Oct. 01--A handful of Marin parents watching tonight's episode of "Criminal Minds" may wonder why the actor playing attorney Mark Anderson strangely resembles the man who delivered their baby.
That's because he did.
After 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic in Marin -- and five assisted births, including one on Christmas morning "under the Christmas tree" in Mill Valley -- Douglas Olsson has re-created himself as a Hollywood actor. His appearance on the hit CBS crime-drama starring Joe Mantegna and Jeanne Tripplehorn is his network TV debut.
Olsson's journey from firefighter/paramedic to leading man was gradual. After retiring about eight years ago from the Marin County Fire Dept., mostly working in Point Reyes, Woodacre and Tomales, he decided to take an improv class at Bay Area Theatresports (BATS) on a whim.
"I had no plan. I just wanted to be one of those funny guys on TV that does improv. I was scared to death," says Olsson, who grew up in San Anselmo, graduated from Drake High School and College of Marin and was an IJ paperboy as a kid.
Much later he discovered that on his very first class his teacher already knew that he was destined for improv. From there, encouraged by his teachers, he began acting in student films he found posted on Craigslist.
"They're always looking for people who will work for free," he quips.
With about 30 student films behind him and a few low-budget films made around the Bay Area, the 50-something Olsson came to an epiphany: "I'm financially OK, I'm not in a relationship, if I'm going to make the leap I should do it now," he says.
He rented out his Bel Marin Keys home and, 18 months ago, moved to Los Angeles, where he got his firefighting and paramedic training. He's been nonstop busy ever since, starring in four indie films -- most of them destined for Netflix, he says -- attending casting director workshops and constantly auditioning.
Olsson auditioned for a small role in a two-part episode of "Criminal Minds."
"It was two lines, which I think I actually screwed up," he says with a laugh.
He was asked to read for a larger role instead and, he says, they told him, "I 'hit it out of the park.'"
Transitioning from firefighter and paramedic to actor was no big deal, he says; it fact, his experience was excellent training.
"I've been in high-stress situations before. Having someone's life in your hand if a little more stressful than an audition," he says. "I've been around a lot of different people. I've been on crime scenes, seen people murdered, hostage situations. I tend to get a lot of roles with authority, powerful men, because I'm used to carrying myself
Olsson is pleased with the amount of acting work he's gotten in such a short time. "It's not by accident. I'm working it pretty heavily," he says.
Still, he'll like to act in larger films as well as do more TV. And he hopes to star in his own dark humor feature film, about a former KGB hitman with a heart who defected to California 25 years ago, which he wrote and is being shopped around.
He comes back to Marin often; his parents still live in San Anselmo.
"They take me down a notch if I talk about it too much," he says. "I guess they're proud."
But he's getting the same kind of encouragement from directors, actors and producers as he got from his BATS teachers so many years ago. "You realize, 'I can play in this game,'" he says.
"I'm down here because of my passion. I think in the next year or two all have a better idea of where I stand and I'll go from there," he says.
Vicki Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter at @OMGchronicles, fan her on Facebook at Vicki-Larson-OMG-Chronicles
Copyright 2013 - The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.