Here are some moments in the life of a successful TV actor. Jim Hoffmaster (shown here) was:
1) Visiting his high school alma mater in Durand, Mich., when a young woman rushed in, grinning. She was meeting the guy who played Kermit on “Shameless” – “my favorite character on my favorite show.” Later, he was cheered at a street fair in Lansing, Mich.; it was, he said, “the closest I’ve ever been to being mobbed.”
2) Back home in Los Angeles, in his crowded studio apartment. No, he doesn’t have elegant dinner parties there. In fact, he never has guests … and he sometimes eats soup straight from the can.
Those scenes are in “Acting Like Nothing is Wrong,” a documentary now reaching film festivals (including the East Lansing Film Festival on Nov. 10). The contrasts — a vivid view of the life of a supporting actor — will surprise viewers … as they surprised the filmmaker. “He warned me what his apartment was like,” Jane Rosemont said, “but it was still a bit of a shock.”
And it brought a key question in her mind: “What does it mean to be successful?”
By most standards, Hoffmaster is thoroughly successful. He’s had guest roles on 25 TV shows and a recurring role on one: He was in 69 “Shameless” episodes, more than half the total.
That brings fame, but not buy-a-house money. “When I first got here,” he said from Los Angeles, “I would look at the big houses and think, ‘What would they do with all that space?’”
The documentary is a fascinating glimpse at an actor’s life – even if it isn’t what Rosemont had expected. “You have to go where the story leads you,” she said.
She had seen short films about foster care. “I thought I would have a different way to do it …. I could make it hopeful.” So she thought of Hoffmaster.
Rosemont was visiting Los Angeles once when friends told her she should meet Hoffmaster, whom she had known about briefly when both lived in Lansing. Soon, they were friends … and he was telling about his hectic, foster-care childhood.
“I come from pretty much a stable background,” said Rosemont, the youngest of eight kids in Detroit, “so this just fascinated me.” She started to make a short film (her fourth) and soon had much more.
Eventually, they were flying to West Virginia to meet his relatives and his maybe-relatives. He also received his old case files, including one that said: “He is retarded, (but) he can still be educated.”
What emerged was a portrait of someone who desperately wanted positive attention. He got it in Durand, where he was considered a good reader – “I thought of myself as an intellectual,” he recalled by phone – and then an actor. After a summer theater workshop at Michigan State University, he decided he would be an actor. “I don’t remember having an alternative.”
He planned to go to MSU, but “forgot the part where you work hard and get good grades.” Instead, he reached Lansing Community College at the perfect time. The theater program was thriving; in a triumphant, 1982 “Hair,” he was one of the naked stars.
He was Berger – the role that made Treat Williams a movie star. Back then, the long-haired Hoffmaster had a Treat-like flair. One young woman described him as the guy every girl wanted.
Hoffmaster laughed when he heard about that long-ago comment. He’s been told he has a mild form of Crouzon syndrome, in which the skull forms abnormally. A cruel foster father called him “Herman Munster”; Hoffmaster describes his face as “like a Picasso painting.”
But back then, he was a leading man. “The time I did ‘Hair’ was as much of a Lothario as I ever was,” he said. “I was trying to date three women. It did not turn out well.”
He was happy in his Lansing life, working at a book store by day and starring onstage at night. Still … “I thought, ‘This is the thing I want to do, but I’m always tired.’”
So in 2001 he moved west to be a full-time actor. His car broke down, his money ran out, but he stayed.
His first good break was in a commercial, as a guy who needed a Bahamas vacation. It had him say “But I’m a happy guy” as sad-sack photos appeared onscreen.
There were lots of auditions, a few roles … and a casting director who liked him. On the second or third “Shameless” try, the guy “came out and said, ‘Jim. We are going to get you on the show.’”
He did. Kermit was only on one episode the first season, three the second and two the third. But then he became a steady comic force, a bar buddy to the shameless Frank (Willian H. Macy).
The main filming of the documentary ended in 2019; during the editing, the world changed. “Shameless” finally ended; so did Hoffmaster’s job at Weight Watchers, which didn’t need him for Covid-era virtual sessions.
But he persists. He was a pawnbroker in an “American Gigolo” episode and he’ll be a priest in a low-budget horror film. He’s just filmed a food commercial (he can’t be specific) for Christmastime.
He keeps auditioning, keeps going to festivals (including East Lansing). He keeps acting like nothing is wrong.