Chris Lamica went from competing for the Averill Park CSD Warriors to playing college and professional basketball. After an injury forced him to the sidelines, he became a teacher before venturing into the world of acting, appearing on hit television shows such as NCIS, The Rookie, S.W.A.T., and more.
Chris recently took some time to participate in an alumni Q&A.
Q: What sports / clubs did you participate in while attending APCSD?
A: Varsity football and basketball.
Were there any memorable classes you took at AP?
Did you have any favorite teachers looking back?
I wouldn’t say I had any favorites, specifically. As I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for anyone who makes teaching their life’s work.
How about favorite memories, in general?
One of my standout memories was scoring four receiving touchdowns in our homecoming game my senior year. Obviously, it was a neat achievement. More so than that, I vividly remember immediately after the game, my cousin Katie, who has an intellectual disability, came running on the field to hug me and celebrate. So many of my teammates, who didn’t know her because she lived in another state, came over to talk to her and gave her hugs and high fives as they left the field. I definitely get choked up just thinking about that.
After High School, what made you want to attend Johnson State College?
I originally attended SUNY Postdam and hooped there my Freshman Year. I transferred to Johnson State College (now Northern Vermont University – Johnson) midway through my Sophomore year, not long after my grandparents passed away within a few weeks of each other. They lived near the Potsdam campus, so I was looking for a new college to call home. Johnson came to my attention through my uncle, who is familiar with the Vermont basketball scene. He told me that Johnson was a place that’s very different than I was accustomed to, but that I should take a look. After I visited, I knew it was where I wanted to continue my basketball career and education and wouldn’t trade my experiences there for anything. At Carter Gymnasium I met my wife Jenna – who is a Hall of Famer at Johnson, having been one of the most accomplished basketball players in school history.
What did you study in college?
I majored in Elementary Education with a concentration in Psychology. I received my K-6 teaching license through their program.
From college, you went on to play basketball on a professional stage. What was that experience like?
My experience and confidence in what I could accomplish as a basketball player beyond APHS started a few days after my high school graduation. I went to Boston to compete in the “And 1 Mixtape Tour Open Run,” which had an ESPN television series at the time – the Open Run was where thousands of people competed in short games, with one player from each game advancing, until there was only 10 players left. Then, the AND 1 Tour players chose who advanced to the main game. Originally, I had a ticket to go as a fan, and ended up as one of the two finalists who got to play in the stadium, with people I grew up idolizing. From there, I knew I wanted to play collegiately instead of pursuing streetball as a career path, as I valued being the first member of my dad’s side of the family to attend college.
After college, I played for a trick basketball type of organization, picture Harlem Globetrotters style basketball. It was a surreal experience to go from growing up in a small town like Averill Park, to giving speeches, performances, and playing in games around the country. Having the urge to play competitively again, I went on to be an American Basketball Association All-Star, and had an NBA D-League offer (now G-League), as well as several international offers. After an injury in my final ABA game, my wife and I decided to move back to Vermont to teach.
When did you become interested in acting?
Unknowingly, my interest in acting happened during my years at Algonquin Middle School. I was cut from the Modified Basketball Team, and distinctly remember being told by the coach that I “was too small and might get hurt” and that I should “consider other sports.” I was devastated. I found the movie Rudy and was inspired. If he could do it, I could do it. I watched it every night for over a year. Looking back, that was the first time I felt just how powerful the medium of film and storytelling could be. I like to think I would’ve had enough self-confidence and belief in myself to stay steadfast in my pursuit of playing basketball, but without that movie, who knows if the 12-year-old me would’ve stayed the course.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey in acting, from becoming interested in it to now being on hit television shows and acting in scenes with stars such as LL Cool J?
In somewhat of a fluke, we were visiting lifelong homie and fellow APHS graduate Matt Werger in Boston, when some random dude approached me and mentioned that I reminded him of James Dean. Having no idea who James Dean was at the time, when he asked if I had interest in acting, I just laughed it off. A somewhat similar experience happened in Vermont where I was living and teaching Kindergarten at Barnet School. So I decided to take this guy up on his offer to audition for a project he was doing. I was ridiculed a bit at the audition for not having a headshot or resume. On my way out the director called me and asked me to be in his film. That led to a few other experiences filming, and at that time it became a passion and obsession for me. Luckily, I found renowned acting coach Richard Waterhouse, who gained a level of prestige training film actors in Los Angeles, before moving his acting studio to the Northeast. When I hit him up, he said ‘I don’t really work with new clients.’ I told him it was only a matter of time before we worked together. He asked me to send me any footage I had and he would point me in the right direction. The same day I sent him my footage, he called and asked when I wanted to start working. We started my formal acting training the next day. Within a few months, I was in a film with Chevy Chase, as well as performers from Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, etc.
After that film came out, I flew to LA and met with a few talent agents. When I returned, Jenna asked me if it was something I wanted to do. Shortly after, she had a moving truck in our driveway, and we headed west without guarantee of employment, aside from a talent agent. I continued my relentless pursuit of the craft by studying at studios out here, reading and watching everything I could, and met some wonderful friends quickly. I was able to utilize my basketball skills in a handful of national commercial campaigns. From there, I decided to take control of my own destiny of sorts, and gathered the most talented cinematographer, editor, performers, and filmmakers I knew. I wrote an entire season, and we created an original series called “twenties: the series.” We were able to sell it and get it on platforms like Amazon Prime. Across all streaming platforms, we have been viewed over 300,000 times, and over a million minutes watched. My representation was able to use that material to get me into bigger audition rooms.
Since then, I have been in many films and television shows, such as The Rookie, SWAT, Lucifer, and so on. All of those were fantastic experiences, but the most surreal was most recently booking a recurring role on NCIS: Los Angeles as Navy Seal Petty Officer Michael Cole. Being able to film alongside some icons such as LL Cool J, Chris O’Donnell, as well as the super talented writer and director Frank Military, has been an experience of a lifetime.
You’ve been nominated for acting awards, how did that feel?
I’m more proud when people who have watched my work and either DM’d me or sent messages about how moved and influenced they were. Especially with my latest role in NCIS: Los Angeles as a Navy Seal, I received several messages and comments, many of whom were former military personnel, thanking me for my conflicted portrayal during the war scenes, and how moved they were by my mental breakdown upon my characters return stateside. To reach people on that level means more to me than any award could.
Do you have any advice for students currently attending Averill Park CSD?
Figure out what brings you happiness, personally and professionally, and be consistent in your focus and work to achieve and maintain it. Let everything that isn’t supporting your journey to this happiness disappear. Big dreams require a big work ethic. But know life isn’t a straight highway. If you don’t fail at some point, you’re probably not trying. Your definition of success and happiness will evolve as you do, but ultimately, who you are is defined by your actions and habits. Act in accordance to who you want to be.