I have always been an actor, in that I learned early in my life how to pretend to be somebody I was not. To clarify, I would find myself in situations where deeply inside me I had a particular set of emotions or fears or other state of being, yet my outside world, as I perceived it, required me to act in a different way from what I was thinking or feeling.
A good example of this that I vividly remember is coming home from school one day (early in grade school) and cutting through an alley to take a short cut. There were a bunch of older boys there, and they proceeded to harass me and tell me they were going to beat me up. After due consideration, I quickly gauged my odds of beating them all up, or retreating, or doing something else to dissuade them from this dastardly act. I finally hit upon appealing to their better selves, and proceeded to loudly cry out, with huge tears running down my face, and they relented and let me pass. I think I made some decision that day that would not serve me well in the future, but somehow cannot remember what it was.
This common example, which many children share, would be something like being in a fearsome situation and knowing that one was expected to be brave and fearless, often with the admonition to “be a man”, or “don’t be afraid.” Women or girls would have their own version of this, I would think, such as “try to be nice” or some other way of being that was different from what they were experiencing. These are typical childhood dramas or situations that, once confronted, result in the growth of the individual so that he/she is better able to handle being in the world.
As best as I can recall, I found that I had developed an uncanny ability to read a situation I was in very quickly, and establish exactly what I should do or how I should act to prevent some undesired result from happening, such as being embarrassed, beat up, or made fun of by other kids. This is fairly common.
I took it a bit further, and developed an uncanny ability to do exactly what was called for to prevent an undesirable (to me) situation from continuing. That is, I would change my behavior to accommodate the situation, which got me “off the hook,” but was dishonest and did not allow me to fully develop.
I suppose that had I taken on the bullies, I would have learned a different lesson, but do not think it would have served me well at all. But, who knows?
Over time, I overcame this, but I did see that I could act in a way that was very different from what I was feeling at the time.
I developed a bit of a dramatic flair in high school, was in the senior play in the leading role, and had acting stints throughout my life on television (twice in the fifties) and in community theatre. I was able to overcome my fear and did that by becoming another person, substituting what I thought that person would do in that situation. This is known as “method acting” and by pretending to be something I was not, I became successful, at least at acting.
I often used this ability in making presentations before audiences when I was older, wherein I would pretend I actually knew what I was talking about, when I didn’t have the slightest clue.
Ultimately, I found out that everyone else (almost) used this technique, as can be seen by the level of discourse in the politics of the current time. (I know, it’s a cheap shot, but nevertheless is often true.)
I do know that when I was on stage, I was a different person, and that ability to transform myself thrilled me, while at the same time I of course felt inauthentic.
I often wonder to this day if some people really believe what they say.
So where all this is leading is to this anecdote where I thought I had a chance to be in a “real movie” and I described it in this humorous (to me) email to some friends in this way:
I’m gonna be a star!
Well, not a star, perhaps, but for my first movie gig, I have been selected to play a small role in Tom Hank’s upcoming movie News of The World, a civil war era movie starring Mr. Hanks, as all his best friends call him, being filmed nearby at the Eaves Movie Ranch and assorted other places. I get fitted on Monday for costume, and filming that involves my part is all next week, so I have cancelled all my other social engagements for that time.
Now, I should mention in passing that Mr. Hanks, as his best friends call him (or did I say that already), did not personally choose me. A casting agency did, based on my sending them via email a photograph and my waist measurement (that’s all), which has to be less than 37”, since that’s as large as their costume department will allow. This automatically eliminates most men in Santa Fe, which is likely why I was chosen.
My stentorian dialogue delivery will not be needed, since I’ll probably be part of a cast of many who form the audience for Mr. Hanks, as all his best friends call him, as he goes around the country reading the news to people who did not get a newspaper (nor TV, for that matter) in the United States in the 1860’s.
I have begun preparing my Academy Awards acceptance speech already, since I’m a shoo-in. “I’d like to start by thanking all the little people . . . “ and I have gotten no further than that.
I’d go on and on, but perhaps soon Mr. Hanks, as all his best friends call him, and I might be jetting into D.C. soon on our way to the Riviera.
I’ll likely be insufferable until the first day (or night) of filming, which based on my past experience of seeing a movie filmed in Los Angeles in the early eighties consists mostly of standing around, waiting, eating, being bored, cold, tired, hungry, and angry. But I get “scale” pay, whatever that is, but is rumored to be as much as $12 an hour and all you can eat and drink. No mileage included. I’m unclear about residuals.
I must go practice my civil war persona.
(As my favorite Navy Chief Petty Officer used to say: This ain’t no shit!)
