The new creative writing teacher at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield might look vaguely familiar to some of his students and their parents. Maybe they have seen him before. They could have, on the big screen.
The first-year teacher, Will Schaub, spent nearly 20 years in Hollywood working as an actor. He appeared on a multitude of television shows and movies including, most recently, 17 Again, in which he played a basketball referee. He is also the author of a screen play that was turned into a movie, The Setting Sun, which he starred in and was released on video.
But a couple of years ago Schaub decided to end his acting career and become a teacher. Last spring he was hired at S.E. Gross and last month began his first year of full-time teaching. Schaub teaches creative writing to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at and also teaches a reading intervention class.
He became an actor pretty much by accident.
In his senior year at Brown University, a friend asked Schaub to act in a film he was making for his senior thesis. It was the first time Schaub had acted since grade school.
Schaub obliged and enjoyed it. When he graduated with a degree in international relations he didn’t have a job lined up and decided to go to Los Angeles to give acting a shot for a year.
“I got out there in Los Angeles, and it turns out it took me 20 years to move on instead of one,” Schaub said, sitting in his classroom at Gross. “I went out there totally cold. I didn’t know anyone, and I had no training and I had no resume and I had no connections and I was really finding my own way.”
He quickly found work as an extra, but also learned that life as an extra didn’t pay much (maybe $40 a day) and didn’t lead to much.
“You’re just a body with a pulse that can walk in the background,” Schaub says.
His first extra job was in The Marrying Man with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. But extra work gave him a chance to learn some basics and make a few contacts. He quickly realized that he needed to take acting lessons. He started doing so and after about a year landed a small role in an episode of the television show Quantum Leap.
Schaub started landing mostly occasional roles in many television shows. In 1994 he earned a role as a character on the soap opera The Young and the Restless that lasted a few months. Over the years he appeared on Beverly Hills 90210, CSI, Desperate Housewives, Will and Grace, JAG and in 2006 another role on the Young and the Restless.
“I played jerks and idiots, and when the stars all lined up perfectly, I played a jerky idiot,” Schaub says. “Wealthy, privileged people or buffoons.”
Although Schaub grew up in Decatur and in Iowa he attended the prestigious Massachusetts prep school Northfield-Mount Hermon for high school.
His prep school and Ivy League background, and his classic good looks, led to him often being slotted in roles that called for an arrogant, smug rich guy.
“I had blonde hair, blue eyes, a square jaw,” says Schaub, now 41 and not so blonde anymore. “You put me in suit, and I look like the picture of privilege. I don’t think it is necessarily reflective of who I am as a person. Look is very important [in Hollywood].”
He worked pretty regularly, married and had kids.
Nearly 10 years ago he got a role that he thought could be a breakthrough part. He played an arrogant lawyer named Bankhead in a pilot for a show called The Jake Effect starring Jason Bateman.
The executives at NBC loved the pilot and commissioned six more episodes for the upcoming season. Schaub’s character had a bigger and bigger role.
But just before the show was going to premiere, Jeff Zucker (who was fired from NBC last week) became CEO of NBC and promptly cancelled all the shows, including The Jake Effect.
Although a few years later the episodes of The Jake Effect were shown by Bravo on its Brilliant but Cancelled series, Schaub began to think that his big break had come and gone. Parts became harder to come by.
“For the first time in my life, I noticed a downward trend rather than an upward trend,” Schaub says. “I just wasn’t the new ‘it’ guy anymore. The window of opportunity had kind of closed.”
His wife, Maureen Muldoon was also an actor and they owned a home in Studio City and lived a solid middle class lifestyle, but earnings were always variable and uncertain.
“I could make eight or ten thousand dollars in a month, but if that’s the only month you’re working in a year, that’s not so impressive,” Schaub said. “I never had what you could call steady work. Collectively we raised four kids, we owned a home, we had a nice life.”
He was always thinking of what else he could do, and teaching seemed like a fit.
“I was a really good student when I was in school,” Schaub said. “I thought I could really be good at it. … I really do think that I could be a good role model, a good influence and an inspiration figure.”
That’s important to Schaub.
“Some day I’m going to die and I want to feel like that my life was a life well led, that I used my time wisely,” Schaub says.
He went to Cal State Northridge for a year in an accelerated program to earn his teaching certificate. He and his wife decided to move to the Chicago area in 2009 after Elmhurst College staged a play his wife wrote.
Schaub now lives with his wife and children in LaGrange.
“It was always my plan to move here to the Chicago area and teach,” Schaub says. “I’m from the Midwest and I wanted to be closer to home.”
Last year he was a substitute taught at various schools including R.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside and he filled in for a teacher on maternity leave at Lyons Township High School.
He got two job offers last spring, from Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox and from Gross School.
“I had no job continuity ever in my life,” Schaub says. “This is the first time I’ve ever come to a job day after day.”
On the first day of school he sent a letter home with his students explaining his background.
At first his students were fascinated and peppered him with questions, but as time goes by, that is wearing off.
“For the first couple of weeks it was real novelty,” Schaub says. “This guy was on TV and that’s cool, but at the end of the day I’m a teacher, and I’m giving them assignments, and I’m making them pay attention and listen to me and learn things that they may or may not have any intrinsic interest in.”
In his teaching Schwab says that he draws more from his writing experience than from his acting career.
“What I’m really good at is narrative and I can teach these kids, I think, aspects of storytelling that they’ll probably never get anywhere else,” Schaub says. “They could end up English majors and maybe never have a teacher with the experience I have in this particular area.”