & Order." He has appeared in a number of films, from independents to big Hollywood productions, but still, his face may not be at first familiar.

Everything changes, though, when he speaks. Hearing his voice on his answering machine brings to mind PBS documentaries and nature films. In that voice, at once commanding and polished, yet seemingly effortless, he says matter-of-factly, "I’ve been the series narrator of ‘Frontline’ since ’82." That one sentence placed him, for me. It is his voice that transports me to all those evenings of flipping the channels and pausing on PBS to listen to what was happening on "Frontline." And I now realize it was Will Lyman telling it to me.

In fact, his voice is somewhat of an institution. He has narrated on Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning documentaries, and can be heard not only on PBS, but on the Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel as well. He has even done some work with NBA Films. But it is a mistake to think there is nothing more to him than his voice.

Lyman chuckles when asked about his appearances in such wide-release productions as "The Crucible" and "School Ties," or the acclaimed indie film "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Those, he says, were basically small parts. In his matter-of-fact way, in that voice that has garnered him national success, he says that, as an actor, he is "always auditioning, always looking." This perseverance does pay off, as he can currently be seen in "A Perfect Murder," starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow, and, in the near future, in an upcoming Ed Zwick film, starring Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington. More locally, he has acted in "Floating," filmed in Concord, MA [which will screen this month as part of the Mass. Ave. Film Festival], and in the 1998 Student Academy Award-winning short "Intermezzo"; and co-starred with David Warner and Michael Ironside in "Hostile Takeover."

But what Lyman is most excited about now is not the work he has done in front of the camera, but behind it. He wrote and directed a short film, "Leaving the Post," which has screened at film festivals around the country, most recently in September at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. The film also showed in Local Sightings in Boston, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA, and the Emerson Umbrella in Concord, MA. Although "Leaving the Post" is about a couple’s road trip from Texas to Florida, it was filmed in Boston suburbs.

When asked about the making of this film, Lyman doesn’t hesitate to say that "the writing, the directing, the filming was a pleasure, a great time." From locally recognized actors Natacha Roi and Jack Willis to the Boston crew, he has nothing but praise for the people involved in the film.

Problems did arise, however, during the post-production process. In spite of that, Lyman is enthusiastic about the future of the New England film scene, and believes the indie scene in the region has "a lot of very creative people, and is coming up in quality."

As a board member of the Screen Actors Guild in Boston, Lyman is involved in promoting and expanding the Boston film community’s image not only to independent filmmakers, but also to Hollywood. One film he had a small part in, "Celtic Pride," still seems to trouble him, and not merely because of its awful reviews. The "problems seemed to snowball," he said, and it still affects Hollywood’s relationship with Boston. In a situation where both sides didn’t make it easy for the film to be made locally, it could be Boston that loses out. But Lyman speaks with calming confidence that local films will make a comeback. And in the end, it is not the polished voice that makes you believe him, but his years of experience on stage, television, and film.

Will Lyman is currently working on a documentary chronicling the rebuilding of New York City’s Times Square.