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Ed Gillow proves it’s never too late for a second act

By DIANNE RUSSELL

The phrase, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” is often attributed to the English novelist George Eliot. As living proof of that statement, Ed Gillow started a new career at age 52 and never looked back. “I’m finally doing what I love, what I was meant to do,” said Gillow of his entry into the world of acting – but it took him a long time to get there.

Gillow was bitten by the acting bug early in childhood. “Growing up in Arkansas (he was born in Detroit), I didn’t have a clue how to get into acting, but that’s when the dream started,” he said. “I used to watch Route 66 and Millionaire, on television, and I fantasized about getting a Corvette and driving up and down Route 66 with a friend. But my mother always wanted me to be an engineer.”

Ed Gillow closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

In 1996, Gillow finally realized his dream

In high school, Gillow excelled in track and field and as a result, received a college scholarship. “It was a blessing. I thank God that I was given enough talent to get a scholarship, so when I transferred to Arkansas for my engineering degree, I didn’t have to pay for it. Because we were so poor, I was able to get work grants (and things like that). I worked part time at a hamburger place, which was fine because that was dinner – it was a great deal.”

Acting wasn’t part of the agenda back then and making a living became paramount. As it does sometimes, life has a funny way of delaying things, and then before you know it, decades have passed. During that time, Gillow had an extremely successful career as an engineer, including a year spent in Indonesia looking for oil when he was working for Texas Instruments – and he also spent three years in Europe.

Eventually, through one of his positions, he was reassigned to Carpenteria, Calif. “I slowly worked my way South, and that job ended,” he said. “I took another one, then they laid me off. I had a string of engineering jobs until finally in 1996 – I got married. Gillow met his wife, artist Joan Gladstone, cycling with the BBCI Club in Irvine, a sport they continue to enjoy.

It wasn’t until Gladstone found an article about an old couple doing background acting work that Gillow’s long-buried dream resurfaced. “So, I thought I’d just check it out and I went to Central Casting and signed up,” he said.

Ed Gillow with Joan

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Gillow with his wife, Joan

“What surprised Joan was how quickly it happened,” Gillow said. “I was out of the corporate world and into the world of acting the next day.”

Gladstone is clearly in awe of his determination.

“I started doing extra work, which led to principal extra work,” Gillow said. “At that point, I quit doing extra work, took acting lessons and began auditioning for roles. As my skills improved, I built a good body of work. I have been divinely led in this business and owe my body of work to God’s inspiration and guidance.”

A long-buried dream resurfaces

“Soon after we were married more than 27 years ago, my husband knocked my socks off by announcing that he wanted to be an actor,” Gladstone said. “At 52, Ed had a career as an electrical engineering manager. He had never stepped foot on a stage. That changed soon after he made up his mind to pursue acting. He began taking acting lessons and started appearing in OC theater productions including Laguna Playhouse Youth Theater plays.” He was cast in the play Homecoming, based on The Waltons.

“It was a musical, and I don’t sing, but I did the best I could harmonizing,” Gillow said. “It was my first play, and Donna Inglima [former director of youth theater, education and outreach for The Laguna Playhouse] gave me a chance.”

Unfortunately, he was kicked out of acting class because he was doing theater. “It was okay. We’ve all been in situations when something happens out of our control. It was the impetus I needed to move on.”

Now 75, Gillow is enjoying new success as an older actor. He’s in his first national TV ad, a USAA commercial with Rob “The Gronk” Gronkowski, that’s been airing during football games all season. This month he’ll play a grandfather in a pharmaceutical print ad geared to doctors.

In a strange twist, his youthful appearance sometimes backfires. “I look too young for some parts,” he said. “On occasion when there are multi-generational cast members, I’ve tried out for the grandfather role and the casting directors mistake me for the father.”

