Mystery, Montana 

UM grad gets a foot in the door with NBC's "Persons Unknown"

In NBC's summer mini-series "Persons Unknown," a group of strangers wake up to find themselves hostages in a small town that is entirely deserted, save for a handful of Chinese restaurant workers and a hotel night manager played by actor Andy Greenfield. Greenfield, who grew up in both Deer Lodge and Hamilton, and graduated from the University of Montana's theater program with a BFA is, in many ways, the most mysterious person on the show. Unlike the other characters who are in the understandable position of being trapped and terrified, Greenfield's night manager seems fairly unfazed in his ghost town job—despite his insistence that he doesn't know how he ended up there. Is he one of the hostages, or is he something more sinister? Greenfield won't tell.

Though the show was shot a year and a half ago, NBC only just started airing the 13 episodes five weeks ago. Electric force fields, spooky surveillance cameras, personal secrets and invisible enemies provide it with echoes of "Lost" and hues of the "X-Files." Meaning, all the surprising twists—including where the hostages are—will most likely continue to be shrouded in mystery until the very end. But for Greenfield, all of it seems strangely familiar.

click to enlarge Montana native Andy Greenfield stars in NBC’s summer mini-series “Persons Unknown,” and will read at the 15th annual Missoula Colony this week. The Colony gathers emerging and established professional writers and actors for staged readings of new scripts.
  • Montana native Andy Greenfield stars in NBC’s summer mini-series “Persons Unknown,” and will read at the 15th annual Missoula Colony this week. The Colony gathers emerging and established professional writers and actors for staged readings of new scripts.

"As a viewer, you're not supposed to know where the town is," says Greenfield. "But it kind of reminds me of Philipsburg. They built it so that it's two blocks long and one block wide with a blinking light in the middle of town. It has all these small town elements from towns I've been in across Montana."

Greenfield moved to Los Angeles in 2005 after earning his degree at UM and spending a few years doing summer theater in Philipsburg, Virginia City and Bigfork. He got the gig with "Persons Unknown" in a strangely backward fashion. Remi Aubuchon, executive director for the show and one of Greenfield's friends, decided to model the night manager character loosely on Greenfield's personality.

"He'd been working on the show for a long time," says Greenfield, "and one day he was like, 'You know, there's this character that we've been writing and I've been thinking about it being a guy similar to you: funny and weird.' At the time he just wanted to use me as a model for it and I thought that was cool. But a couple weeks later he asked if I wanted to come read for the part."

It was Greenfield's first major audition, so the situation already seemed surreal. But to add to the weirdness of the experience, the reading lobby was full of actors Greenfield recognized from television shows—Robert Picardo who played Coach Cutlip on "The Wonder Years" and another actor he recognized from HBO's cult Western series "Deadwood"—all of them vying for a role based on him. All Greenfield could think was, "What am I doing down here? I don't even have an agent."

At first it didn't look good. The show was being filmed in Ajusco, Mexico, (though it's not meant to actually take place there) and the producers chose to re-audition the hotel night manager role with Ajusco locals to keep their budget lower. After a couple of weeks of searching, however, they called Greenfield back and finally gave him the part.

The bad news is that, so far, the show hasn't gotten much of a buzz. The first episode aired on a Monday night at 10 p.m., and subsequent episodes were moved to an earlier and more ideal 8 p.m. slot before the show was relegated, finally, to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. Greenfield says that a Saturday evening slot is so not primetime that it might as well be airing at three in the morning.

"NBC didn't really advertise it very well," he says. "I had to call my parents and ask them if they knew the show had moved and they didn't. It's always interesting trying to find out what some big network like that is thinking." He laughs. "You end up shaking your fist at the peacock yelling, 'I don't understand!'"

But the good news is, Greenfield now has an agent, and his role as the hotel night manager was extended from three episodes to 12, giving him major face time on the series with the mysterious plotline.

In the meantime, as the show unfolds on television, Greenfield will be back in Montana to attend the 15th annual Missoula Colony, which is hosted by the Montana Rep and gathers emerging and established professional writers and actors for workshops and readings of new scripts. Greenfield is a veteran of the Colony and he joins Tony award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Marsha Norman (The Color Purple), Ron Fitzgerald ("Friday Night Lights"), Roger Hedden (Bodies, Rest & Motion) and others for public readings throughout the week.

When he returns to L.A., Greenfield plans on reading for more roles as new shows begin casting. There's still a chance that "Persons Unknown" could expand from a mini-series to a full-season show if viewers latch onto it through Netflix and online viewing. It's just that kind of mystery.

"It's definitely set up so that by the time we get to the end that people are satisfied," says Greenfield, "but where there's still room for more story. Not everything is wrapped up. But it depends on our international following, which will take a little while to see. I've got my fingers crossed."

Andy Greenfield gives a staged reading for the Missoula Colony 15 at the Montana Theatre in the PARTV Center, Monday, July 10, at 8 PM. $10. Go to www.montanarep.org for the full Colony schedule. "Persons Unknown" continues every Saturday on NBC at 8 PM.

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