Brad Pitt may be the most famous member of Kickapoo High School’s Class of 1982, but he’s not the only alum to enjoy a long career on the silver screen.
Pitt, who heads the action-packed “Bullet Train” that hits theaters Thursday, shared a graduation stage 40 years ago with friend and fellow thespian Sterling Macer Jr.
Macer recently enjoyed the July premiere of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a mystery drama that has since earned more than $53 million at the box office.
An adaptation of a book that sold more than 15 million copies, Macer plays the role of Jumpin, a man who periodically serves as a parental figure for the film’s orphaned central character, Kya.
“I’ve never been part of a project that had such a big following before the movie was shot,” said Macer, who now lives in Los Angeles. “Because the book was so popular.”
Macer, who has dozens of TV and movie credits to his name since the early 1990s, has had several roles in prominent franchises. The sizable list includes “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Harts of the West,” “NYPD Blue,” “24,” “JAG,” “CSI: Miami,” “Veronica Mars ” and “Lincoln Heights.”
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“Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” was among Macer’s earlier movies, which he also writes and produces. He starred in the 2020 psychological thriller “Double Down” and currently has his hand in several projects.
His creative reach goes beyond cinema.
“What I am most proud of is what I’ve been able to do is on a stage,” said Macer, who has also performed in several popular plays. “But it’s ephemeral. It has a short life span, a lot different than being in front of a camera, which I am also grateful for.”
Keeping Springfield in his heart
In the summer of 2020, at the height of the pandemic when most filming and production had come to a halt, Macer packed up his camper van and ventured east.
Macer drove his television producer wife to Atlanta and stopped in Springfield on his way back to Los Angeles. He had rare time on his hands from him and wanted to make the most of the trip.
It had been years since he last visited the Queen City, so he took advantage of the chance to go fly-fishing, to stop that evoked memories of his childhood as he soaked in the Ozarks.
“Brad (Pitt) was the one to teach me how to water ski back in high school,” Macer recalled.
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Macer grew up in in the middle-class Shadowood subdivision, sandwiched between a pair of water slides — Wet Willy’s and another (HydraSlide) whose name he couldn’t remember.
Known as Sterling “Bobby” Macer Jr., the former Kickapoo football standout played briefly at the University of Arkansas before finishing his injury-riddled career at Missouri State.
His performances weren’t limited to football stadiums and he immediately thrived in Kickapoo’s drama and speech and debate clubs.
Jack Tuckness, now the longtime speech and debate coach at Central High School, taught Macer and Pitt during his Kickapoo teaching stint.
“He was very confident and very well-liked,” Tuckness recalled of Macer. “He was determined to get things right. He did the research and understood what his character was going to be.”
Macer’s athletic spirit often surfaced in debate.
“He didn’t accept defeat very well,” Tuckness said. “He wanted to absolutely give it his best.”
Macer credits Tuckness and still keeps in touch with the longtime Springfield educator.
“I recognized something in me that I didn’t even know was there,” said Macer, who went on to University of San Diego’s acting school after graduating from Missouri State. “Some of the best preparation, as far as auditioning goes, came from him.”
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Surviving the Hollywood grind
Throughout Macer’s decades in the TV and movie industries, he has been in a perpetual state of audition.
He’s felt the thrill of landing important roles and the sinking feeling of rejection from others.
“Sometimes it’s yes, sometimes it’s no, but you always have to push forward,” he said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to last this long.”
Some of the most interesting anecdotes in Macer’s journey involve the roles he didn’t get.
Back in 1993, Macer auditioned for the voice of the adult Simba in Disney’s “The Lion King.” Macer said it came down to two finalists: Matthew Broderick and him.
Disney opted to go with Broderick, of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” fame.
“The funny thing about Hollywood is that everyone races to give you the good news, but nobody gives you the bad news,” Macer said with a laugh.
As a younger man, Macer had a striking resemblance to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Reading Rainbow” star LeVar Burton, who said ultimately hurt him in an audition.
Macer, who played the role of a Klingon in the Star Trek TV series, auditioned for different role in the Star Trek movie. Macer said he heard a producer say “But he looks too much like LeVar” when he walked into an audition room.
I didn’t get the part.
“It’s all about opportunities,” Macer said. “That’s what actors who don’t have careers like (Pitt) have to do, go out there and keep auditioning.”
Before Macer made his bones in entertainment, Pitt helped him get his foot in the door.
“I am thankful for the friendship I had with Brad, and to come from that same Springfield background,” Macer said.