Gary Lee Miller is humble beyond measure, but he is also the type of person who becomes very focused when he wants something or if he sees an opportunity that interests him. Once he is locked in on something, he tends to pursue it to the end, even if he doesn't know what the end will be.
"I've always been that way," he says.
So, it shouldn't surprise anyone who knows him that a simple desire to, at best, sit in the crowd during the partial filming of the Jackie Robinson biopic "42" at Engel Stadium 10 years ago has led to a mini second career that includes nearly two dozen roles as an extra in movie and television projects. He is also now an author of both a screenplay and a book and has his sights set on seeing those turned into a movie.
Miller actually ended up as a paid extra in "42" working as an umpire on the project, and that experience opened the door for the other opportunities. Over the years he would take time away from his job in franchise consulting to act, and he's worked on such projects as CBS' "MacGyver," HBO's "Watchmen" and the feature films "Sully" and "Avengers: Endgame."
"Whenever they need someone who is tall, thin, old and ugly, they call me," Miller says with a laugh.
He laughs at the idea that those words might actually be on the Rolodexes of Hollywood casting directors under his name, but adds, "They might be, but underneath it, it probably says, 'He shows up on time and does what he is told.'
His two most recent projects include small parts on two Fox series: a member of a hospital board of directors in "The Resident" and as an aging country music star in "Monarch," which premieres in the fall and stars Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins.
Nearly all of his bit roles are filmed on projects being shot within driving distance of Chattanooga, and he usually spends one day - two at the most - on set. He shot scenes for both of the Fox series in Georgia: "The Resident" in Conyers and "Monarch" in Macon.
While these small parts are fun for Miller, he says he has no expectation that his movie career will continue. "I always assume the last one is my last one," he says.
They are not his only foray into the entertainment world, however. In typical fashion, he keeps finding other side hustles. They started as a way to deal with the loss of his wife, Sharee, who died in 2019.
During the pandemic, Miller wrote several songs dedicated to his late wife, and then a few others. At the suggestion of "42" director Brian Helgeland, with whom Miller continues to communicate, Miller has now turned those songs into a screenplay.
The wife of another friend who happens to work in the book publishing world read the play and suggested Miller write a book based on it. The book, which is available in digital form now online at garyleemillerbooks.com, and elsewhere, comes out in March. It has earned a Firebird book award for Southern Fiction (winner) and New Fiction (second place), among other honors.
Called "Finding Grace," it is the story of a young woman, Judith, who is urged by her dying grandmother, Grace, to visit her. Judith has to travel by bus from California to Nashville. Along the way, she discovers so much about herself and life in general.
"One of the things besides a way of working though my grief while writing 'Finding Grace' was using it as a vehicle to introduce a wide variety of themes that we, as a society and many individuals, face every day," Miller says.
"My characters each have different challenges, such as poverty, bullying, physical and mental abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, racial issues, serious disease, end-of-life caretaking, grief and loss, and others."
Miller marvels at the doors that have opened for him over the years, but credits it both to his determination and the fact, he says, "there is an angel on my shoulder." Writing song lyrics helped him grieve.
He insists that he had "not the first clue" how to write a screenplay or a book, but he found examples of each and did his best to figure them out. The screenplay for "Shawshank Redemption," for example, gave him clues on how to start. "And when I sat down to write, the words just came so fast I couldn't keep up some days."
He says he didn't write every day, or even every week, but when he did, the angel seemed to be there whispering in his ear.
He also credits Adele Booysen, an editor at Morgan James Publishing, with helping him develop and format the book properly. Miller says while he wasn't able to take the actual bus trip, he was able to take it virtually thanks to the internet and that helped him describe the stops along the way, which are as much characters in the book as the people.
It's just one more example of the "help" he has had along the way.
"So much has happened to me that I just can't explain," he says. "I thank God every day for the blessings he has granted me that I don't understand."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.