Photographic portrait of Hans Obma.

You may not know the name Hans Obma ’02, but you’ve seen his face. You may not recognize his voice — he’s mastered an impressive array of accents — but you’ve heard it. He’s had roles in dozens of well-known films and television shows, including Better Call Saul, Grace and Frankie, WandaVision, and May December.

Through each of those experiences, Obma has come to understand that making one’s way in Hollywood requires diligence, tenacity, and a winning attitude. He may not be famous quite yet, but he’s been a gainfully employed actor for 15 years. With optimism intact, Obma continues pursuing his big break. And he has real-world role models in actors like Steve Carell, Kathy Bates, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, and Morgan Freeman, who were all in their 40s when they made it big.

Now, with a new series project he’s put together himself, he’s that much closer to joining their ranks.


One of four children, Obma — who grew up in La Crosse and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin — felt early on that he didn’t have much to offer, leading to a fair amount of self-doubt.

“All of my siblings were more successful athletes than I was, which is quite revered in small towns,” he says. “I also come from a family of rather exceptional people — my brother is an orthopedic surgeon, my younger sister is an anesthesiologist, and my older sister is an immigration attorney. I just didn’t relate to being the perfect doctor or lawyer. Instead, my throughline for how I can understand the characters that I’ve so naturally been able to play is if the characters are quite flawed.”

Though Obma’s talents weren’t necessarily valued where he grew up, things began to shift when his high school Spanish teacher, Julie Proffitt, recognized that he had a gift for languages. “The fact that Mrs. Proffitt so openly shared her belief in me encouraged me to apply myself in a whole new way, and now I fluently speak a variety of languages,” he says. He not only speaks flawless Spanish, but he also knows French, Russian, German, and his most recent challenge — Welsh. He found Russian and Welsh the most difficult to learn.

His aptitude for accents rises to the level of a superpower. “Accents are something I really enjoy — they bring me to life,” Obma says. “When putting together an accent, I find that I change the way my mouth is shaped, which then causes me to carry myself differently — it’s all connected.”

Hans Obma, wearing a tuxedo, poses on the red carpet.

Obma’s talent for languages and accents has boosted his career. “You’ve got to find out what your essence is and give that to the world,” he says. Courtesy of Hans Obma

Zeroing in on what one wants in a career can be an arduous venture. Despite his own ups and downs, Obma recognizes that not everyone gets the opportunity to go after the life that they’d always wanted. “Early on, I heard someone say that you’ve got to figure out what your essence is and give that to the world,” he says. “More and more, sharing the core of who I am is central to my work as an actor: to speak my truth.”

Justin Markofski ’02, Obma’s college roommate and close friend of 22 years, has a clear vision of what makes him a standout in the sea of celebrities. “Hans takes a special interest in others and goes out of his way to remember things about people that will make them feel seen, special, and cared for. … He is teachable and pragmatic. This combined with his diligence has helped to cultivate his skills as an actor within a unique niche.”

Obma consistently receives high marks from most anyone he interacts with. Kathleen Culver ’88, MA’92, PhD’99, director and professor at the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication, got to know him when he was a student double majoring in journalism and Spanish, and they remain in contact to this day.

“I first met Hans when he took our introductory boot-camp class, Mass Media Practices,” Culver says. “I remember him being a fan favorite of his classmates. Hans has a joyous soul, a big heart, and tremendous talent. He’s someone who gets along with everyone and always strives for the best outcomes for all, which is so important in fields like ours, because they so often rely on teamwork.”


Relocating from Wisconsin to Los Angeles in 2008 was a culture shock and a career gamble. But Obma knew that if he didn’t try, he would regret it. “Once in LA,” he says, “I felt like I’d gotten to this place where there really were thousands of doors to opportunity, but so many of them were closed with signs that said, ‘Don’t knock.’ It wasn’t a welcoming feeling.”

If you’ve ever watched Vampire Diaries, The Rookie, Narcos: Mexico, or For All Mankind, you’ve seen Obma playing a variety of characters. And getting those roles took time and hard work. Arriving in LA with no acting credits, he soon realized that he needed help defining the areas where he had something unique to offer. “While specializing in foreign roles, I also worked out how to play criminals and found that I have the capacity to play mentally ill characters quite naturally,” he says.

