John Rhys-Davies — a veteran of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Indiana Jones” movies — sat at a table in the celebrity row area of the FanX Salt Lake Pop Culture & Comic Convention and marveled.
“Look at it,” Rhys-Davies said Thursday, the event’s first day. “Thousands of the finest actors in the world gathered in this one place, waiting for you, the audience.”
Rhys-Davies exaggerated the number slightly. According to Dan Farr, who co-founded what’s now called FanX in 2013, more than 100 celebrity guests are expected at the Salt Palace Convention Center this weekend, to meet fans, sign autographs, pose for photos and sit for Q&A panels.
This year’s FanX, Farr said, is on its way to “being our biggest attended show ever. … We have our most celebrity guests ever, we have our most vendors ever. It’s really an epic 10-year anniversary celebration.”
The celebrity row area, where fans line up for the autographs and photo opportunities they have paid for, is 30% bigger than before, Farr said.
Farr — wearing a custom-made green plaid blazer whose lining features characters from Marvel’s “The Avengers” — stood with Jeff and Abbey Wright, who joined FanX as co-owners in 2019, at a news conference Thursday to open the three-day convention.
“Since the very, very first show we did 10 years ago, I was so amazed to see how people came out of the woodwork to help make this happen, and it’s just been that way ever since,” Farr said.
The convention, Farr said, is made for “magic moments,” as he called them, “things that you can’t plan on having.”
For people attending the convention, Farr encouraged downloading the app, checking out celebrity row and the vendor hall especially.
What actors can’t talk about
One complication at this year’s FanX, Farr acknowledged, is the ongoing strike by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — the labor union that represents Hollywood actors. One of the strike rules prohibits actors from promoting much of their past movies and TV shows.
“The actors have been instructed to not talk about work that SAG is striking against,” Farr said.
Before panels, the convention played a message on video screens in the Salt Palace’s Grand Ballroom: “FanX respects the talent’s decision to participate in the SAG-AFTRA strike. Please respect their wishes and only ask questions on topics they request. Thanks!”
Holly Marie Combs, who appeared at a Thursday panel with her longtime “Charmed” co-star Rose McGowan, acknowledged the tricky balancing act actors face at the convention.
“We’re programmed to promote, and now we’re being deprogrammed,” Combs joked.
McGowan jokingly referred to “Charmed,” their show about three good witches that ran from 1998 to 2006, as “Voldemort” — a nod to the villain from the “Harry Potter” franchise often referred to as “he who must not be named.”
There were moments when Combs and McGowan briefly spoke that they weren’t sure what they could and couldn’t talk about, since the show came out more than 20 years ago. They said maybe they would get fined.
Instead, the actresses took questions about their favorite Taylor Swift song is, what brings them joy, and what type of projects they want to be involved with in the future.
When asked what their favorite magical moment was, Combs said, “It’s magical that the people in this room still care about something that we aren’t allowed to talk about.”
Serving as inspiration
Elsewhere, actor Quinton Aaron — who played the football player Michael Oher in the 2008 movie “The Blind Side” — said that it was his first time at FanX, but his third visit to Salt Lake City.
Aaron, who said he met Dan Farr at a show in Atlanta last year, said he was excited to be at the event as a fan.
“I love coming to these events, because you get your cake and eat it too,” said Aaron, who will be giving photo ops all weekend and appearing on a panel Saturday.
He said the recent controversy surrounding the real Michael Oher, who accused the Twohy family who cared for him of taking financial advantage of him, was “very unfortunate.” He added, “I have faith that they’ll work that out amongst themselves, but I’m not involved in any of it.”
The controversy, Aaron said, doesn’t shed a bad light on the movie. “The movie served the purpose of introducing the family and Michael, but it did so much more,” Aaron said. “It inspired so many people to do great things with their lives.”
Aaron said he has met several NFL players over the years who told him the movie made them stick with their dreams. In a way, he said, it reflects what FanX is all about: Meeting the people who create and embody the characters that inspire.
“Being in the positions that we are, we’ve been given an opportunity to have a voice that we should do the right thing with, because people, you know, they’re inspired by what we say,” Aaron said.
For voice actor Ryan Colt Levy, it’s a bit different, because he isn’t as recognized as onscreen actors. He mostly works giving voices to anime characters; his most popular character is Denji, the lead of the series “Chainsaw Man.”
Levy said he fell into voice acting because he was obsessed with theater and music.
Not having a recognizable face, Levy said, can be an advantage. “A lot of the time, people come up to the table and don’t realize what I was going to look like,” Levy said. “I don’t need them to know who I am. I want them to connect with the characters. And if, when we meet, I can hopefully make them feel even more connected to it, that’s a beautiful thing.”
Levy added, “the reality is we are all incredibly privileged to be able to help tell these stories. … None of us own these characters or created these characters. We are lucky to play them and live in this world and share this with people.”
The 2023 FanX Salt Lake Pop Culture & Comic Convention continues through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City. For tickets and schedule information, go to fanxsaltlake.com.