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Ed Gillow Roche print ad

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Courtesy of Ed Gillow

Ad for Roche

In a way, by reigniting his dream of acting, Gladstone was returning a favor – Gillow was the one who got her a gift certificate to an art class at LCAD, rekindling her love of art, which led to her successful career as a painter and Sawdust exhibitor (including being part of a recent exhibition at John Wayne Airport).

“I could have worked acting every day,” Gillow said. “At the time, I was working with Joan (as chief operating officer of her public relations agency), but I just loved being on the set and watching the main actors do what they do. They are very present in the moment. Here’s the beautiful thing – you know you’ve arrived when the directors start coming up to you and saying, ‘I want you in this scene’ and the other principal could be Al Pacino or William Hurt or anybody like that.”

Gillow was in the film S1mOne in which Al Pacino starred and in AI Artificial Intelligence (2001) with William Hurt and had the lead in a Breaking Vegas episode.

Ed Gillow Reckoning

Courtesy of Ed Gillow

In short film “Reckoning,” 2020, with Anya Lee

One wonders if Gillow experiences stage fright. “No. I was an athlete in school, and I think you get a lot of confidence because you’re in front of people. When I was working in the corporate world, I gave thousands of presentations, so I was born to be in front of people. It doesn’t mean I’m not a little nervous before I go out, but that’s a good thing, because I take that energy and use it. So instead of coming on the stage or on the set flat, I use that nervousness.”

Being in such a fascinating – and unpredictable – business, Gillow has experienced some memorable moments. He spoke with Stephen Spielberg during the filming of AI, Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg asked him what he thought of a scene that had just been shot.

One funny incident happened early in Gillow’s career when he was on Family Law. “They wanted me to walk into the scene on a certain line, so I waited for the line – and waited – and the AD came over and asked, ‘why didn’t you go on your line?’” It turned out they had changed the line, so they redid the line and reshot the scene.

Of course, not all on-set incidents were amusing. “Once when I was on West Wing, another actor’s briefcase made an unscheduled noise as a group of us were setting all of our briefcases down. One of the lead actors blamed me for it and wasn’t happy that we had to redo the scene.”

Ed Gillow Zombie Sheriff

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Courtesy of Ed Gillow

Gillow playing a zombie sheriff in the short film, “1881 Zombies” (2009)

“I’ve made a lot of friends,” Gillow said, “some of the second and third tier type of actors that you see all the time. We may not talk every day or every month but when I see them again at auditions, it’s like old home week.”

Although he doesn’t see his life as unique or special, Gillow has accomplished much outside of acting. “I taught college in the ‘80s. It was a necessity as I was going through a divorce and needed the money, but then when I got into it, I thought it was pretty cool. When I came out to California I continued to teach (management). I taught at Chapman College for 20 years, and I always believed teaching was something important. When you get to a position in life where you can give back, you should, so I also did motivational speaking.”

As for the future, Gillow is working on a screenplay called Ethan’s Gift that he said is not quite finished. He also has a screenplay, a western called Sidetrack, that he’s been placing in screenplay competitions.

Ed Gillow with tree

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

It’s never too late

“I say follow your dreams,” Gillow said. “If you have a dream of being a pilot or chef, go for it! I always had a dream of being an actor and eventually I was able to follow that dream.

As for regrets, Gillow said, “You can’t take back time, and I make the most of it now and move forward. That’s all any of us can do. For those of us who want to make a difference in the world, it matters. When I’m up on stage or in a movie, I want my performance to move people, and if it’s not, then I’m not doing my job. I think if you talked to any actor, they’d tell you the same thing. I’m doing this because I want to influence people, I want to move people, I want people to feel something, to forget me as an actor and look at that character. I want the audience to relate to that character and have a connection, feel his pain – or root for him or hate him. If you have the ability, the opportunity, and the desire to make a difference, do it, it’s your responsibility.

“Follow your heart, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s too late. Your age doesn’t limit what you can do if you believe in yourself – take action. All it takes is a commitment to get started and the courage to keep going.”

So, as the year comes to an end and many folks ponder new beginnings in 2024, remember that advice.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

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