It is through adversity that the true quality of one’s character is often revealed, as is demonstrated by professional actor Jeremy Raymond’s (Music ’02) story. Having been born with a rare skeletal condition that made him an outcast as a child, Raymond’s exposure to music, acting and martial arts allowed him to discover the incredible depths of his personal potential. His talent, character and ceaseless desire to grow as an artist have made him truly stand out on both stage and screen. Based out of Vancouver, this native of Cranbrook, B.C. landed a feature role in J. J. Abrams’ 2012 blockbuster film, Star Trek: Into Darkness, showcasing his skills alongside some of the biggest names in the industry.
A challenging journey
Raymond’s condition is called cleidocranial dysostosis, a rare skeletal disorder primarily characterized by developmental irregularities of the cranium and collarbone, though these can be accompanied by other bone irregularities as well. As an infant, Raymond’s skull was essentially the size of an adult’s, and his hips developed out of alignment, which required the use of braces to correct.
Despite the fact that he was able to run and play like other children, periodic visits to see medical specialists in Toronto, the United States and even Israel always served as a reminder of just how different Raymond was from his schoolmates. “Since it’s such a rare condition, even the leading specialists didn’t really have a lot of experience with it,” explains Raymond. “As a result, some of these doctors painted a really grim picture of what I should expect.”
While many of the doctors’ prognoses failed to materialize, Raymond began to experience difficulties around age 12 with his primary teeth not falling out properly, requiring him to undergo several invasive dental surgeries over many years to come. “The physical impact and the recovery time needed after that first major operation was far more than I expected,” he says. “It forced me to quickly accept the realities of my predicament.”
Outside - looking in
Though his condition provided several physical challenges, the psychological impact was particularly significant. After being treated by doctors as a subject of medical interest and enduring the comments made by schoolyard bullies, Raymond could not help but feel that he was an outsider. As a result, he became adept at burying his feelings as a survival mechanism, and consequently, his self-confidence suffered. However, through his exposure to music, acting and martial arts, Raymond began the process of discovering that what made him different also made him extraordinary.
Raymond discovered his love for both music and acting in junior high school, high school, and became the self-described “showiest concert band drummer ever.” School recitals would often see him introducing songs while impersonating Ringo Starr, a performance that went over so well that “Ringo” would introduce even the non-Beatles songs. With his confidence on the rise, it was through his high school choir that Raymond would truly find his musical niche. “My sister said they were really short on males, so I auditioned. Much to my surprise, people I respected were saying that I was good! This was a sharp change in my identity, and I started singing and playing with any group I could just to engage with the audience.”
While music and acting provided Raymond a channel for expression, he also developed an early fascination with martial arts, which was inspired by his desire to defend himself from bullies and to find an outlet for his frustrations. After some judo training, Raymond learned how to handle himself and developed the self-control needed to avoid violence. “Martial art was the first sport that I was really any good at,” he says. “Natural athletes never had to work hard to succeed. I had to learn through failure and to love that failure.” Raymond’s dedication to combat sports has built up his confidence tremendously over the years, with his consequent physical development being instrumental in landing many acting roles.
Fresh out of high school, Raymond’s ever-increasing passion for music and singing brought him to Edmonton, where he would spend the next two years immersed in the MacEwan University Music program. The experience was indeed eye-opening, which proved to be incredibly beneficial for the young artist. “I learned to pretty much set my watch by things going haywire,” he jokes. “Any kind of artistic project has elements of unpredictability, and the university really taught us how to roll with that. Whether it was tracking down players for a coffee-house performance, organizing rehearsals or dealing with some kind of last-minute crisis, we learned how to adapt and get it done.”
Raymond is quick to praise the talents and teaching style of music instructor Charles Austin. Describing Austin’s musical ability as a mastery of technique and theory, Raymond was inspired by the way his instructor would enter class and sit at the piano, gradually silencing the roomful of students as he played. “To have a teacher model simple mastery really struck me, both as a musician and an actor. We give gold statues to actors for doing the same thing: simplicity delivered effectively. I got a lesson in that at MacEwan.”
After graduating, Raymond was determined to pursue his dreams of professional acting. After being turned down by every theatre company in Edmonton, he remarkably landed a feature role in 2004 in a movie entitled The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie. Working alongside Hollywood luminaries James Caan and Gena Rowlands, Raymond’s performance earned him a Gemini nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Production or Mini-Series. After relocating to Vancouver, the next several years saw Raymond paying his dues through small bit parts while tirelessly honing his craft. Then one day in early 2012, he got one heck of a phone call.
J. J. Abrams noticed Raymond purely by chance when Abrams’ father, Gerald W. Abrams, used his son’s studio to edit footage for a film. The senior Abrams had produced a film in which Raymond had a small role, and Raymond’s 90-second scene caught the attention of the Star Trek director, who was seeking inspiration for an alien race in his upcoming film. “The Nibirans were originally going to be computer generated, but then they changed the idea and were in search of an actor with a unique look. When J. J. saw me, he apparently yelled ‘That’s the guy! Get me him!’” Within a few weeks, Raymond was flown down to Bad Robot Studios to begin filming what would be one of the biggest films of the year.
After meeting with Abrams and other key players, Raymond learned that his role was more than just a small bit part. He was not only to play one character but to provide the model for an entire alien race known as Nibirans that were all to be designed around Raymond’s facial features. “There was one day where a big group of us Nibirans were standing together and the audio guy couldn’t discern which one to attach the microphone to. We all kept quiet, and it was pretty funny watching him try to figure it out.”
One remarkable element of his experience was the level of secrecy surrounding the making of the film. With paparazzi constantly attempting to catch a glimpse of anything to do with the enormously popular film franchise, Raymond was covered in blankets or shielded by umbrellas anytime he left one room to go to another. This secrecy continued well after filming had been completed, with Raymond legally bound to not reveal his place among the cast. “For a year and a half I couldn’t tell anybody,” he recalls. “When friends would talk about being excited for the movie, I’d chuckle to myself. I was able to tell Mom and Dad, but I really looked forward to surprising people.”
Meanwhile, back on Earth
Since the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Raymond has been busy working in Vancouver. Many of his roles have been for darker works, such as the IMAX concert film, Metallica Through the Never, an episode of NBC’s Psych, and a movie entitled The Happy Face Killer starring David Arquette. “What interests me is just doing the work,” explains Raymond, echoing the mentality of such acclaimed character actors as Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman. “The other day I was working on a film in Squamish, B.C. It was really emotional, draining stuff, but I just love my job.”
It has been a long journey of self-discovery for this extremely talented and driven artist, but what is perhaps most remarkable about Raymond is his ability to embrace what makes him unique: “I’ve really learned that it is ok to be different. Being an outsider from the norm made me stand out from the crowd.” His refusal to be defined by his physical difference makes it clear that he is no longer the exception; he is simply exceptional.
Article courtesy of M - MacEwan University's alumni magazine