Deerfield grad lands role on his way to Yale: Will Sussbauer plays a 1970s boarding school student in “The Holdovers” blockbuster, filmed locally

Ashfield resident Will Sussbauer had a role in “The Holdovers” film that was shot on Deerfield Academy’s campus.

Ashfield resident Will Sussbauer had a role in “The Holdovers” film that was shot on Deerfield Academy’s campus. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Ashfield resident Will Sussbauer in “The Holdovers” film that was shot on Deerfield Academy's campus.

Ashfield resident Will Sussbauer in “The Holdovers” film that was shot on Deerfield Academy's campus. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 08-18-2023 1:34 PM

The picturesque boarding school campuses and Shelburne Falls village aren’t the only local features in the new “The Holdovers” film coming out Nov. 10. Ashfield’s Will Sussbauer, a Deerfield Academy graduate heading to Yale University this fall, got the opportunity to play a student in the classroom for the film.

Produced by Honest Scholars Production LLC and Miramax, and directed by Alexander Payne, “The Holdovers” is a comedic drama starring Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham, a professor disliked by his students, fellow faculty and the head of school at a prestigious New England academy. Hunham befriends Angus, a 15-year-old student, and the school’s cook Mary, played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who just lost her son in the Vietnam War, as they spend two weeks of winter break at the academy learning how to understand one another and forge a better life, according to a synopsis provided by Miramax.

Sussbauer will play the role of Carter Crocker in the early scenes of the movie, as Giamatti is shown teaching the dissatisfied students. 

“Being in a blockbuster film was not something I anticipated,” Sussbauer said. 

Sussbauer explained as the casting director began casting the movie, they went around to the boarding schools of New England and auditioned boys involved in theater programs who attended the schools. 

Twelve Deerfield Academy students ended up auditioning, and two got cast in the film; one was Dominic Sessa, who landed the lead of Angus. Sussbauer said going to a boarding school is such a unique experience that the directors likely purposely looked for students actively in boarding school so they could understand the experience of the characters they played. Sussbauer emphasized that even Giamatti attended a boarding school in his youth. 

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Sussbauer explained being cast in the film was a lengthy process. After the initial audition, he attended a call-back audition as well as a subsequent Zoom audition before he was told he had a part. 

One scene with Sussbauer took place in the same room as his junior year English classroom. The big difference between Sussbauer and his character is the film takes place in the 1970s, so he said he had to understand what it was like to be a student 50 years ago. 

“It was a formative thing for me even though I was on set for only a few days,” Sussbauer said. “It is a remarkable experience to be able to see how much of a production it is and how many people are involved.” 

Sussbauer said one eye-opening experience was when the set was dressed with snow. Filming at Deerfield Academy during a warm week, there was no snow on the ground. This meant that a crew had to cover the entire main academic quadrangle with fake snow to bring the winter break experience to life. 

“Seeing how many people were involved in the making of this film is something I never thought of. This was really impactful,” Sussbauer said. 

Sussbauer had the upbringing of many young people interested in theater in Franklin County. He attended Ja'Duke Center for the Performing Arts in Turners Falls, The Bement School and later Deerfield Academy where he continued acting and writing plays for the theater and the screen. 

He said he learned quickly about the difference between theater and film acting, having to tone down his motions for the camera. “On the stage, you are always playing to the back of the house,” he said. 

Sussbauer will attend Yale University for his undergraduate studies this fall where he plans to study English and film. He attended a summer program where he fell in love with writing screenplays and hopes to continue his passion. 

He said he hopes to include western Massachusetts in his writing moving forward. He explained he always loves the Ashfield Fall Festival and hopes to include the festival in the art he makes in the future.

“A new thing is being filmed every other year in Shelburne. That’s really neat,” he said. He said he loves how the area is portrayed in recent films, especially Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film “Little Women.” 

“It felt so deeply Massachussetts in a way I haven’t seen before,” he said. “Seeing this area portrayed in a film is really interesting.” 

He said most films idealize western Massachusetts and he hopes to make art that conveys complexities about the region in the future. 

“I do live in this beautiful, incredible adorable place. I will always be holding onto that where ever I go,” Sussbauer said.

Bella Carmela Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com