Distance originally attended Tulane University Law School because he wanted to pursue maritime law. He’d already tried a couple of careers by then, including mechanical and civil engineering, and was in search of a better fit for his personality.
He wanted “a career where I needed to be able to think outside the box, something that I’m not going to be doing the same thing each and every day,” he said.
Law seemed not only well-suited for the outgoing Distance, but developing the ability to read contracts seemed practical as well. He worked in maritime law for a while in New Orleans, and eventually went into structured finance law.
Having two careers, Distance said, gives him another reason to “wake up in the morning.” He balances both careers by working remotely and using vacation time to manage his acting jobs. And even though he gets recognized more as an “actor who has a side gig as a Wall Street lawyer,” he may have already earned the admiration of his fellow attorneys.
“They get a big kick out of it,” he said.
In fact, Distance recognizes a common ground between the two careers: Both attorneys and actors “have to persuade the audience” — be it judge, jury or viewers — “that what we’re doing is true, and it’s real.”
Even as a child, Distance felt the thrill of being onstage; he still remembers the first words he said in a school play: “Goodness gracious, sake’s alive, I can’t believe it, but it must be the Christmas fairy.”
It would be decades, though, before Sept. 11 would convince Distance that life was too short not to pursue long-held dreams. After Distance enrolled at the prestigious William Esper drama school, he started to act in commercials, movies and TV shows. Along with the movies Tower Heist, Law Abiding Citizen and How Do You Know, Green Book is his highest-profile movie so far. (Distance attended the Academy Awards ceremony in February when the movie won Best Picture.) But he has also had a recurring role in TV’s “NCIS New Orleans,” and co-star roles in “House of Cards,” “Billions,” “Blindspot,” “Daredevil” and others.
One constant is that Distance always seems to play a security guard or a police officer. He’s played them so often that on-set, other actors frequently mistake him for the real thing, as opposed to one of their own.
Being typecast has a benefit, though. Every TV or movie script seems to have a police officer role.
“I want to give a face to law enforcement,” Distance added, noting that TV shows often only show police arresting someone. “A lot of time you see a badge and a uniform. You don’t see the humanity within that particular profession. You don’t see the struggle. I just want to show that there are many sides to being a law-enforcement officer.”
Once, after filming but while still in uniform, Distance wielded his on-screen authority in a Halloween prank with some mischievous bar patrons. A group of people set up their unsuspecting friend for “questioning” with “Officer Distance” — all in fun, of course.
Is impersonating an actual officer only for prank purposes legal, especially if it did not facilitate a crime or influence anyone’s behavior?
Distance paused. “It’s ... not really illegal,” he said, laughing. “Which is why I like the law, because you can always argue.”