A few short films, forgettable cameos on popular TV shows, telemovies that don’t get much exposure – it’s the early days of acting that are the hardest to get through. The line between struggling actor and thriving artist is a fine one, reserved for those who possess the charisma and talent to outshine their co-stars.

American actor Derek Magyar has crossed that line, evolving from ‘that guy in that one episode of that show’ to an actor with starring roles, juggling producing and directing.

“What I’ve learned is epic”, he says of his directorial debut, Flying Lessons, which was released in theatres on December 2. “It’s changed me as a man and as a filmmaker; I go into my next projects with such a different eye and so much knowledge and understanding of filmmaking and the process itself and how important every element is.”

Flying Lessons tells the story of 25-year-old Sophie Conway (played by Lost’s Maggie Grace), who hits rock bottom and leaves LA to return to the small town she grew up in. There, Sophie is faced with a series of memories she had always wanted to forget – friends and lovers she left behind, a difficult relationship with her mother, and strange comfort in Harry Pleasant, an Alzheimer’s Disease patient who finds common ground with Sophie’s struggle to remember the past.

“I found myself really intrigued by the script and wanting to get the film made, and I became very attached, a part of the re-writing process, and then I became a producer on board,” says Magyar. “Next thing I knew, I was directing the film because I had become so attached to the project after working on it for so long that I thought any other director doing it would have been unfair.”

Magyar's list of acting credits is long, including small parts on shows like Jag and Boston Legal. In 2005, he played his biggest television role as Commander Kelby in Star Trek Enterprise and a year later, he led the cast of LGBTQ film Boy Culture. His broad acting experience helped, rather than hindered, his directing approach.

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Derek Magyar.

“I approached the script as an actor, and I’m glad I did it that way at the time, because there’s so much more to making a film than focusing on performance and you have to juggle it and make sure all the other elements are in play and working”, Magyar explains. “It’s an incredible feat, and it was a huge learning lesson for me”.

His life also informed the film, which stars Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook as Harry Pleasant and Oscar winner Christine Lahti as Sophie’s mother.

“I think there is an element of myself in the movie, in particular the mother-daughter relationship," he says. "When I was younger, my relationship with my mother was incredibly difficult although now we are very close, and there are definitely pieces of that in the film."

A second film beckons – Magyar is currently casting the “sexy character-building drama” Rewind, which he wrote, and plans to act, produce, and direct. It is a story about three girls, who band together when they are confronted with a circumstance from which they have to escape, and flee to a cabin where they find a man hiding.

“What draws me in is creating art, and I’m not ever in a place of happiness unless I’m working on something that relates to my art, whether that’s acting, directing, or producing.”

But despite his filmmaking success, acting remains his passion. A Cal Arts graduate and passionate stage actor, Magyar has appeared in some 70 stage productions throughout his career and is set to direct an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet early next year.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I miss being on stage as an actor. It’s the best feeling. It’s taking the journey every night, from start to finish."

Magyar also stars as the lead opposite Luke Evans in upcoming horror film No One Lives, by director Ryuhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train). He also commences shooting indie-thriller, Phantom, next month, where he will star alongside David Duchovny.

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