I’m sure Dallas Buyers Club stars Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey would tell you they won the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor, respectively, thanks in no small part to being able to play off other great actors, like Auburn man Michael O’Neill.
O’Neill, who graduated as Mike Wilson from AU in 1974, has been in a bunch of stuff. Transformers, Traffic, Sea Biscuit, as far as movies go, and he’s probably been in more than 100 TV show episodes over the past 20 years: Grey’s Anatomy, The West Wing, NCIS, tons, often as a recurring character.
In Dallas Buyers Club, he plays FDA agent—he’s good at playing agents—Richard Barkley, the heavy with a heart, who, sure, wants McConaughey’s character, HIV-positive Ron Woodruff, to get the drugs he needs, just as long as he’s not breaking the law.
“I felt like, ‘OK. Here’s a man fighting for his life. I’m not his primary adversary. The disease is his primary adversary, but I’m going to be the guy that makes sure nothing is crossing my border that’s going to jeopardize other people’s lives,’” O’Neill told the O-A News. “A lot of people look at me as the villain in the film, but from my standpoint, I was a man that was doing his job.”
That’s probably how O’Neill approached his first on screen role after leaving Auburn, too: a fisherman in who thought nothing in life could be better than downing a cold brew with his buds after a hard day’s crabbin’ in 1982. Of course, that one was probably a little more lighthearted. And it also just happened to intersect with an Oscar-worthy moment in Auburn football history.
When I interviewed O’Neill years ago for another Auburn-related somethin‘—he’ll always be Mike Wilson to me!—he told me about it. I’ve been waiting for the right time to post it. The day after a small film he starred in came within an inch of winning Best Picture seems like a good one.
“I was living in New York, and I think it was the first commercial I ever shot. It was for Old Milwaukee Beer. I played a commercial fisherman down off the keys, a snow crab fisherman. They needed a guy that looked like he knew what he was doing and fortunately for them I knew how to handle a boat. Because when they hired me they didn’t know that. And it got pretty crazy out in the open water, you know.
“But the tag line on it was my voice over that said “it doesn’t get any better than this.” And of course it was talking about sitting around with old friends and drinking a beer.
“And so when Bo went over the top (in the 1982 Iron Bowl), and they cut to commercial after that, before the ensuing kickoff, it was the Old Milwaukee spot and sure enough, it was my voice going, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” And David Housel called me. I didn’t even know David knew how to reach me. And he called me and said ‘you put a cherry on the cake for Auburn. Man, it doesn’t get any better than this.’ He did something in one of his columns, about an Auburn Man on national TV. Something to that effect. If it wasn’t his column, it was his radio show. He was kind enough to reach out to me afterward. You know, cause I watched the game. I didn’t own a television set, but I watched the game. But the commercial came on and it was my spot and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, man. Fate lined up.'”
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* I Survived the Kopper Kettle Explosion and all I got was this t-shirt
* “Cougar Town” star gets Glom’ed
* Auburn-educated astronaut wanted ‘War Eagle’ to be first words on the moon