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Central alumnus speaks on acting career

February 16, 2022

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Central alumnus Zahn McClarnon is no stranger to the spotlight. He has performed in on-screen productions of Reservation Dogs, Longmire and Dr. Sleep among others and has received awards such as The Independent Spirt Award (Reservation Dogs), FAITA Award (Into the West), and Red Nation Film Award of Excellence (Strike One). However, one of McClarnon’s most recent forms of recognition was the honor to have a group of freshmen bear his last name, McClarnon, as their team name.

McClarnon moved around frequently as a young person, but ultimately spent part of his high school career at Central, graduating in 1986. McClarnon reflected, “Living in the Midtown area you had Tech, Benson, and Central you could go to. Central had prestige, was listed higher academically and I always wanted to go to Central–I wanted to graduate from Central,” he said.

“Getting through and graduating from Central was a goal, and I accomplished it, therefore it helped out with a lot of my self-esteem,” McClarnon said. “It just made me, as a young person, feel good.”

McClarnon remarked, aside from taking drama class at Central, “I was a little bit of a loner—not an outsider—but I wasn’t really involved with any extracurriculars,” nor did he perform in any drama productions for the school. “I was pretty shy, nervous, and withdrawn when I was in (drama) class but it did spark something in me.”

McClarnon has credited former CHS drama teacher Peggy Stommes with igniting a passion for acting within him.

“Peggy did spark something in me, but it didn’t light the flame for another three or four years—until I got out of high school,” McClarnon said.

It wasn’t until after graduating from Central, a few years spent at technical school in Arizona training to be an electrician, a move to LA and a trip home back to Nebraska was the spark from Peggy Stommes lit for the actor.

Although acting was not a childhood aspiration, McClarnon noted he always enjoyed film.

“I loved the movies, in the 70s I loved going to the movies with my mom and my parents— I loved Al Pacino and Robert Redford and I emulated them I wanted to be them, but there was no pathway to get there,” McClarnon said. “I’ve got darker skin and I just never saw anybody in the movies that really looked like me—except for a few minor roles.”

His lack of childhood aspirations led him to join the world of performing arts on a whim. McClarnon noted after moving back to Omaha in 1988, “I was bored, I had lived in Los Angelos and Phoenix, moved back to Nebraska, met a girl I was going to probably get married to and have kids…on a whim I auditioned for a play. I did the play and fell in love with acting. I just took a risk. I thought, ‘ahh before I get married and have kids I want to take a risk and see if I can pursue this,’ and that’s what I did.”

McClarnon noted from the first time he ever booked a job, he felt he’d achieved success, in being able to solely pursue acting and pay his bills. He finds it “awesome” that a new generation of freshman bear the team name McClarnon.

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