Sunday, November 7, 2010

Instincts, Electronic Cigarettes and Brando.

Friday I received my new 'e-cigarette' in the mail.  It's a cumbersome thing, much larger and heavier than I expected, and I don't really like it, but it'll do in a pinch, I suppose.  You know, I have some regrets in my life, some I could have avoided and some that probably would have taken place regardless, but starting smoking is very high on that list.  It's an indefensible habit and one, God help me, I thoroughly enjoy.  But it is an addiction and one that I can't seem to shake.  So for the moment, anyway, the best I can do is try not to bother anyone else with it.  Thus the 'e-cigarette.' 

I know it sounds odd, but the truth is, I didn't take even a puff of a cigarette until I was 23 years old.  I didn't like them.  I didn't especially like the smell and I couldn't imagine ever enjoying it.  I started, like most actors, for a show.  I was doing a play, a musical actually, called 1940's Radio Hour, and my character was a Frank Sinatra clone who chain smoked incessantly.  So in my youthful arrogance, I decided to learn to smoke, for stage purposes, and then figured I'd quit once the show was over.  But, of course, that was not to be.  I continued to smoke and here it is 26 years later and I'm still smoking. 


So yesterday I had a read for a new film.  The audition was over in Hollywood, of course, and by appointment only.  I walked in, let the monitor know I was there, sat and looked around.  Right across from me was a guy, clearly, up for the same role.  I knew this for a couple of reasons.  A) He had the same snippet from the script that I had and B) He looked like me.  After a little while, one of the production assistants came out and called him in.  I was sitting right beside the door so I could easily hear his audition. 

As is my habit, I didn't dwell on the script once I got it.  I'm a very good cold reader and I don't like planning out an audition.  Some actors plan it out to the second ('breathe here, pause there, raise your voice on this word, stare menacingly here, etc.').  I hate that.  I like to just see what happens and keep it honest.  

Anyway, so the character I'm up for is a tightly wound, tense kind of guy, having a conversation with his priest in a waterfront bar.  He's a blue-collar sort, recently widowed, keyed-up and quietly threatening.  Says so in the script.  He's telling the priest what a crock religion is while dangerously downing more shots and beer.  Not a difficult scene, to my way of thinking.  So the actor opposite me goes in.  After a bit I hear the words from the script I'm holding.  But instead of being 'quietly dangerous and tightly wound' I suddenly hear this guy shouting and playing it like he's in a 4,000 seat amphitheater.  It's a small room.  I'm thinking to myself, 'this has got to be the worst reading I've ever heard.'  This guy is shouting everything.  Like he's on the brink of madness.  You could hear him in Van Nuys. 

After a bit, he comes out, smiles warmly at me and starts to gather his things and leave.  Obviously I'm next.  But then the director himself comes out, young guy, wearing the obligatory Steven Speilberg 'I'm a director' ball cap, and stops the guy.  They're standing right in front of me.

"That was a teriffic reading," Says the guy in the 'I'm a director' ball cap.  "And I'd like to ask if you can come by Monday and read for our producers."

"Why, sure,"  Says the bad actor.

"Good," Says the ball cap guy.  And exits back into the room.

The bad actor is blushing from the compliment and happily finishes packing his knap-sack and exits.

Leaving me to sit there and wonder what's wrong with the universe.

A little more time goes by and the monitor comes out and asks me to go in. 

I go in and sit.  The director has my resume and headshot in his hands and says, "Very impressive resume.  Lot of New York stuff, I see here."


Whenever you're ready.

So I say my name and do the scene.  I do it quietly and dangerously, letting my eyes and demeanor do most of the work.  I have a slight Jersey waterfront dialect.  I play it slightly wounded with an 'edge-of-violence' feeling.  It's a good read.  I've been doing this over thirty years and I know when I've nailed something and when I haven't.  The audition ends, the director says he'll call either me or my agent about it.  And that's that.

So on the drive back to the valley, I'm thinking to myself, "Have I lost my mind?  Am I seriously deluded?  Am I completely out of touch with what I think is good and what actually IS good?"

This is a weird business.  It's useless to second guess ourselves in this business.  Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.  Or something like that.  A friend of mine immediately tears up his 'sides' the moment he leaves an audition as sort of a physical incarnation of 'letting the role go.'  I think I"m going to start doing that.  Not that this was a role I'd kill to do.  It's not.  It's a low budget thing, not very well written, transparent and probably will not be seen by too many people.  Nonetheless. 

In any event, the reading for Bachelor's Graveyard is tonight.  We shall see what we shall see.  I think I have a lot more faith in this project than my cohorts, but that's okay.  Sometimes you just have to go with your instincts and trust them.  I've done that for a good many years and it's served me well.  I think I'll do it again today.

Speaking of instincts, I found, while flipping through the thousand channels we have, a showing of Marlon Brando's Mutiny on the Bounty last night.  And all over again, just like everytime I see Brando's work, I'm impressed.  Not at the film itself, it's not that good, but Brando.  He plays the role foppish.  An incredibly bold choice.  The critics at the time crucified him for it.  But in retrospect, what choice did he have?  Gable had already stamped the role some 22 years previously with immeasurable testosterone.  Brando wisely realized that was a fixed race and decided not to do it that way.  The result is utterly fascinating.  His Fletcher Christian is far and away the most interesting of the four versions done of the movie (the silent version, Gable and Mel Gibson being the other three).  Consequently, due entirely to Brando's ambiguous portrayal, the moment when the actual mutiny takes place in the film is incredibly suspenseful.  It's a brilliant piece of work that he took a lot of flack for at the time of the release.  Looking back on it now, though, it's just head and shoulders above everything else in the film.

Up very early, as is the norm for me, and the clocks have fallen back an hour.  An exciting and unpredictable day ahead of me.  I'm going to show a new piece of writing today.  And, as in the case of the audition yesterday, people will either 'get it' or they won't.  And if they don't, well, Monday's just around the corner.  And my lovely, smart, sexy, beautiful, sassy, sleeping wife thinks I'm all that and a bag of chips.  Not much is more important to me than my writing, but that's one. 

Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes it eats you.

See you tomorrow.