Screen Veterans Share Journey from BC to Acting Success

DeVoy Lecture

Television and film veterans Wayne Wilderson, BC ’89, and Maile Flanagan, BC ’87, visited their old stomping grounds last Thursday night when they led the most recent part of the DeVoy Lecture Series in Robsham Theater.

With their acting experience combined, the two have accumulated well over 200 acting credits, including gigs on The Office, Shameless, Two and a Half Men, Modern Family, Disney films and television series, an Emmy-winning animation masterpiece, and a long-running Fruit of the Loom commercial. Despite their wildly successful Hollywood careers, the two still credit Boston College as the foundation for both their pursuits in acting and their close friendship.

Born and raised in a military family situated in Germany, Flanagan found herself at BC by way of a brochure she spotted at her friend’s house. Upon admission to the University, she turned down a full ride to the Air Force Academy and made her way to the Heights.

“I was this freak from Germany who didn’t know anything about the United States really,” Flanagan said. “My mom just kind of dropped me off on Newton with a phone card.”

At the beginning of her sophomore year, the political science and math major joined My Mother’s Fleabag, the country’s oldest collegiate improvisational comedy troupe. While she raved that this new venture inspired her passion for and eventual career in acting, she joked about the financial stability she might have had if she’d followed a different path, saying, “if you like Top Ramen, have fun being an actor.”

Wilderson, however, arrived at BC well aware of his desire to pursue a degree in theatre and reap the benefits of the then newly built Robsham Theater Arts Center. Hailing from Minneapolis, he relished his time in multiple main stage productions, including a rich three-line role in West Side Story, among several leading roles.

The two actors’ BC tales converge at Flanagan’s party in Mod 23A that Wilderson was alleged to have catered. Abandoning beer-stained floors for life beyond the Heights, Flanagan eventually moved to Wilderson’s hometown of Minneapolis along with Tom McCarthy, Oscar-winning writer of Spotlight, and Nancy Walls, a former Saturday Night Live cast member and wife of Steve Carell—both are BC ’88.  

While the talented group formed a comedy troupe spinoff from My Mother’s Fleabag entitled “Every Mother’s Nightmare,” the duo couldn’t help but poke fun at their mega-star pals.

“It’s a shame they didn’t go anywhere in their lives,” Flanagan joked. “I feel sorry for them.” But the two speakers certainly had their own growing collection of acting credits on the horizon, although not without a few bizarre gigs along the way. Such performances included but were not limited to acts at a rib-and-comedy restaurant called The Rib Tickler, tours around Nebraska, and an existential play that culminated in Wilderson’s serious delivery of the Madonna quote “Beauty is where you find it, not just where you bump and grind it.”

When Los Angeles called Wilderson, Flanagan soon followed, and the two have been represented by the same manager ever since. Wilderson’s on-camera career launched rapidly with the first non-pilot episode of Frasier and a recurring role on Seinfeld while Flanagan snuck back and forth between auditions and her job as a financial analyst for Sony.

While both actors began to feel a flow of cameo and extra work, including on big features like Evan Almighty, Wilderson then booked what would become his claim to small screen fame. He starred as “Purple Grapes” in a Fruit of the Loom commercial that ran a whopping eleven years on television, resulting in the purchase of a home that he dubs “the house that underwear bought.”

Flanagan’s definitive career highlight surfaced when she booked the leading role on the Japanese animation series Naruto, which she still continues to voice 15 years later. An Emmy win for her other animation success entitled Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks solidified her extraordinary gift for voiceover work.

After Wilderson’s role as a man with an ovary on Grey’s Anatomy and Flanagan’s own on-camera medical role resulting in her exclamation “I’m in a thin hospital robe, John Stamos. Don’t poke me in my side fat,” their paths crossed aligned once again. Flanagan was a main cast member for 65 episodes of Disney’s Lab Rats while Wilderson played the infamous role of Officer Diarrhea on Hannah Montana.

“That’s what BC education gets you, kids!” Flanagan said.

Between Wilderson’s unexpected Screen Actors’ Guild nomination for his ensemble role on Veep and Flanagan’s comedic work with longtime idol Roseanne Barr, the two actors’ ceaselessly prosperous careers have been anything but ordinary, and they both credit BC as the igniter of their unique journeys.

“There’s something special about this college…” Wilderson said. “It all started here. A great education, these great experiences, and especially here in the drama department.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor