By Crystal Liechty
You may not know his name but I bet you know his face. Holladay resident, Daryn Tufts, has been a recognizable local figure since his turn as the lovable nerd, Eldon, in “The Singles Ward” (2002); and has achieved permanent Utah cultural icon status as ThermWise, Questar Gas’ money-saving mascot.
I sat down with Tufts to discuss his life in Utah — from his first movie role (which he stumbled into), his latest film project (a horror film on a micro-budget), his favorite view in Holladay (the mountains) and everything in between.
Tufts, who was raised in Arcadia, Calif., moved to Utah to attend Brigham Young University in Provo. After graduating, he moved to Cottonwood Heights before finally settling in Holladay City.
“I love how close we are to the mountains and how we’re just a hop away from everything,” he said. “And I love the blend of cultures and people in Holladay.”
THE SINGLES WARD
“I loved the idea of a [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] film and I found the concept very exciting,” he said. But the script needed work, and Hale had several people looking at it. “I gave Kurt some feedback and we hit it off.”
Tufts’ primary focus has always been writing, but he’s no stranger to the stage. He did live comedy while at BYU, as part of The Garrens Comedy Troupe. Still, he was nervous when Hale asked him to be in the movie.
“It freaked me out,” Tufts admitted. “You see movies where people have no business being in them. When I was first cast, I thought it would be a lot of fun but then I thought, ‘did I just make a huge mistake that will live forever on film?’”
It turns out Tufts didn’t make a mistake. “The Singles Ward” was a success – with an estimated budget of $500,000, the movie made $1.2 million while in theaters.
The film spawned a number of follow-ups, many of which featured Tufts in small roles, including “The R.M.,” “The Home Teachers,” “Church Ball” and “The Singles 2nd Ward.”
MY GIRLFRIEND’S BOYFRIEND
When he sent Milano the script, he describes it as a “shot in the dark.” But Milano ended up loving the concept so much she requested a meeting. The meeting ended with her deciding to produce, as well as star, in the film, which was shot in the Salt Lake valley.
“I wanted to make a movie that was clean, that had heart,” he said. “And I wanted to make a movie that was an informal love letter to Salt Lake.”
Although Tufts was tapped from the get-go to be ThermWise, he still had to go through the audition process. “The head of the ad agency – the one who invented the character – approached me and said I’d be great at this,” he said. “But I had no idea how big it would be. All these years, and it’s still going strong.”
In fact, it’s the role that Tufts is most often recognized for.
“I’ve been Therm for so long and in so many places, that I’ve embraced it,” he said. “The best encounters are when I get a simple ‘Hi Therm.’ I’m just Therm, walking down the street. That’s how ingrained the character’s become.”
Tufts’ latest film project, “Inside,” debuted at the Salt Lake Comic Con (Sept. 5-7), where it won four awards: Best Feature, Best Director (Tufts), Best Actor (Luke Goss) and Best Editing.
The film, a horror story about a prisoner who must find a way to escape his cell or face a gruesome death, is an experiment in micro-budget filmmaking.
“The idea was born from an experiment,” Tufts said. “I asked myself: What if I put together a really small, small film – a film that can happen all at one location? I decided if I was going to do that, it needed to be really tense; to capture the audience.”
He heard about an abandoned county jail in Provo. With the location set and a script in hand, the funding came easily. And so did the lead actor, Luke Goss. “I was surprised by the enthusiasm and I never thought I’d get anyone with any kind of name but [Goss] really caught the vision of it,” Tufts said. “He threw himself into the role like it was the most important thing he’d ever done.”
“I didn’t seek to do something radically different; this is just the next movie I made,” Tufts said, acknowledging that “Inside” is so vastly different from his previous project it might alienate fans. “Everyone was talking about what a clean, sweet movie I’d made [with ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’] and saying ‘I can’t wait to see what he does next.’ So … whoops.”
And if you’re wondering how different this movie is from the last one he made– in a word: very.
“It takes place in a prison. There was no way not to have profanity in it,” he said. “It’s intense, people are dying. There’s nothing really vile happening, but it’s all tension.”
No official release date has been set for the film, though Tufts predicts it will be released in U.S. theaters early next year.
Tufts recently began a production company, Flinch Creative, with longtime friend and actor, Dave Nibbley (“Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed,” “The Best Two Years”). Through this, Tufts hopes to write and direct commercials and movies.
“Utah is a very exciting place to make movies,” he said. “There’s a great film culture here and a lot of untapped potential.”