Pelham Alumni at the Oscars

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Alum Joseph Cross (l) appeared in this year’s Oscar-nominated film MANK, while Jason Woliner directed BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM, which received two Academy Award nominations.

Nevan Malwana, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Senior

Pelham alumni have gone on to achieve success in fields all over the professional world. This year, in what some consider to be the most prestigious of awards shows, former PMHS alum Jason Woliner’s movie Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was nominated for 2 Oscars: best-supporting actress and best-adapted screenplay. While Woliner may be the latest, he is not the only alum who has been a part of a nomination-caliber film. Actor Joseph Cross has been a part of multiple Oscar-nominated films including Milk, Lincoln, and Flags of Our Fathers. Cross and Woliner, despite taking different paths to their success both came through the doors of PMHS, and recently, both agreed to talk about their time at the school, their success, and the different stages of their careers.

Jason Woliner, during his time at PMHS, took advantage of a number of opportunities the school offered that helped him further his already existing interest in the film industry, “I had decided I wanted to work in film and tv before I came to Pelham, but my experiences there were certainly very important in shaping my life. […] I had a great experience in Pelham. I ran the controversial haunted house attraction. I made movies with my friends. I acted in plays. I cherish it all!” Woliner said.

When asked how it felt to be a part of an Oscar-winning production Woliner said, “It’s an honor.” He noted, “It’s very rare for a comedy, let alone a comedy sequel, to be recognized.”

When asked for his advice on how to navigate through the challenges of the film industry Woliner said, “Don’t be afraid of failure. Any success I’ve had can be traced back to early, huge failures. And I’m still failing at something nearly every day!”.

To read more about Woliner’s journey, and the success as well as the controversy of Borat 2, click here

Joseph Cross started in the film industry at a young age and credited much of his success as an actor to his parents, “I loved watching movies as a kid and I expressed an interest in acting at a young age. Fortunately for me, my parents were very supportive and were willing to do all they could to help me in pursuit of that interest. They found me a talent manager who specialized in young actors, and then began taking me to auditions in New York City.” 

Cross discussed how special his education at Pelham was to him, and the meaningfulness of the opportunities PMHS gave to him, “The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I was to go to the Pelham schools. The theatre program at PMHS, as run by Mr. Orefice and then Mr. Beck, was a lifesaver for me in that it allowed me to continue to work toward what I wanted to do professionally while still in high school. The teachers at Pelham were universally engaged and supportive and seemed to care deeply about each individual student. Only now do I realize what a rarity it is to have such a robust arts program in a public school system. It is a testament to the teachers and faculty members who run those programs and to [the values] of the community at large,” Cross said.

When asked how it felt to be a part of Oscar-nominated work, Cross said, “It’s an honor to be in a movie that has been recognized in that way, and a privilege to work with filmmakers and actors that I have admired ever since I was in high school. Filmmaking is a team sport, and a film’s success is the culmination of over a hundred people’s hard work, passion, focus, and dedication. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some very talented people both in front of and behind the camera, and it is a joy to see their cumulative efforts rewarded.”

The film industry can seem ominous and exclusive to those not already part of it. When asked for his advice to students who may be considering a potential career in film, Cross said, “The only advice I might offer is to follow your curiosities wherever they take you and to try to diminish any whispers of doubt whether they come from within yourself or from others. To pursue a career in the arts is often to go against the grain, and to forgo the traditional benchmarks of success. Simply put – people may look at you like you’re crazy. So, the struggle is inherent, but if you lean into that it can deepen your resolve and inform whatever it is you’re trying to create. Read about people you admire, study their work, constantly be improving your own work, and hope for a bit of luck. Time is the only irreplaceable commodity, so I think a life spent in pursuit of what you love is worth all its challenges.”