The 50 Masks of Judson Pierce

For Judson Pierce, the play’s the thing

Published in 2005 Massachusetts Rising Stars — May 2005

Judson L. Pierce is a ghost. And a firefighter. A mathematician, a mattress salesman. And, yes, a lawyer. He estimates that he has inhabited nearly 50 personas by now. Such is the life of an attorney who moonlights as an actor.

“My first show was in second grade. I played Jacob Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol,” says the 32-year-old Salem lawyer. “It’s so humbling looking back on it. Here I was in a white sheet. And for some reason, my mom put me in cowboy boots.”

Despite the awkward wardrobe, he was immediately hooked. His introduction to the law came around that same time.

“Once in grade school it was ‘Take Your Son to Work Day’ and my dad took me into Boston and I watched him argue a couple of cases for injured workers,” Pierce remembers. “His voice was so passionate. It was a side of my dad that I didn’t see on a day-to-day basis.”

The day trip had a powerful impact on him. He began to think about being a lawyer one day. But for the near future, acting was his priority. He starred in plays in high school, even winning a “Best Actor” award in a drama festival that featured a guy named Ben Affleck. And then it was off to Vassar College, where Pierce honed his craft with performances in Twelfth Night and Man of La Mancha, in which he played Don Quixote.

After graduation he decided to enroll at Suffolk University Law School, where he continued to act, appearing in nearly a dozen productions. He readily admits that balancing his two passions has always been a challenge. “At times, acting and law have presented themselves in conflict, and at times they’ve been harmonious. There was a summer in law school when I was working for this very important law firm, and I was also doing a show. There were times when I’d have to leave the firm by six for a performance, and some of the partners would say, ‘Jud, you’ve left at six o’clock for four nights in a row. We’re working until nine or ten here. That’s what we have to do.’

“And it’s hard,” he continues, “because you want to do your very best, but I’ve always been one to say I’m at my best personally when I’m trying to do two very important things for me: represent people who need help and also creatively support my own artistic approach.”

After two-plus years of defense work, he ended up taking a job practicing personal-injury law with his father’s firm, Alan S. Pierce & Associates, and has been there six years.

The elder Pierce is quick to note the unique talents of the son: “I’ve always thought that he’s brighter than I am,” he says. “He has a presence and a command of the language that I don’t have. He doesn’t get as outwardly nervous as I would in certain situations. A lot of that comes from his theatrical training.”

Judson sees parallels in the two crafts. “I most enjoy playing the character who has an arc that you follow from the beginning to the end of a play. You see this change. And you re-examine yourself while you’re acting. You change somehow.”

It’s the same, he insists, with legal work. “From the start of a case to the end, it’s a growing process. You discover the client isn’t exactly who you thought they were at the beginning. Not that they try to deceive you, but they try to put the best face on a case when you meet them. But you soon find out there are wrinkles. Things aren’t perfect. In that vein, as in acting, you come out on the other end with a product. It can be a very similar growing curve.”

Pierce has thrived in his roles on area stages. He has earned five acting nominations at the highly competitive Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theater Festival, winning twice — among them a 2002 “Best Actor” for ART and “Best Supporting Actor” in the same year for Last Night of Ballyhoo. His favorite parts involve characters faced with family dynamics, such as Chris Keller in Arthur Miller’s drama All My Sons.

“I love plays that have to do with kids and their parents — what made a family that way? What have they learned about the family that changes them? That really pulls me to a part.

“And it’s interesting because here I am working for my father for these last six years,” laughs Pierce.

And as the curtain falls on our interview, Pierce takes a bow and exits the stage gracefully. He has the next day’s performance to prepare.

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