Soldier becomes actor at UNC Asheville

Bjorn Goller from Miami explains the differences between his acting and military careers. Photo by Jonathan Price.
Bjorn Goller from Miami explains the differences between his acting and military careers. Photo by Jonathan Price.

Nick Baynard
A&F Staff Writer
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Bjorn Goller wipes the moisture from his eyes at a table outside Ramsey Library, recalling a tough scene from one of his deployments overseas. The dynamic 30-year-old veteran from Miami transitioned immediately from his post in the Army to study drama at UNC Asheville.
“On my first day of school here, I was still technically in the military,” Goller said. “I left myself no room because I didn’t want to have any idle time.”
Goller takes the lessons he learned in the armed forces and applies them to his studies in the drama department, where he builds skills as an actor, set designer and theatrical technician.
“It’s not natural to run toward danger, but that’s what is expected of you every day in the military,” Goller said. “There’s a lot that goes on in the military that feeds the ‘young man’ mentality, and it’s done that way on purpose.”
Goller uses his military conditioning to run head-on into performing onstage in front of a live audience, which is less dangerous than serving in the military, but still strikes fear into the hearts of many people.
“The adrenaline rush and being able to just go with the flow during a stressful situation is where the confidence comes from, and I guess the military helped me out a lot in that way,” Goller said. “Sometimes I think, ‘You held it together during a firefight, but people are just looking at you now.’”
According to Goller, the rigors of putting together a theatrical production parallel the missions he was tasked with while serving in the military.        
“When we would get a mission brief, it meant that we had to go do that mission no matter what happens,” Goller said. “Once you say that you’re going to do a show, guess what happens six weeks later, you have to do that show.”
Goller’s background as a performing musician made it easier for him to transition into theater, even though acting was brand-new to him.
“Creative expression has always been very important to me, and all throughout middle school, even in high school, I was a musician,” Goller said. “It had always been that thing that I did to de-stress.”
Although Goller was new to Western North Carolina when he started school at UNCA as a nontraditional freshman, he’s fallen in love with Asheville’s charm in the two years he has spent here as a student.
“I love this place. Good gracious, do I love this place,” Goller said. “It’s enlightening being here because I feel like people care and there are a lot of important conversations being had.”
A big part of Goller’s life is his young son, Oliver, who lives in New York with his mother, Goller’s ex-wife.
“As soon as I graduate here, there’s no question in my mind, I’m going straight to New York,” Goller said. “There’s tons of work for me there and it would be more conducive to raising my son on a 50-50 schedule.”
Prior to Goller’s honorable discharge from the military, his parents relocated from Ohio to Hickory and his stepfather took a position at Lenoir-Rhyne University.
With Goller’s parents living close by, it was a good reason for him to look for schools in the region because they could help with Oliver while Goller manages his full-time student schedule.
“I thought that it would be a good fit for me and a good experience to come here,” Goller said. “The people that I spoke to in administration were very helpful and friendly, but it wasn’t like that everywhere else.”
Goller said he had an easy transition from military life to student life, but there was one lesson he had to learn if he was going blend in with his peers at UNCA.
“After eight years in the military, you eventually make your way into leadership, and I was used to people responding to me in a very specific way,” Goller said. “I knew that I couldn’t use that kind of presence here and I had to learn to keep my mouth shut.”
According to Goller, his solid work ethic and drive will steer him toward success.
“You always want to be the hardest working man in the room,” Goller said. “And as long as you are, you have nothing to worry about because things will fall into place for you.”