HUDSON — While attending Emerson College, Russ Gannon studied radio. He did the traffic report on WBZ in the 90s and worked as an FM DJ at 92.5 the River, a job he held until 2006.
On May 16 at The Wilbur Theater, Gannon accomplished something very different: acting in the play “Hunting Whitey,” which authors Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge, adapted from their true-crime book about the capture of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
Gannon believed he found his way into the film industry at the right time around 2007 when Massachusetts saw more opportunities for film due to the film tax credit.
He said, “To be part of this growing industry in the state has been amazing because I felt that I have been growing along with it.”
As he was “always more interested in radio,” Gannon never pursued acting in college. The acting bug hit when, while working at the River, he saw an ad to be an extra in “The Game Plan,” a film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“I spent a week working at Gillette Stadium, and although the days were long and cold, I enjoyed the experience,” he said. “I knew nothing about the business or the craft, but I loved the vibe.”
Gannon added, “This was the first time watching one get made.”
He learned from the other extras about how they got started. He also found out how to join the Screen Actor’s Guild by doing background work and began to study with Scott Fielding at the Chekhov Institute of Boston.
He joined SAG in 2008, which led to theater and movie opportunities. He has done most of his theater work with the Concord Players and appeared in “Mister Roberts,” “The Sound of Music” and “Arcadia.”
Gannon has done background work in over 100 films and TV shows in the course of gaining a SAG card, notably “Free Guy,” “Ted,” “The Town,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “American Hustle.” He has worked behind the scenes as Clancy Brown’s stand-in on “Dexter: New Blood” and Kyle MacLachlan’s stand-in in “Confess, Fletch.”
His first speaking role came in the 2013 film “Sins of the Preacher,” which aired on the Lifetime channel.
An opportunity in 2019 to work with Sherman on a project about the Boston Bruins and with both Sherman and Wedge on a staged version of the podcast “Saints, Sinners and Serial Killers” led to a role in “Hunting Whitey.”
“[Sherman] took four of his stories and had actors add flavor to each reading,” Gannon said. “I was fortunate to be cast in two of the stories, one about Mark David Chapman and John Lennon, and one about Whitey Bulger.”
He added, “What drew me to the production was not just an opportunity to work with Casey a third time, but to share the stage with an amazing cast of local actors.”
Gannon played Kevin Weeks, whom he described as a longtime friend and mob lieutenant to Bulger. He portrayed Weeks previously in the staging of the podcast and will get to reprise the role in an expanded version this time at the Wilbur Theater, where Marlon Brando performed “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“It’s been incredible last year performing on the stage of the Wilbur Theater in Boston, knowing the history of the building … and working with so many incredible actors,” he said.
The play is based on Sherman’s book, which is the inside story of how Bulger, “one of America’s most wanted” crime bosses, was captured. The book contains many real-life characters like Catherine Grieg, John Connelly and Stephen Flemmi, whose words brought the story to life for the audience.
The cast portrays many of the characters in the book, said Gannon.
He said, “The Whitey Bulger story casts a long shadow over Boston and has been portrayed on the big screen in films like ‘The Departed’ and ‘Black Mass,’ so it definitely appealed to me to portray someone so notorious.”
Gannon spoke of a scene he shared with Massachusetts native Neal McDonough, who played Bulger, in a courtroom where they get into a shouting match about crime family loyalties.
He believed this is a story “best told by those who grew up around here.” And, for those of a certain age in the cast, he noted that they remember living through the Bulger story.
Gannon said, “I think that because of this, the play really comes alive.”
Another project Gannon is a part of is a currently untitled film by Cord Jefferson, known for his work writing on “The Watchmen” and “The Good Place.” It is based on the novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett, and Jeffrey Wright plays Thelonious Ellison, an author who writes an exposé of the publishing world under a pseudonym.
The film also stars Sterling K. Brown, Adam Brody and Issa Rae.
Jefferson has written episodes for shows, such as “Station Eleven” and “The Good Place,” so being able to talk to him about some of these shows was a treat, Gannon said.
He added, “I play a character who attends the book fair and am less than impressed with him or his early book. It’s a fun little scene.”
Gannon said last year was a good year for him in terms of film work, as he also had a large role in a baseball movie titled “Eephus,” which should be coming out this year. He hopes to branch out into voice acting for animation.
“I guess my wish list would include a more high-profile animated film to work on,” said Gannon.