By: Jaimz Dillman
If anyone has ever benefitted from being in the right place at the right time, Chis Michael Ross is the master. Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, he lived between the world of sports and theater. Once he was cast in his first big play, he had to make a painful decision. "I had to have a talk with my coach, Tony Wysinger. He was real dope about it, and said he was there to raise me to be a young man. If theater was where I needed to be then do it," Ross said.
After a stint at Illinois Central College for a theater degree, Ross traveled to Orlando as part of Disney's College Program... and never looked back. Starting in the animated character department, he then followed friends to a face audition. "I was the black sheep in the room. The only POC person there. It was a type out audition, and I was the only one kept. I was so confused," said Ross. But, as fate had it, The Princess and the Frog movie was released just a few years prior to the audition, and the company was looking for their Shadowman. "They called me, and said they wanted me for Facilier, and I was so honored to be the first Black villain in the park! I called my mom, I was so happy," he said.
That wasn't all - Ross thought he was being used as a backup to their main contracted performer. It wasn't until he had his costume fitting that he found out he would be the one introducing Facilier in the "Boo To You" parade. The character had only ever been in the castle show before. "To portray him in such a long-running parade - it was so cool," Ross said. All of this led to the Christmas parade, features on ABC, private events, and the Villain's races. "Being the first of anything felt great. It kept me here," he said.
Of course, with success comes the detractors. Ross said there were plenty of people whispering behind his back. "There were people saying college kids don't get these chances. I pulled my weight, and performed my a** off. Wherever they could put me, they would. It opened so many doors for me. I feel like I was opening doors too, for more CP's to start doing daily entertainment," Ross said. And as more roles in parades, on stilts, at Star Wars Weekends, and in "Festival of the Lion King" came to him, his positivity was rewarded. "I knew I was blessed to work there. Every chance I got, I was working on choreography, even down the aisles at Walmart," Ross said. The haters finally came around, and told Ross they saw him doing the work, and proving himself.
After a brief stint at Universal Studios, for seasonal events, like Mardi Gras, and stilts, plus characters like Optimus Prime, all good things come to an end. Ross left the parks to be able to pursue more acting roles and opportunities. "About a year before we shot the first episode of The Villain's Lair, I was at Epcot with some friends, and met Layne at the Rose and Crown, where he was with his wife, celebrating their anniversary," Ross said. After a few drinks, and chatting about all the people they knew in common, Layne (one half of the PattyCake Productions dynamic duo) told Ross about a project they were working on. Having seen some of the previous videos his friends had been in, Ross was intrigued. "A year later they called me to film. It was my first time working with the other performers, although I already knew a lot of them. It was surreal, I was honored," Ross gushed.
Returning for more episodes, PattyCake gave Ross a chance to get back in the skin of someone he knew how to play like second nature. "I'm such a hard person when it comes to performing. I want it to be perfect. They let me do that. They know how to get it just right. I know I'm in good hands with them. Their attention to detail... and then the people who watch the videos! It's insane what they pick up in the music," Ross said.
While his favorite Villain is Ursula, Ross says he's interested to see where the whole story leads the villains. "Even though I'm in it, I'm sitting back like the audience, waiting to see where it goes next," Ross said. These days you can find him serving among the stars at Planet Hollywood, but he's ready for his next chance at the big time. "I want to get into more film. My ultimate goal is to be on a sitcom - be that crazy guy who comes over, and eats your food. I keep doing things to find a way in. How do I find the start?" Ross said. He also says he'd 100 percent do horror. "Work for Jordan Peele? I'd do that, here's my reel. I love pushing boundaries and doing what people don't expect - as long as it's all in good fun, ya know?"
Check out Chris Michael Ross in PattyCake Productions - The Villain's Lair. Don't miss the first episode of The Villain's Lair season two, debuting on September 25!