Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ohio amputee builds new acting career

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Fairfield actor John W. Lawson can finally play a good guy, which could be his ticket to more Hollywood roles.

A double amputee from severe burns 23 years ago, Lawson will shoot a speaking role on NBC's "Law & Order: SVU" in New York on Wednesday. He plays a passenger on a dial-a-bus for people with disabilities.

"All I know is that I'm not the bad guy. Most of the time I play the bad guy," says Lawson, well known in Butler County for his involvement with theater and the Butler County Visitor's Bureau in West Chester Township.

Lawson has appeared in TV and movies as an evil priest, a thug and a cult member. He doesn't give his age.

"But I have an age range," he says quickly. "I play between low 40s and low 50s."

Last month he was a drug dealer in "Super," an action-comedy feature film starring Rainn Wilson ("The Office) as a mild-mannered husband who becomes a superhero called the Crimson Bolt after his wife gets involved with drugs.

"Super," his second movie in four months, was shot with Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler and Ellen Page in Shreveport, La.

In October he played a fireworks dealer who had lost his arms from the pyrotechnics in "Meet Monica Velour" starring Kim Cattrall and Brian Dennehy.

Lawson also appeared as a veteran on "The Kill Point," a 2007 Spike TV drama shot in Pittsburgh with John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg.

His "SVU" scenes, to air in spring, will be his second appearance on NBC this season.

The North Carolina native was a background body double on the long-running "Law & Order" last fall - which fueled his other passion, as an activist for the Performers with Disabilities campaign by the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

"They had hired an able-bodied actor as a day player on 'Law & Order' who sat on his leg and put his arm behind his back to play an amputee," says Lawson, who played the actor's double in background scenes shot at night.

Lawson will talk about the experience at a Department of Labor public hearing in Chicago on Thursday for the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Acting and singing pulled Lawson out of his funk after he lost his hands - and later his arms and then his marriage - after a 1987 North Carolina industrial accident. He was painting a cotton mill water tank when electrical lines arced onto the aluminum extension pole for his paint roller.

After a long recovery, he got serious about a drama career when he was asked to perform at a North Carolina dinner theater. He had majored in drama at Milligan College in northeastern Tennessee.

He fell in love with Deborah, the pianist at the dinner theater. They married and had two children. The family moved to Fairfield when Deborah was transferred by Champion Paper to Hamilton in 1993.

Deborah died of breast cancer in 2001. The fatal illness inspired their daughter, Whitney, to become a figure skater on MTV's "Made" in 2008.

With Whitney, 18, at Miami University, and son Jason, 29, working for Duke Energy, Lawson plans to sell the house and move to Los Angeles.

"I can focus on my acting career now that I'm an empty nester. It's been on hold for 29 years so I could raise kids, and take care of a sick wife," he says.

"Desperate Housewives" and other L.A.-based TV shows have wanted him for small roles, but they won't pay for his flights, he says.

"There are more opportunities for me out there, and I can be more involved with the Performers With Disabilities' civil rights campaign," he says.

"Being on 'SVU' should help me in a lot of ways. 'Law & Order' is such an institution. It adds some credibility."