On the big screen! Burgin native Billy Crank gets role in movie shot in Lexington

Published 2:35 pm Monday, June 5, 2023



Billy Crank’s credentials include more than 40 TV commercials, a role on The Walking Dead and numerous other performances. A native of Burgin, Crank’s latest gig was working on the production of “Mr. Manhattan” an upcoming film by Pure Flix and Sony, during its production in Lexington.

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“This is the biggest movie I have been able to appear in,” Crank said. “I have been in TV shows and little indie films and stuff like that but this the first big movie that I have ever had a small part in.”

Although Billy had to remain tight lipped on the details of the film, it is about a man learning the value of family. The film is expected to release early next year.

Crank first became involved with the production when he was hired as a stand-in for Carlos PenaVega from Big Time Rush, who plays the main character.

“I’m the same height as him, they just set the camera and lighting up and make sure it is right for him and I stand in his place.” Crank said. “I got to know everybody very well. Asbury (University) film students were part of the crew so I got to watch everybody work. There are few producers who worked on Spider-man 3. Brian Herzlinger is the director. I worked about three-and-a-half weeks, 15 hours a day, with one day off a week. It was pretty trying.”

It is the largest production that Crank has ever been involved with. He was offered the role of a stand-in because of his past work with members of the crew.

“I have been a stand in before but never on this big of a scale,” Crank said. “I was hesitant to do it because I didn’t know a lot about it. I wanted to be as professional as possible so I did research and took up the offer. I learned a lot along the way and there was several people who were there to offer me advice. I was able to fall in line, do what people needed me to do, and apparently looked like I have done it before.”

During the production he was offered a small role as a paramedic in the film.

“I was in the room where people would eat, and the director walked up to me and asked me how I would like to have a small part,” Crank said. “I was honored, to have a big-time director to ask you that and even think of me is amazing. I was honored and it was a great experience to jump in there and do that small part. Instead of being part of the crew I was actually in it and was able to be one of the actors. It was great.”

Despite his past experience, Crank felt a little nervous when he was on camera.

“I was a little nervous, the cameras they use for movies are a little intimidating,” Crank said. “You see yourself on all these monitors not just as an actor in that scene but even as the stand-in. I would have to stare at myself for an hour.”

Crank is thankful for the experience and is amazed at the professionalism of the Asbury students.

“I gained a lot of knowledge and know how on how things work on a bigger set,” Crank said. “Seeing how they did things taught me how to do things better on my own productions. The Asbury students did amazing, even though they are so much younger than me and it was their first big production I was learning things from them. They were on it, they were killing it their first time on a movie set.”        

Crank has had a lifelong interest in acting and entertainment even during his child hood in Burgin.

“Growing up in Burgin is a lot like growing up in Mayberry.” Crank said. “I was surrounded by all my family. It’s a small town everybody knows everybody. I lived right across from the school so I walked to school everyday. I had plenty of friends but never fit into any of the cliques, I was kind of part of all them. I was the class clown. Teachers loved me but they had to discipline me so they sent me to the office quite often to set an example. I love Burgin, it is a great little town. I’ve traveled all over the United States and stayed gone for long periods of time but whenever I come back to Burgin, it’s refreshing. There is no place like home. You see all these amazing things when you travel but you have to learn along the way to be street smart. I got used to having to watch my back traveling to make sure you don’t get into any trouble. When I get home I realize I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Crank was an entertainer at an early age and had his first acting experience at The Legend of Daniel Boone production in Harrodsburg.

“My mother would always have gatherings and I was the only child so I would be the entertainment for the grown ups,” Crank said. “As I got older she pushed me to join The Legend of Daniel Boone. That was when it was huge in the late 90s. There were people from all over the United States there who went to school for acting. I loved acting at the time but I wasn’t acting, I was just being who I was. I was shy so when she threw me into the auditions, I didn’t want to do it. She pretty much had to drag me out of her car and into the door until I had no choice but to walk in to save myself from the embarrassment. I got the part and had to live with the cast of about 30 people for a month. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was having fun and meeting these amazing people. I saw myself in all these people I didn’t know and as I got to know them I finally found my people. I’m very thankful for my mother to do that with me. It continued on for four years until it closed. It depressed me, I didn’t have any commercials, I was stuck in a small town mentality and didn’t have an outlet. The Legend of Daniel Boone was my acting school.”

Crank began using YouTube as a creative outlet.

“YouTube was my out to the rest of the world,” Crank said. “Before YouTube the only way to get auditions was to send out VHS tapes. I was talking to a guy on YouTube who was giving me advice on what to do with my videos. It turns out that he was Jim Varney’s nephew. I had no idea that is who I was talking to. Later, a guy from John Cherry’s office got a hold of me and said he wanted to talk to me. I watched the Earnest movies growing up and have never spoke to a major film producer before so I thought it was fake and hung up. They called me back and set up a meeting with John Cherry in Tennessee. I spoke with him and he set me up to commercials and auditions for Son of Earnest. Me talking to him and Jim Varney’s nephew had nothing to do with each other. It just happened all at once. I have became great friends with Varney’s family, they are very dear to me. But John Cherry set me up doing these little videos as Son of Ernest until the Ernest official page posted an image of me with the caption Son of Ernest.”

Although the Son of Ernest movie was canceled before entering production, it gave Crank a boost in popularity. Even still, his career has taken a lot of hard work.

“I’ve worked my butt off. People see you on TV and thinks it’s easy and that you have it made, but it is hard work,” Crank said. “I started putting myself out there doing charity stuff, going to nursing homes, interviewing bands for Sound of Lexington, and Commons4Kids. I’ve been with them sand they have been with me since the start of my career. It’s been a long journey.”

Crank has worked with ScareFest off and on since 2012.

“The cool thing about it is networking,” Crank said. “Meeting interesting people and connecting with them and later on you end up doing a project together. One time I met Robert England. I was up in the hospitality suite eating and here comes Robert England through the door looking at the donuts. I’m freaking out, but I walk up next to him and go ‘Mmmm, donuts.’ He turns to me and changes to his Freddy Krueger voice and goes ‘Mmmm, KripsyKreme.’ It was just me and him. It just goes to show who you are never going to meet in life and cherishing those moments, It’s not about getting to where you want to be, it’s about the journey.”

Networking was able to get Crank a role as an extra on The Walking Dead.

“I was leaving a convention and a friend called me a told me to turn around and come back,” Crank said. “I come in the door and my friend is really talking me up to this woman. It made me feel awkward because I try to be humble. I have no idea who this woman is so I talk myself down and I finally realized she was Paola Lázaro who played Princess on The Walking Dead. About a week later I get an email inviting me to be a member of The Commonwealth on The Walking Dead. It wasn’t a major role but I was part of a major production. When you get on set you think to yourself how you have watched this on TV. The whole town of Senoia, Georgia is a movie set. They pay people to not mow their yards and have old vehicles put in their yard.”