His first day on the job, Wolfgang Bodison sat across a table from his coworkers Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon watched beads of sweat trickle from his forehead onto the script in front of him, and panicked. ''I thought, 'Lord, if I open my mouth, please let something come out,''' says Bodison, a 25-year-old Washington, D.C., native who makes his acting debut as a Marine accused of murder in A Few Good Men. ''That reading,'' he says, ''was the most nerve-racking day I had.''
What plays on screen when the 6-foot-2-inch, 180-pound former defensive back for the University of Virginia football team shouts down the mega-star of Top Gun is pure power, steely control, and the dramatic embodiment of a foot soldier's unquestioning loyalty to the Corps. Not a bad metamorphosis for a former mailroom employee and aspiring director who had never given acting a moment's thought.
Hired in 1989 to deliver mail at director Rob Reiner's Castle Rock production company, Bodison quickly became a production assistant and worked as Reiner's personal assistant on 1990's Misery. He was scouting locations for A Few Good Men in August of 1991 when he bumped into Reiner at the office. ''A few sentences into the conversation, he says, 'Have you ever acted?''' recalls Bodison. ''I said, 'No.' And he said, 'Have you ever thought about it?''' Recalls Reiner: ''I'd been looking for about a month or so, and I'd found some good actors, but none who had this image of the recruiting-poster Marine this ramrod-straight, taut-looking kind of guy. Wolfgang walks by, and I said, 'I need somebody who looks like Wolf!'''
The neophyte got an open-armed welcome from the cast. ''They knew my story and got a big kick out of it,'' Bodison says. ''I surprised them, and I surprised myself.'' Reiner describes Bodison as ''very raw, but very intelligent and determined. When the film was over, I was almost crying because he's like a son to me; it was like watching your son succeed.'' And now, with an agent and an acting coach, Bodison hopes A Few Good Men is just the beginning of his acting success. ''I've been learning the auditioning process,'' he says. ''There's a pressure now to get another job.''