About a decade ago, you could have found a lanky high school kid named Ray Fisher working the concession stand at the Cinemark theater in Somerdale, helping to close up, taking down the old posters and putting up new ones.
Fisher got to keep the posters from movies he liked, like Batman Begins. On Friday, when he returns to the Cinemark, it will be in a different capacity — he's co-starring with Batman, in Justice League, as superhero Cyborg. He's also be on the red carpet in Somerdale, headlining a special screening of the movie at 7:30 p.m.
How do you get from the Somerdale Cinemark to Hollywood?
For Fisher, who just turned 30 and grew up in Lawnside, it started at Haddon Heights High School, where he saw a sign-up shoot for the school play, Into the Woods. He played one of the narrators, and doubled as the Wolf. Then a role in How to Succeed in Business, then his first lead — Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls.
"I definitely caught acting bug," said Fisher, who makes his major movie debut in Justice League, alongside Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Game of Thrones' Jason Momoa.
Fisher kept working at the movie theater, and "trying to make something happen on the Philly scene." That meant work in regional children's theater in association with Camden County Community College and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, where Fisher really learned the nuts and bolts of acting.
"I was part of the touring program. We did Midsummer Nights Dream, King Lear, Macbeth [in which he played the lead]. I loved it, but it was a grind. Your breaking down sets after the show, putting them up, doing shows for groups from ages six to 60, busting it four shows a day," Fisher recalled.
"You learn your craft, and you learn to hustle. Also how to give people their space. You're crammed in a van with a bunch of people, going all over the tri-state area, you learn to get along with others."
Along the way he completed a program at American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where he met a lot of New York connections, many of whom he said "are good friends to this day." One was an important mentor — Ben Vereen. He encouraged Fisher to seek big, challenging roles. Fisher was interested in the lead in an off-Broadway play called Fetch Clay, Make Man, a production about Muhammad Ali.
"I remember saying to him, if I put in the work, I think I can understudy for this role in New York," Fisher said. "And he said, if you put in the work, you can be the lead in that play."
Fisher studied the part and worked out like a demon — adding 30 pounds of muscle — for two years before Vereen's prediction came true. He won the lead, and it became Fisher's big break.
While performing, he caught the attention of filmmaker Ang Lee, who was planning a movie about Ali and was looking at Fisher for the lead. And while that project has yet to be made, Lee helped put Fisher in contact with Hollywood agents and studio people, including a few folks at Warner Brothers who were casting Justice League.
And so Haddon Heights' Sky Masterson, and a New Jersey Macbeth who had to build his own Birnam Wood everyday, found himself in the massively-budgeted Justice League, with the industry's biggest stars.
Fisher re-added his 30 Muhammad Ali pounds to buff up for Cyborg, actually a guy named Victor Stone who is injured in an accident and rebuilt by his scientist father (Joe Morton) as a cyborg with enhanced vision and built-in AI.
Most of that is added to Fisher by computer generated special effects, something he had to get used to.
"Sometimes you're talking to a tennis ball on a stick, and you have to imagine what is supposed to be there, and trust that the editors and the animators are going to make it all convincing to the audience. You have to pull a lot from within," he said. "But in some ways it's not that different. In theater you have the imaginary fourth wall, and in a movie like this, you have the green screen, so you are used to making that leap."
Fisher said Cyborg is scheduled to one day get his own movie, though there is nothing definite on that front yet. In Hollywood, or in a touring company, nothing is certain.