West Grad Finds Success in Film

Austin Lyon, an actor, played on the drumline at West.
Austin Lyon, an actor, played on the drumline at West. Photo courtesy of Austin Lyon.

From West to the big screen, graduate Austin Lyon is finding success in an industry that can be difficult to succeed in.

Lyon has acted in films such as “Mordecai”, “Pitch Perfect 2”, “Miles Ahead”, which will all come out next year, along with a role in the movie “Divergent” and TV shows “Pretty Little Liars”, “The Goldbergs” and “Faking It”, to name a few. “I’ve only been out here for like a year and a half and that already is a very very fast process of success based on the norm,” said Lyon.

Lyon, who graduated from West in 2008, said he went on to study Safety Management at UCM. Following graduation, he said he worked for Nationwide Insurance in Chicago for around eight months.

In college, however, Lyon was in some YouTube videos that he said “kind of got really popular.”

“My manager at the time saw the videos and asked If I would be interested in coming out and acting for a living,” said Lyon, “I was like, ‘is that a real possibility?’ I decided I was 22 and should probably give it a try.”

Before his work in Los Angeles, Lyon said he hadn’t had a lot of acting experience other than in YouTube films. In high school, he said was involved in drumline and he took art classes.  “It’s very unconventional the way I did it,” said Lyon, “I had never had any acting classes or done any acting.”

His lack of experience, however, was not a setback. “I acted as if it was me if I were in the situation,” said Lyon, “I think I lucked out with a little bit of natural ability and not having these technical things in my head all the time.”

Art Teacher Mark Rice, who had Lyon in class, said “I knew him when he was a freshman, he was an entertainer then. I had a hard time teaching the class because he was always entertaining. He could be all of these different characters.”

“Mr. Rice was a big influence in terms of the creative side of things,” said Lyon.

Another teacher who Lyon said was an influence was Dr. Robert Rossiter, who now coordinates the IB program at North. “I think Rossiter was the biggest influence in teaching me the most about hard work and not slacking off. He really makes it worth his time, in terms of work ethic alone.”

Lyon said that his work ethic and interpersonal skills are what set him apart from his acting peers, “their work ethic is generally really bad.”

Austin Lyon graduated in 2008.
This is Austin Lyon’s yearbook photo from his Senior year in 2008.

“Being from the midwest is a huge leg up. I go into so many casting rooms and I’ll do my reading for a part and they’ll be like, ‘where are you from’ and I’ll say, ‘Kansas City’ and they’ll say they can tell,” said Lyon, “people really love people from the Midwest out here.”

Lyon said that his communication skills that stem from his upbringing have helped with networking, an important part of acting. “People out here are really really not genuine. You meet people and they look at you like competition. It’s such a different mentality that the Midwest doesn’t have.”

“Just to get an audition for like a 5 line co-star role requires making relationships with casting directors,” said Lyon.

“Everyone out here is very jaded and like no one is very impressed by anything. Being from the Midwest, it’s all very cool to me,” said Lyon.

Lyon said he has stayed humble. “I have a very different path to how I got here. It’s been somewhat easy in terms of not having to struggle. Having it been so easy, I haven’t been tainted with a lot of negativity. I’m very grateful for how easy it’s been. I would never complain or put it in someones face because it’s so not the norm.”

Lyon said another reason for his success was having an agent before even moving to Los Angeles, “having an agent is half the battle.”

“It’s like the worst industry ever to get out here. I have so many friends who have been out here for years and don’t have representation. It’s very very unforgiving,” said Lyon.

Lyon said, “people’s reactions are huge back home, they freak out. It’s like a huge deal to them. Being out here does kind of taint your view of what’s cool and what’s normal. It’s refreshing to go home and hear that people are really excited about it.”

Connor Lyon, Austin’s younger brother and a Senior at West, said Lyon “lives a great life. He’s very successful for what he’s doing.” Austin said, “my family has been really supportive.”

For those interested in acting, Austin said, “the best thing you could do is to keep acting as much as you could and put it on tape and put it on YouTube, because that’s literally the only reason I’m out here.”

“Anything that you have done that puts your performance on film is so much more valuable. You won’t get anywhere without demo reel,” said Austin, “do it all the time even if you feel like it’s not a professional quality product.”

“Getting in to certain casting directors is tough. Its not like an open door. They have to see you doing work before and bring you in,” said Austin.

For his future, Austin said “The goal is not necessarily to be famous but to have a healthy, good lifestyle paid by acting. I’ve definitely hit the goal that I made when I came out here, I’m paying my rent.”

“I’m not at a point right now where I should be cocky,” said Austin, “I understand that there’s a lot further to go.”

“I would love to be a lead in a feature film,” said Austin, “I think I will make it to that point based on how long I’ve been here. I’ve been in the top two to three for multiple life changing projects.”

Austin said in the acting industry, “if you make it, you make it really really big time. It is a grossly overpaid industry which is great if you’re the one getting grossly overpaid.”

“What I’m doing right now is a dream,” said Austin, “I’m confident 100% that this is what I’m going to be doing for forever. Every time I work on something it solidifies that I’m not going to go back to insurance.”