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X marks the spot for Michigan actor in new show

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2015

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Lights, camera and action mean something new and fresh to Jeff Hephner on his new TNT network series "Agent X."

Especially the action part.

The Michigan actor -- born and raised in Lenawee County, now living in Chelsea -- estimates he did "probably 80 percent" of the stunts for the first season of the series, which debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday night (Nov. 8). Hephron plays John Case, a special U.S. agent who takes on cases too sensitive for the CIA and FBI, which means there's more power than paperwork involved.

"On the third episode, I walked in and was like, 'Can I just destroy this room?'" Hephron, 40, who's also a veteran of "Chicago Fire" and other series, recalls by phone. "And they were like, 'Yeah, we built it to be destroyed,' so we just went for it and this guy threw me through multiple bookcases and I threw him through a window. It was like this ritualized dance that's really violent.

"There were times they wouldn't let me jump through glass or jump off buildings on motorcycles -- rightfully so. But to extend that 6kidn of energy in the form of a character all the time blows me away. I mean, I'm a rowdy guy. I love the contact. I get to be that little kid, the seven-year-old boy who was constantly playing in gun fights and wrestling and stuff like that."

More than just breaking stuff, however, Hephner considers "Agent X" -- which co-stars Sharon Stone, James Earl Jones, Gerald McRaney and John Shea -- "a really fortunate break" in a career that began during the late 90s years ago.

"It's funny because as a young guy, as a lot of us are in our 20s, everything was about being a 'serious' actor," Hephner recalls. "I wanted to do serious stories and have people take me seriously. But having kicked around for awhile and done a lot of really cool things, I don't take myself so seriously anymore.

"So ('Agent X') came by and I'm like, 'This'll be a riot!' I just feel so lucky to do it."

Hephner grew up "a TV junkie, just addicted to TV" but saw sports as his initial career path. An all-state basketball player in high school, he was a shooting guard for Calvin College in Grand Rapids and Ferris Sate University in Big Rapids, though he left school just one class shy of his Communications degree -- "Much to my parents dismay," he adds. (Although he jokes that if "Agent X" is a big hit, an honorary degree might await.) He headed to Jacksonville, Fla. where his parents wintered, and began auditioning for roles at theaters around town.

His big break was a small part in the 2000 Vietnam War film "Tigerland" that shot in Jacksonville. Director Joel Schumacher counseled Hephner to move to New York to further his career; Following that advice Hephner appeared in some student films at New York University and Columbia City College along with working production jobs. Before long, however, he landed roles in both films ("Maid in Manhattan") and TV shows ("The Jury," "Law & Order," "Criminal Minds," "C.S.I."). He had a 13-episode arc in "The O.C." during 2005-06 and also has long tenures with The CW's "Hellcats" and Starz's "Boss" before landing on "Chicago Fire" for eight episodes in 2013 before "Agent X" came along.

"The allure of it IS to get a lead in an action show," Hephner notes. "I mean, it's something I've been preparing for since I was an eight year old boy getting beat up by my brother, running around the yard.

"Plus it's an opportunity to work with some cool people I'd never met before. To be around these people I grew up watching continues to be a really surreal experience. It's so bizarre to get to work in an environment where people have been doing it for a very, very long time on a very high level. I get excited about it. I get nervous. It's...weird."

Fortunately within the sonorous tones of James Earl Jones Hephner found a fellow University of Michigan partisan.

"He's a very proud Michigan man," Hephner notes. "We would talk about how (Jim) Harbaugh came and they asked him to record the whole (introduction) that they play before the games at the Big House. so, yeah, a very proud Michigan man and very sweet, a real gentleman."

After living in New York and Los Angeles, Hephner is happy to be calling Michigan home again with his wife and their three young children. The schedule can be grueling; he spent five and a half months filming "Agent X's" 10 episodes, coming home most weekend. But the payoff is that "I can disappear from (show biz) and just be come when I'm there."

But, Hephner acknowledges, having to be away from home in the near future would mean good news for the show, too.

"Yeah, we hope lots of people watch it and like it and we get called back sooner rather than later, he notes. "We'd all like to see it be a big hit. Of course we would."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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