02/06/2013 12:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Senior Citizen Hollywood Roles: 'Showbiz After 60' Helps Unleash Inner Thespians

When he retires from his sales career April 30, Dale Abbot, 61, plans to get a few head shots, make a trip to Central Casting in Burbank, then see if he can land a part as an extra on TV or in a movie.

"I had an uncle in show business, so it's been in my family in one form or another," the Thousand Oaks resident said. "I was always kind of enamored with that aspect -- having a relative in the business."

Judging from the estimated 200 people who turned up for a "Showbiz After 60" presentation recently, plenty of seniors are eager to unleash their inner thespians.

The seminar, aimed at showing seniors how to break into TV, movies and the stage, was scheduled to take place at a senior-living facility in Thousand Oaks called The Reserve. But because so many people signed up, it was moved to a larger venue, the Goebel Senior Adult Center.

The roomful of acting hopefuls heard from a panel that included three actors in their 70s, and Brynne Chappell, a producer from "Betty White's Off Their Rockers," which airs Tuesday nights on NBC.

During an interview before her 91st birthday special, which aired Tuesday night, White spoke about what ages and what doesn't.

"They treat you with such respect because you're old. Little do they know," she said, pointing to her head, "You're not 90 in here. You're 90 everywhere else."

Chappell thinks the comedy is an example of more mature faces being seen on the big and small screens.

"This is an ageist industry," Chappell said. "I see it changing in response to the changing population. It's a big thing."

Chappell credits the sea change to baby boomers, who are redefining retirement.

"They had education at their fingertips," Chappell said. "They're not going to want to sit around and eat oatmeal with their hands in their laps."

Richard Johnson, 63, of Santa Paula, hopes his mane of silver hair helps him land a role as an extra. A screen extra describes somebody with a nonspeaking role who appears as part of the background, usually in a crowd shot.

Johnson retired a little more than a year ago and found himself feeling a bit restless.

"I just needed something to do. I'm bored," he said. "I'm not interested in the money."

Panelist Melanie Seacat, 66, of Los Angeles, is a cast member on "Betty White's Off Their Rockers," a show about seniors pulling pranks on an unsuspecting younger public.

Seacat offers encouragement to senior adults who are getting started in the industry.

"If I give you anything tonight, it's that you must follow your dream, your goal," Seacat said. "You must start with your intention, your desire. And that doesn't change as you age."

The best way to break into TV and movies as an extra is to register in person at Central Casting, Chappell said. Get a few screen credits, take acting lessons and go to auditions advertised in trade magazines such as Backstage (

Some, like panelist Ed Connelly, plan to get an agent, but Chappell urged caution.

"Find one who really cares about you," she said.

Connelly, 78, of Thousand Oaks, has been getting steady work as an actor since he retired as a TWA airline captain at age 56. He has done nothing major, but he has done lots of student films and auditions for mainstream motion pictures.

"When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I could watch movies for free," he said. "I was inspired by the movies to become an actor and a pilot. There were a lot of great flying movies then."

Connelly became a TWA pilot and a flight instructor in Southern California. One of his students was a budding director named Sydney Pollack, who went on to win two Oscars. When Connelly retired, he got a call from Pollack.

"Sydney bought his own jet and asked me to be his co-pilot," Connelly said. "I said, 'It just so happens I'm free.' "

Pollack got Connelly into the Screen Actors Guild, which allowed Connelly to do aviation stuntwork and appear as a pilot in some of Pollack's films.

Since then, Connelly has done 13 student plays, two shows at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center and several independent films.

"There are always opportunities for senior actors," he said.

After retiring as assistant superintendent of the Simi Unified School District in 2007, Mel Roop, 72, took a free weekly acting class offered at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Goebel Center. The teacher is acting coach Tony Laschi.

"We have people 18 to 80. It's an open forum," Laschi said. "We do scenes, improvisation. If somebody's preparing for an audition, we can work on that."

Roop has appeared on about 100 TV shows, including the FX network drama "Justified," NBC's "Up All Night" and ABC's "The Middle."

Roop got his start in show business when he took roping lessons from a cowboy in Moorpark.

"He said, 'I'm going to do some stunt riding,' and I said, 'How do you get booked on that show?' "

Chappell said getting work as a film extra is a good way to get started on an acting career.

Geri Lee, 65, of Thousand Oaks, warns seniors that work as a film extra is not always glamorous. Lee is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, has been doing bit parts and did extra work for 10 years, beginning in her 40s. She has had a few bit parts worked on TV shows such as "Malcolm in the Middle," "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Cybill."

She has also had roles in "The Odd Couple II" in 1998 and director Mel Brooks' "Dracula, Dead and Loving It" in 1995.

"I can't see people over 60 doing it," Lee said of extra work. "You can be outdoors in all sorts of weather. You're standing on your feet for long periods of time. You have to have a lot of different kinds of clothing and costumes ... It's a very punishing type of work physically and also emotionally because often you have to experience rejection. Especially if they give you something special to do and you don't do it right."

According to the Central Casting website, pay for an extra is a little less than $65 for eight hours.

"If you're union, it's $135 or $140 for eight hours," Lee said. "Very seldom is somebody picked to have lines, especially if you are nonunion."

Chappell urges those seeking work as an extra not to be discouraged. There is work out there "or I wouldn't be here," she said.

So you want to be in the movies

Tips for seniors who want to become extras:

You must register in person at: Central Casting, 220 S. Flower St., Burbank; registration dates are Monday, Wednesday and Friday during specific hours

Registration information: Call 818-562-2755 or visit

To find auditions:

Going on stage: Stage work rarely pays, but according to Jim Seerden, who has done stage shows across Ventura County, the rewards are there; for upcoming stage auditions, email local actor/director Howard Leader at and ask to be put on the email list about upcoming auditions ___



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