As a follow up to my previous email about my big break in the movies as an “extra,” I thought I’d follow up with a first-hand report of Hollywood at its best.
I got my big break yesterday, and was called as an extra on the movie being filmed at the Eaves Movie Ranch (you could look it up) about a mile away from my house, the very same place where John Wayne and Kirk Douglas and others did many of their films. And it was a paid gig!
The way you get called is by going to a website, seeing if your name is on the list, and showing up. Three separate and discrete activities, which
take place when filming is over for the day, about midnight, and the list for the next day is posted.
I won’t go into the details, for soon to be obvious reasons, but Mr. Tom Hanks Sir (as his best friends call him) was nowhere to be seen. I showed up at the call time of 4 p.m. (it is late fall in Oregon, which is a euphemism for the dead of winter) and wandered around with about 100 other tough looking characters, and I finally asked someone what I should do. I declined their invitation to “shove it,” and proceeded to have dinner with the local fire chief, a friend, who does double duty manning the fire truck in case things get out of control. I suppose it could be used for either fires or to keep back all the young ladies who likely will want to see what a real star looks like.
They had a series of portable buildings and tents set up, and finally I asked someone what I should do, and I was directed to the “wardrobe” department, where I was issued my “costume” for which I had been “fitted” previously, and then asked someone else where I could change, and was told to “shove it,” whereupon I managed to find the “tent” where I could change. The tent was reminiscent of MASH on a bad day, about 16 feet square, filled with may be 50 weird looking ugly men (my fellow extras), grunting and trying to change standing on nothing other than a dirt floor.
At that point, an officious millennial with a walkie-talkie yelled “places,” whereupon we all walked over to an old building used for “The Cheyenne Social Club” and “Easy Rider” movie set from many years ago, about a half mile away (it was cold; not sure if I mentioned that), told to go in and sit down, and he left. It was about 5 p.m., maybe 6. Not sure if I mentioned yet that it was cold. There was a heater in the corner, which was surrounded by other elderly people like me, jostling for space.
It went downhill after that. Upon previous instructions from the big boss, who was about 30, I failed to bring my smart phone under penalty of banishment since they did not want photographs made of the goings-on, which was all secret, so the only entertainment other than looking at the wall, was inside my head, which is not a pleasant place on even a good day.
The restroom facilities were in a trailer about eighteen miles away, it seemed, it was now below freezing, and the armed guards (rent-a-cops) looked at us extras with great suspicion as we went about our comings and goings to the bathroom trailed fueled by copious quantities of the worst coffee I have ever had. They likely wanted a puff of what they thought we had, which we didn’t.
I had some interesting conversations with other extras (it can be a full time lifestyle, which I will not describe here), met some interesting people, some of whom were quite literate, and occasionally the boss millennial came in, looked at a couple of us, and said “you”, “you”, and “you!” They left, came back a half hour later, ran to the furnace in the corner, and waited.
And waited. And waited.
About midnight, the kid came in again and told us to come back tomorrow. So it was back to the 16 by 16 foot tent, undress, take the costumes to the costume trailer where a very long line was forming, where I found out I had arranged my costume incorrectly on the frigging three wire hangers, had to go back to the 16 x 16 foot tent, and this time got to the end of the long line, and the temperature continued to drop. It was getting colder. To say I was angry and frustrated would be a gross understatement.
Finally I got permission from the 23 year old girl (sorry, woman) that I could leave, as long as I remembered my costume number (2364, which I had forgotten upon pain of death, but they relented), and since I was about to cry, I huffily left and proceeded through the dark uneven very cold fields to find my car.
I could not get my keys out of my pocket since my hands were frozen, and so I died on the spot.
All true except the last sentence.
I removed myself from further acting duties this morning via email, thanked them for the experience and for their service to the artistic community, and I’m now back with my wonder dog Giordi nursing my mental, spiritual, and physical wounds. I figure that with deductions I made about $50, and got some of the best experience in the movie industry a person could ever hope for.
So, you will not see me in the epic film soon to be released at drive-ins everywhere, starring Tom Hanks, who all his best friends call Mr. Hanks, Sir.
Just wanted you guys to know how my retirement is going.
This is the second email I sent after the experience:
I found out from the locals that filming at this particular site ran over several days, in some of the coldest and windiest weather experienced in this region in a while. It must have been a miserable experience for those involved, and I was happy that I cut and ran, as I am not particularly receptive to pain at this point in my life.
Come to think of it, I never was.
I did net about $100 for the whole effort, which was mostly expended on cold medicine and “firewater” to soothe my spirits. (See the Alcohol section for more information about “firewater.”)