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One-on-one with Tom Carroll

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hey, George Clooney: Tom Carroll has an idea for you.

The force behind Albuquerque’s Carroll Strategies may have made a name for himself based on his public-relations expertise. He may spend his days sending out press releases for the likes of Wal-Mart – which uses his communications services – and managing reputations and solving problems for those who have come to him with a crisis. (Don’t ask for details. He’s not telling.)

But Carroll also has a few screenplays up his sleeve – or, more precisely, in his pocket.

Carroll has penned seven of them. One, he says, nearly made its way to film, having made its way to HBO. It never received the green light, but Carroll remains undeterred. He still regularly totes around a copy of that script, “Baca Street,” about a wealthy developer who falls for an undocumented immigrant in Santa Fe.

“I’m a guy with a screenplay in my back pocket all the time,” Carroll says from his third-story office in Downtown Albuquerque, pulling out a bound version from a nearby drawer. “Wherever I go, I carry a copy just in case I meet George Clooney. (Feigns hollering) ‘George!’

“I’m like that guy with the screenplay. I’m never going to give up.”

Writing may be his current after-hours pursuit, but, as they say, what he’d really like to do is direct.

Carroll started in theater in high school. He later landed a production assistant’s job with Lorimar Films during a one-year break from college, working on the TV soap “Dallas” and the short-lived crime drama “Kaz.”

Carroll – who spent his youth in New York, Los Angeles and Connecticut – followed his creative passion after college, too.

He knocked around New York in his early 20s directing what he calls “off-off-Broadway” productions until the need for a stable income prompted him to take a newspaper reporting job. While that segued into political consulting gigs and eventually, public relations, he still yearns to create. He recently directed “Big Bad Budget,” a one-hour film that depicts how eight regular people in Albuquerque get together to try to balance the federal budget. It aired locally on PBS last fall.

“It was so much fun to do,” he says. “What I do (with PR) is a lot of fun, but this was so much fun.”

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: I was very rebellious, and I had a lot of fun. I made a turn after my sophomore year – up to that I barely did anything – then, for some reason, in 11th grade I got serious. I actually moved from one school to another and got serious. I don’t know why. Then after that, I did OK. Before that, I was wild. I had a good time, though.

Q: You grew up in the country’s two biggest cities, New York and Los Angeles.

A: Yeah, and for a short time we lived in Connecticut. … When I was pretty young, we moved to Connecticut and we lived on the Connecticut River. That’s when I had what I love to refer to as my “Huck Finn existence.” For some strange reason, my parents gave me my own boat when I was 9 years old, and I was out on the river every day. If you saw the Connecticut River, you’d go “Wow, my God, it’s like Huck Finn.” … To this day, I can’t believe that my parents let me run around on the river by myself. (Laughs.)

Q: What were your interests growing up?

A: Football. I was a sports kid, so football and ice hockey and baseball and lacrosse. … And I was a theater kid. … My stepfather was in the theater – he produced “Man of la Mancha,” which went to Broadway (and) that’s how we ended up going to New York City. I went to Loomis, which is a boarding school … and some drama professor comes up to me and says, “Do you want to be an assistant director for a school play I’m doing?” And I said, “Sure, why not,” because I’m from a theater family and the whole thing. Then he had some kind of a crisis in his life and left me. He never came to another rehearsal. (Laughs) And I was, what, a freshman? I was like 14 and next thing you know, I had all these people looking at me like “What do we do?” So I directed my first play. “David and Lisa.”

Q: What did you like about theater?

A: Well, I loved directing, and I was thrown into it. Then I directed more plays at school, then I went to college and directed more plays. And (later) I actually directed some off-off-Broadway – I guess you would call them – plays.

Q: Why did you decide to move on from theater? Did you want to be a reporter?

A: I was an English major, so I liked it and I’d done some journalism kind of things. And I needed the job. I needed a job, so I took it because it was a job that was there, and I was starving. I was a classic starving artist. I took it, and I loved it. And then I got working into politics (from there) and I loved that.

Q: When did you start writing?

A: I started writing when I was about 14. I wrote my first novel when I was 14. I have it at home somewhere – please don’t ask to read it. It was a boarding school story, one of those deals. And then for college, I wrote a novel. At Bard, everybody has to do a senior project and mine was a novel, which won the literature award at Bard, so I was always a writer. I’m from a family of writers. … I don’t make a living at it. I have a novel (“The Colony” published by Santa Fe-based Sunstone Press in 2000), but I certainly don’t make a living off of it. But I write all the time in what I do. We’re always writing speeches and press releases and communications plans and all that kind of stuff.

Q: How challenging is it to make a living doing PR in a community like Albuquerque?

A: It is very challenging, and that’s why we specialize in the crisis management side of it. (He recently launched Carroll Crisis Management as a division of Carroll Strategies.) When the recession came and everybody cut their budgets for everything – marketing as well as everything else – what people continued to pay for was crisis-related stuff. And that’s not just like “We got in trouble, somebody got arrested.” … It can also be reputation – the reputation of your company is in trouble. So we had to evolve into a public-relations company that was highly specialized in solving people’s problems, sometimes with the media, but not always. Usually not, actually.

Q: Is there one thing a company in crisis should never do?

A: Lie. Never. Ever. Ever. I have never seen it work out well, and it’s the first thing I say to my clients. Don’t ever lie, don’t ever stretch the truth, because it’s natural. It’s natural – not necessarily to lie but to try to get out of it. No. Just follow the rule book. Don’t lie; it will just get you into more trouble.

Q: What are your passions outside of work and writing?

A: I play ice hockey. I’m actually on the injured reserve list right now, but I do still play and I ski and I swim every day. I swim a mile every day. … So basically it’s work, family, writing and exercise. That’s my life.

Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: That I’m sometimes funny. I have a good sense of humor. I guess. Sometimes. (Laughs) Not everybody says that, but that’s the one I like the best.

Q: What’s on your bucket list?

A: One, I want to make that movie and, two – and this is totally strange – I want to visit every Revolutionary War battlefield. You’re going “This guy is nuts.” It’s just one of those things. I’ve been to a few (already). I’ve been to Yorktown, so I want to do that.

Q: What is one food you can’t live without?

A: Bagels.

Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures?

A: I go all day without eating bad stuff and then between 8 and 9, I would like kill my grandmother for an Oreo. The most dangerous place in New Mexico is between me and the cookie box at 8:30 at night. I eat like a sleeve of Oreos. It’s not good, but talk about guilty pleasures. That’s why I have to swim every day; otherwise I’d be 10,000 pounds.

Q: Describe yourself in three words.

A: Cool under pressure.

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