Local actor Michael Papajohn has more than 100 film and TV credits. Already this summer, he’s appeared in the blockbuster “Jurassic World.” Friday, he’ll have a supporting role in the action-comedy “American Ultra,” as the military character Otis.
In the new film, Papajohn shares scenes with principals Jesse Eisenberg, Topher Grace and Connie Britton.
In his 30-year career in the movies, first as a stunt man and later as an actor, Papajohn has drowned in “Titantic,” taken gridiron hits for Adam Sandler in “The Waterboy” and been beaten up by Sylvester Stallone in “Escape Plan.” He also played the murderous carjacker in “Spider-Man 3.”
Baseball brought Alabama native Papajohn to LSU in 1985, a move that later led to his movie career.
Papajohn played center field for the LSU Tigers baseball teams that went to the College World Series in 1986 and ’87. During his final semester at LSU, a casting call went out for athletic extras to appear in the Baton Rouge-filmed football drama “Everybody’s All-American.”
“They said they’d pay us more money if we took hits or delivered hits,” Papajohn said last week. “I had $11 in my checking account. I said, ‘I’ll take those hits.’ ”
Papajohn worked on the “Everybody’s All-American” set as stunt double for the film’s leading man, Dennis Quaid. The director, Taylor Hackford, encouraged him to become a professional stunt man in Hollywood.
Later, when Papajohn got cut from a minor league baseball team during spring training, he remembered Hackford’s suggestion. The director put Papajohn in touch with one of the big names in stunt work, Gary Davis. With former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman’s blessing, Papajohn moved to Los Angeles to become a stuntman.
Papajohn’s dozens of stunt credits include “Mulholland Falls,” “Spawn,” “Starship Troopers” and “Enemy of the State.”
His team spirit served him well in the movie business.
“In Hollywood, they hire people who are team players,” he said. “That fit right in with my background playing ball.”
But stunt work, like athletics, is a young man’s game. A hard hit to the ribs during the filming of a football scene for “The Waterboy” convinced Papajohn to move into acting.
Papajohn sought out the best acting coaches, including the renowned Larry Moss, who had worked with Leonardo DiCaprio, Hilary Swank, Eva Mendes and Helen Hunt. Moss told Papajohn he had an authentic, Gene Hackman-like quality about him, which would keep him working in film. The acting coach also advised Papajohn to study Shakespeare’s classic villain in “Othello,” Iago.
“Little did I know that my bread and butter in the movie business would be bad guy roles,” Papajohn said.
Papajohn’s character in “American Ultra” is more foot soldier than bad guy. His enthusiasm for Max Landis’ “American Ultra” script was such that he kissed the pages after he read it.
On the set, Papajohn admired “American Ultra” director Nima Nourizadeh’s perfectionism. The director, speaking last week from Los Angeles, praised Papajohn.
“He’s dedicated and enthusiastic and such a good guy,” Nourizadeh said. “He’s great in the movie, and he’s funny.”
Since Papajohn’s return to Baton Rouge three years ago, he’s worked more in film and television than ever. His recent work includes in “Deepwater Horizon,” which is currently shooting in New Orleans and Chalmette.
“A lot of my buddies who went on to play big-league baseball, they’re limited on how long they can play the game,” he said. “But in movies, you can get older and continue to be in the business. I love the fact that I can act when I’m 90.”