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Gil Birmingham adds ‘Hell or High Water’ to long résumé

Gil Birmingham, right, plays Alberto Parker in the film "Hell or High Water." Also pictured: Jeff Bridges.

CBS FILMS/TNS

By RICK BENTLEY | The Fresno Bee | Published: August 28, 2016

Over the years, Gil Birmingham’s seen how certain performances he’s done have been hot in the minds of fans for a short time, and then they move on to another of his projects. The Texas native always tries to guess when approached by a fan which of his many credits they will mention.

For a long time, it was his role as Billy Black in the “Twilight” movies. Then everyone wanted to talk about his work on “House of Cards.” That was followed by his role in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” If he’s on the East Coast, there are a lot of fans of his small movie, “Crooked Arrows,” that deals with a Native American lacrosse team.

“It’s always a surprising mixture of what people know me from,” Birmingham says.

He’s about to see another change as Birmingham has a major role in the new drama “Hell or High Water.” He plays the Texas Ranger partner to the character portrayed by Jeff Bridges. They are on the hunt for a pair of bank robbers who are hitting small Texas banks.

Birmingham is getting all this attention in a career he didn’t originally select for himself. He earned a bachelor of science from the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. At the same time, Birmingham had developed an interest in bodybuilding competitions.

He was scouted at a gym while doing his training and, before he knew it, he was appearing in a music video with Diana Ross. Birmingham had been a musician while growing up and decided that those skills would help him transition to an acting career.

What followed was a series of small roles in television shows such as “Riptide,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” To help pay the bills between jobs, Birmingham took a job portraying Conan the Barbarian in the Universal Studios Hollywood stunt show.

He laughs at the mention of the job, saying that he’s probably in a lot of photos of family vacations to the Southern California theme park.

“The job gave me a lot of freedom to go to auditions and pursue my acting career,” Birmingham says. “That job was just one instance of a door being opened to me and having the courage to walk through it.”

His latest door took him to work on “Hell or High Water.” His long acting career helped him with the role, and his musical background helped Birmingham connect with Bridges.

It’s well-known that Bridges has as much of a passion for music as he does for acting. Bridges would ask Birmingham every day if he had brought his guitar to the set. He told him that they were working long days and doubted if they would have time to play. They did spend a week together before the movie started filming, and that’s where the actors got to share most of their love of music.

All the time wasn’t spent playing music as Birmingham worked closely with director David Mackenzie to make sure he was playing his role correctly.

“David gave us a wide berth to work with the characters. But there wasn’t a lot to do because Taylor (Sheridan) had written such a wonderful script,” Birmingham says. “The great thing about the script was that the dialogue seemed so natural.

“The talks gave me an opportunity to find the balance in the character and to better understand what he’s going through.”

A lot of what the character faces is a steady barrage of politically incorrect statements by Bridge’s character. It was important for Birmingham to understand the tolerance and compassion the character was feeling for his partner.

Those elements will be part of the reason fans will want to now talk with Birmingham about “Hell or High Water.”

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