The Gift that is Acting

Alumni8 MIN READ

Whether it’s Broadway, television, or film, Will Hochman ’14 embraces the humanity he finds in acting

Will Hochman '14 finds acting to be an act of empathy through his many roles on the stage and the screen. Here, Hochman is filming for an upcoming movie titled A Paracosm, in which he has the lead role. (Photo by Dean Sparks)
By Laura Meader
January 31, 2023

For a recent screening of the new film The Greatest Beer Run Ever, actor Will Hochman’s entire family came to watch. When they got to his scene, they all broke out in applause.

That same night, Hochman appeared as Joe Hill in the season 13 premiere of the CBS hit TV series Blue Bloods. “We ran home and immediately turned on Blue Bloods,” he said, “and did the exact same thing.”

What a night. The people he loves most in the world were yelling whenever he appeared on the screen, instant feedback almost like performing on stage. “It was really special,” he recalled.

From humble beginnings in Colby’s Strider Theater, Hochman ’14 has established himself on Broadway, television, and film alongside some of the industry’s biggest stars. His family isn’t alone in lavishing praise on the rising star. Critics are too.

In January Hochman and Blue Bloods’ star Tom Selleck were named TVLine’s “Performers of the Week” for their “Nothing Sacred” episode. So much about their work throughout the hour, TVLine said, was perfect.

In 2019, for his performance with Tony award-winning costar Mary-Louise Parker in the critically acclaimed Broadway show The Sound Inside, critics heralded Hochman as an “impressive newcomer” who delivered his lines with “grace and humor.” New York Times Chief Theater Critic Jesse Green wrote, “Believable both as an 18-year-old and an artist, Hochman—and this is saying a lot—is a worthy partner to Parker onstage.”

Worthy, capable, and ready.

Now, Hochman has the lead role in the upcoming independent, full-length film A Paracosm about a former college basketball player unplugged from life.

I’m in a wonderful place right now, a place that I’ve been building toward and working very hard for,” said the 30-year-old actor, who lives in New York City. “Got lucky when I needed to get lucky, been prepared when I needed to be prepared. The future feels wide open, totally possible.”

Will Hochman ’14 (left) and Tom Selleck perform together in the CBS drama Blue Bloods. This image is from the recent episode “Nothing Sacred,” for which they both were named “Performers of the Week” by TVLine. (Courtesy of Will Hochman)

Hochman picks projects and stories that lift people up, speak to our common humanity, and dive into what it means to be alive. His characters have depth and complexity, much like Hochman himself, who has learned from each of them more about himself.

Acting is an act of empathy, he said, an opportunity to understand others emotionally, physically, and situationally. It’s therapeutic, too, a way to improve his emotional health by donning another’s clothes and putting himself in imaginary circumstances. And while he’s become adept at getting in and out of character, he remains grounded in the here and now. 

He’s learned to listen to the sound inside—his voice, a voice first embraced at Colby.

A creative intuition

A Brooklyn native, Hochman came to Colby planning to double major in global studies and Spanish. Instead, he majored in economics, considering a future in finance even as he dreamed of acting.

In his sophomore year, he mustered the courage to audition for his first play ever. It went quite well, and he was cast in one of the lead roles. But ultimately, he backed out after, as he tells it, he gave in to fear. He wasn’t ready. Following a restorative and extraordinary semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain, he returned with a commitment to never again lead with fear, and in his junior year, he tried acting again. He landed and performed in roles in both department productions and with Powder and Wig, Colby’s student-run theater club.

As a senior, he took an acting course called Shakespeare’s Supernatural, taught by Bess Welden, lecturer in Colby’s Department of Performance, Theater, and Dance. The course explored many of the non-human characters in the Bard’s plays—witches, fairies, and monsters.

“It was easy to see Will’s innate talent, immense charm, and sense of humor, which all on their own got him pretty far in creating characters on stage,” recalled Welden. “But over the course of the year, he began to gain confidence in his creative intuition. He discovered the value in risk-taking, trying something new or offbeat or uncomfortable.”

