Every Wednesday morning, 51-year-old actor Henry Czerny (The Pink Panther, The Tudors) can be found volunteering as a crossing guard at Mar Vista Elementary School, where his son, Cameron, is in second grade.
"Regardless of what happens after 8:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, I feel useful already," Czerny said. "We humans drop the thing that is precious to us off and it's secured behind the gates of the schoolyard and then we have to rush off to work. We forget that there are hundreds of precious things making their way to school, and that seems to be off the radar. Therefore, we have people helping parents drop their kids off [at school]."
Volunteering runs in the Czerny family. Henry's wife, Claudine, is co-president of the Mar Vista School Enrichment Group (MVSEG), the school's booster club. The Czernys started going to the MVSEG meetings three years ago, when Cameron started at Mar Vista in kindergarten. The group was looking for crossing guards and Czerny volunteered.
Cameron likes that his dad's a crossing guard. "I get to see all the people crossing and I get to see how my dad does it," he said. And Czerny likes that too.
"My favorite part is putting myself close to the middle of this family community," he said. "I'll spend 15 minutes a day watching families that I know and have come to know, taking kids to school and making their way back home. It's 30 seconds at a time, but there's a greeting and there's a reminder of a community ... while helping people cross the street."
But there's no escaping that Czerny is still an actor and yes, he admits he does occasionally get recognized by the kids, especially when a film comes out or is re-aired.
The Pink Panther is family-friendly, but it's mostly the fourth and fifth graders who have seen his other films, such Clear and Present Danger, Mission Impossible and The A-Team. "They get a kick out of seeing somebody they've seen on screen somewhere," said Czerny.
Czerny recommends that aspiring actors "know who you are as much as you can and love what you do."
And his advice for crossing guards?
"Walk to the center of the street, confidently. Hold the stop sign up as you step off the sidewalk, not when you get into the middle of the street. And keep the sign up until you are on the sidewalk again. Do it all with confidence or they will drive right by you," he instructed.
Acting—and crossing—is all about confidence and body language, he explains. "About five years ago, almost the last place I imagined I would be was on the crosswalk on Wednesday mornings at a neighborhood school. I am actually quite thrilled with what I get to process on set and in Mar Vista. It's a cool, almost dichotomous but linked set of circumstances."
A Toronto native, Czerny started acting in grade school. The class clown, he found himself cast in a show in fifth grade. "I remember for one reason or another being horrified, and that horror galvanized me and forced me to work hard and not make a fool of myself," he recalled.
In high school there was a teacher who put on musicals, so Czerny "went on to be terrified for another five years doing musicals." Then came National Theatre School in Montreal, the theater, and then in 1991, his first film: The Boys of St. Vincent's. He officially moved to Los Angeles in 1994.
"I was hesitant to come to L.A., because I was a theater actor for a decade and here was this thing called film and television, which was acting, but it was a different set of muscles," he said. "Lo and behold, I am still here."
Thanks to Mar Vista Mom's Blog for introducing Mar Vista Patch to Henry Czerny.