From Cameos to Cammies
CAMP HANSEN – Strip 1st Lt. Scott T. Wilson of rank, uniform, and the title of Marine. See him as a lean, tall gentleman in his thirties. Now imagine him being lit on fire, jumping out of a window 42 feet above water, hitting it and surviving. Is that something a Marine officer does on his weekends?
The jump was a feat Wilson performed as a stunt actor before swearing the oath, and later, pawing his way through cold mud to earn the title Marine. Every Marine has a unique story for how they came to wear the uniform, but few include Hollywood and performing death defying stunts.
Wilson spent the majority of his early years in Massachusetts. His inspiration towards acting came when he was 5, and his Father took him to the movie theater to watch “Back to the Future.” After seeing the movie, he wanted to be a time traveler like Marty McFly.
“Obviously, I couldn’t do that,” said Wilson, a native of Orlando, Fla. “So I went to the next best thing.”
He decided to be an actor instead. His passion for acting and film, along with the support of his family, was his driving force through his teenage years and the beginning of adulthood.
As a teenager, instead of competing in sports, he was memorizing lines from scripts and playing in multiple theater roles. On many school nights, Wilson would be scribbling away at homework from the passenger seat of his mother’s car as they moved from rehearsal to rehearsal in Boston.
He attended the University of Southern California, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater and Film. After graduation, he did stunts in Universal Studios and Disneyland in California until he found steadier work in Florida’s theme parks.
He never became famous like his childhood friend Chris Evans, the face behind Captain America. But Wilson has lent his talents to primetime television and major motion pictures.
In Burn Notice, he played a bad guy getting jettisoned through a glass window by a shotgun blast. He also played a British soldier in the background of Pirates of the Caribbean. Another appearance found Wilson in the trenches of World War I during a scene from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
In 10 years of being a stuntman, Wilson learned numerous skills to include: walking on stilts, theatrical sword fighting, high-speed jet-ski piloting, rappelling, operating a zip-line, precision driving, breaking falls, and many other tricks of the trade.
He also performed live, frequently, assuming roles in front of thousands of people. Between performances, Wilson worked as a personal trainer too, keeping him fit and healthy, which also could be the reason why he never suffered an injury in a line of work that is riddled with them.
Wilson’s second job as a trainer paid off in his personal life as well, gaining the eye of his now wife, Babette.
“I thought he had to be a gymnast or a dancer with such a strong, lean build and great legs,” said Babette Wilson, his wife. “I mean, wearing spandex doesn’t allow for much imagination.”
In 2007, Wilson met his wife-to-be through a “misunderstanding” that escalated rather quickly. Wilson tried to spin her in his web and she tried to drain his life with her touch – as Spiderman and Rogue, famous Marvel comic book characters played live in the streets of Universal Studios. The people behind the masks hit it off after the show and soon became a couple.
According to Babette, not a lot of couples can have breakfast in the morning, go to work and swing weapons at each other, and then sit down to a nice dinner in the evening.
They dated for a year and a half before Wilson proposed to Babette on Nov. 3, 2008. They were married a year later. Everything was going quite well for the dynamic duo. They both had steady incomes, a house in Orlando, a child on the way and fulfilling jobs where they beat each other up in front of screaming crowds.
But a clock wound in the back of Wilson’s mind that he had ignored for years. His family had history in the military, and at the age of 29, Wilson realized that his time was running short. He wanted to be a part of something bigger than him. He came home to his wife to weigh the decision and they decided together that he should go for it. He was going to be a United States Marine officer.
“I had a brother going into the Air Force and one of my cousins is a sergeant major in the Corps,” said Wilson. “I never felt a sense of urgency to join the military, but I realized I could be missing out on something cool. That’s why I chose the Marines. Marines always looked the best and becoming one would be like a rite of passage.”
In order to become a Marine officer, Wilson had a lot of hurdles to clear. He was at the age limit, had a tattoo, and needed a nearly perfect score on the Marine Corps’ Physical Fitness Test. For the PFT, Wilson needed to do 20 dead-hang pull-ups without break, 100 crunches in less than two minutes, and complete a 3-mile run in less than 20 minutes.
“I could do the crunches and pull up portion easy, my job as a stunt actor was physical,” said Wilson. “But I was not a fan of running. I had gigs in the morning and at night, so I ran at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, when it was at its hottest in Orlando.”
Wilson applied five times, ran three physical fitness tests a year, completed an age waiver, received a child waiver, and had his tattoo removed by laser. Still, he was denied his chance at the Officer Candidates’ School.