Welden felt privileged, she said, watching Hochman learn the importance of listening and responding in the moment to find trust and truthfulness within himself and with his scene partners.

Moving on

After Colby, Hochman appeared in several plays, including the off-Broadway premiere of Dead Poets Society, with Jason Sudeikis, and Sweat, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. A year and a half before The Sound Inside’s 18-week Broadway run, he and Parker performed the two-person play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Will Hochman had his Broadway debut in 2019 in the New York Times critically acclaimed production of The Sound Inside. Hochman and his costar, Tony Award winner Mary-Louise Parker, both won a 2020 Outer Critics Circle Award for their performance in the two-person play. (Photo by Andrew Kist)

At the same time, Hochman acted on television and in films and shorts. He recounted a “joyous” shoot in Florida for the Indie film Critical Thinking, filming a scene for the movie Let Him Go with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, and the “beautiful” short film Love with Boris McGiver and Susan Sarandon. 

The affecting drama Love, which ran on the prestigious “Short of the Week” series in 2020, is a story about fathers, sons, tennis, and the dangers inherent in a desire to win. Like A Paracosm, Love showcases Hochman’s tremendous athleticism, honed as a squash player at Colby.

Hochman then found himself in the hugely popular Blue Bloods. “And the scene is you and Tom Selleck. The scene is you and Donnie Wahlberg. The only option is to bring it. It was kind of a similar thing with Broadway. The only option was to attempt to meet Mary-Louise where she was. There’s no opportunity to wag your tail or to be excited about being the new guy. There’s a job to be done. Do the job.”

But does he get nervous? Even a little?

Just a bit, he admits. But mostly because acting is a leap into the unknown, he said. “You’re being someone else and saying different lines. And you’re doing that with another person who’s doing the same thing, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen. It’s a pure act of creation.”

And then there’s the antidote for nervousness—preparation.

“If I know my lines inside and out, know the story inside and out. Know what my character is doing there, why he’s there, what he wants, what he doesn’t want, what he’s afraid of, what he hopes for. And if I can have all of that in place, then all I have to do is let go.”

Hochman brought that spirit to Apple TV’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever, a mostly true story set during the Vietnam War that Hochman felt was timely and funny. After three auditions, he got the part of Tommy Minogue and worked with the “unbelievable” team of Zac Efron and Peter Farrelly. “All of my scenes were with Zac—a lovely guy,” said Hochman. “I loved doing it.”

Acting, a gift

When Hochman auditioned for Blue Bloods in 2020, it was for a two-episode guest-star appearance. He filmed one episode right before the Covid shutdown, which became the cliffhanging season finale. That one episode has since blossomed into 14 episodes over two-and-a-half years with Hochman making frequent, recurring appearances.

Will Estes, Will Hochman (center), and Donnie Wahlberg on the set of Blue Bloods at the Brooklyn Navy Yards in April 2022. Hochman has been a recurring character in the TV series for more than two years. (Photo by Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

That steadiness has been a blessing, a consistent gig during the pandemic and even now. Because despite what may seem a glamourous existence, an acting career can be precarious and unpredictable, Hochman said. There’s job insecurity, and auditioning is “hard, really hard.” In addition to the emotional and logistical preparation, auditions often end in disappointment.

While rejection can be heart-breaking and challenging, it’s also a teacher. It’s an opportunity to live in the moment, he said. Hochman moves from the philosophy that he controls only the things that he can control. Forget the rest. A daily yoga practice (which began at Colby), philosophical readings, and mindfulness techniques reinforce this approach to life.

The roles he doesn’t get? They make him grateful for the things that do come his way. And oh, what a wild, uncertain exploration of the human condition those things have brought.

“It’s a gift. It’s a crazy gift,” Hochman said of acting. “At its best, it makes life more full and unpredictable in exciting ways. And it’s wonderful!”