Exclusive look inside making of ‘gorgeous’ Fort Worth movie shot almost entirely in town

Inside Look stories give Star-Telegram subscribers exclusive sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes reporting. Story suggestion? Editors@star-telegram.com.

Richard Blake understands the power of a Fort Worth sunrise.

The 41-year-old actor and director filmed his latest movie — “The Actor” — in and around Cowtown, with a local North Texas crew. Film fans will recognize more than a few Fort Worth landmarks in the movie, such as First Christian Church in downtown and Paris Coffee Shop.

While many cities serve as surrogates for others in production, “The Actor” actually takes place in Texas, which was important to Blake having recently relocated and fallen in love with Fort Worth.

“This city is gorgeous,” Blake said.

“The Actor” comes from Fort Worth-based company Amberock Productions and is now available on AppleTV.

The movie stars Blake as Hunter Durbin, a struggling actor who after witnessing a neighbor’s murder stumbles upon a load of cash they were hiding and decides to keep it, bringing on its own problems.

Blake, who also wrote the screenplay, drew inspiration from the classic setup of a character finding something they weren’t supposed to. Throw in a bit of satirization of Blake’s own history — of being a working actor in Hollywood for years — and “The Actor” finds its groove.

Its the kind of explosive fun pulsating through movies that Blake loves like “True Romance,” and maybe even a little “Die Hard.” As he puts it, “Cars, guns, money and rock and roll.”

“I’m not really trying to teach you anything,” Blake said. “I just want you to be entertained and kind of enjoy that escapism.”

⚡ More trending stories:

Snakes are crawling out of hibernation in Texas. Check the toilet before taking a seat.

In Texas, set your thermostat at 80 when it's 100 degrees, expert says.

Groceries at this national chain are the cheapest, study finds.

Wisconsin-born, finds groove in Fort Worth

Born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Blake knew from a young age that he wanted to have a career in show business.

A trip to the multiplex to watch “Mission: Impossible” in 1996 solidified the then middle schooler’s ambitions. His dad came out of the movie humming the theme song, his brother confused about certain plot points, but for Blake, it was all the inspiration he needed to dream big.

“I came out of that movie and I was like, ‘I’m going to make movies’,” Blake said. “It was literally all I thought about.”

Not long after, Blake hung a map of California on his Wisconsin bedroom wall and began telling his friends that one day he would end up in the Golden State.

Blake began making films and modeling in high school, later moving to Chicago after graduation. It was in Chi-Town where Blake pursued theater roles and commercial work, while working a regular job at Home Depot.

Getting acting jobs in Hollywood is hard enough, especially without a Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union card, so Blake made a pact with himself that he wouldn’t head to Los Angeles without one.

Luckily in his first year in Chicago, a 19-year-old Blake booked a McDonald’s commercial and joined the SAG-AFTRA union. Next stop, Hollywood.

“I drove out to LA with everything I owned in the back of my car,” Blake said. “You know that same story.”

Amber and Richard Blake (center) at the world premiere of “The Actor” in Fort Worth on April 6, 2024. Brayden Garcia/bgarcia@star-telegram.com
Amber and Richard Blake (center) at the world premiere of “The Actor” in Fort Worth on April 6, 2024. Brayden Garcia/bgarcia@star-telegram.com

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Blake booked an episode of “Everwood” in 2003. And for about the next decade, Blake was a working actor.

Among his credits are roles in “Days of Our Lives,” “Dragonball Evolution,” “CSI,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Snake & Mongoose.” All the while, in between acting jobs, Blake dabbled at writing scripts.

Blake and his wife Amber founded Amberock Productions in 2016, ahead of the duo going into production on their first feature film, “The Rocket.” The movie, released in 2018, follows a high school football star who finds purpose through another sport after suffering a major injury.

By 2020, Blake had the idea for “The Actor” and planned to make it his next directorial project. But the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans.

Unsure of the future as Hollywood hit the pause button, Blake and Amber decided to leave Los Angeles and head to her hometown: Fort Worth.

“We sold everything and drove across the country, not really sure what to do,” Blake said. “I wrote the rest of that script in my in-laws spare bedroom.”

Richard Blake stars as Hunter Durbin in “The Actor”. Amberock Productions
Richard Blake stars as Hunter Durbin in “The Actor”. Amberock Productions

Fort Worth, his new home, as backdrop for “The Actor,” his latest film project

Now in Fort Worth with a finished script, the next step was figuring out how to make a movie in a place he had no history in. At least for “The Rocket,” it was filmed in Wisconsin around Blake’s old stomping grounds.

But Blake admits that making a movie in a place he isn’t totally familiar with was more of a strength than a weakness. It gave him a fresh set of eyes to consider the scenery and soon his creativity took hold.

For instance, turning Fort Worth’s Paris Coffee Shop into Los Angeles’ Toast Bakery Cafe for a scene. Instead of flying his crew to Los Angeles to shoot inside Toast, Blake filmed the interior in Fort Worth and later traveled to the LA restaurant by himself to film an exterior shot.

Along with Paris Coffee Shop and First Christian Church, other Fort Worth locales to make an appearance in “The Actor” include: Pop’s Gym, Roy Pope Grocery, Fort Worth Club, The Tower, Fort Worth Actors Studio, Main Street and Magnolia Avenue.

Director Richard Blake on the set of “The Actor” in Fort Worth. Amberock Productions
Director Richard Blake on the set of “The Actor” in Fort Worth. Amberock Productions

For the cast of “The Actor,” Blake turned to a mix of old and new collaborators.

Local North Texas actors Major Dodge, who plays the villainous Joe, and Melissa Archer worked with Blake on a previous project. The rest of the cast filled out with local Texas actors, including Sheila Houlahan and Phil Mendoza.

Blake shot the whole movie in 26 days back in 2022 — 21 of those days in Fort Worth. Additional filming took place in Arizona for three days and in Los Angeles for a couple more, Blake said.

Behind-the-scenes, Blake said his entire crew was from Fort Worth and used equipment from Dallas-based MPS Studios. It took all of North Texas to get the movie across the finish line.

“I never understood the separation, because the years that I visited here it said, ‘Dallas-Fort Worth’,” Blake said. “I was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, same thing.”

What’s next for this Fort Worth filmmaker?

“The Actor” held its world premiere in downtown Fort Worth at the AMC Palace 9 theater on April 6.

Among the cast and crew, Ed Roland from rock band Collective Soul stopped by. Blake is a self described “super fan” of the band and included eight of their songs in the movie.

For Blake, “The Actor” is just the beginning of what he wants to make in Fort Worth.

He’s already written another movie, which he describes as “smaller and character-based.” He’s also written an adventure-type TV series in the mold of “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones” that are in the hopper.

Whenever it happens, Blake said, it’ll be in Fort Worth.

“I think that the city has a lot to offer,” he said. “As far as location and diversity.”

“The Actor” is now available to rent or buy on AppleTV.