PASADENA, Calif. - It's a common route for an actor to study theater arts and work his way into bit parts in movies or television. But for actor Robert Taylor it took a broken arm, a few fractured ribs and two weeks in the hospital.
Taylor had spent six years toiling on oil rigs in the northwest shelf off Australia's coast on the Indian Ocean.
Acting was as foreign to him as Sanskrit. Taylor remembers he and two of his buddies sweating in the semi-equatorial heat.
"We were three guys covered in crap, in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of nowhere," he says.
"Hotter than hell. You get hit by cyclones. One time we sank the biggest ship off the west coast of Australia since World War II. We had a collision with this other boat and were sliced like a can of sardines. I was the youngest guy on board and we got them all off. Because we breached the bulkhead to the engine room, and if you do that, you're going down," he nods.
"We got lifeboats and got them off. We were a huge ship and slow and because the sea was running so quickly, and we were so heavy, we lost steerage. The ocean was moving faster than we could move."
At least the pay was good. He shrugs, "But if you think about it, you were in jail six months of the year at hard labor. You worked really hard, seven days a week, 12 hours a day. You worked. You weren't there for your looks. There was no one doing your makeup. I think for an actor it's important that you actually work for a living; you do other things."
Taylor was badly injured in the accident and landed in the hospital.
"I saw an ad in the paper for auditions for drama school. I had never done anything like that," he says.
"I had never met anyone who had a creative thought, or an interesting hair cut or anything like that. Nothing. (My family was) a couple farmers and nurses, you know, just ordinary stock, ordinary people. But I saw this ad in the paper and I figured I had gotten banged up pretty bad on the ship, so they would be chopping me off, and so I thought I would audition. So I did."
He earned a spot at the West Australian Academy in Perth, Hugh Jackman's alma mater.
"If you get in, you don't pay anything, you are on a full scholarship," he says. "I had classical training for three years, I started that in '84, and graduated in '86 so I have done this for a long time."
He's had a litany of roles including parts in "The Matrix," "Ballykissangel" and "Satisfaction."
Even though he's an Aussie, Taylor seems uniquely suited for his latest role as the laconic Wyoming sheriff in A&E's new series, "Longmire," premiering at 10 tonight. Faced with solving a murder, the sheriff also must battle office politics, Native American jurisdictions and his own personal tragedy.
Taylor sees the parallel between him and the leathery character.
"He's an old-school man, decent, honorable, and there is always stuff he is dealing with, but he just sort of sits on it, he doesn't burden himself on anyone else."
The script was sent to his agent and as soon as Taylor read it, he says, "I knew I loved the guy. I thought, 'I can do this. I like the man. I like the world he's in. I can really do this.' I just really connected with it."
The one-time bouncer and lifeguard is married to producer Ayisha Davies. Fatherhood a year ago changed everything, he says, booting up his laptop to share pictures of his daughter, Scarlett.
"I don't know, things are just different. It's gotten rid of stuff that was extraneous that you didn't need, just silly stuff," he says. "When there is someone you love unconditionally - and her mom obviously. And it's all about her. I just want to stay healthy and work and be around her now. ... It's a great adventure the three of us."