There was a time when I called myself an actor/writer. Then I realized that, saying it aloud, I was calling myself an actor, slash writer. While I suppose this would be immensely appealing to some people, it's not how I wish to be remembered by history, so I made an effort to call myself a writer/actor, often correcting myself if I said it the other way, and explaining to an often-confused friend or cow orker why I did not aspire to the lofty title of "slash writer."
Over the last few years, though, the explanations have grown few and far between, as I've increasingly dropped the "actor" and I think of myself as a writer.
A part of me will always be an actor, I think, because even when I write, I see things the way I'd shoot them, and hear dialog the way I'd speak it if I were on a set. I love my roles voice acting, especially on Legion, and I love performing sketch and improv at Acme, but I'm a writer. It's how I support my family, it's how I satisfy myself creatively, and it's what I want to be when I grow up.
Still, about once a month or so, my manager calls me with an audition for a television or film role. When this happens, I prepare the scenes, make myself look pretty, curse traffic the entire way to the casting office and back, and do my very best to simply enjoy myself and have fun while I'm there. I never book the jobs, but the reasons that used to drive me crazy when I was a full-time actor ("too young, too old, too tall, not edgy enough, not related to someone enough, etc., etc., etc.") don't even bother me, now. The way I see it, if I did the best I could with the acting, which is the only thing I have control over, I can be happy with the entire experience.
About two weeks ago, I got a call on a Wednesday for an audition on Thursday. The audition scenes were very straightforward, and the character was someone I could step into pretty easily: a comic book creator who is a huge douche.
I prepared the scenes, made myself look pretty, cursed traffic the entire way there, and then sat at the studio's gate for 25 minutes while I waited to get onto the lot. The
actor/writ er, writer/actor or "actor" me would have been so worked up by the time he got through that line, he would have given a shitty audition and gone home angry.
This time, though, I relaxed, listened to the best playlist I've ever made on my iPod, and spent the twenty minutes rehearsing my lines. By the time I got to the guard gate, I'd heard Codemonkey, Lazy Eye, Eaton Rifles, This Year's Girl, and I was entirely off book. I parked my car, made my way to the audition waiting area, and sat down, confident and relaxed.
I signed in, and looked around a room that was filled with actors who were dying to get their respective roles. This is a prime time network show, and one of the guest roles pays at least $6500 for the week -- that's almost enough to qualify for the "good" SAG health insurance for a full year, and the exposure this show would get any of us will be worth even more, as it could easily lead to an actor's big break.
After a few minutes, my name was called with several others by a casting assistant, and we moved from one waiting room to a long hallway, where we lined up on chairs and waited to get "on deck."
While I sat there, I became aware of how much this audition meant to just about everyone there. They all wanted it in that life or death way I once did. Don't get me wrong, I wanted the role because of all the reasons I listed, but if I didn't get it, it wasn't going to be the worst thing in the world. I have this new book out that I'm promoting, you know?
The desperation came off some of these other actors in waves that I've only seen in a bar at last call, and I wanted to tell them all to relax, have fun, just do the best with the acting they can do and leave it all in the room when they walk out . . . but then I remembered that if anyone had tried to give me that advice five years ago, I wouldn't have been able to hear it over the sound of my own desperate heartbeat.
I sat in the hallway for about five minutes, while other actors reading for other roles went in ahead of me. When there was one guy left before I was up, I glanced over my sides. Yep, they were the same ones I memorized while I waited at the gate, so I folded them up and waited.
When it was my turn, I went into the same damn room I've been going into since I was eight years-old: a bunch of intimidating executives sat on the other side of an equally intimidating conference room table, waiting to see if I was going to fuck up their script, or if I was the guy to bring this character to life.
I've known the casting director for a thousand years, and he's one of my favorite guys in the industry. He always puts me at ease, and works hard to create an environment where actors can do their very best work.
One of my audition scenes was in an interrogation room. Rather than sit in one place and just read lines at me, Mark (the casting director) really put the screws to me, while he paced back and forth behind the entire row of executives between us. This was such an awesome thing to do for two reasons: it brought the scene to life, and it gave every executive in the room the chance to really see all of my face and the character I was creating while Mark walked behind them. Why more casting directors don't do this sort of thing I will never understand, and why Mark isn't making a billion dollars a year as the director of talent for a network or studio is equally incomprehensible.
I did two scenes, and I rocked them both. It was fun, I was relaxed, I wore this character like he was a skin suit and I was Buffalo Bill (for the record, yes, I would fuck me. That's probably too much information, sorry.) I thanked them for their time, and walked out of there thinking, "Yeah, that was super fun and totally awesome. I nailed it . . . I can't wait to find out why I didn't book the job."
The weekend passed, and the following Monday I was informed that I'll never learn why I didn't book the job, because I booked the job!
Starting tomorrow, I'm playing the part of Miles Sklar, comic book creator and world-class douche, on Numb3rs.
. . . yeah, I know. Weird, isn't it? For the rest of this week, I'm a working actor. Don't tell anyone, but I'll be thinking of myself as a writer the entire time, and not just because it serves the character.