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Meet Artist, Actor, and Writer Stephen Conn: A Johnnie of All Trades

August 14, 2018 | By Anne Kniggendorf

Stephen Conn on Set of Better Call Saul
Stephen Conn (SF98) on the set of Better Call Saul.

Growing up as an introverted kid in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Stephen Conn (SF98) could not have imagined that one day he’d be on set of one of TV’s most popular series—but now, it’s just another day on the job.

Conn, who works as a background actor, recently filmed part of the season finale of AMC/Netflix’s successful Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul.

“If I can spot myself in there, that’d be fun,” he says.

His nonchalance makes sense. Conn has been star-adjacent for years, working in proximity of (if not directly with) celebrities like Gary Oldman, Paul Rudd, Jessica Chastain, Josh Brolin, and Jeff Bridges.

He credits his involvement in film and television partially to St. John’s.

“Discussing ideas in a roundtable setting was very good to get me out of my shell,” he says. “If I wasn’t put in the position of discussing ideas, I probably would have still been too shy to go into theater arts and go on stage in front of people.”

In fact, it was during his college years that he began pursuing theater in earnest. Conn took a year off from the Program between his junior and senior years and enrolled in some theater courses at New Mexico State University. After graduation, he moved to Chicago to study at Second City, the improvisational acting incubator that nurtured comedy giants like Tina Fey, Jason Sudeikis, Bill Murray, and Amy Poehler. (While he wasn’t on stage with any of them, he did see some of their early performances.)

His next move was to New York, where he scored an internship at Saturday Night Live. His experience there, he says, is best summed up by the title of his in-progress memoir: I Fixed Jimmy Fallon’s Gameboy (By Putting in Batteries) and Other Adventures of an Intern at Saturday Night Live.

While he has experienced considerable success in the worlds of TV, film, and theater, in fact, writing is the passion currently taking up most of his time.

Stephen Conn with book Writer Fighters
Conn with his graphic novel, Writer Fighters.

At the moment, he’s focused on finding a publisher for his full-length self-published graphic novel, Writer Fighters, which showcases four famous members of the literary canon fighting fascism. This, too, was heavily influenced by St. John’s; Conn discovered a book of correspondence between Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald while enrolled and later read James Joyce and William Faulkner as part of the undergraduate reading list. He began imagining the four authors together, and Writer Fighters was born.

“They’re assembled by the government as a super team to fight the fascist dictator Franco in 1937 Spain,” says Conn.

Conn says he spent years working to capture the voices and personalities of the authors, then finding ways to make them collide with each other. For instance, when Fitzgerald is positioned to blow up a bridge, he’s overcome by the beauty of the light in the countryside and neglects his duties—to disastrous effect.

“The evening light was coming on, so reminiscent of when all our hearts were young and full of promise. And I thought I’d take a few notes," Conn writes as Fitzgerald, explaining himself to Hemingway. "You know how hard up for material I’ve been lately.”

Other projects include comic strips “Radioactive Rabbi” and “Santa Fates” (about a Jewish superhero and the Santa Fe gallery scene, respectively) and documentary “Minot (Or ‘My Uncle, The Author’),” which he wrote and directed. With such a diverse resume, there’s rarely a dull moment in Conn’s career.

“As an artist, I’m always just looking for new forms of expression,” he says.