- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - A few years back, Demetrius Marshall Stephens was sitting in a Germanna Community College class when the words coming out of a professor’s mouth resonated in a personal and profound way.

“He was saying that there was nothing worse in life than ending up in a job where you hated what you were doing every day,” the Spotsylvania County resident recently recalled. “Instead of that, he said we needed to follow our passion and our dreams.”

That real passion, the thing Stephens knew deep down that he wanted to do, was acting.

During his days at Chancellor High School, he had hidden that dream away, figuring drama classes wouldn’t be seen as cool by his friends and fellow athletes. He was planning to pursue a career in communications or the FBI instead.

“When I heard my professor that day, I knew he was right,” he said. “I knew I had to give acting a try.”

The driven 24-year-old has been doing just that the past few years, reading books on acting, taking a class here and there, following sites online that announce auditions, parts and any opportunity to advance his craft.

He’s landed everything from training films for the U.S. Navy, to parts in movies, to television gigs ranging from shows on Discovery to a guest starring role on a current BET series called “Criminals At Work.”

But the one thing that has really ramped up Stephens’ name and profile was landing the starring role in a fan fiction film called “Spider-Man Lives: A Miles Morales Story.”

It’s a 10-minute film, produced by a team of filmmakers in the Washington, D.C., area, that plays out a storyline that appeared in “Spider-Man” comics for a while.

The gist of the story: After the death of the Peter Parker Spider-Man, another rises to take his place, a young man of African-American and Hispanic descent named Miles Morales.

Morales gets special powers while visiting an evil uncle who broke into Oscorp. There, he is bitten by a specially treated spider the uncle inadvertently brought home with him.

In the 10-minute film, Stephens is saddened by the loss of the original Spider-Man and by the returning crime wave.

Soon enough, he finds himself facing a room full of bad guys and an evil crime lord. Luckily, his new powers kick in as he knocks out the bad guys with punches, kicks and a lethal spidery sting.

“The point of making this film was showing how interesting it would be to have a Spider-Man who wasn’t a white Peter Parker,” Stephens said.

Made early last year in Frederick, Md., the film went viral when it hit the web. It got tons of publicity and attention for its creators, Bard Tales Productions, as well as for Stephens as its star.

“It had led to lots of things for me,” said the young actor, who now has a dozen or more movie, television and commercial projects listed on his resumé. His work ranges from being an extra for “House of Cards” to a traveling production of “Buffalo Soldiers” with Theater IV.

More inspirational was feedback he got from fans, who loved the action, special effects and more, including a shot where he sticks to a wall like, well, a spider. Others were delighted to see a Spider-Man of color.

“I heard from a kid who said he had never thought he could be a super hero until he saw me as one,” Stephens said. “He said that was because he looks like me.”

Stephens will soon take the advice he got from actor James Spader, met while an extra for an episode of “The Blacklist.”

“He said that to go all in, I needed to get out of my comfort zone, leaving home and my support system,” he said.

That’s why sometime this year, the budding actor said he will trade his Spotsylvania County apartment for a spot in the Atlanta/Augusta area, where acting gigs are more readily available.

He’s got an agent in Charlotte, is now eligible to become a SAG actor and has made connections that extends from actress Debbie Morgan (“All My Children”) to casting agents at TV networks and movie studios.

The most amazing thing about his success to date: He has basically taught himself to act, learning what works for him to become the person he needs to be on film, screen or stage.

“The four months with ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ really helped,” he said of the tour that took him from Florida to Indiana. “It was like class every night, working with some very talented people.”

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Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/

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