An Extraordinary Life
Odell Grant unwittingly became an Austin television star in 1981. If you were around then for the disastrous Shoal Creek flood, you remember Grant slogging through the muck, desperate to save his home. Every landmark anniversary of the event, the footage rolls again. Now 72 and retired, the craggy-faced, ever-smiling Grant despite $90,000 in storm damages to his home that he and wife Jeanne have never quite caught up with took the hint and is plastering his mug all over the big screen as perhaps Austin's busiest and happiest movie extra. "I was embalmed and buried in Elvis and Annabelle," he says of the Burnt Orange Productions film in which he is featured as a dead coach. "I had my funeral. Nobody I know of has met their pallbearers." He almost didn't get the chance. In 1999, he and Jeanne were run off the road, and Odell's back was broken. Later, his wife of 49 years was diagnosed with pulmonary embolisms and given six months to live. He donned a back brace and began to heal; Jeanne got experimental surgery that saved her life. But their woodworking craft business fell to the wayside, and the never-resolved house repair bills still loom. Grant fell into a funk. His savior was a chance meeting at Kinko's with a woman in the acting biz. "She said, 'Your face has outstanding characteristics,'" Grant recalls. "I said, 'Do you mean I look old?'"
In addition to playing a corpse, he's been a zombie in "Planet Terror," Robert Rodriguez's section of Grind House, and an anonymous anybody in the untitled war in Iraq film formerly known as Stop-Loss. But it is the television series Friday Night Lights that has brought out the boy in the man. Grant was a star defensive linebacker in Killeen and then played on scholarship at the University of Houston. "I hesitate to tell you my age for fear you will think I am on a walker I am not! I just need a job!" he wrote in a letter to the show's casting director. Quickly, he was cast as a fan in the stands. "They called and asked, 'Can you be an irate, vociferous grandpa in the stands?' I said, 'You bet I can.'" That resulted in a gig as a Texas Ranger roaming the sidelines ("I just stood on the sidelines like a goony bird, but, hey, they paid me for it") and lately as a member of the football team booster club.
His is the movie-extra dream that has drawn in the average Austinite on the street since the film industry truly began popping here in the mid-Nineties. Can a job as a blurry piece of human scenery blossom into some sort of real, regular acting job? Can you imagine winning the lottery? Grant can, and he's hustling and sweating on the sidelines waiting for the coach, er, director, to call his number. "It's like you turned the light on inside him," Jeanne says. "I keep saying it's divine intervention. You can't fathom what this has done for him."