Conyers-based actor Nelson Bonilla well remembers the most critical 40 minutes of his entertainment career.
A New Jersey native who owned and operated a landscape design company, Bonilla found a previously unknown affinity for acting through a drama group at his church.
"When I started going to this little church in Henry County, I noticed they had a drama department, and I thought I'd be good at something like that," Bonilla said. "It was fun doing skits on Sunday mornings that emphasized the pastor's message. Acting really seemed to grab me, meaning that I was good at it."
Bonilla decided to try to engage an agent to help him find acting work, which was when he became the recipient of the 40 moments of truth.
"I decided to go for it, and got an appointment with an agent," he said. "And I was horrible. I'd never done a cold-read audition before and it was just terrible. But that agent spent about 40 minutes with me and took the time to point me in the right direction about taking acting classes, getting better photos and learning a technique. It was the most valuable 40 minutes anyone ever spent with me. It was constructive - she ripped me apart but she got me on the right path."
Six months later, better educated in the ways of the actor, Bonilla returned to that same agent's office and enjoyed an entirely different outcome.
"I had gone to class, I studied, I bought books on acting - I'd never read so much in my whole life," he said. "But the fire was lit. I went back to that agent and knocked her block off, and got my first agent. It was a good feeling."
In 2005, Bonilla landed his first role in "Motor Home Massacre," a low-budget horror film made in Georgia and was released directly to video.
"That movie is in every Blockbuster and Hollywood Video score in the country," said Bonilla. "That was my first major film role."
He's appeared in a number of small, independent films since then and in 2008 earned a role in the hit Fox-TV drama "Prison Break," which helped Bonilla feel he was turning the corner in his new profession.
"I landed three scenes in an episode of 'Prison Break' and it was a fantastic experience," he said. "The people I worked with were so graceful and encouraging. It was really surreal to be on a network TV show. The calls and e-mails were a little overwhelming but fun - that's been my biggest role until now."
Bonilla has returned to the independent film world, taking a supporting role in the thriller "Lynch Mob," in which a town with a long-held secret comes toe to toe with organized crime purveyors seeking out a snitch in hiding.
"It does have a unique plot line," Bonilla said of the story, which takes place in the fictional Georgia town of Lynchburg and pits flesh-eating zombies against well-armed New York City mobsters.
Originally reading for a role as an FBI agent, Bonilla wound up earning a part as Jimmy Q, the mobster who only speaks in questions. The film stars John J. Cornetta (who also serves as executive producer), as well as Tony Darrow (a veteran character actor who had a regular turn in "The Sopranos" as well as parts in several Woody Allen films) and Paul Borghese (who also appeared on "The Sopranos" and a host of other television shows and films).
While the film is rated R for its predictable violence, gore and naughty language, Bonilla said "Lynch Mob" also has some comic elements.
"I think it's probably impossible to do a zombie movie without some comic references," he said. "The film has some really strong actors and the producers really took their time casting the right folks. Once the establishing shots were done, the actors were allowed to play a bit with a little bit of latitude from the director. That's when the magic happens."
The film, with its $1 million budget, was filmed in 2007, primarily in Atlanta, and Bonilla said the producers have been biding their time to try and arrange a major distribution deal. The Atlanta-based Spry Brothers Films got involved in the proceedings and put a deal together for "Lynch Mob" to open in more than 200 Carmike theatres across the country.
The world premiere of the film will happen very close to Bonilla's home as the Carmike Crossroads 16 in Conyers plays host to the first official screening of "Lynch Mob" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The film will have its official release the following day.
"It will be a premiere with all the bells and whistles," Bonilla said. "We'll have the red carpet out and VIPs, including all the actors in the film. It's going to be an amazing event. We're really focusing on the premier because we want to honor the film and Carmike for really stepping up for us. And I've lived in Conyers for nearly 10 years and Conyers deserves an event like this - I don't remember there ever being a premiere of this magnitude there."
"Lynch Mob" will open on 13 screens in Georgia and will play on at least one screen in 27 states.
Now working for Cornetta - a New York native who has acted in a number of projects but may be better known in metro Atlanta for his ownership of the Love Shack novelty shops - Bonilla said he hasn't done a whole lot of film work since "Lynch Mob" was completed, although he has been involved in a planned sequel.
"I changed professions, going from the landscape architecture and design business to the retail business, so there was a lot to learn," he said. "I had a lot of homework, which didn't make much time for finding acting jobs. Hopefully, we'll have the sequel to 'Lynch Mob' in the pipeline soon."
When asked if he had much screen time in the new film, Bonilla chuckled and said, "The camera did like me - I'm very thankful."
For more information on the production and release of the independent feature film "Lynch Mob," visit www.lynchmobmovie.com.