Until recently, the scrawny Augusta native was best known for playing rocksteady drumbeats behind Slim Chance and the Convicts, the Diggers, the Chant, the Bubbamatics, Shitkicker Deluxe and dozens of other bands he joined after settling in Atlanta during 1990. But since relocating to the West Coast late last year, the diffident country boy -- whose facial expression often ranges quickly between a drunken, hangdog frown and a toothy grin worthy of Jimmy Carter -- has found steadier work as an actor. Since Maddox arrived in Hollywood, he has appeared in six television series and three movies.
"I happen to have this particular face that's both goofy and handsome," he observes. "They tell me the camera 'loves' me. And I'm an honest, polite, likable guy. There's nobody out here like me, so I'm givin' this a shot."
Maddox's recent credits include episodes of "That '70s Show," "The X-Files" and "Just Shoot Me," as well as the forthcoming Dan Aykroyd movie Evolution and Life Without Dick, in which Maddox appears with Harry Connick Jr. and Claudia Schiffer. He also has a small role in When Billie Beat Bobby. "I play a reporter who follows Holly Hunter around, carrying a giant tape recorder, while she ignores me," he recalls. He pauses and adds with a chuckle, "And she wasn't acting, either."
Although Hunter paid him little attention, Maddox has fared better with casting directors. He traces the origin of his film career back to a sweaty night during 1998 at Atlanta's now-defunct Austin Avenue Buffet, when a crew member from a TV movie spotted him playing drums for Slim Chance. "She told me I had this 'great hillbilly look' and invited me to meet the casting director, Cynthia Stillwell."
Charmed by Maddox's country bumpkin appearance, Stillwell immediately cast him in a restaurant scene in the Alex Haley drama Mama Flora's Family. "Two days later," he recalls, "I'm sittin' there in a costume, and Queen Latifah is servin' me coffee."
Later that year, Stillwell landed Maddox a speaking role in Wayward Son, a 1936 prison film shot near Covington. This eventually led to a small role as one of Keanu Reeves' brothers in The Gift, filmed near Savannah, in which Maddox played a scene with Hilary Swank. "Two weeks after we filmed that," he notes, "Hilary won the Oscar for Boys Don't Cry."
Inspired, Maddox set out for Tinseltown with only $1,700 in his pocket and the promise of temporary lodging there with an old Augusta acquaintance. This seemingly capricious move surprised none of his long-term acquaintances, least of all bandleader Slim Chance (Creative Loafing freelancer James Kelly). "As long as I have known Earl," Chance observes, "he has somehow managed to do whatever it is he sets his mind to, in spite of a complete absence of resources. His success in Hollywood comes as no surprise, as he truly is one of the most unique characters I have ever met."
Maddox maintains that he hasn't really left the music scene behind. "Atlanta will always be there," he asserts. "I still love it and wanna come back for the benefit shows, Pediatric AIDS and stuff."
Well aware of the impending strikes which might shut down the film industry, Maddox says he could see himself back at the Star Bar, earning his keep by cleaning up trash in the parking lot. In the meantime, he hasn't let the glamour of Tinseltown go to his head. Despite big paychecks, he still drives to acting gigs in an old pickup truck he bought for $250 and re-painted himself, using a mop.
Asked what his ideal screen role would be, Maddox replies emphatically, "A Southern character! He could be a good or a bad guy, but he's gotta be intense. A lot of people think I was in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but I wasn't ... although I coulda played the Tim Blake Nelson part."
Ironically, the humble Augusta boy's biggest payday so far came from a role on "Star Trek Voyager" (tentatively scheduled for broadcast April 25) for which his trademark face was covered by layers of heavy prosthetics. "After I left the makeup chair, I was walking across the lot, still wearing my denim overalls," he remembers. "Japanese tourists saw me and called out, 'Oooh! Ahh alien!' I hollered back at 'em, 'Who you callin' an alien? I'm from Georgia!'"