When actor Tim Bagley is done filming a movie or a TV episode of “The Wedding Band,” thoughts turn to home. And the home that has been most consistently the home of his heart is in Trempealeau.
Though the L.A. actor never actually lived in Trempealeau, his grandmother did, so his family spent their summers there. And when his parents retired, they did so in Trempealeau.
“All through the years we’d spend our summers there, in Perrot Park. My parents moved there right when I went to college. I was born in Minneapolis, went to high school in Niles, Mich., but all the while, our home base was Trempealeau.”
“My mom, Carol Bagley, still lives there. She’s very active with a whole group of seniors that get together and solve the world’s problems.”
And when he comes home to Trempealeau, Bagley said, that’s who he hangs with. “Those are my peeps.”
As if to prove his hometown creds, he starts ticking off all the local haunts. “We love the Trempealeau Hotel and Sullivan’s and Drugan’s, and Beedles in Centerville. That’s home for me. My sister, Kit Locke, lives in the home my mom grew up in.”
Carol Bagley said she gets together three times a week with her coffee bunch and her son joins right in when he visits. If he wants a taste of down home, he just has to go with them on their Friday stop at Mississippi’s, where they get free pudding with their coffee while they solve the day’s problems.
Carol Bagley said it was obvious from the time her son was in high school that he would end up acting. Still, it was tough to put him on that plane west.
“We worried when he went off to California,” she said. “I can still see the plane in my mind as it took off from Niles, Mich., where we lived. I said to my husband, ‘What in the world are we doing.’ My husband said, ‘He’ll be OK.’ And he is.”
Husband Al died four years ago, but the rest of the family still likes to gather in Trempealeau. And Carol Bagley said she understands why her son loves coming back — her own mother would cut short visits to her daughter to get back to Trempealeau and the river.
But tiny little Trempealeau couldn’t hold Tim Bagley, who had bigger dreams of the stage and screen.
“I knew after college that I wanted to become an actor,” he said, “but I just didn’t know how to go about it.”
So Bagley did what he knew how to do — he took classes. And after one dance class, he snagged a gig as a dancer with Mitzi Gaynor’s touring show. He lasted a year before he realized he wasn’t a very good dancer. So he went back to L.A. and took an acting class from Gordon Hunt. In his class was Gordon’s daughter, Helen. (Yes, the future Academy-award-winning Helen Hunt). Zelda Rubinstein was also a classmate and got cast in “Poltergeist” while taking the class.
That removed some mental obstacles for Bagley because he saw someone he knew get cast in a big movie. It could certainly happen, he said to himself, so why not have it happen to him?
From there, he moved onto The Groundlings, the famed L.A. improv troupe that nursed some of the nation’s finest comics along in their careers. While there, he met Lisa Kudrow, who went on to star in “Friends” and later asked Bagley to be in her online series, “Web Therapy.” He’s also played the doctor in “Knocked Up” and reprises the role in “This is 40.”
Bagley said the improv troupe was all about forcing himself to face a fear and conquer it.
“I felt a little bit more reserved as a child,” he said, and The Groundlings knocked a lot of that out of him. Now, he said, he teaches improv and is happy to help others learn those same lessons.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse senior Ashley Hovel, who is from Galesville, said he was so approachable that she asked him to come back here and teach a class.
“I emailed him a couple of years ago as an aspir-ing actor to see if he
had any advice. From there, I started talking to him and I asked him if he would do an improv workshop.”
Mary Leonard, who teaches the class, was happy to have Bagley as a guest teacher.
“He couldn’t have been more down to earth,” she said. “The students loved him. I would bring him back again in a minute if we could do that. It’s especially meaningful when it’s someone from this area. And he came for the sheer joy of doing it. I can’t say enough wonderful things about him.”
Tell that to all the casting directors. Just like every other actor who has to impatiently wait for a call after an audition, Bagley feels as if he’s always waiting on the next gig.
“I’ve been a working actor that works consistently,” he said, but he’s never had that one big role that defined him. “I started working kind of regularly in 1994, but I always had this feeling that I had to keep hustling and keep making jobs happen, putting myself out there.”
But once he landed roles in major movies and got good television gigs, he began to audition with more assuredness.
“Now when I go into a room, I’m pretty confident. I’m always prepared,” he said. “That’s what makes me stand out from a lot of other actors. I know the part as much as I can. I cancel social things and I just focus on the audition and I learn it.”
Like every other actor, though, he sometimes takes what is available because he needs the paycheck. That’s why most actors have a commercial or two under their belt. If you want to see one of Bagley’s, pay attention next time you see the Orville Redenbacker commercial where a new guy wonders if there’s anything else he could eat besides popcorn. Bagley is the guy sitting next to him expressing shock at the very idea.
“Everybody always wants to know how you do it,” he said. “There’s no one way to do it. The thing that has always helped me is studying and teaching. I always keep learning as an actor. The goal is to make opportunities for yourself. If you can’t get in film and TV, then audition for plays. Study and be the best actor you can be and when that opportunity comes,” he said, you’ll be ready.