Susan McPhail steps into limelight

Posted on Feb 3 2015 - 8:47am by Montana Byrd 
Susan McPhail poses for a photo in front of Malco in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. (DM Photo | Cady Herring)

Susan McPhail poses for a photo in front of Malco in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. (DM Photo | Cady Herring)

Oxford resident Susan McPhail has been in the background supporting her husband, “True Detective” star Johnny McPhail, and his career for over a decade. Now, it is her turn to beat Ben Mendelsohn in a game of poker and hook up with Nick Nolte after a trip to a laundromat.

These events were, of course, fictional and occur in the feature films “Mississippi Grind,” which stars Ryan Reynolds, and “A Walk in the Woods,” featuring Robert Redford as a member of the cast.

McPhail recently wrapped forthcoming film, “Battlecreek,” under the direction of Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood.

Daniel Perea, creator of the Facebook group “Johnny McPhail has a Posse,” has even created a similar page for Susan McPhail. Even though her group has more than 2000 members less than her husband’s page does, there could not have been a better time to create the page.

“By complete coincidence, Susan’s career as a screen actor just happened to really start taking off after that,” Perea said. “So by dumb luck on my part, it was fortuitous timing.”

“I feel really really lucky since I’ve only been doing this for a little over a year,” McPhail said.

Even though McPhail has only just started, there are some who noticed her talent long ago.

“Susan is very talented, and it is not surprising that she is getting cast in so many films as she has a raw talent that I spotted when I first met her and others are now seeing,” said filmmaker and family friend Melanie Addington. Addington is one of four directors of the annual Oxford Film Festival and the founder of a local film equipment rental, Oxfilm.

When asked why she just now started acting after being exposed to the industry for years, McPhail told the story of how she met well-known casting director Tracy Kilpatrick in New Orleans when her husband filmed his role in “True Detective.”

“We hit it off and talked about girl things,” McPhail said. “She asked me if I was also into acting, but I told her I didn’t have a resume, and I was overweight.”

Accordingly to McPhail, Kilpatrick said, “You do not need a resume. You’ve got me.”

After this meeting, a series of events occurred that helped start McPhail’s career.

Her husband’s agent, Claudia Speicher, signed her without even meeting her face-to-face.  Speicher helped book McPhail her role of poker-playing Donna in “Mississippi Grind,” but before McPhail’s scenes were filmed, Speicher passed away.

Speicher was well-respected in the business because of her clients’ exceptional talents.  After her passing, McPhail did not know if she would ever be signed by a representative again. However, the McPhails were soon contacted by People Store, a renowned agency based in Atlanta, Georgia.

They were told the agency was planning to expand to New Orleans and agreed to sign any of Speicher’s talents that needed representation. McPhail and her husband both signed on immediately.

McPhail described the events that lead up to her being signed by People Store as “freaky” and said, “I wasn’t questioning it.”

With People Store, McPhail is being considered for more roles in more places. Before being signed with them, McPhail said she considered buying another house closer to New Orleans. With People Store, however, McPhail and her husband are sent to auditions throughout the South, and they both agree that Oxford is the most convenient place for their family.

“I’ve had to go to Atlanta – for just five minutes basically – get back in the car and drive back to Oxford,” McPhail said. “I’ve had to go to New Orleans for a callback where basically you just meet the director, go through the scene and get in the car and drive home.”

When asked about how it is possible for people in this area to secure acting jobs without living in either New York or California, Susan’s husband, Johnny McPhail said, “The industry changed in the last couple of years. Hollywood has come south.”

The McPhails said being able to stay in Oxford was a blessing because Oxford is where they call home, and it is where they raised their three children: Courtney, 29, Andrew, 27, and Ashley, 27.

“Ashley is diagnosed with autism, so I have had, over the years, gotten a lot of training, and being a special education teacher,” Susan McPhail said. “I’ve gotten a lot of possibilities to go through training. I’m considered an expert of autism in North Mississippi.”

In addition to McPhail’s research, her husband Johnny decided to stop working in order to give Ashley the amount of time she needed to be successful.

“We weren’t so much concerned with how she got it or the causes of it,” Susan McPhail said. “The only thing that mattered was what do we do to make sure she has the best life she can.”

With this close family bond, some may have assumed there would be competition in the house once Johnny was not the only actor in the household. Johnny agreed that there was friendly competition in the house, but he is excited for her.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Johnny McPhail said. “It just tickles me to death.”

Montana Byrd