Wake Forest High School junior Gunnar Carrigan studies film, even when there is no football game to prep for.
When he’s not getting ready for the next Friday night, he just might be preparing for his next role.
The 6-foot wide receiver splits time between football and acting. His latest on-screen project is a comedy series pilot produced by HBO, he said.
“Both of them take time,” said Carrigan, 16. “I come out here every day, and I practice with my team. Same goes for acting. If you have a big script or you’ve got a lot of lines, you’ve got to study, you’ve got to be alone and you’ve got to concentrate. That pertains to football, too.”
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Carrigan, who’s playing his first varsity season with the back-to-back state runner-up Cougars, was introduced to acting by his mother, who has an active career with the art. The mother-son pair is managed by the same agency, Carrigan said.
Carrigan has been acting since he was 12 and playing football for much longer, as he started in youth leagues as a child. He’s been in commercials and in 2013 was featured in five episodes of “Banshee,” a drama series on Cinemax.
After he completed his first audition four years ago – a success, since he was signed to an agency – the thought of acting grew on him.
“It’s just really fun getting to travel,” Carrigan said. “Of course, school comes first. If I get an audition, and I’ve been getting many auditions recently, I put school first. I’ll go to school and may sometimes have to go to an audition during practice, because just the timing. I go talk to (Wake Forest head) coach (Reggie) Lucas, and he understands everything and how it could be a good career for me.”
About a three weeks ago, Carrigan had to travel to Charleston, S.C., the site of the HBO pilot.
It interfered with football practice, but Carrigan was back in workouts soon enough, getting ready for a Week 3 game against Southeast Raleigh. The Cougars are 4-0 this season and open conference play Friday.
Lucas said he only found out about Carrigan’s acting through his teammates.
“As far as him doing that (acting) and playing football, it hasn’t been a distraction,” Lucas said. “It’s kind of an inconvenience, but I think it’s a unique situation. I want him to obviously pursue that career aspect but still enjoy being part of his high school football team.”
Carrigan said his teammates happily accepted his role off the field.
“They think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’ll get back from doing a gig, and they’ll be like, ‘Oh man, you gotta get me a part,’ or ‘All right, when you go down there, tell the director about me.’ ”
As different as they appear on the surface, Carrigan said acting and football have similarities.
When he’s studying the Wake Forest playbook, his total focus shifts to the football blueprint. When he’s studying lines for an upcoming role, he gives his undivided attention to the script.
Both activities, Carrigan said, provide meaningful lessons.
“Football gets you that discipline,” he said. “You learn that from your coaches getting on you and from working hard. Acting, you have to be … focused. Normally, when I study my lines, I’ll be in a quiet room, I’ll have the door shut.”
Though Carrigan may ultimately pursue a career in acting, the team’s goals – especially this season – are equally as important to him right now.
The Cougars were last year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA runner-up, and it’s clear they want to get back to state, perhaps further.
But they take it slow.
“We’re not talking about the state championships,” Carrigan said. “That’s way in December. We have to stay focused on Friday nights. (We have to) study the film, get the workout on the field and get everything right to come out here and produce what we do every Friday, not just for the fans but for the community.
“We want to give the community something to talk about.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan