John Kendall always considered himself an actor first.
Never mind that he has sat on the Haddon Township school board for 22 years, or that he has worked at the defense contracting firm of L3 Communications in Camden for decades.
If you don't blink, you can spot him as an extra in the new Bradley Cooper-Robert De Niro hit movie The Silver Linings Playbook. Or you can pick him out of the crowd in the Jamie Foxx thriller, Law Abiding Citizen, or the George Clooney classic Ocean's Eleven.
But Kendall said he was tired of playing bit parts and wanted to step into the limelight. Ready for his closeup, he penned Kennedy/Reagan about a fictional debate between the two political powerhouses (Ted Kennedy, in this case, not Jack or Bobby). The piece began as a play, but Kendall transformed it into a 98-minute movie.
"I've been an actor my entire life," said Kendall, 55. "I have a SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) card, but I'm tired of playing roles as a background actor in movies. I wanted to do something for myself as a vehicle for my career."
Kendall had to support a growing family after he graduated with a theater degree from Rutgers-Camden in 1980. Now, 32 years later, with his children almost through college, it's his time.
"If you have a dream, you have to pursue it," he said. "You make the time. If it's something important, you do it."
Kendall is also a history buff. He wrote Kennedy/Reagan as an Oliver Stone-type twist on history for a fictional debate that never happened. Perhaps if Ted Kennedy had won the Democratic nomination for president in 1980 instead of Jimmy Carter, the debate would have actually happened. But since he didn't, Kendall takes creative license and dreamed up the consumate debate between the "ultimate Democrat and ultimate Republican."
"This covers a lot of history in the last part of the 20th century," he said. "It's something everyone should know. If you care about the country, you should know about them and reflect on that."
Kennedy/Reagan premieres tonight, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Haddon Township High School media center. The $10 donation benefits the township crew team. It also brings the story of John Kendall full circle.
"I've always had a burning desire to make the world a better place," he said. "You need to be active to make the world, country and town you live in better. You have to give of ourselves to constantly improve things."
Kendall shot the low-budget film at the Camden County Boathouse in Pennsauken. He teamed with a friend and former classmate Angelo Parker and current Rutgers student Matthew Bowen. Parker directed, Boman edited. It was also a senior project for Bowen.