A familiar face: Actor Peter Breitmayer will receive RHS Legacy Award
You might not recognize Peter Breitmayer’s name, but there’s a good chance you’d find his face familiar. Maybe you’ve seen him in a recurring role on the sitcom The Middle, or as one of the other insurance company’s agents in the Progressive Insurance commercials with Flo.
Maybe you recognize him from the Rosemount High School class of 1983’s group photo.
Breitmayer, who will return to his alma mater this weekend to receive the school’s fifth annual Legacy Award, has built a career of mostly small roles in a diverse collection of movies, TV shows, plays and commercials. He’s credited as Pete Miller in The Middle, Raymond Garvey in Mad Men, Chairman Thorpe in the Angeline Jolie movie Changeling and Dr. Hundtkinder in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
It’s a long and successful career that got its start at Rosemount Middle School with a play called Little Merry Sunshine. Breitmayer doesn’t remember now exactly why he auditioned for the show. He was involved in choir at the school, and he suspects the choir director encouraged him.
“That’s sort of the first (acting) thing I ever did my whole life was that melodrama in middle school,” said Breitmayer, who moved to Rosemount from California when he was 12. “It just turned into a big fun time with people laughing at you and people enjoying what you were doing.”
That experience didn’t exactly cement Breitmayer’s future as an actor, but when he got to Rosemount High School he jumped fully into the theater department. He was in Arsenic and Old Lace his freshman year and in 12 shows overall in his four years at the school.
The theater program at RHS was different then than it is now. There was no performing arts center, so shows were performed in a little theater at the school or in a larger theater at Apple Valley High School.
“I remember doing a few shows in the round in the cafeteria,” Breitmayer said.
Theater was still important at the school, though. Enough that Breitmayer, as one of the star performers, remembers getting cut some slack when he wanted to leave school early.
“It felt like quite a big deal back then,” he said. “I was really grateful for the resources they had to do shows. There were decent budgets, and of course the directors and the music directors were so terrific.”
Breitmayer credits those directors, particularly current English teacher Thomas Hoffman and retired choir directors Steve Boehlke and Judy Sagen, with laying the foundation for his future as an actor. They taught him how to be a responsible member of a group, he said, and how to create specific feelings with his performance.
“I think Steve Boehlke and Judy Sagen and Thom Hoffman really taught me how to do the work and not just try to get away with being a dilettante about it. I think they encouraged me because they saw something in me,” Breitmayer said. “They really gave me the core of skills in terms of focus, in terms of listening.”
Breitmayer continued to act at Gustavus Adolphus College, but he didn’t take theater classes. He studied theology and was close to enrolling in graduate school when he decided he wanted to pursue an acting career. So, he moved to Minneapolis and started finding work in local theaters and in commercials. He got some roles in movies like Drop Dead Fred and the Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas comedy Jingle All the Way that were filming in Minnesota.
In 1996, he moved to Los Angeles full time and he’s been working steadily ever since. His IMDB page features photos of him with the likes of Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins. He doesn’t always get the big roles, but he continues to find work.
“Ideally, I’d love to be Philip Seymour Hoffman so I’d have more access to more doors opening, but people know me in this town,” Breitmayer said. “It’s been a good life. I’m kind of surprised continuously that it keeps going.”
Breitmayer will be the sixth person to receive the RHS Legacy Award. The first went to Boehlke, and awards have also gone to former administrators Greg Clausen and Rita Gundacker and to school supporters David and Barbara Toombs as people who helped lay the foundation for the arts at RHS.
With this year’s award, the school wanted to start recognizing alumni who have continued in the arts after graduation.
Breitmayer said he is honored to receive the award, and a little nervous about getting on stage to accept it. He looks forward to seeing the school’s new theater, and to taking in a performance of OnStage, the musical variety show he was part of three times during his own high school career.
“It’s going to sound trite, but I was really surprised and I’m really touched by (the award),” he said. “There’s so many people that I owe so much to at that school.”