Fair warning to the Academy: We have a new contender for the title of best supporting actor in an independent, faith-based film featuring time-traveling apostles in designer jeans.

You might know him from his work in a 1987 Wendy’s commercial, in which he delivered the immortal line, “Little nibble?” This time he’s playing a sleazy TV station manager who hands out bribes in exchange for an exclusive interview with the Apostle Paul — as one does — and dramatically puts on a pair of sunglasses.

Oh, and he’s also Oregon’s women’s basketball coach.

“There were professional actors in this thing, and they expect you to know what the hell you’re doing,” Kelly Graves said. “I did not go in with the right attitude. I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be easy.’ It wasn’t!”

 

By now, you probably have a few questions. How does a basketball coach with minimal acting experience end up in the cast of an indie film? Why is he trying to interview the Apostle Paul? Has someone been smoking something?

Without giving any spoilers, the film is called “Translated” and it’s playing this weekend at Regal Valley River Center. Graves portrays David Powell, a TV executive trying to score an exclusive interview with a man claiming to be the Apostle Paul, transported from ancient Rome to modern-day Rome, Oregon.

The role was a stretch for Graves, artistically speaking. The naturally gregarious coach had to transform himself into a ruthless newshound who says things like, “I really think this story has legs!” And speaking of legs, yes, there is a bedroom scene.

You know the opening scene of “Lost in Translation”? It’s, um, nothing like that. It’s Graves in a T-shirt and boxer shorts, sitting next to the actress who plays his wife.

“I’m sitting up next to my wife in clothes watching the evening news,” Graves said. “As you can imagine, that’s about the most you’re going to get.”

If you’re still wondering how Graves ended up in this position, here’s your answer. The film was written and directed by Jerry Thompson, a local sports reporter and filmmaker who produces an Oregon fan magazine called Ducks Illustrated.

Thompson, 66, developed a rapport with Graves while hanging out at women’s basketball practices. When he mentioned his work as a filmmaker, Graves jokingly volunteered to make a cameo.

“I said, ‘If you ever need me to be in one, let me know, especially if you get, like, Jessica Alba,’” Graves said.

There’s no Jessica Alba in Thompson’s latest film, but there was a role that seemed perfect for Graves.

“Since he coached at Portland and Gonzaga, I was going to have him be a Catholic priest,” Thompson said.

When the person lined up to play the TV executive dropped out, Thompson offered that part to Graves instead. It was a larger role with about 5 minutes of screen time and a few pages of dialog, though Graves admits to doing some ad-libbing.

“I don’t memorize anything,” Graves said. “Each time I said my lines differently. I wasn’t really supposed to do that.”

Graves shot his scenes over a few days last summer. Everything was filmed on location in Oregon, with scenes in Eugene, Cottage Grove and Rome, a real-life town located 30 miles from the Idaho border in the southeast corner of the state.

Thompson, who served as a student manager for the Dan Fouts-era Ducks, wanted the film to have a distinct Oregon flavor. It features some dramatic overhead shots of Oregon vistas, as well as music from Eugene native Mat Kearney and appearances by other locals, including Register-Guard contributor Ken Woody.

“Translated” premiered last week at Regal Cinemas and performed well enough to be extended for another weekend. Thompson said the film has gotten five-star reviews from fans on Facebook, and the success at the local box office has been a pleasant surprise.

“We’re No. 2 to ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ this week,” he said.

Graves attended the premier with his family last week and saw for the first time how his scenes fit into the larger whole. He didn’t know much about the movie aside from the general premise, so he was in suspense along with the rest of the audience.

“I saw it from a whole different angle, the movie-making thing,” Graves said. “It’s fascinating. It all comes together at the end. I had no clue.”

Graves was critical of his own performance, but Thompson was ecstatic. For a guy whose only acting experience involved taking a bite of a Big Classic cheeseburger 30 years ago, Graves apparently was a natural in front of the camera.

“Kelly Graves nailed it,” Thompson said. “It didn’t look like he was acting.”

Hollywood, here he comes.

Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email ameek@registerguard.com.