Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Art of 'Sucking Up.'

Many years ago in NYC a much older and constantly working actor friend of mine said something to me I didn't believe. He said, "Working Broadway and Hollywood is just like your college theatre department. Jobs are gotten the same way on every level: who you know, who likes you, who you make laugh, who you suck up to, who's seen your work." I thought at the time it was a preposterous statement. Of course, now I realize it's true.

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say there have been hundreds of times in my life when I would be watching a film or TV show and thought to myself, 'How on earth did that guy (or girl) get hired. He (or she) is TERRIBLE!" Well, as cynical and disheartening as it sounds, they knew someone. They were friends with someone.

There was a guy I went to school with. No names for obvious reasons. He was a stunningly bad actor. But terribly funny and charming off stage. He gladhanded everybody. One would always see or hear him in the halls laughing uproarously at something a faculty member had just said, or slapping them on the back and complimenting them on whatever they happened to be wearing. To me it was all too transparent, this unapologetic sucking up. And yet he probably did more mainstage roles than anyone I knew in school at that point. And every single time he was just embarrassingly bad. I don't know what ever became of him, but I suspect his appalling lack of talent finally caught up to him and he stopped working and moved into another line of work.

Since that time I've run across countless actors that do the same thing. But now that I'm older it no longer surprises me. After all, it's the same with everything in life, really, not just the acting business. It's how things work. Certainly it's how things work in my business.

Now this sort of thing doesn't work at the very highest level of film producing. I mean, Tom Cruise may not be the greatest actor that ever lived but he's certainly not a bad actor by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually there's so much money involved in the film industry that gladhanding and sucking up can only get one so far.

The same is true of Broadway. The money involved is just too important to hand a role over to someone who's greatest asset is their ability to kiss ass.

Although I can't say it doesn't happen in TV and regional theatre. I see it all the time. Friendship trumps talent.

Now, I'm not writing from a standpoint of sour grapes. I haven't been in LA long enough to do that yet. I mean, I hardly know anyone, so I can't very well be resentful yet. Nonetheless I see it. It doesn't piss me off (although someday soon, I suspect it might), it just makes me smile knowingly.

My close buds John and Brad did a small budget movie a few years ago. It's just awful. But, John and Brad being talented, they are good IN it. Yet in one of the leading roles is an actor so bad as to be almost unwatchable. I asked them about it. The answer didn't surprise me at all. He knows everyone, they said. He's friends with everyone. He is, off camera, one of the most personable, complimentary people on earth, they said. He's been hanging around the peripheries of the film business for twenty years, apparently.

Now, at this stage of my involvement in the film business out here, I don't even know WHO to suck up to. It's not like I run in the same circles as Spielberg or Scorcese or Anderson or Cameron. In fact, the only circles I run in are Franny and Zooey and they, unfortunately, aren't in the position to offer me a job (Franny and Zooey are my dogs, by the way.)

Even Angie has told me stories like this. She was, for many years, a casting person out here in LaLa Land. Often times we'll be watching something or other and she'll say, "He's a really nice guy, too." To her credit, most of the time she says this, the guy is pretty talented to boot.

But my point is that the entertainment industry, for the most part, is the same as any other line of work. The squeeky wheel gets the most oil. Casting folk are no different than anyone else; all things being equal they'd rather cast someone that blows smoke up their ass than someone they hardly know. It is, alas, the way of the world.

Again, I'm honestly not bitter about any of this, particularly since I'm really most definitely in the fledgeling portion of my Hollywood career. I mean, I would have no compulsions about sucking up to someone if I knew who to suck up to.

It's important for the young actor to see this, embrace this, accept this. It can smooth over a lot of pain and rejection simply by knowing it.

Back at the grind today. Go over the whole script to Adding Machine. Sing the songs out loud a couple of times. Get my head back in the game after a few days off. This is one of those shows that will never exactly be 'fun' to do. It's too severe. But sometimes I do experience a mild catharsis by doing it, which is good. And I do like everyone involved which is a good thing, too.

See you tomorrow.

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