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Hometown to Hollywood: Actor/musician Myk Watford finds his niche

FRANKLIN LIVING— These days, Myk Watford is based out of California, but the actor/musician lived in Russellville for a long time.

“I loved growing up in a small town and having the safety that went along with that,” said Watford. “It sounds almost like Norman Rockwell, but we’d come home from school, throw our shoes off and run out into the woods or go play football in the yard or basketball in the driveway. That’s what the days were like.”

Best known for being on procedural cop shows like “CSI,” “NCIS” and, according to his website, “every other procedural using an acronym,” including a recurring role on “Law and Order: SVU,” Watford has also been in feature films, including “Coen Brothers,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Spider-Man (2002),” “Trailer Park of Terror” and “NY Prison Break.”

His most recent role is portraying Muscle Shoals resident Rick Hall – one of the founders of the world-famous FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals – in the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” which was released in theaters Aug. 13.

As the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” Hall was influential in recording and promoting country and soul music. He helped Aretha Franklin develop her voice and career.

“Playing Rick Hall is one of the greatest honors of my career, and it’s a dream come true to have the opportunity to portray someone from the same area as me, who has been so impactful,” Watford said. “I did a lot of research and had a lot of conversations with Spooner Oldham, David Hood, Rick’s son, Rodney, and his wife, Linda – I wanted to get it right.”

Watford said everyone involved in the film was “very honest” about who Hall was and wanted the whole picture of him as a person to be shown – not just the positive parts – something Watford finds admirable.

FAME Studios, originally known as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, was founded in 1959 by Rick Hall, Bill Sherill and Tom Stafford. In 1960 Hall took over sole ownership and shortened the name. Artists who have worked with FAME include Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Otis Redding, the Osmonds and many others.

“It always has a big impact on me – the first time I see one of my movies on the big screen,” Watford said. “It’s a very special experience. There’s just something about seeing your work on a huge screen like that, two stories high in a big theatre. It’s an inspiring experience every time.”

Watford said when he was young, he didn’t know Aretha Franklin had recorded in Muscle Shoals, but he was aware of Rick Hall. “I knew what was happening in FAME Studios, and I understood that people from the area, primarily because of Rick and FAME, had been able to have worldwide success, but at the time, I didn’t know of anyone from our area who had gone out and made a name in film or television or on Broadway,” Watford explained. “It was a difficult place for me to get to – where I could believe that a kid from the woods could go out and accomplish what I was hoping to do.”

Watford, also a musician, enjoys playing with his popular swamp-rockabilly revival band, Stumpwaller. “The music Rick produced in Muscle Shoals has had a huge influence on my music for a very long time,” said Watford. “I love Southern soul music, and my band is kind of a rockabilly band with a Southern soul influence.

“For me, it’s important to have an ‘honest moment’ with people through music,” he addd. “Music is very meaningful to me. It has always been my language. I believe the closest thing to salvation we can have on Earth, with our feet sitting on the ground, is the complete escape that can come through music.”

Despite the success he has found, Watford said he didn’t always know he wanted to be an actor. His first passion was football.

When Watford’s father told him he had to quit football until he could get his grades up, it was devastating to him at the time because football was how he had defined himself. It was around that time, however, that his sister came in one night with a big trophy after having won the state dramatic interpretation contest for high school acting.

“I didn’t even know she was into acting,” said Watford, “and I had definitely never thought of acting as something you could really go and do and be recognized for it. I was fascinated by the idea.”

When he saw her perform in a play, he realized it was something he could do and wanted to do, although “I had never really acted before,” said Watford, “outside of a play in kindergarten.”

Watching his sister portray dance teacher Debbie Allien in a production by drama teacher Donnie Bryan of the musical “Fame,” Watford said he had a moment of extreme clarity.

“This will sound dramatic, but when she came out and performed her role, she was amazing, and it was like the sky opened up and shone down on me, and in that moment, I understood that it was something I could do,” he said. “Somehow, I just knew that I could, and that it was what I was supposed to be doing. The very next day, I transferred into one of Donnie Bryan’s acting classes, and my first play, “You, the Jury,” was the only time I’ve ever performed in a play with my sister.”

Watford said he would not be where he is today if not for all the guidance, encouragement and opportunities Bryan provided.

“I know I’m not the only person who could say this, too, because he’s had such an impact on the lives of young actors and artists coming out of the South who had not previously understood they could actually go out and succeed in these areas and achieve their dreams.”

“I’m so proud of Myk and his performances in theatre, television and film,” said Bryan, who is now retired. “He represents his hometown outstandingly well. I love seeing his work and the passion he has for it, and that always reflects in his shows. He’s a great actor, and I saw that in him early on.

“I’ve enjoyed watching his work, and I’m proud of his success and his love for his family. He’s a wonderful dad. I believe great things will continue to come his way, and we’ll all be watching.”

“Donnie Bryan selected roles for Myk that offered him the best opportunities to develop his talents and showcase his skills,” said Vic Watford, Myk Watford’s father. A dedicated father, Vic traveled with his son’s high school drama department, often driving a truck filled with stage props, to drama festivals. Privately, the judges, who were professors from a variety of colleges, would tell him his son had “something special.”

As college approached, the younger Watford struggled to decide where to go and what to study. While he knew he wanted to pursue acting, the colleges he had offers from didn’t offer a degree in acting, and the scholarships didn’t go very far.

“He was preparing to major in teaching at a college here in Alabama,” said Vic, “and work as a coach and drama teacher, but I didn’t think it was the best fit for him, and I could tell he was disappointed with the prospect.”

Vic said his son had been offered a scholarship for an actor training program under Ken Washington at the University of Utah, and college drama professors from around the country agreed it was where they would send their own child, if it were an option. The decision was made.

“Myk has earned his way into an acting career,” said Watford, “and he continues to make me very proud as he demonstrates his talents, his insights, his creative abilities and his leadership in a very difficult field. I always knew he could do it.”

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