You might have caught the Romney/Obama sketches that Jimmy Fallon's been doing recently on Late Night.
Fallon plays Mitt Romney. And the guy who plays Barack Obama?
He's Dion Flynn -- a UAlbany alum and a friend of Fallon's from back in his Saint Rose days.
Flynn and Fallon met in the mid-90s on the set of the short-lived TV show Metroland's Loose Camera. Back then Flynn says the pair would wander off into the woods with a big bag of books and just create characters. "I'd read one sentence and Jimmy would read another and we just didn't stop creating. And 18 years later we both just happened to look like these two presidential candidates and we're standing next to each other and we're still creating."
Here they are together in one of the sketches from that show:
Flynn has some fond memories of the Capital Region. He credits a professor at Schenectady County Community College with first recognizing his acting talent, and the UAlbany theater program with helping him develop that talent. He notes sadly, though, that both programs have been cut back significantly in recent years.
Flynn left Albany in 1996 for NYU graduate school, but comes back through the Capital Region from time to time to teach master classes in improvisation for The Mop & Bucket Company. He remembers Albany as a place that had "an abundance of culture."
"I'd lived in a lot of places before I came here. I was born in Detroit and raised in Maryland. In the army I lived in Korea and Colorado, California and Seattle. But there was just such a great, artistic vibe in Albany. There was the QEII which was doing a lot of punk rock at the time, and they let me do this production of Edward Albee's Zoo Story there. They were into it."
Flynn and Fallon had been in touch on and off since they each left the Capital Region. There was an accidental meeting on a Manhattan street right after Fallon first auditioned for SNL, a few notes and some unrecognized "we should get together" plans.
Then last summer a friend of Flynn's was promoting a film on Late Night and brought him along. "Jimmy comes in and lights up and makes such a fuss! He tells everybody 'this is the funniest guy I know.' I was so flattered," Flynn says.
A few months later Flynn was doing characters on Late Night. "I play Randy Williams the animal expert and The Great Benito -- a well meaning, if slightly hackish magician."
And then came the Obama impressions, something he was reluctant to do four years ago.
"A few years ago SNL was looking for someone to play Obama and all my friends in the improv community said I should audition, but he was the first black president and I didn't want to try. But now it's different -- he's been on the Fallon show."
But while he shared a few things in common with the president -- a similar build and some background (Flynn also has an African American father and was raised by his white mother) -- he didn't have an Obama impression. When the studio ordered a test he went into what he describes as a "Daniel Day Lewis-style immersion program," studying everything he could about President Obama's look, mannerisms, and rhetoric. "There's the cadence, the speech patterns, and the flat A," he says, before launching into an uncanny impression of the President.
"Now it's tremendous fun," Flynn laughs, "but it took three appearances before it actually became fun. It was very stressful at first. I got the script for the second one five minutes before we went on the air. They used cue cards and I'm not skilled with them yet. But that crew at Late Night -- they are so professional. From the makeup women who make me look like him, to the costume people who do exactly the watch and wedding ring he wears, to the camera people -- everyone is so supportive. And all that support lends itself to a sound performance."
Flynn says he's scheduled to do another turn as President Obama on Fallon's show tomorrow night.
So is he hoping President Obama will win another term so he gets to keep this gig?
"The simple answer is, yes," he laughs. The more complicated answer?
"I have a sense of relevancy and timing. People won't really care about the candidates as much as they do right now. People want to see it when it's in the news. I want my work to be truthful and relevant. If people want to see more of this, then this is what I'll do. If they decide they want to see something else, I'll find a way to do that too."
screengrab: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
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