Mark Gantt has always been a smooth talker. In high school, he could get out of almost any situation. Speeding. Underage drinking. Smoking weed in his '74 Chevy Camaro in the Lincoln High School parking lot.
The 41-year-old Stockton native who worked at Salisbury's Market in Lodi, is still that cool, confident guy with dark eyes, strong facial features and a way with words. Only now, the bad-boy persona is channeled into the role of the lead character in Sony Picture Entertainment's Web series, "The Bannen Way."
Written by Jesse Warren and Gantt, "The Bannen Way" is a fast-paced, testosterone-packed online series that is "The Godfather" meets "James Bond" and "Madmen." It follows the story of Neal Bannen, played by Gantt. Bannen is a cool conman and thief with a police chief for a father and mob boss for an uncle. He is the definition of bad boy. He is calm. He is confident. He is witty — whether a grimy mobster is pressing a gun to his skull or he's convinced a beautiful woman to slip off her dress. Bannen has the attitude that even Gantt admires.
"I wish I was like Neal, as smooth and sarcastic as (he is). I think I have a little piece of him," Gantt said.
The alpha male tendencies of Bannen are fictional, but they may not be too far from Gantt, who Warren had in mind when he crafted an early version of "The Bannen Way."
"It was kind of a joke when Jesse first saw me. He looked over and said, 'I'm writing a character who's just like you,'" Gantt said.
Blurring the lines between TV and the Web
After meeting in a Los Angeles acting class three years ago, Warren and Gantt spent six months writing the first six episodes of "The Bannen Way." The duo wasn't sure where to take the show that was written like a film. Sundance Film Festival was their first thought, but Gantt was worried that unless they won Sundance, no one would ever see the series.
At the same time, they were beginning to see the rise of more online shows, like "Pink," a quick series about a hit woman. With Web shows targeting the 18-to-35-year-old male with interests in online gaming and constant Web surfing, they realized the Internet was the perfect place to release "The Bannen Way." Not only did it allow them a way to create a show with high production value and well-known actors, but they saw it as a way to raise the bar for the new genre of Web series.
"I think this is going to blur the lines between TV and digital," Warren said. "I don't think NBC is going to (exist); I think it's going to be NBC.com."
With the first episodes filmed, Gantt and Warren met with Sony Pictures Entertainment Co., who bought the series based on the trailer.
"Sony was blown away by the trailer," Gantt said. "We kept going into meetings and they would say, 'This is amazing.'"
The 16-episode season premiered in January and is now playing on www.crackle.com, Sony's next-generation video network. Each episode is fast, short, punchy and only five to seven minutes long. While the series will be taken off the Web on Feb. 21, the series will be available on DVD in April in its original film version. Warren and Gantt say Sony may try to take the show to TV, as well.
Gantt, a real-life good guy
Throughout the project, Warren directed while Gantt was the natural choice for the lead. His troublemaker past and effortless charm had always been so obvious to Warren.
Experience "The Bannen Way"Starring: Mark Gantt, Vanessa Marcil ("Lipstick Jungle," "Las Vegas"), Gabriel Tigerman ("Supernatural"), Michael Ironside ("Terminator Salvation," "Total Recall"), Academy-Award nominee Robert Forster ("Jackie Brown," "Heroes") and Michael Lerner ("Entourage," "Elf").
Watch online: www.thebannenway.com.
On Twitter: www.twitter.com/thebannenway.
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/thebannenway.
Other Lodi ties: Shawna Sutherland, actress and Lodi native, acted in an episode of "The Bannen Way." Her fiancé, Chad Kaszer, the community manager for Sony's Crackle.com, is also from Lodi.
"(Gantt's) got this interesting dichotomy to him," Warren said. "He's definitely got his dark side and his light side."
The theme of good and evil is strongly presented in "The Bannen Way," and purposefully exaggerates Gantt's own life and experiences.
Bannen's father is the chief of police and constantly bails him out. Growing up, Gantt's own father was captain of the Stockton Police, and admits it didn't hurt that they were both named Mark Gantt.
In the show, Bannen struggles to leave the life as a conman, sexaholic and gambling addict and be a "recovering everything," Warren said. It's a characteristic that comes easily for Gantt, because the actor made his own turnaround and has been sober for 21 years. While Bannen sleeps with any woman he can, wherever he can, Gantt proudly says he's been in a relationship with his girlfriend for five years.
There are the other differences, too. Gantt is well spoken and slightly reserved when it comes to his accomplishments — not exactly the Bannen way.
His mother, Cheryl Wooden, an American Airlines flight attendant who lives in Stockton, knows that quieter side.
"He's shy. And he's just nice to every single person," said Wooden, who calls herself his biggest fan.
Big name, local roots
Though he's immersed in Los Angeles life and his pursuit to further his acting career, Gantt hasn't forgotten about his local roots. In high school, he wasn't involved in drama club or obsessed with sports like most of his peers. Instead, he spent most of his time in the parking lot of Lincoln High.
"I was smoking pot in the car in the parking lot. … I was trying to get out of trouble," Gantt said.
If he wasn't in trouble for smoking or drinking, he was in trouble for peeling out in the parking lot. In his high school career, he went through three cars — his Camaro, a Volkswagen Scirocoo and Bug, all because he kept wrecking them.
He learned to talk his way out of situations. But it also helped that his father was the captain of the Stockton Police Department with the same name, Mark Gantt. He admits it got him off the hook a few times, but he never got away with anything because his father always found out.
Gantt graduated in 1987. He worked at Salisbury's Market in the produce department and then as manager before he moved to San Diego for college. He went to San Diego because it was closer to Los Angeles than Stockton. Maybe he'd be an architect, he thought, but maybe he could be an actor.
Sharing the stage with Brad Pitt
Gantt got his first acting job acting as a driver in a few films. With each smaller project, more opportunities came. After a single line in "Volcano," he was able to join the Screen Actor's Guild with its benefits and better pay. Soon, he had roles in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Days of Our Lives," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "Alias."
One of his more recent jobs was two lines as a bartender opposite Brad Pitt in "Ocean's Eleven." The scene required them to talk to each other in a loud bar, even though the bar was silent during filming.
"Brad Pitt had said to me, 'Ugh, I hate this. I feel so stupid yelling when we're the only ones talking.' He made me comfortable because I felt stupid," Gantt said.
With "Ocean's Eleven," Gantt also got to work with one of his biggest inspirations, George Clooney. Like Clooney, Gantt wants to continue his career with writing, director and acting. And now, the Internet is allowing him to explore his passions and talents in a way he never imagined.
"With the Internet, you have an opportunity to create whatever you want and get it around the world," Gantt said.