Baum Appears in 'Crucible'

Harvard Student Wins Speaking Role as Villager in Movie

When Sam D. Baum '98 was 11 years old, he acted in his first television commercial, plugging a Kellogg's breakfast cereal.

"It was a commercial for Kellogg's SW Grahams cereal. It was a real dramatic and challenging role," Baum joked.

From those humble beginnings, the Quincy House resident has moved on to bigger and better things, most recently securing a small part in the feature film "The Crucible," which stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.

The film is directed by Nicholas Hythner, who also directed "My Left Foot" and "The Madness of King George."

It is currently being shot on Hog's Island, off the coast of Ipswich, Mass., and is a screen adaptation of the Arthur Miller play of the same name.

While Baum has limited experience in front of the camera--this is his first feature film--he has gained considerable dramatic experience in various plays.

Besides the television commercial and a role in the yet-to-be-aired PBS special "American Revolution," Baum's acting experience includes various high school and Harvard dramas.

But it was when Baum starred in a New York City Interschool Theatre Company production of "The Crucible" his senior year that he received a break in the business.

While playing John Proctor, a Puritan farmer portrayed by Day-Lewis in the film, Baum so impressed a casting director who happened to be in the audience that she offered to help Baum with his career.

"She came up to me afterwards and told me she liked my work and to give her a call if I was serious about acting as a career," Baum said.

Although he admits he was a bit incredulous, Baum went ahead and talked with the director.

From there, Baum got a role in "American Revolution" the summer before coming to Harvard.

But once he arrived on campus, Baum found the balance of academics and drama trying at the least, though he acted in six plays his first year.

"I'm trying to make it a career while I'm here at Harvard, but it is difficult to do both academics and acting," Baum said. "You always want to do more in each area."

Baum's move to the silver screen began a few weeks ago when he dropped off a resume and picture at a Boston talent agency for them to put on file. He ended up leaving with a part in a movie.

"One of the agents asked me to read right there. It was a small speaking part," Baum said. "She then asked when I would be ready to work."

Baum said he mentioned to the casting agent that he had been in "The Crucible" before, but he wasn't able to get the same role he had in high school.

"Daniel Day-Lewis beat me out for that," Baum joked.

Although feeling fortunate to get the part, Baum said he encountered a rough filming schedule, which took place over shopping period.

Because the crew had to be on location all day starting at 5 a.m., he couldn't pick his own classes.

"All the shopping and selecting classes was up to my roommates," Baum said.

Baum, who is 6'4" tall with self-described "flaming" red hair, was cast in the movie as one of the villagers.

While the red hair was covered up for the movie, it was an asset in helping him get other roles, he said.

"I guess I have been pegged as the typical Anglo-Saxon guy, but it will all be over when they find out I'm Jewish," Baum joked.

Baum had a small speaking part in several scenes, and in one he grabs Ryder as she enters the town court-house to turn in suspected witches.

As for future roles, Baum, an English concentrator, is hoping to do more work in feature films while staying involved with his first love, theatre. Eventually, Baum said, he would like to end up as a film director.

"It is definitely a lot more fun than many other professions," Baum said of an acting career. "If I can make a living and I am having this much fun, I will definitely do it."