Kent State alum leaves mark on entertainment industry


Photo of Bill Blair courtesy of IMDB

Benjamin VanHoose

Although Kent State alum Bill Blair, 61, has graced movie theater screens and television sets for more than 30 years, even the most observant audience member probably wouldn’t know it. That’s because the majority of Blair’s roles require several layers of makeup and prosthetics.

In fact, Blair has spent so much time in front of the camera in the guise of aliens, monsters and creatures, that he even established a new Guinness World Record category: most special effect makeup characters portrayed in a career.

His official total: 202 different characters, and counting.

“I contacted (Guinness World Records) to see if they had any categories like that and they didn’t,” Blair said. “They asked me to submit, so I began compiling a spreadsheet of all my roles.”

The process of establishing the record was no easy task; Blair had to assemble records and visual proof of each character, as well as acquire signed statements from people on the sets that could confirm he was there.

Blair was able to rack up such a large number of makeup-heavy characters during the proliferation of science fiction franchises in the ’90s. Among others, he was featured in 69 episodes of “Babylon 5,” and more than 50 episodes of various “Star Trek” spin-offs.

“I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to get involved in the business,” Blair said. “Acting, basically, fell into my lap.”

Acting happened upon Blair after he endured a serious car accident that rendered him unable to continue touring with his band Expression. Leaving his music career behind, Blair turned to modeling. That’s when he was asked to stand in for someone of the set of an “American Playhouse” TV-movie set.

“I got a close-up with the two main actors and didn’t even know it,” Blair said. “They ended up using the shot in the final version.”

Then, with an agent and some onscreen experience in tow, Blair moved to Los Angeles to compete for his name on the cast lists of major Hollywood productions.

“I’ve been wandering around Southern California ever since, scratching out a living,” he said.

It took Blair awhile to become accustomed to the makeup application procedures—a process that he said is three hours (on average) of artists painting, gluing and spraying materials onto him.

“The toughest part truly is, ‘Can I sit still for that long?’” he said. “These are artists who work on canvases (or) easels. That canvas doesn’t move, so (the artist) can do what they need to do.”

Blair said other complications in the process throughout a day of filming can be sweat smearing a design, itches that are unable to be scratched and an occasional feeling of claustrophobia while donning the heavier costumes.

All of Blair’s performances aren’t given from under painstakingly crafted makeup designs; His filmography consists of credits like Man At the Bar in “The Master,” Minister in “Pretty Little Liars” and Diner Patron in “2 Broke Girls.” He was even involved with two Academy Award best picture winners “The Artist” and “Argo.”

He is most celebrated for his “Star Trek” credits, however, which have a big enough fan base to warrant many conventions around the world. Blair attends six to eight of those a year as a featured guest, interacting with fans, holding makeup demonstrations and signing autographs.

“I’ve enjoyed where I’ve been,” Blair said. “I’ve made a comfortable living and I can walk down the street without being followed by cameras.” 

That level of privacy applies to Blair’s visits to his hometown of Kent, when he returns to see his mother, who still lives in the home he grew up in.

“I try to get back a couple times a year,” he said.

Blair attended the Kent State University School, a K-12 laboratory school that allowed education majors to gain experience right on campus. He was part of the last graduating class of KSUS (now the Schwartz Center) before it closed in 1972.

Though Blair has been away from Kent for so long, what he learned while earning his telecommunications degree has proved useful in one recent role in “Nightcrawler.” In the film, Blair is seen in the control room scenes operating a switch board.

“There I was using what I’d learned all those years ago,” he said.

Over the course of his career, Blair has worked with the likes of George Clooney, Bette Midler, John Goodman and Bruce Willis. But his favorite celebrity exchange happened on the set of “The Birdcage” with the late Robin Williams.

“I had a nice little private conversation with him that really meant a lot to me,” he said. “It was during the time my father was passing away and (Williams) had just lost his dad not too long ago.”

As far as dream franchises he wishes he could be part of, Blair regrets never being on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and said he would accept any role in a “Star Wars” installment.

Until he’s enlisted into the galaxy far, far away, Blair will continue to star as extras in other big-time films. He recently finished filming scenes for the upcoming comedy “The House” starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, the Ben Affleck-directed drama “Live by Night” and an Emma Stone-led film still in development.

Blair said he’d thankful for the types of roles he’s cast in because it allows him to get the best of both worlds: starring in major productions and maintaining anonymity.

“I’m not at all bitter about where I’m at; I’m actually happy,” he said. “To me, it’s not a job; what I do isn’t work—it’s too much fun.” 

Benjamin VanHoose is an entertainment reporter for the Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].