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STARRING ROLE IN CORRADINI ADMINISTRATION HASN'T KEPT ASSISTANT FROM TAKING ON DIVERSE PARTS AS AN ACTOR

As a character actor, Thom Dillon has played all sorts of roles, from tough police sergeant to irate town resident to suave campaign coordinator.

But this month art came closest to imitating real life as Dillon played the part of a mayor from a small California town in "Natural Enemies," an NBC-TV movie being filmed in Utah County. The mayor is attacked by killer bees.Buzzzzz. Dillon is executive assistant to Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini.

Dillon, 47, tried out several real-life scenarios before getting a top billing in the Corradini administration. From 1981 to 1988, Dillon worked as a reporter for KTVX Channel 4.

He left the station in 1988 to launch Vision Communications, a video production, training and marketing/media consulting company. That's where he connected with Corradini.

Corradini cast Dillon as her media adviser during her 1991 mayoral campaign. After Corradini won, she asked Dillon to join her administration full-time.

It was a part he couldn't refuse, particularly after Cor-radini "lectured me on public responsibility." Dillon is Corradini's liaison with sports and arts organizations, oversees emergency management and han-dles press relations.

Politics is fun, but Dillon's real loves continue to be acting and writing. He is putting the finishing touches on a novel, a detective mystery set at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. And he takes as many acting jobs as his job allows.

"If going to the movies is a way to escape, then being in them is really escape," Dillon said. "You get paid to be people you're not. It's almost therapeutic."

Dillon's first foray into acting came in the early '70s at South Dakota State University when he agreed to star in a play written by a friend. The play was called "The Pensive Suggestion."

"I never did understand it, to be frank," Dillon said.

But he put in a credible performance that caught the eye of a professor, who asked him to be in another play, "Mr. Smith and the Bald Soprano." At the end of the play's run, Dillon was hooked.

He spent three months touring Europe, where he saw two or three plays a day. He returned to South Dakota to get a graduate degree in theater and acting. Then reality intruded: it's hard to make a living as an actor.

"I was not making any money, and I needed a job," Dillon said.

Dillon, who has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism, first landed a job at a public broadcast station and then came west to work for KTVX. He put his acting career on ice.

"Part of it was because of the scheduling problems," Dillon said. "You don't tell the news director you can't be on call for the next eight weeks because you're doing rehearsals and performances."

There was also "the credibility problem - one night to be seen as a reporter giving the facts and the next night they see you on the TV movie-of-the-week as an alcoholic. There's a problem with that."

Dillon revived his acting career when he started his own business. The career really took off about the same time he went to work for Corradini. In 1992 Dillon, who is represented by the McCarty Agency, made one video release movie, a feature film and three television movies.

His screen credits include campaign coordinator in the "The President's Child," police sergeant in "It Nearly Wasn't Christmas," an irate resident in "Incident at Dark River" and an FBI chief in "Slaughter of the Innocents."

But the role that may have garnered Dillon the most public recognition was the father he played in "Families First," a 1992 missionary film made for the LDS Church.

"I have had at least 40 or 50 people stop me about that," Dillon said. "One woman recently stopped me at lunch and said `Aren't you an actor?' "

Dillon and the woman then figured out she'd seen him in "Families First" - "about 100 times" - while serving a mission for the LDS Church.

"She was tired of seeing me, I think," Dillon said.