Paso High grad lands role opposite Jennifer Lopez as he chases his acting dream

Monty Renfrow, left, takes direction from Parker Hill on the set of the short film “One Good Pitch” in New York City.
Monty Renfrow, left, takes direction from Parker Hill on the set of the short film “One Good Pitch” in New York City.

Monty Renfrow’s dream was to be a baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That is, until a scheduling mistake changed his life.

It was freshman year at Paso Robles High School. Renfrow was accidentally put in the drama class.

“And that was really when I got bit by the bug,” Renfrow said on the phone from New York.

Today, 23-year-old Renfrow is forging his career as an actor in New York City, doing everything from directing a sold-out, off-Broadway production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” to appearing as a hairdresser in the background of a Filipino TV show, to guest-starring on NBC’s “Shades of Blue” with stars Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta.

“I’m a kid from Paso and sometimes I’m going, ‘Wow, I’m here. Like really here,’ ” he said.

Renfrow, who was born in Santa Maria, spent his high school years in Paso Robles and credits his acting teachers for fostering his newly discovered love for the theater. John and Margie Lambie, who taught Renfrow’s first drama class, “were just totally exemplary teachers and people and artists in every sense of the word,” Renfrow said, adding that the Lambies taught their students about Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando, as well as “the classics” and what it meant to dive into a great text.

Paso theater teacher Marcy Goodnow influenced Renfrow to choose acting as a career.

“Until then, I thought it was this really awesome hobby I had. I really loved it, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it,” he said. “She really helped encourage me to just go for it.”

And that’s how Renfrow, who has been auditioning for any acting work he can get, ended up in a scene with Lopez. The episode, which aired last Sunday, had Renfrow playing a character who was involved in a shootout and was tracked down by Lopez and a few other characters.

“Her unit is kind of like dirty cops, kicking me in my gunshot wounds,” Renfrow said. “It was really cool.

“Obviously, leading up to it there was that whole thing of ‘Oh boy, I’m about to do a scene with Jennifer Lopez, that’s crazy.’ You just do your preparation, do your job, and she’s there to do the same thing.”

Renfrow, who has primarily done short films and theater productions, said working on “Shades of Blue” and watching Lopez work was “a great learning experience.”

“She’s a total pro and a legend at what she does,” he said. “It’s cool to see professionalism at that level and how to conduct yourself on the set.”

Renfrow also directed a sold-out production of “Much Ado About Nothing” just down the street from the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” he said.

“It was garage band theater. We had no money,” he said.

The cast rehearsed in parks, in Renfrow’s apartment, and wherever they could find a place.

“It turned out to be something very cool that we’re all proud of,” he said. “It’s also a testament to when you get people together and the story’s great and the actors are passionate and love doing what they do.”

Renfrow said he can’t stress enough how much it meant to him that he had the opportunity in high school to discover his passion for the theater.

“Paso High, from my experiences, was a great place where they valued the arts,” he said. “I was very lucky I never had anybody try and stomp that out.”

Renfrow said he plans to continue acting and following his passion in the Big Apple, though he misses home.

“The Central Coast is a treasure that I will forever be going back to,” he said. “I love New York, and I’m so thankful to be doing what I love in a city like this. But home is home. I feel very lucky to come from a place that is so beautiful.”

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF