Like most actors in New York, Lindsey, 33, lives a life of relative anonymity as he works a day job and auditions for theatre, film and television work. His anonymous afternoon feat at the Penn Station stop of the C train subway was reported in The New York Times' online City Room blog March 16 as a "who-was-that-hero?" tale.
The commuter that Lindsey plucked up, or "saved," if you wish (a glowing light in the subway tunnel indicated an oncoming train), was later identified as 60-year-old Theodore Larson, but no thanks were exchanged at the time. A bloody, crud-stained Lindsey had simply disappeared onto another train (to the applause of other passengers) and went on his way.
By March 17, a friend had identified Lindsey to the Times, and he was the subject of a March 18 Times story — complete with a photo of him posing (or sheepishly standing) on the C train platform.
In the age of cable TV, opinionated blogs and internet news, it took about 72 hours before Lindsey was dubbed "Subway Hero," the sort of moniker that movie directors Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges created in pictures of the '30s and '40s.
By March 19, a Google internet search for the name "Chad Lindsey" revealed 257 news articles, many of them spun from an Associated Press piece on the incident. By March 19, he told Playbill.com, he had 168 "friend" requests to his account on the social networking site Facebook. Last week, he had "like, two," he said.
New York magazine's Daily Intel column online March 18 picked up on the story, announcing that the "Mystery Subway Hero" was not only revealed but that he was "HOT." The columnist drooled, "There's a bonus! He's a hot and sexy actor!" Lindsey's contemplative photo in the Times was characterized as "sultry" and "thoughtful."
A report on Gawker.com called him "smoldering," and said that he "sports a strong jaw and tousled hair."
"'Smoldering' is hilarious," Lindsey said. "Later in the blog they have comments and somebody wrote, 'We have obviously lowered the level of smoldering considerably.' I was like — Ouch."
The website for The Flea, the Off-Off-Broadway theatre where he is appearing in the musical Kaspar Hauser, jumped on the bandwagon and has a link to the Times subway story with a headline, "'The Subway Hero' Chad Lindsey featured in Kaspar Hauser."
The 6-foot-1-inch Lindsey has to lift a body in the Flea show, which was good training for the feat of lifting a knocked-out commuter up to the waiting arms of others on the subway platform. The world-premiere musical by Elizabeth Swados and Erin Courtney closes March 28.
Lindsey said he has appeared on at least three local TV news reports, interviewed about the subway experience.
On national TV, Lindsey was a guest on cable's "The Rachel Maddow Show," on MSNBC, on March 18. Maddow called him a hero; he displayed his shrugging, Midwestern, Capra-esque dismay that the story has blossomed so much.
Even The Petoskey News-Review, his parents' local paper in northern Michigan, picked up on the story. Lindsey was raised in Saginaw, MI.
"My mom said, 'Well, the AP called and that doesn't usually happen,'" Lindsey said, adding that his parents told him not to jump on subway tracks anymore.
Why all the coverage?
Lindsey observed, "There's a lot of bad news and everybody — TV producers, or whatever — is looking for something that isn't necessarily AIG or all that's horrible out there. It's been a little crazy."
In the span of three days, Lindsey has found himself packaged as a folk hero, when he would rather be known — and employed — as a working actor living a New York City life.
"I'm taking the rest of the day off to try to figure this out," he said on March 19. "I don't know how overly saturated you wanna get. It seems a little bit overblown, I guess. I don't know — I'm happy to be a helpful, good story."
Although Lindsey has done some guest spots on TV series ("How I Met Your Mother") and was seen on national commercials (a Best Buy spot featuring the Black-Eyed Peas), he said that the subway story is the most high-profile exposure he thinks he's had.
Some actors might ask, will this jinx my success as an actor? Lindsey admits, "Yeah, that's why I have to sit down and think about things, y'know?"
He has resisted the suggestion of friends that he get a publicist who would help exploit his sudden celebrity. "I don't need a publicist…that's crossing the line," Lindsey said. "It just sounds sharkey. It sounds aggressive. I didn't want to be known, it didn't even occur to me."
And lest anyone read the story and think that Lindsey is a carefree, out-on-the-town actor, he told Playbill.com that it would be "apt" to bill him as a "struggling" non-Equity actor (he is a member of Screen Actors Guild) who lives in Woodside, Queens, and has no health insurance.
"I haven't paid my rent this month, and it's the 19th," said Lindsey, who, in addition to auditioning, is a free-lance proof-reader. He also designs and silk-screens earth-friendly images on t-shirts, kids clothes and totes, sold on a site he created with a friend, fresheggshere.com.
"This is a blip, a wonderful blip," he said of the Subway Hero story. "I'm doing a show every night [at the Flea], I've gotta calm down and focus. …I'm from Michigan — this is all kind of wacky."