Though I've been there for several auditions, I haven't been on the Universal Studio Tour since A-Team and Knight Rider were in prime time.
I can mark that particular period of time with this degree of certainty, because I clearly recall talking with KITT, and wanting to ask it if it ever raced the A-Team van around the back lot, but actually asking something stupid about how fast it could go.
I also recall taking a scratch off game with me on the tour tram, where we were supposed to look for A-Team characters in various places, and scratch off the appropriate image on the map, with the promise of a prize for kids who turned in correctly completed games. I can't remember all of them, but Mr. T -- well, a model of Mr. T's head, anyway -- was in this out of control train that was supposed to come within inches of crashing into the tram, and I was so busy trying to figure out how they did it, I forgot to scratch him off . . . until the tour guide reminded all us kids to scratch off that circle on our map.
"That's stupid," I told my mom, "if they're just going to tell everyone where the A-Team is, why should we even look?"
"Maybe you can just enjoy the tour," she said.
. . .
Yesterday, I went to Universal for my second on-camera audition in the last six months. The call was to play a very complex and dark character on a pretty popular prime time series, for casting people I've seen a few times in the last year.
Ha. In fact, I think two of my five on-camera auditions this year have been for these people, now that I think of it, so for all you struggling actors out there: it's true when they say that every audition you have is for more than just the current job; if you do well, and show them that you're competent, they'll bring you in for other roles in the future, until they find one where you fit.
I'll be honest: I was writing yesterday morning right up until I had to get myself ready to go, and I really didn't want to leave the house. Though I knew I had a good handle on this character, and for the first time in ages I felt like I actually looked the part I was reading for, I was in that weird writing place that I love so much, and experience shows that if I walk out of that place before I'm done, it's very hard to find my way back.
Auditions are few and far between these days, though, so I wrote until the very last possible second, and drove out to Universal, knowing that the path to the weird writing place wouldn't be easily located when I got back home.
I gave the guard my ID, and drove onto the back side of the studio lot through the Lakeside gate. The road is narrow and follows the Los Angeles River on one side. The other side is lined with sound stages, dusty props and vehicles in this absolutely gorgeous monument to movie magic.
I looked at a jumble of carnival wagons, police cars, traffic signals, and street signs, and I got a flutter of excitement in my chest that I haven't felt in a long time. I absolutely love being part of the magic of movies (the politics and bullshit and business, not so much, but getting paid to play pretend? Oh yeah. It rules.) and all those dusty props and vehicles, which could have been a junkyard anywhere else, were a film crew and some actors to away from being something magical.
I drove past them, more slowly than I needed to. Behind them, I saw the facades of the back lot, and forgot about missing the weird writing place. Right there, a hundred yards to my left, was the weird acting place.
Admission to the weird writing place is granted through inspiration, dumb luck, and a great amount of discipline and focus. Admission to the weird acting place requires all those things, plus the permission of a committee of people who don't usually know how great the weird acting place is and why it matters to people like me.
"Man, I miss the movie magic." I thought. "Man, I miss creating a character, and working with other creative people to bring him to life. Man, I can earn this job, if I just go in there and do my best. Man, I better stop staring at the back lot and park my car."
A minute later I turned off my engine, focused myself, and walked into the casting office. The office is actually a trailer, but once inside, it's the same as every other casting office, whether in a building on a studio lot, in a strip mall, or on the top floor of an historical building on Miracle Mile: stained old carpet, framed publicity posters awkwardly hung on wood-paneled walls, a few mismatched chairs and a particle board desk with a fifth generation photocopy sign-in sheet on top.
I signed in, picked up the latest copy of the sides, and waited in a room filled with pretty young girls and a couple other guys reading for the same role as me. One of them wore a striped shirt almost identical to mine.
I waited and waited, and after fifteen minutes or so, I went in and did my thing. There were two scenes, and I will cheerfully admit that I had an insanely fun time performing them, even if it was just in a casting office. I will also cheerfully and gratefully point out that these particular casting people are always awesome when I read for them. They are warm, welcoming, supportive, and always seem genuinely interested in whatever I'm doing.
"That was magnificent, Wil," one of them said to me when I was done. "I'd like to see the first scene again, though, and see if you can make him a little more charming, because he knows that he's smarter than these guys and can toy with them."
"That's a really good idea," I thought. "I should have done that the first time."
"I can totally do that," I said.
I did the first scene again, and this time my whole point of view was different. I enjoyed the interrogation. I teased them with information that wasn't quite enough to let them get me, but just enough to frustrate them. Through it all, I was as charming -- almost flirtatious -- as I could be.
It was awesome. It was fun, and it was tremendously satisfying.
There was a little gasp of silence, and a smile from the director when I finished. "That was a great adjustment," the guy who asked me to read the scene again said. There were murmurs of agreement from the room that seemed genuine, but I've been around long enough to know that all compliments issued in a casting office should be taken with the obligatory grains of salt.
I smiled back at them. "Thanks, that was fun."
I picked up my stuff, waved goodbye, and walked out. I'd done everything I could to gain admission to the weird acting place, and I'd done my very best. Now that it was out of my hands, I could begin the journey back home, and hopefully back to the weird writing place.
Just outside the door of the office, I ran into an old friend who is a tremendous actor. He'll probably want to remain nameless, but I'll just say that you'd know him if you saw him, and you may even think better of me for knowing him.
We talked for a minute about life, the universe, and everything.
"Hey," he said, "how is it in there?"
We actors always ask each other this question, because even though we're competing for the same roles, when you divide the world into Us and Them, we have to stick together.
"It's a great room," I said. "It's always a great room in there. They'll make you feel welcome and it's not like this -- " I crossed my arms across my chest and frowned, "at all."
"That's a relief," he said. Then, "Hey, I, uh, wanted you to know that I read both of your books."
"Yeah." He said, "and I wanted you to know that I loved them both. As an actor, and as someone who's known you for as long as I have, I want you to know that you really inspired me."
"That is . . ." I said. "Uh. Jesus. Thank you."
You're doing more than this," he pointed to the buildings around us, "and what you're doing really matters."
"Ha. It's funny that you say that. I was writing right up until I left to come here today, and I can't wait to get home and get back to work."
"Are you doing another book anytime soon?" He said.
"I hope so," I said. "I have ideas and I have some stuff already collected, but it's not as easy as it was the first time. There's expectations now, so I'm a little gunshy."
"Well, I can't wait to read whatever it is."
"See," I said, "that's what I mean!"
We laughed together.
"It's really great to see you," he said. "and it's great to know that you're doing well."
"Thanks," I said, "and I can't tell you how much it means to me that you read my books and liked them."
The casting director called out his name.
"I gotta go," he said.
"Yep." I said. "Break a leg."
And just like that he was into the room, finding his own version of the weird acting place, where I just was a few minutes before.
I walked to my car, and opened my door. A studio tour tram drove past, filled with tourists. I could hear the sound of the guide, but couldn't make out her words.
"Maybe you can just enjoy the tour." My mom's voice said, twenty years ago.
I don't know if I'll get the prize at the end, or if I even scratched off the correct spots on my card, but yesterday, I sure as hell enjoyed the tour.