Finding a renowned acting coach was key to acquiring the confidence and skills necessary to move forward. “Working with David Rotenberg was a foundational time for me,” he says. “I would send him tapes of different monologues, to which he would offer notes. For several months, I did villain after villain, and he told me that I need to play bad guys. And now, I know how to approach those types of roles in a way that I didn’t before.”

Shortly after working with Rotenberg, Obma booked a handful of roles in close succession. First, he got to portray a Revolutionary War hero on TURN: Washington’s Spies, which was a French-language role. Around that same time, he was in an episode of NCIS: New Orleans playing a German master villain, quickly followed by a Hungarian bad-guy role in Get Shorty.

Another one of Obma’s early successes was booking a prime-time role on Criminal Minds. He found being on set exhilarating. In 2018 and 2019, he earned a role in the fourth and fifth seasons of the Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul. “Even though my character, Adrian, was rather secondary,” he says, “that job helped pay for a couple years of life.” He also enjoyed the opportunity to interact regularly with lead actor Jonathan Banks, who played hitman and fixer Mike Ehrmantraut.

Meaningful experiences, career wins, and good friends kept Obma in LA full-time for 12 years before he moved back to Wisconsin in 2020. Among those friends was fellow actor and mentor Shun Lee, who helped him recognize that he didn’t have to apply everyone’s advice or have every social media account. And he didn’t have to accept every role.

“When I first moved to California, I had the rather erroneous thought that anyone who’d been here longer had something to offer that I ought to consider,” he recalls. “But many of those I interacted with were coming from a place of defeat and jadedness. Through my time with Shun, I came to recognize that if you have wisdom and apply it consistently, that is what will likely lead to positive results. The best advice tends to focus on the possibilities and how to pursue them effectively.”

As Obma’s career began to take off, so did his confidence and reputation, earning him a place in the final season of the comedy series Grace and Frankie. He was a Norwegian candy smuggler — Hummer Von Vuckinschloker — opposite Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. That same year he portrayed an evil scientist in WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn.

“Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda were gracious and complimentary, which meant a lot, and I now carry myself differently because of the way things went on that set. The same holds true for WandaVision, which was a victorious experience where they kept giving me more and more to do because they were happy with what I was creating with my character.”

Most recently, Obma played a principal role in May December, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Natalie Portman. “Both Natalie and Todd were gracious, and it gave me an opportunity to firmly plant my feet and work with an Oscar-winning actress and an Oscar-nominated director,” he says. “I could have walked into that film and fallen flat on my face, but working with Todd and Natalie, instead of falling, I flew.”


When the pandemic began in early 2020, it offered opportunities to slow down and look at things from an entirely different angle — adopt a pet, make your own sourdough, learn how to knit. For Obma, it was a chance to delve deeply into practicing languages and accents. He also read The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, which inspired him to write.

“I came up with an idea for a television series that would feature a main character, Joseph Gard, who’s a sensitive man from Wisconsin,” Obma says. “He’s an MI6 interpreter who speaks many languages and uses different accents, which is perfect for me — a dream role.”

Once he felt he had written a successful pilot — A Question of Service — Obma decided to go a step further and fund the entire project himself, all during COVID. What came after is something he couldn’t have predicted.

After submitting his 20-minute proof-of-concept film to 11 film festivals across the U.S. and the UK, he came away victorious, winning eight times in his category. For a first-time writer, it’s an incredible feat.

So, how do these triumphs translate into a series getting picked up by a streaming platform?

“Once I’m ready to start reaching out to producers, I’ll share all that we’ve achieved thus far,” he says. “Then, I’ll pair that with the excellent bookings I’ve had as an actor. My hope is that it will all add up to something they may want to invest in. I’m eager for a 10-episode series, to avoid making choices that don’t ring true, and to work with people who are passionate about crafting quality stories.”

Obma maintains a generosity of spirit in everything he does, including how he views his college experience as a key to his career. He is a fourth-generation Badger, which is a great source of pride for him.

“I love the idea of people from the Badger state succeeding,” Obma says. “I like that the UW has been part of the experiences for so many important people in my life, too. I love that a person can come from Wisconsin, attend UW–Madison, and go do anything in the whole wide world. I think that’s very exciting.”

Almost as exciting, perhaps, as being on the verge of the role of a lifetime.

Nicole Heiman is a senior writer for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association and a lifelong film enthusiast.

Published in the Summer 2024 issue


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