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For his first feature film role, Cole Doman took a big risk, signing on for Stephen Cone’s audacious and honest “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party,” a coming-of-age tale that doesn’t back down from the trickier parts of growing up. As the eponymous Henry, Doman is tasked with portraying a young man on the verge who must come to terms with the impact his true self (and his true desires) has on everyone in his life (especially his evangelical preacher dad) during the course of a single day. Even more complicated? That single day also plays home to a wild and splashy pool party for birthday boy Henry. Talk about literally coming of age.
Made over the course of just 18 days, the film premiered back in May at the Maryland Film Festival, and has also screened at BAMcinemaFest and the Sidewalk Film Festival.
“Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” will open in New York at IFP’s Made in NY Media Center on January 8, before expanding to additional markets and VOD platforms. Ahead, Doman shares why acting is a family affair for him, why he couldn’t have asked for a better debut role and how his musical theatre background still guides him today.
My mother was an actress. She studied at Fordham and then she lived in New York for awhile, pounding the pavement, she did a hilarious Reese’s commercial that’s still on YouTube that I still show my friends. She had a few spots on soap operas. She just had a love for theater that she gave up to have me and my sister. Both me and my sister are now both actors. Just growing up, I don’t know if we really had much of a choice. We fell in love with it very quickly.
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I started acting at a really young age. My sister was really like the pioneer. We were always really close, and of course I idolized her. We did a few professional shows as children in the Philadelphia area, and then I fell in love with it and decided this was it for me.
[Shooting] “Henry Gamble” fell right before my senior year of college. It was before I had taken the on-camera class my school offered!
I was so nervous about [the film], especially with no on-camera experience going into it. I think what settled a lot of my nerves was just Stephen, just Stephen Cone as a human being and his ability to connect and to bring good people together.
On set was definitely like a pool party. The whole 18-day shoot, we were all just hanging out at this beautiful home with a pool.
I think Henry felt really close to me as a person. His love for music was a really good way in for me. Stephen actually sent me a YouTube playlist of songs that he thought Henry would love and would be his private time music. That really took me into his world.
We did a lot of research on commercialized churches. I had an understanding of what it means to be growing up in an environment where church is every Sunday.
I think it’s going to be hard to find another experience like [“Henry Gamble”] because of where it was in my life. And how special it was to me and getting to work with Chicago veterans whose careers I admire and all the friends I made. The experience of my first feature was something I’ll never forget and that’s not going to be able to be recreated anywhere else.
I actually went into school as a musical theatre major. I think the discipline of musical theatre is really intense, it demanded full body and mind at all times. I learned a lot of discipline [from that], and I think I learned the kind of work I want to do and the work that excited me.
I just did the ten-week intensive at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. I went to the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and just graduated from there in the spring. I decided to get one more extra training push [after graduation].
I am going to continue to take classes. For me, that’s something that I love and I wouldn’t give that up. It’s important to me. It’s part of the art, it’s part of the training. For me, school has given me confidence and what it means to be my kind of artist.
This is what I’ve wanted to do forever. Getting to share that and being successful at it is the dream. I’m just looking for the next great thing.