Actor Gary Ray Moore turned his cancer diagnosis into both a career opportunity and a way to help others in a similar fight.
Moore underwent chemotherapy in 2017 after being diagnosed with Stage 4 T-cell Anaplastic Large Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A week after his last chemo session he answered a casting call for what he calls “a bad dude” in the film “Legal Action.” The actor had lost all of his hair from the treatments, toughening up his otherwise pleasant appearance. He shot the producers a smart phone portrait and landed the gig.
“I probably shouldn’t have taken this role,” Moore says, laughing. “They could tell I wasn’t full blown Gary … I was sweating profusely [but] I made it. And I had a blast.”
The film shot close enough to his South Carolina home that his wife could drive him to and from the set. Co-star Tommy Flanagan of “Sons of Anarchy” fame kindly signed autographs for Moore’s nurses during the production.
Moore also used his cancer recovery to enlighten those suffering from similar health woes. For example, he shot a video for his YouTube channel with “Legal Action’s” makeup director on how chemo patients can draw on eyebrows.
“It’s amazing when you open up for real how other people just suddenly open up, too,” he says. “I had scores of people just messaging me and texting me and caling me, ‘thanks so much for telling us about this. My mom’s going through this now’ … thanks.”
That selfless spirit earned Moore the first Stephanie Digeno Courage Award last month. The Asheville Film Festival gave him the honor, named after Stephanie Digeno, who is the daughter of actress Anna Nalepka. Digeno lost her cancer fight in 2016.
Moore is healthy now and raring to find new roles. It’s a hunger that started burning long ago, watching his older sister entertain crowds with her ventroliquism act.
“That’s how I got the [acting] bug,” he says. Performing did something else, though.
“I’ve really used it as an escape … from friends, school, family, whatever was going on. I could go to acting and become another person,” he says. “That’s what drove me and keeps me in it.”
Moore’s screen credits include the pilot episode of “House of Cards,” “The Bill Collector” with Danny Trejo and steady voice over work. He also hosted the international TV show, “The Help at Home Live Show,” for seven years.
Next up for Moore? He’ll soon start shooting the indie feature “Just Grace” co-starring Karen Abercrombie. His cancer fight helped rearrange his professional priorities.
Before cancer, “I lived for my next audition or next time on set,” he says. A fellow patient offered him another path. “She came to me right away, saw I was diagnosed [with cancer] and told me this -- live day by day. Some days you can’t live day by day, so just live moment by moment. It’s so true.”
“I don’t even care where my next audition is coming from. I’m here, I’m alive. I just had two grandchildren born … that is more important than booking the next movie or whatever.”
Moore says he’s seen another side of Hollywood over the years, one that rarely gets a closeup in the latest entertainment headlines. He recalls working with Trejo on “The Bill Collector” and bonding with the “Machete” star.
“He comes off as a big, bad dude, but he’s just a big Teddy bear,” says Moore, adding the actor chatted with his son for 10 minutes on the phone while the two were between takes. “That made [my son’s] day. He’s that kind of guy,” he says of Trejo.
Moore also has the kindest words for Oscar nominee Robert Forster of “Jackie Brown” fame. The two worked together on “The Trial,” and Forster spontaneously gave Moore a gift as a way of acknowledging their screen time together.
“He’s one of the nicest actors I’ve ever worked with … It’s so easy to act with great actors. They give you so much you forget you’re even acting because they’re so real.”