2016 was a stellar year for actor Jeremy Sande.
There’s no way the young boy from Meridian, Mississippi – who indulged a passion for theater – could have guessed that someday, he’d be onstage at a Chris Daughtry concert, proposing marriage to his longtime girlfriend with help of his rocker friend.
He couldn’t have guessed he’d be playing Simon the Zealot in Tyler Perry’s “The Passion,” an elaborate live television show broadcast from the streets of New Orleans during the Easter season.
And there’s no way and could have known he’d be chillin’ on set with stars such as John Malkovich, or that he’d play a meaningful role as one of the men lost in the infamous accident depicted in the film “Deepwater Horizon.”
But all that eventually happened to the little boy, who turned 35 this year – and it’s been a mighty fine year.
The ball started rolling many years ago, when Sande unintentionally jumped head-first into performance.
“I started doing theater when I was 15,” he said. “It was a dare.”
His friends had challenged him to audition for a role as Prince Charming in a local “Cinderella” production. What started as a goof, though, ended up igniting a fuse.
“It started this primal passion for theater,” he said. “I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After majoring in Musical Theatre at the University of Southern Mississippi and performing in more than 30 shows on community stages, Sande reached the inevitable crossroads all actors face: how to make a career of this.
That’s when he started attending film acting workshops, signed with a talent agency and began being cast in film shorts, on the television series “Nashville,” and in bit parts in feature films.
Then, he auditioned for Hollywood’s 2016 depiction of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill that occurred off the Louisiana coast in 2010, leading to the deaths of 11 oil platform workers, the injury of 17 others, and the polluting of large portions of the waters off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts and well beyond. The film was released in October and is now appearing on the on-demand platform. DVD release is scheduled for this month.
Sande said he auditioned for a minor role as a character called “Roughneck No. 2,” but ended up being offered a much better role, as the real-life worker, Adam Weise, who perished in the accident.
Not only was the film a huge opportunity professionally, but it allowed Sande to give voice to one of the 11 hard-working, honorable men unnecessarily lost that day. Sande said he felt those men weren’t sufficiently honored throughout the media’s coverage of the disaster.
“It’s surreal to … be solely responsible for the story of someone who is no longer here to tell. It has been really, really humbling,” he said.
Sande said he met and became acquaintances with Weise’s family members, and that those relationships have hit home in his understanding of the losses suffered during those dark days in the Gulf.
When Sande describes it, he sounds a bit amazed.
“They built an 85 percent to scale rig out at the old Six Flags,” he said, of the eastern New Orleans theme park, abandoned since it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We went on a week-long roughneck boot camp,” he said, explaining the actors were taught to understand what life was like on the oil platform. They used styrofoam movie props, but also handled the real deal, so they’d understand how the real tools felt in their hands.
“Attention to detail was so extreme,” he said.
One of the coolest moments was when Sande first encountered some of his fellow actors who are well-known celebs, such as Kurt Russell and John Malkovich, both of whom he describes as “abnormally cool.” It didn’t matter that they were big names; they were just people.
“Thank you for not stepping on my inner child’s toes,” he joked, about first meeting them.
Sande has definite opinions about the tragic events of the BP oil spill.
“Now, I am an advocate for the people working in the oil field. These guys are rock stars. It cost BP a lot of money, but money doesn’t replace human life,” he said, lamenting safety violations he said he believes
were driven by “corporate greed.”
The effects on the Gulf waters weren’t lost on Sande, but his focus remained on Weise’s death, which was lost in the event’s media coverage.
“Are we screwing up the environment? Completely,” he said. “But nothing should ever overshadow loss of life. The media used that (the environment) as their main driving point, instead of the loss of life,” Sande said.
Following “Deepwater Horizon” – which earned him a respectable paycheck after four months on set – Sande decided to take the plunge and move from Meridian to the epicenter of Hollywood South, the suburbs just outside New Orleans.
“Deepwater was my chance to jump. I said, “If you’re going to do it,
now’s the time.’”
Sande jumped again into the deep end when he proposed to his longtime girlfriend in October. Sherri Eakin, a fellow actor whom he’d met at his first film acting workshop years earlier, accepted his proposal in front of cheering fans.
“I’d gotten to be really good friends with Chris Daughtry,” Sande said, of his celebrity cast mate from “The Passion.” “The guy’s a rock star, but he’s a really, really sweet guy.”
He asked the singer if, at an upcoming show held in Biloxi at the end of October, he’d help Sande propose to Eakin in a dramatic way.
“Abso-frickin-loutely,” Daughtry said.
A quick Google search will find the video of the entire event, where Sande pretends to accidentally wander onstage between songs on Daughtry’s set, is introduced by the singer, and begins to read a poem that ends with a moment any couple could only dream of. Eakin climbs onstage to accept, and the audience applauds these veritable “rock stars” among the newly-betrothed.
“2016 has been like a dream,” Sande said, and rightfully so.