Forget six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Maybe it should be six degrees of Charlie Holliday.
While far less known than the ubiquitous actor who spawned the Hollywood linking game, Holliday has rather quietly worked with – or at least near – many of the country’s film greats over his 30-year career as a working actor.
For the last 17 years, he’s flown to Los Angeles for acting roles while maintaining an acting studio in his Rancho Cordova home, where he has happily given back to the next generation of actors for the better part of two decades.
“I never had any mentors. I just had to struggle and thrash around out there and waste a lot of time and money,” said Holliday, who was born Charles Tichenor in Morton, Texas.
Since his first uncredited acting role in “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” filmed in 1984 and starring Barbara Eden, Holliday has worked in films with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matt Damon, Richard Gere, Bill Paxton, Meg Tilly, Chevy Chase, Bruce Willis, Cybill Shepherd, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Clint Eastwood and Emilio Estevez. For the record, he is two steps removed from Bacon (in more than 12 ways).
He was never an A-list leading man. But, over the years, he’s played a barber, a reporter, a narc, a security guard, a locksmith, a taxi driver, a police officer, a doctor, a sheriff, a boat captain, a tourist, a priest, a banker, a judge, a union rep and a minister, among other roles.
“I’m always going to the star’s best friend. I’ve had a lot of great big parts in little bitty movies and little parts in great big movies,” said Holliday, who wears a ready smile and has a boyish charm at 75.
Holliday said he was comfortable in his own skin and never pined for leading roles.
“I knew who I was,” said Holliday. “I was a middle-age, slightly overweight, balding Irish guy. Part of my success was knowing who I am.”
He got a late start in acting. After leaving the Navy in 1963, he started working in radio, which is what brought him to Sacramento as a disc jockey for KXOA radio.
“I wanted to be in the movies,” Holliday said. “My idea was to go into radio, which would get me into television, which would get me into movies.”
His plan eventually worked. Local theater gigs led to regional commercials, which led to a national commercial, which led to “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and another uncredited role in “Impulse,” starring Tim Matheson and Tilly.
From there Holliday made the leap, moving to Los Angeles with his wife, Holly. He found pretty steady work jumping from big-screen movies to television movies, television series and commercials. To the outside observer, his career took off like a rocket.
“It was only 20 years,” he quipped. “There is no rhyme or reason to the business.”
While he now says he could have skipped his years in radio and gone straight to an L.A. acting school, Holliday said success isn’t doled out evenly or rapidly.
“Bruce Willis was out there 20 years before ‘Moonlighting,’ ” (the TV series that launched Willis’ career), Holliday said.
“There is a lot of luck in it … but you have to be ready,” he said. “It is a business. ... You have to open the store every day.”
Holliday moved back to Sacramento after the 1994 Northridge earthquake soured his wife on life in L.A. He taught his first class at the Sierra 2 Center before finding a home with a two-car garage he could convert into a studio. Recently, Holliday held a special Tuesday improv-for-actors lesson at the Captial Film Arts Alliance at the Art Institute in Natomas.
“If you are going to work in the business, you have to know how to improvise and you have to know how to cold read,” he often tells students.
Over the years, hundreds of people have trained with him learning the Mosaic Acting System. Christopher Michael Holley, one of his more successful students, has appeared in several feature films, including fellow Sacramentan Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces.”
Laurie Pederson, executive director of the film arts alliance, called Holliday a beloved institution.
“He has tirelessly shared his knowledge and taught creative skills to hundreds of aspiring actors, and represented them as the (Screen Actors Guild) rep in our region as well,” Pederson said.
Holliday has also worked extensively with the Sacramento-based California Film Foundation.
“He's the best cheerleader and friend an actor could ask for,” said Martin Anaya of the foundation, which runs the Sacramento International Film Festival.
And while teaching is a big part of his life, Holliday shows no intention of ending his career as a working actor.
“I just booked a movie today,” he said in a recent phone interview. “There is no place in the world like a movie set, especially a big movie. You have 200 people there working to make you look good.”