Public affairs photographer David Kilper shoots thousands of subjects on the Washington University in St. Louis campus each year. But a spring assignment photographing Malcolm Foley proved a bit distracting.
“Everybody kept coming up to him and saying ‘hi,’” Kilper says. “I don’t think there’s a person on campus who doesn’t know him.”
That’s no surprise. Foley, who will receive bachelor’s degrees in religious studies and finance May 18, is tall and slim in build, but larger-than-life in personality.
He’s charming, effervescent and has a laugh that emanates from deep inside and becomes contagious when he lets it out – which is with disarming regularity.
He has a charisma that draws people to him, whether as an RA in Danforth House, conducting bible study classes on campus through Harambee, or as an actor on stage at Edison and Hotchner these past four years.
That charisma will come in handy in Foley’s next venture: Yale Divinity School.
“Malcolm’s considerable academic strengths are difficult to separate from his personal virtues,” says Robert Henke, PhD, professor of drama and comparative literature and chair of the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences. “He is a person of strong beliefs, but, as both a fine actor and an outstanding student, he is able to enter imaginatively and critically into alternative points of view.
“He has a magnetic personal presence, and a smile that simply lights up the room; it is also the ‘smile of reason’: imaginative, tolerant and generous,” Henke says.
Foley is a young man with concrete goals for his future: a master’s in divinity that most likely will result, he says, in ordination as a minister in the Reformed Baptist church followed by pursuit of a PhD.
“My relationship with Christ is paramount in my life,” he says. “It takes discipline; it’s a commitment that I have to work at every day, with daily bible readings and devotions.”
And acting is part of that commitment.
“The ultimate dream is to be a pastor, professor and ... .”
He pauses, laughing that deep belly laugh, “a voice actor. That will be my way to continue to do theater.”
Foley as Flow in Fabulation in 2010.
Among the roles Foley portrayed at WUSTL were Marcellus in Hamlet
; Booker T. Washington in Ragtime
; Max in Anatol; Henry in Radio Free Emerson
; Flow in Fabulation
and his last role: playing — against type — the brooding Jaques in As You Like It
, in which he got to perform Shakespeare’s “all the world’s a stage” soliloquy.
“I have a fixation on playing villains in plays,” he says.
Foley? A villain?
“I know!” he says, laughing.
“But acting is a way for me to release my dark side. My ultimate role would be to play Iago in Othello.”
Foley laughs that laugh again.
“But I think I would be cast as Othello if I ever tried out for it. I’d have to find some alternative casting version of it.”
It was as a 10th grader at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., when, Foley says, all his “passions” ignited. “I acted in my first play and I also took a comparative religion class.
“I had a teacher who was a really aggressive atheist, who specifically did not like Christianity. Having grown up in the church, I was like, ‘nobody’s talking in this class, so let me do some personal research.’ ”
So Foley started reading the bible and theological literature, and he and his teacher would discuss religion and trade books over the next few years. “That set me on the path to a religious studies major.”
Foley says he intends to take all that he has learned at WUSTL – especially on stage – to Yale.
“In preaching classes, all of that training will come into play when it comes to using my voice to tell a story,” he says. “Theater will be deeply integrated into my life.”
And when he gets that degree?
“There will be a lot of gratefulness, not only to God but my family for supporting me,” Foley says. “There will be nostalgia, but I know I'll be able to maintain the relationships that I have built here.
“I won’t be sad. The people I want to keep in touch with, I know I will.”