Smoky Valley graduate has part in HBO miniseries

? Just a little less than eight years removed from walking up to accept his high school diploma at Smoky Valley High School in Lindsborg, Clancy O’Connor might be forgiven for pinching himself.

But it’s no dream – O’Connor sharing the TV screen with Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti, who plays American patriot John Adams in the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” adapted from David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.

It’s the first major role for O’Connor, who graduated in 2006 from the prestigious Juilliard drama school in New York with his bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

O’Connor modestly says he “didn’t know any better” than to be audacious enough to tackle a career that’s led him to the role of statesman Edward Rutledge. The seven-part miniseries debuted last month.

Rutledge was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later became governor of South Carolina. In the final vote for independence, portrayed in the second episode, Rutledge confronts Adams, leading a successful effort to have wording condemning slavery removed from the Declaration.

“It’s a significant role. He’s definitely a main character in part two,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor spent two years studying drama at Kansas University after high school. At a regional summer theater festival in Massachusetts, he befriended two Juilliard students. They convinced him he should apply to the school.

He did, he got in and success has followed.

“I feel like I was meant to live in a big city. People are always shocked to learn I’m from Kansas, that I grew up six miles south of Salina on a farm,” he said. “If I would have grown up in a big city with all of these people around and all of this competition, I think I would have sold myself short.”

O’Connor’s first job as a 12-year-old, when his family still lived in town, was delivering a newspaper route for the Salina Journal to earn money to buy a horse. In high school, he liked speech class and playing the role of Randolph MacAfee in the school musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”

The cowboy boots he wore for the part made him look like “Woody, the hero of the movie ‘Toy Story,’ ” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was very cool, but it got me started in (acting).”

The wigs and the period dress O’Connor wore for “John Adams” helped him develop his role. Developing the dialect of a British expatriate colonist was a little tougher.

“We had two days to prepare for the dialect before the start of shooting,” O’Connor said. “It had a farmer kind of sound, spoken with hard ‘Rs.”‘

While working his way into the acting business, O’Connor has made a living working as a front desk manager for a luxury boutique hotel, the Gramercy Park, a frequent host for celebrities.

“It’s great because I get to meet people in the (entertainment) industry,” he said.

Last month, he attended the New York premiere of “John Adams” at the Museum of Modern Art. There, actor Tom Hanks introduced him to his friends and executives from HBO. Hanks is the mini-series producer.

O’Connor flew home to watch the premiere episodes of “John Adams” with his family and friends in Salina. His parents, J.J. and Tammy, rented a reception room at a hotel to accommodate an audience that was a little too large for their family room. Then, it was back to the Big Apple.

“Already, I’ve been offered a play in New York, and there’s another play I’m auditioning for next week,” O’Connor said. “Things are really picking up for me.”