Gen. Douglas MacArthur watched as the sedan carrying two generals and an admiral pulled up, and waited patiently to greet his superior officers―men he had referred to as “the three stooges.”
Finally, Army Chief of Staff Joe Collins, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Arthur Radford and Chief of Naval Operations Forrest Sherman emerged from the car on their mission to dissuade MacArthur from carrying out his proposed Incheon invasion, a gambit that would become one of MacArthur’s greatest achievements.
But this was not 1950, and it was not the Korean War.
Though he was made up to look like MacArthur, the man greeting the officers was Hollywood blockbuster actor Liam Neeson. And the man portraying Forrest Sherman was UMUC Professor Ronald Roman.
In his more than 20 years teaching in Asia – mostly in Korea – Roman had dabbled in acting, playing a ‘Westerner’ on Korean television, and in movies, commercials and videos. But his brief role in Lee Jae Han’s “Operation Chromite,” which was highly popular in South Korea after its release this year, has been one of the highlights of his career, he said.
“What’s it like working with a Hollywood superstar like Liam Neeson? In one word, great!” Roman said. “He’s worldly, intelligent, funny, well-informed and well read, as well as engaging, one helluva raconteur, and a really good listener.
“During filming breaks, Neeson went on to regale us with his research on MacArthur to include stories of his family’s famous military background, while getting more animated as he spoke,” Roman said. “He is as much of a lively character off-screen as he is on.”
A native of Connecticut, Roman earned three master’s degrees after graduating from the University of New Haven—a Master of Science in English Education at the University of Bridgeport, a six-year degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and a master’s in liberal studies in humanities from Wesleyan University with a specialization in interdisciplinary writing.
But all along – beginning in his pre-college days – he had an interest in acting.
“At one time as an undergrad, I was a speech and drama major,” he said. “I got started in acting in high school. I did quite a few plays in college, and I did summer stock in northwestern Connecticut near the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.”
Years later, his sister-in-law got him back into the business doing TV commercials, educational videos, television dramas and motion pictures, he said.
“Let me state from the get-go, I’m no big movie star. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. As far as camera acting is concerned, I have been doing it for quite a few years now. I haven’t done any stage acting in decades.”
But Roman’s wanderlust and academic background also took him into the Pacific, where, initially, he taught overseas with the military through Central Texas College in the late 1970s. Roman returned to the United States for a short time to teach at college in the late 80s and early 90s, and then went back to the Pacific and joined University of Maryland University College (UMUC) in January 1996.
“I have been all over the Pacific Command either with Central Texas College or UMUC,” he said. “But I actually started in Korea in the late 1970s. Now I am back in Korea. I have come full circle.”
Along the way, he taught in Sasebo, Japan; in Okinawa; back in Korea; in Misawa, Japan. And he taught, he said, uttering a phrase meaningful to another UMUC traveling faculty member, “hither and yon.”
Roman retired from UMUC in 2009. But after a couple of years, he came back as an adjunct, teaching English and humanities – and becoming a minor television star in Korea.
“I did television dramas as a regular,” he said. “I was getting to be pretty well-recognized on the streets of Seoul.”
People even have asked for his autograph, he said, adding that with the proliferation of all kinds media today he’s recognized less frequently.
Roman landed a part in his first feature film in 2010 in another Korean War movie called “71: Into the Gunfire,” directed by Korean-American John Lee, whose Korean name is Lee Jae Han.
It was based on a true story about 71 under trained and outgunned student-soldiers, most of whom were killed when the strategic point they were defending was overwhelmed by attacking North Korean forces.
In that film, Roman portrayed American Maj. General John H. Church. And the role won him his spot in “Operation Chromite,” also directed by John Lee, when the original Hollywood actor scheduled to play Adm. Forrest Sherman bowed out.
“My agent convinced John Lee to hire me without an audition because I had worked with John before,” Roman said. “But I had to shave off my mustache because Forrest Sherman didn’t have one, and Lee was a stickler for historical accuracy.”
In Roman’s two big scenes, the three Pentagon officers argue with MacArthur about the feasibility of his plan to invade at Incheon. Facing united opposition to the plan, Neeson, as MacArthur, pouted that no one was seriously considering his strategy. “Is it because you despise MacArthur?” he said, giving Roman, as Forrest, the opening to say:
“The Incheon tides are the worst in the world! They rise and fall at a rate of 29 feet each day, sometimes as high as 36 …”
The argument goes on from there, he said, but to enjoy the drama, you have to see the film.
“Operation Chromite” was aimed mostly at Korean audiences, he said, and it grossed $50 million there after production costs of $13 million. Loaded with subtitles to translate Korean into English, it didn’t fare well in the United States.
As for his continuing film career, Roman said that in Korea, decent roles for Western actors are limited.
“I wish the gigs would come more often than they do,” he said. “If there’s something I can do, I will consider it.”
As the old saying goes, he’s not quitting his day job. Roman expects to remain an adjunct for UMUC. And he is finally getting serious about learning to speak Korean.
“I take classes twice a week,” he said. “I delayed it for a long time. I just got tired of asking people to translate for me. Thought I would learn [the language] myself.”