HawkPride: From architecture to acting -- on a national level
HFC had a huge impact on alumnus John Toon’s overall career as an actor.
“I was in the architecture program for about a year at HFC (then Henry Ford Community College). I transferred to the theatre department, and that’s when things started clicking for me. I started taking theatre classes and doing plays. I fell in love with acting. I made many friends in that program who have been very supportive of me, and we’re in touch to this day,” he recalled.
Toon is currently supporting himself as a working actor in Brooklyn, NY.
“I haven’t had a 9-5 job for about 7 years,” he said.
So far, he has appeared on American Horror Story, The Equalizer, FBI, The Food That Built America, The Plot Against America,and I, Witness. He has also appeared in numerous commercials, including the well-received ad for Pooph, an odorless pet odor eliminator spray. There’s a funny scene where he even sprays Pooph in his mouth (see below).
“I got a cast a day before they shot it. I got a call and was asked if I was available the next day. You make sure you’re available. If you’re available, your chances go up,” said Toon. “I had no idea it would be as big as it is. It’s been seen in all areas of the United States. It accurately showcased who I am as a person, as opposed to just being a commercial for a product.”
Hilarious “Pooph” ad featuring Toon
Gerry Dzuiblinski: a mentor and role model
Born in Dearborn, Toon is the middle of three. His sister, Amy; his brother, William; and his father, John, all attended HFC as well. Toon enrolled at HFC after graduating from Southgate Anderson High School in 2006. He tried acting on a whim.
“I’m not quite sure how that came about. I was going through the motions with architecture. In my acting class, I was having a good time. I didn’t mind doing the homework and reading the plays. I didn’t consider it work – it was fun. It just made sense to me. I started doing all theatre classes after that. I looked forward to doing to those classes more than any other classes. I never did theatre in high school. Architecture wasn’t creatively fulfilling for me in the way that acting was. I didn’t know what I planned to do with it, I just liked the classes. I remember having conversations in the parking lot with my classmates where we would say, ‘One day, we’ll make it big.’”
Toon, who appeared in The Odyssey during his HFC days, considers the late HFC theatre instructor Gerry Dzuiblinski his mentor.
“Gerry was our guide,” he said. “I looked up to him very much. I remember how passionate he was about acting and teaching. He was my mentor and a great guy. I had plenty of great conversations with him. I appreciate what he did for me and how hard he made you work. He introduced me to theatre. I still have conversations about him with several former classmates to this day. I really miss him.”
Leap of faith
Transferring to Lake Superior State University, Toon earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in speech and drama. He appeared onstage in Rumors, Leading Ladies, Carousel, and Dial “M” for Murder. After graduation, he spent a year doing theatre in Sault Ste. Marie.
In 2014, Toon took a leap of faith and moved to New York City and break into the acting business. He roomed with fellow HFC alumnus and actor James Hodges for two years and did odd jobs to support himself as he auditioned. He also appeared onstage in theaters that were off-Broadway, including The Performers.
“People thought it was a suicide mission,” confessed Toon. “I admit I was scared when I first arrived in New York and was worried that I’d be eaten alive. I thought about quitting and attending grad school, but I had a lot of support and encouragement from my family – especially my dad – and my friends. That forces you to be stronger and to do better.”
He continued: “Self-doubt is a real thing. Some days are good, other days aren’t so good. You just have to hang in there for the long haul. It’s so easy to give up, especially when you audition 100 times and don’t book anything. You’ve got to keep going and gut it out. You have to be willing to take the hits and keep trying; you have to be willing to suffer for your art. Cliché as it sounds, if you have a dream and believe in yourself, don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise. If you keep doing it, keep working at it, it’s bound to happen.”
A very strange process
Toon had his first professional headshots done upon arrival in New York City. He applied to every single role he could via Backstage and started getting auditions. His first on-camera role was in Blue City.
“It’s a very strange process. You can send your headshot to 100 people and only one or two will reply,” he said. “Once you have footage of yourself acting on-camera, it’s a snowball effect. That footage gets you another project, and that footage gets you another project.”
Toon also created his own content. With filmmaker Austin Greene, he has done comedy sketches since 2015, which can be seen on the YouTube channel called Austintatious. He also does sketches on TikTok called the The Paparazzi Boys.
“People hire us now to basically be their paparazzi,” said Toon. “The videos look so good. They’ve accumulated 50 million views in the past six months. They’re very funny videos.”
Keeping it in perspective
So far, Toon has shared the screen with Oscar nominee Queen Latifah (Chicago), Oscar nominee Winona Ryder (Little Women), Billie Lourd (Scream Queens), and John Turturro (The Big Lebowski).
“Those were pretty cool moments. I didn’t think it was possible. It was like this moment of ‘I think I can actually do this,’” he said. “It’s great to work with up-and-coming actors and exchange stories, then work with them years down the line when they make it – ‘We’re still doing this. We’re still here.’ That’s a pretty amazing feeling.”
Toon has some specific goals he'd like to achieve. He would like to work with Oscar-winning directors Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth). He would also like to work with Oscar winner Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can), Doug Jones (The Shape of Water), Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), and actor/director Guy Ritchie (Snatch). He would also like to appear on The Last of Us, HBO’s zombie series.
“It would be pretty cool to be nominated for an Oscar or a Golden Globe. That seems like an unreachable goal, but…” said Toon. “I’m still here, I have good health, I have a good mindset, I have a roof over my head, and I keep going. I’m totally fine with life as it is currently because I am doing what I love. I’m pretty confident, and I believe in myself to know that something’s gonna happen. You just have to keep envisioning and keep working to get to where you want.”