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WCU Professor Lands Movie and TV Roles

First published at on 6th December 2005

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It’s been a busy few months for Western Carolina University theater arts faculty member Stephen Michael Ayers, who suddenly finds himself in front of the camera almost as much as he is in front of the classroom.

Ayers, associate professor of theater arts at Western, has signed a four-episode deal to be a guest star on NBC’s new science-fiction thriller “Surface.”

The job comes on the heels of his roles in three motion pictures since the summer, including an upcoming basketball film starring Haley Joel Osment of “The Sixth Sense.”

Ayers, a member of the Western theater arts faculty since 1985, portrays a high school basketball coach in “Home of the Giants,” a coming-of-age story written and directed by Rusty Gorman and being filmed in Greensboro this fall.

He also spent about six weeks over the summer working on two films — “The Work and the Glory: American Zion” and “The Work and the Glory: A House Divided” — directed by Sterling Vanwagenen, co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival.

“It has been sort of crazy all of a sudden,” says Ayers, an accomplished television and movie actor whose credits include recurring roles on TV shows “Matlock” and “I’ll Fly Away” and parts in several motion pictures, including “Days of Thunder” and “That Darn Kat.” After working on the two “The Work and the Glory” films over the summer, I was really ready for golf and my yard. Then I got a call about a new feature being done with Haley Joel Osment, who is now 17 years old. They sent me the script, and I loved it. I went to read for the director, and that was that.”

Ayers had just finished his work on “The Home of the Giants” when he received another call, this time from the casting director for the NBC series “The Surface,” being filmed in Wilmington. He landed the part of Dr. Paul Blum, a marine biologist and aquarium director investigating a mysterious sea creature, for a minimum of four episodes, which began airing Nov. 21.

“The neat thing was that I go down to the set and find out that one of my students, R. Keith Harris, who graduated in 1992, is in the episode with me,” he said. “How cool is that — professor and former student working side by side in the industry?”

Ayers is trying to persuade producers of “Surface” to allow his current theater students onto the set to watch as the program is being made.

“I would love for students in my acting class to be able to go down and observe what really happens on the set and to see how long it can take to get that one shot lasting only 20 seconds on the screen,” he says. “And there’s a chance that some of them might even be able to be extras in the show.”

In addition to his past work on “Matlock” and “I’ll Fly Away,” Ayers also has appeared on “In the Heat of the Night,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Savannah,” “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” and 15 made-for-TV movies. His motion picture roles include work on “Cherry Falls,” “Nashville,” “The Bermuda Triangle,” “Andersonville,” “West of Hester Street” and “A Burning Passion.”

In his acting career, he has appeared alongside Karen Black, Carroll O’Connor, George C. Scott, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Elizabeth Montgomery, Peter Boyle, Andy Griffith, Sam Waterston, Randy Quaid, Cary Elwes, Nicole Kidman, Shannon Daugherty, Christina Ricci and Katie Homes.

Ayers, who is head of the professional acting and directing program at Western, is a 1975 graduate of Maryville College. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake and his doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1988.

For more information about the theater arts program at Western, call 828- 227-7491, or visit

Please note that the above article was edited slightly to reflect Haley's correct age at the time of filming

Be sure to read the ORIGINAL ARTICLE

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