His break came through an introduction by a friend to a rear admiral in the Navy. They met over dinner one night where Wilson discussed his plight with Rear Adm. Sean S. Buck. Impressed by his mannerisms, enthusiasm and determination, Buck wrote Wilson a letter of recommendation that would see him accepted into OCS.
He left his stunt acting career and an offer from Cirque Du Soleil to arrive in Quantico, Va., in January of 2011.The bitter cold was unfamiliar to Wilson and added to an already difficult challenge. But he pushed through the gauntlet and earned the title of Marine officer. The Basic School came next, where he learned to lead a rifle platoon and was trained in the duties and responsibilities of a Marine infantry officer. Wilson excelled at land navigation with the basic compass, protractor, and map, while many of his colleagues found themselves lost when they used GPS devices.
“I was thinking I could make for a great ground intelligence officer or artillery officer,” said Wilson.
But the Marine Corps had different plans for Wilson. He would be designated as a comptroller – a budgeter in charge of monitoring and managing the Marine Corps’ spending. The job seemed a bit daunting to Wilson, as it had little use for any of Wilson’s skills as a stunt actor and performer. It also sent him halfway across the world for on the job training in Okinawa, Japan for two months before he went to the actual school.
“My last math class was in 1997, and all of sudden I’m in class with all these younger guys, just trying to keep up,” said Wilson.
Once again overcoming the challenges before him, Wilson graduated comptroller school in early 2012 and received orders back to Okinawa as his first duty station. After a year and four months away from home and family, he told his wife they were going to Okinawa. She was excited, but the move wouldn’t be easy.
They had to short-sell their house, sell their cars, and give their dog to a friend. Babette declined a fight scene with Burn Notice, performed her last act at Universal Studios and said heartfelt goodbyes to friends before leaving.
“I realized that this would probably be the last time I would perform with the cast and friends I had come to know over the 15 years that I worked for Universal,” said Babette.
Wilson’s first assignment was to 3rd Marine Division Headquarters Battalion, managing the flow of money that goes into training, operations, classes, equipment and everything else that supports the Division’s mission.
He served with the Division for a year and a half before going to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. While at the Division, Wilson worked closely with the operations section, where he met Master Gunnery Sgt. William W. Harris who joined the MEU as the operations chief a few months after Wilson arrived.
“He was the comptroller managing the budgets that allow us to do these training evolutions,” said Harris, a native of Stratford, Conn. “It was hard to believe he was going to school for acting. I thought it was farfetched.”
Wilson made a believer out of Harris during the 3rd Marine Division’s Marine Mess Night. Wilson performed in front of his peers and superiors as Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, a famous naval officer who met his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, whose body was preserved by alcohol, then by the sailors’ urine after the alcohol was consumed.
When the President of the ceremony said, “Mr. Vice, I feel it is time to go shed a tear for Lord Nelson,” it was the signal for Marines to go use the restroom. Instead, Wilson kicked open the door and paraded into the ball room in a British Navy costume, astounding his doubters as he carried on with a skilled British accent.
Now, as part of the 31st MEU, Wilson works even closer with his fellow Marines when deployed. He’s in the Tactical Logistics room, which provides a wider view of the operational pieces that keep the MEU afloat. This view enhances his ability to distribute cash appropriately as the comptroller. He’s also in charge of Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, providing for Karaoke nights and Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments to entertain the Marines and Sailors on ship.
Some days at sea, he can’t help but think back on his life before the Corps. Reminiscing of times when he was getting “spidey-senses” of when his wife’s about to whack him.
“I miss being an actor,” said Wilson. “But I’m fine with the opportunities the Corps gives me. It’s just another stepping stone, who knows where it’ll take me. Besides, I can always go back to acting, but being a Marine has a time limit.”
Wilson’s next orders are back to Quantico as an assistant to the head of legislature affairs in Headquarters Marine Corps. He’ll be researching, setting and briefing policies to government official equivalents and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. None of which has anything to do with his experience as a comptroller. But those who have worked with Wilson are confident he will succeed in front of the most scrutinizing of audiences.
“Coming from a place where he is taught to act or play a role allows him to see different perspectives, people’s motives and attitudes,” said Harris. “Not everyone can be well-spoken and relaxed in front of an audience.”
From Universal Studios to Capitol Hill, the size of Wilson’s stage and role continues to expand, but the spandex still fits the same.