On the big screen

RJ Konner chats with Nancy Walker Zindel ’71 at the Flashback Social, held during the 2012 Alumni Weekend in April.

RJ Konner chats with Nancy Walker Zindel ’71 at the Flashback Social, held during the 2012 Alumni Weekend in April.

After years in front of the camera, actor RJ Konner '73 steps behind and launches an independent film production company.

From the Roanoke College Magazine, Issue Three, 2012. View the entire Roanoke Magazine online.

RJ (Bob) Konner '73
, television and movie actor, radio voiceover artist and producer, graduated from Roanoke College with a bachelor's degree and went into his family car business in New Jersey. It was, Konner said, the perfect acting experience.

"I sold cars and trucks for 30 years, and if I can't act, nobody can," he said he explained during his first acting audition, which took place a good three decades after college graduation.

Several years ago, he and two business partners started Who's On First? Productions PR Inc., an independent film production company that develops, produces and finances commercial, feature-length motion pictures. Konner has appeared in more than 60 feature films and television series, most recently in "The Adjustment Bureau" and "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps." 

A turning point in his life came in 1981, when 52 Americans were held hostage in Tehran, Iran, for 444 days. He and his father, Malcolm, decided to spend an entire months' advertising budget to produce and hand out U.S. flag "Free the Hostages" bumper stickers at their three dealerships. They had so much publicity from the radio morning drive shows, including that hosted by Don Imus, that Konner persuaded his father to start advertising on those stations. Konner began to write their radio commercials and do the voiceovers.

Konner obtained his Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card in the late 1980s, starring in his own TV commercials. He began to get bit parts in TV shows and movies, and in a moment of serendipity, caught actor Eddie Murphy's eye while shooting a scene from the movie "Meet Dave" in New York City. Murphy, a former customer who'd purchased vehicles from Konner, recognized him on the movie set and soon after flew him to Hollywood, where he landed a role in another Murphy movie "Imagine That!."

Konner recalled that when he pulled up to the studio gate in Hollywood, he was greeted with "Mr. Konner, welcome to Paramount Studios."

"It was the most thrilling moment of my life, with the exception of having my children," said Konner, the divorced father of sons Jared and Cameron, and daughter Madison.

Konner, who also is a member of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Actors Equity Association (AEA), sold the family business in 2005. He had been involved in virtually all aspects of business: advertising, managing, training and with so many employees, even becoming a sort of "in-house psychologist," he said. And he'd learned from his father that success comes from treating people the way you'd like to be treated. That good practice translated directly into the movie business. Konner's new production company will enable him to explore the business not only on-camera, but from behind the lens.

"I'm hoping Who's On First? becomes an entity, like Lionsgate," he said, referring to the leading global movie studio/ independent film and television distribution company.

Who's On First? has signed a contract with BMG Chrysalis, the world's fourth-largest music publishing company, for a long-term music publishing deal that involves various movie and television productions. Projects currently in pre-production include "Spring Break Chain Gang," a college fraternity comedy co-written by former "Saturday Night Live" writers, and "A Tale of Two Horses," an animated family film. 

Konner looks back fondly on his years at Roanoke. A member of Sigma Chi Fraternity, he said he made great friends and had wonderful opportunities to travel abroad. He recalled exploring the ancient histories of Italy and Greece, as well as studying in London, Paris and Madrid.

While his initial dream upon starting college was to be a physician, he perhaps has done even better. He played a doctor in the TV series "Nurse Jackie," "Law & Order: SVU" - even a surgeon in the 2010 Angelina Jolie movie, "Salt." 

-Sarah Cox

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