Atlanta character actor paired with Jennifer Coolidge in Amazon’s ‘Shotgun Wedding’

Credit: Ana Carballosa/Lionsgate

Credit: Ana Carballosa/Lionsgate

Steve Coulter’s career has been built on hard work and ‘nice guy’ energy.

Atlanta actor Steve Coulter, on his 10-minute highlight reel of his recent work on his IMDb page, shows an impressive array of roles in prominent series and films, both comedic and dramatic.

He’s a no-nonsense law-firm partner opposite Tatiana Maslany in the Disney+ 2022 series ”She-Hulk.” He’s a crime victim facing off against a skeptical Al Pacino in the 2017 drama “Hangman.” He’s a corrupt sheriff with a heavy Southern drawl in Starz’s current drama “P-Valley.” And he’s an eccentric baseball coach donning pink women’s underwear in a 2017 episode of IFC’s “Brockmire” with Hank Azaria.

After building a steady resumé as a character actor, Coulter has nabbed one of his most prominent roles to date playing Larry Fowler, the future father-in-law of Jennifer Lopez’s beleaguered bride character Darcy Rivera in the new action-comedy flick “Shotgun Wedding” out on Amazon this Friday.

Even better, he is the video-camera wielding husband of Carol, embodied by the distinctively hilarious Jennifer Coolidge, who has become a hot commodity in Hollywood after her recent two-season run in HBO’s hit series “The White Lotus.” In “Shotgun Wedding,” the couple is at a resort in the Philippines to see their son (Josh Duhamel) get married to J. Lo’s Darcy, a ceremony rudely interrupted by pirates who take the guests hostage.

Coulter got to spend quality time with Coolidge, much of it standing in an infinity pool with dozens of other wedding guests.

“She’s a lot smarter than her characters,” Coulter said recently during a lunch with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at Bell Street Burritos on Peachtree Road. “She’s kind of her own entity. She got to this point in her career by busting her [expletive].”

You could say the same thing about Coulter’s own work ethic. Over his 35-year career in theater and film, he figured out often creative ways to find work in a field he loves. And now at age 63, Coulter is getting meatier roles and regularly working with A-list talent.

“He delivers quality work in a respectful professional manner,” said Mike Pniewski, a fellow Atlanta-based character actor who has known him almost 30 years. “He treats everyone well and is a good human being to boot. He’s having his moment now. He’s worked for it and he’s earned it.”

Coulter said he is just thrilled to get steady work: “We’re just grown ups running around in costumes. It’s always fun.”

The fame part? Not his thing.

“People always think they went to school with me,” he said. “I was at the premiere of ‘Shotgun Wedding’ and Jennifer Lopez had this huge security detail surrounding her. I am fine being invisible. My favorite thing is to go into a coffee shop and just read.”

Credit: Chris Loupos

Credit: Chris Loupos

Canadian-born Coulter grew up in Ohio where he discovered classic movies at a revival movie house, sparking his desire to act. “I had a crush on Greta Garbo,” he said.

After graduating the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 1981, Coulter toiled for six years in New York City in theater trying to make it big while doing side jobs to pay the bills. “I did construction,” he said. “I drove trucks. I was a bouncer at a folk club in Greenwich Village. Believe it or not, there were a lot of fights. Women would throw drinks in my face.” (He also got mugged three times in Manhattan.)

In 1987, he moved to Atlanta for a play at the Alliance Theatre and never left. Over the next 28 years, he performed in more than two dozen plays in town, most recently “Edward Foote” at the Alliance in 2015. Veteran Atlanta stage actor Tom Key said he was “mesmerizing” on stage, adding layers of complexity to his various roles. “He’s like that Walt Whitman line, ‘I contain multitudes.’

For most of his time in Atlanta, Georgia was a desert for film and TV. In the 1990s, he played a cop on NBC’s “I’ll Fly Away” and a burglar on CBS’s “In the Heat of the Night.” He did industrial safety and sexual harassment videos for corporations. He taught acting classes. He made do.

In the early 2000s, he was inspired by Billy Bob Thornton creating his own quirky character in “Sling Blade” and mortgaged his house to create a short film “The Etiquette Man” about a sweet “Mr. Rogers”-type preacher helping teens. “It was taking control of my own destiny,” he said. Sundance Channel aired it and Coca-Cola provided a grant to distribute the film to middle and high schools.

“Kindness,” he said, “is never unfashionable.”

He kept writing feature films and dropped a script and film shorts to Tyler Perry in 2005 after getting a small part in “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

While Perry didn’t end up using his script, he did hire Coulter to write for Perry’s first TV show on TBS “House of Payne.” Coulter spent three intense years with Perry, working 60 to 80-hour weeks, pumping out a whopping 200 episodes of TV. It was a great experience, he said, but exhausting. “I had a teenage daughter,” he said. “I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Fortunately, by the late 2000s, the generous Georgia tax credits spawned a boom in TV and film production in the state and gave Coulter a chance to refocus on acting. In various Atlanta-shot films, he landed modest roles without actual character names like “Game Center Tech #1″ in “Hunger Games” and “Rosie’s Doctor” in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

A big break came when director James Wan gave him a small role as a priest in the 2013 “Conjuring” horror movie and liked him enough to give his Father Gordon character more screen time in the two sequels. In 2015, Coulter landed a short-lived but notable role in “The Walking Dead” at its peak popularity, enabling him to show up for a time at “Dead” fan conventions to sign autographs and take selfies.

Coulter, after working with Brenda Pauley of Atlanta talent agency People Store for many years, added a second agent, Brittney McDade in Los Angeles. McDade secured him even more work, much of it outside of Georgia. For instance, he got to play Prince Charles in a Lifetime movie “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” and two sequels And McDade cajoled the casting director for “Shotgun Wedding” to cast Coulter without an audition.

“She believes in me,” Coulter said. “It’s ridiculous!”

“Shotgun Wedding” was shot during the pandemic so all the main actors had to live in the same quarantined home for six consecutive weeks like a reality TV show. But he said there was no drama in the house.

“We listened to music and danced,” he said. “We didn’t talk about show business. We talked family and movies and food. We were all grateful to be back at work.”

Coulter has three more film projects coming out this year. He plays a pompous British director in Charlie Day’s comedy “Fool’s Paradise,” which is set for theaterical release next month. He has a small role as a government official in Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” about the Manhattan Project. And he gets to be a CIA bad guy in the Netflix film “We Have a Ghost,” which also stars Anthony Mackie, Tig Notaro, David Harbour and Coolidge again.

“I hope I can just keep working with people who are at the top of their game and play on that field more,” Coulter said. “I’m really enjoying the ride.”


ON TV

“Shotgun Wedding,” available on Amazon Prime

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