Working on films with Ben Affleck and Samuel L Jackson, car rides home with Antonio Banderas, and 17 years as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal assistant is an action-packed career many would dream of.
For Greg Dunn it was reality. A life in and among the stars. A career of flashing lights and red carpets. The excitement of the movie set, the thrill of being on stage making people laugh, and adventures across the United States. But something is to be said of a quieter life. A happiness born in silence away from the bustle. And the 15,000 km between LA and Perth turns the volume way down. For Dunn, silence now is the 20-minute bike ride to work instead of the two-hour slog in LA traffic. It was the chance to raise his kids out of the bright neon of Hollywood and under the sun-stained streets of Perth. It’s the simplicity of Sunday Auskick games and weekends on restive beaches. In all adventures, there is a time of growing roots.
But for most of his life, Dunn has been a renaissance man of Hollywood proportions. Leaving his boyhood home of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he was born in 1971, he started as a production assistant on Homicide Life on the Streets (1993-1999). Moving his way up the LA production ladder he worked on films such as Changing Lanes (2002) and Like Mike (2002). He’s a graduate of the Second City Comedy Troupe, the same theatre that produced comedic greats Steve Carrell and Tina Fey. And for 17 years before moving to Perth he worked for one of the most famous families in America.
Such illustriousness in your professional life might breed arrogance in some people. Not Dunn. Down to earth, hardworking, humble, and reliable. You won’t find an acquaintance who doesn’t instinctively smile when his warm American accent punctuates the air as he tells a joke.
As Paw, a colleague and friend, says: “He always goes above and beyond to help you out. If you ask something of Greg, you can be sure it’ll be done.”
Another colleague of his once said: “I love Greg. Even my mum loves Greg. She’s only met him once.”
He has a sharp personability carved by two decades in the biz. But his humble origins give him an air of homeliness.
Rewind to 1982, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A 10-year-old Dunn rides his bike over green rolling hills, plays ice hockey on frozen lakes with his brother. Neighbours call his name as he goes past. At night, the front door is left unlocked. But in him, a taste for adventure grows. An affinity for film and art.
In the halls of Temple University, amongst the Georgian buildings of North Philadelphia, he hones his skills. Studying radio, television, and film, Dunn gets his start: an extra in Philadelphia (1993). He fondly recalls his first job. The fact that at one hour, 10 minutes, 43 seconds he can be seen squashed between Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington staring and smiling cheekily into the camera.
It’s a memory which brings out Dunn’s loud infectious laugh. One of those empathy-inducing laughs. It hits your ears, and you can’t help but smile.
An innocuous unnoticed moment for the millions who have seen the film. But that’s Hollywood from the outside. It’s a product. Gorgeous cinematography, pretty-faced actors, and fast-paced plots. For the five people you can name who worked in some capacity in your favourite film hundreds more contributed to it.
But for Dunn, like most within the industry, it’s the process. For him Hollywood in the 1990s was years of 5am starts and 10pm finishes; the 70-to-80-hour work week; the grind from production assistant to second assistant director to assistant director to director. Two months of excitement, the ring of prop guns, the frantic zoom of hundreds of crew members, the flashes of camera lights, the screams of ‘cut’! Then it ends. And Dunn’s time is filled with wondering when and where the next job is coming. Filled with acting classes and waiting tables. But this experience instills his work ethic. It leads to him meeting great people. Dunn met Brian Galligan while they were both working on Changing Lanes in 2002. Working sunrise to sundown on set the two became great friends. As Galligan puts it they have the same personality, a desire to have fun and be silly whilst you work.
Galligan maintains Dunn is one of the funniest and best people he’s worked with.
“Greg has a great energy. He’s just a good person. He cares about everybody he works with, and he just has everyone’s back. No matter what field, whether its film making he just has everyone’s interest [at heart].”
Working in Hollywood in the 1990s was tough, Dunn says. You had to constantly move and improve. Take an opportunity when it came. It wasn’t about the right opportunity. There was no ‘right’ opportunity. So, in the early 2000s when a colleague reached out to him to say a family was looking for a new staff member to help them out, Dunn’s affirmative mindset led him to say yes. It was a chance for work.
The job, the family: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.
When most people talk of Arnold Schwarzenegger, they use either his full name or his iconic hypocorism ‘Arnie’. For Dunn he’s ‘Arnold’. Working as Arnold’s PA for 17 years achieves a certain level of familiarity.
It’s one of the fondest times of his life. Fast-paced and exciting. During the day he would work for the Schwarzenegger family. At night, he would go to his comedy classes. Always looking to improve himself and achieve his own goals. His experience in such diverse illustrious jobs is evident in his personability. You can’t be the personal assistant of one of the most charismatic humans on the planet without yourself being a people person. Right after Dunn meets someone new you can catch him writing down their name, so he remembers it. Not for optics. He actually cares.
“He’s such a likeable guy. And it’s genuine. It’s not that he wants to be a likeable guy. He just is.”Brian Galligan
Eventually, life can become too quick and noisy. Priorities changed. For Dunn and his wife, who he met while she was working at Paramount pictures, it became clear they wanted a quieter upbringing for their children. And in this way life is circular. The halcyon memories of his childhood in Bucks County re-emerge in his wife’s native Perth. Raising his children away from the bustle and bright lights of Los Angeles in favour of sleepy Perth is a no-brainer for Dunn. In 2017 they made the move.
For a time, he tried to strike a balance between his work and family. But balance is difficult when the home is 15,000 km away from the office. Two hours in LA traffic doesn’t seem quite as bad as the 19-hour flight between Perth and California. So, he made the move permanent trading his job with the Schwarzenegger family for one in events management in Perth. He loves Perth despite the fact shops close so early and people complain about the traffic. “They think they have bad traffic, but they have no idea,” he says.
In 2022 as he sits in his adopted home, reflecting on his unorthodox journey to Perth, where he has spent the last six years, his comedic canter takes on a contemplative tone. Everything, all the crazy things he’s been a part of, have led him to realise the most important thing is the process.
“Never give up. You’ve just got to keep at it. You might not get to that pinnacle, but the road is really fun, you meet a lot of really good people out there,” Dunn says.
Behind every big product are many hands. It’s not just the iconic directors, the recognisable actors and the Arnold’s who have the stories worth telling.