USI is filled with exceptional students and faculty members with unique interests, talents and aspirations. This year is no exception, as a former Geico actor began teaching English on campus.
McManus Woodend, English teacher, began his first semester teaching at USI this fall semester. Before teaching on campus, he was an actor and filmmaker, starring in feature films such as The Kindergarten Teacher, The Meyerowitz Stories, and The Incredible Jessica James. However, his most famous role would be that of GEICO Caveman.
Woodend said he’s had an interest in acting since he was a child. However, he never imagined that he would have a legitimate acting career.
“I think the first real disappointment I ever had was when my family went to this Nickelodeon talent scout at our local mall, and it used to happen a lot in the ’90s, and I wasn’t selected,” Woodend said. “So I felt like it was just never meant to be.”
Woodend attended Full Sail University where he received two bachelor’s degrees in film production and entertainment business. He later earned his filmmaking degree from the David Lynch Graduate School of Cinematic Arts.
His life changed when he worked as a film industry contact for Full Sail University, where he came across a casting list asking “Do you want to be a caveman?” on the Virginia Film Office website.
“I thought, ‘No way is this real,'” Woodend said. “Then the other part of me said, ‘Well, sure. I would like to be the caveman. So I sent in the worst acting resume in the world.”
Woodend said his resume consists of a video of himself belly dancing. It also included a list of special skills, including an extensive knowledge of film and sports trivia, interpretive dance, and a picture of himself doing a jumping jack instead of a headshot.
“I didn’t think that would get me a recall for an audition,” Woodend said. “And sure enough, I sent it in on a Sunday evening. This Monday morning I got a call from casting saying, ‘Hi, this is the casting agent for the caveman. Are you serious?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m serious. If you mean business, and if you call me, it means you mean business. So yeah, I’m serious.” They said, “Great. See you Wednesday in Baltimore.’”
Woodend auditioned for the caveman with 1,000 other actors. He qualified as a final contender alongside six other actors, all very different from him.
“I walked in and there were six other gentlemen and they were all dressed the same way and I wasn’t dressed like them,” Woodend said. “I distinctly remember that they all buttoned their shirts past their chests and none of them had chest hair. I thought, ‘How are you going to convince someone that you’re a caveman?’ I walked in with my beat up old Adidas, jeans, a corduroy blazer and a snap button cowboy shirt and did the audition.”
Woodend got the job a week later, in August 2008.
The first ad Woodend did as a GEICO caveman was called “Bowling,” in which he and two other cavemen bowled. “Bowling” was considered one of the bigger ads Woodend had done given how many times it was played.
Despite being required to put on prosthetics for 3 to 4 hours and shoot for long periods of time, Woodend said his experience as a Geico caveman was both wacky and entertaining.
“It was very exhilarating in a weird way at times,” Woodend said. “I could dress up as a caveman and I could go anywhere I wanted and nobody would bat an eyelid. I could go to a football game and pretty much go into the locker room and hang out if I wanted to and nobody would say anything.
He said his favorite caveman ad was a collaboration between GEICO and The Discovery Channel, where he was flown to Alaska to film with the Hillstrand brothers on the TV show Deadliest Catch. Woodend said what he thought was smooth sailing turned out to be a blizzard amidst a difficult environment.
“Alaska is no joke,” Woodend said. “I felt like I had been there for three months when I was there for a week. It was just very intense all around. Lots of fun but definitely not for the faint of heart.”
“I was lucky enough to play the character almost 25 times over a period of about 10 years,” Woodend said.
Woodend said the caveman was in semi-retirement at the time. That means Woodend could get a recall to play the character again in the future, but for now the campaign is up. The last commercial he did as a caveman was for the 2018 Winter Olympics titled “Cheese Curl” in which he and another caveman competed in the curling event.
Towards the end of his caveman career, Woodend moved to Brooklyn and met his wife Kelli Lynn Woodend. Shifting his interests outside of advertising, he began playing small roles in feature films such as The Kindergarten Teacher and The Amazing Jessica James.
He later co-created and starred in the feature-length film “Rocksteppy” in 2017. The film is about two small-town brothers who dream of becoming a famous song-and-dance rock group. The film had its world premiere at the Sound Unseen Film & Music Festival.
“I got into filmmaking in high school when I was doing TV productions,” Woodend said. “I definitely wanted to pursue it in college, which is why I went to Full Sail University because I knew I could break straight into the industry there, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Woodend said filmmaking proved beneficial during his acting career because he understood the process better than other actors. If something came up during the filming process, it didn’t affect Woodend’s performance as he almost always expected these things to happen.
“Every time things went smoothly, it was always amazing to me,” Woodend said. “Once you’ve been on the other side, that’s usually never the case.”
Woodend said being both an actor and director inspired him to tell authentic stories and use his power and provocation to create something unforgettable. Between the demands of his two different roles, Woodend said his goal has always been to enjoy what he does, both in front of and behind the camera.
Woodend said he’s met a range of fans, from tailgaters at basketball games to former President Bill Clinton.
Woodend said he’s also worked extensively with the MLB and NHL, and the ads he’s done for those federations will run throughout their seasons.
“It was kind of weird being at a sports bar with a friend and all of a sudden the conversation stops because we both noticed there was a commercial that I was in,” Woodend said. “It was just very, very strange.”
So how did this creator, well-known in the film and advertising industries, come to USI?
Woodend’s wife, Kelli, is from Henderson, Kentucky. The two both lived in Sarasota, Florida with their son Romer and taught at a local college. They felt their son needed a better place to grow up, so they moved to the Evansville area to be closer to his wife’s family. “It was mostly just geography that brought us here,” Woodend said. “But over the years there have been instances where we would just come here and drive across campus.”
“When I got out, I had this very strong, lingering feeling where I was like, ‘I’d like to do this more,'” Woodend said. “The great thing is that since I’ve been here at USI, this feeling has stayed with me and has grown during my time here. So I’ve been very fortunate to be here at USI, teaching in an environment and with colleagues that, to be honest, are amazing on every level.”
Woodend now teaches rhetoric and composition at USI. So far he has described his first semester at USI as “great”. Woodend feels it can be hectic at times considering he’s teaching five classes, but seeing students eager to get back to learning in a face-to-face environment gives him encouragement throughout the semester.
“One thing I’ve always loved about writing is getting people to think critically about what they write and how they go about it,” Woodend said. “These things are very important to me. I have taught screenwriting in the past. So there are aspects that I was able to pull from writing a screenplay to writing a rhetorical analysis because it all involves critical thinking. Without them, it’s just text on the page.”
Woodend said he expects to enjoy teaching and engaging with students in new ways to further develop his curriculum. He hopes to provide students with the best possible and most efficient education at a high level and he wants to continue teaching at USI for a long time.
In any career, Woodend encourages that the most useful advice he has for students is “never stop learning.”
“Have patience,” he said. “I know a lot of people even more talented than me who haven’t gotten the breaks they deserve in any way. Be persistent, but be patient with it. Because if you don’t, you’re missing out on this opportunity that could completely change your life.”
“If you go into your career and all you can show is that you’re good at something, that’s maybe the only thing you do in the next 20, 30 years of your life,” Woodend said. “If you like doing that, then more power for you. But chances are, most people don’t like doing just one thing over and over again. So be open to learning new processes again.”
While there is a possibility that Woodend will return to play his caveman counterpart in the future, the students who take his classes expect a rich, rewarding, and fun learning experience. To see some of his ads, other roles and movies, Click here.