This is the second of five posts about working on episode four, Paradise, during season four of Criminal Minds. I spoke with CliqueClack.com about some of my production experiences, and I have a gallery of images from the shoot at Flickr. Please note that I've done my best to recreate my interactions with the cast and crew, but this isn't a perfect, literal translation of the entire experience.
About a week before my episode began production, I was invited out to the studio for a table read. This is exactly what it sounds like: the cast, writers, producers, department heads, and other people involved with production get together around a big table to read the next episode on the schedule. This is a great way for the writers to hear if things need last minute tweaking, for series regulars to give some input on the script, and for guest stars to meet the people they'll be working with. Not all shows do it, but I think it makes a difference.
We did the table read for Paradise during a lunch break while they were filming Minimal Loss. One of the regulars, I forget who, almost couldn't make it, and Luke Perry was going to fill in for him. I thought that it would have been so cool to work with him, even if it was just a table read, but why in the world would he want to spend his lunch hour filling in for someone else when he wasn't even in the episode? By the time I was done working on the show, I totally understood. The cast and crew of Criminal Minds made me feel like I was part of their family, and I never wanted to leave.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was the first actor to arrive, and I had about fifteen minutes to kill before they broke for lunch. We were going to do the table read in the same room where I had my audition, so I waited around in front of it, and tried not to look like I was waiting around in front of it.
Erica, who I read with during my audition, walked out of a nearby building and over to me. Again, I apologized for freaking her out during my reading, and again she told me that it was okay.
"You're the first one here," she said, "so if you want to go grab some lunch, it's over there."
She pointed to the catering truck. Over the next week, I'd eat the best food I've ever eaten on a set, and if I'd known then what I know now, I probably would have gone over and gorged myself, but at the time, I was too nervous to eat.
"I think I'll just wait here," I said. "I don't want to go inside and be the first kid in the class, you know?" I laughed nervously.
She laughed. "That's understandable."
I pulled out my notebook while I waited and wrote down, "I feel like the first kid to come to class on the first day of school. And I'm new. Yipe!"
"So I hear that you're a writer now," she said.
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"What does that mean for you as an actor?"
This is a question I've wrestled with a lot, and I haven't come up with one consistent answer. "Um, I mostly write, and I only go on auditions for parts that I think are right, as opposed to going on everything that I can and hoping that something will stick."
She nodded, as cast and crew started to come out of the stage and toward the trailer. A kaleidoscope of butterflies exploded in my stomach. This was really happening.
"I'll see you inside," she said.
"Awesome!" I said.
A weird and unexpected thing happened over the next few minutes: a whole bunch of people who work on the show walked over to me and introduced themselves. They were excited that I was working on the show! They read my blog! They wanted to say nice things to me! I was totally unprepared for this, and all I remember is trying not to stumble over my words too much while I said thank you.
After a minute, we began to file into the room. The same tables were there, but now there were place cards with names on them. Beneath the actor's names, their character's name was written. Production staff had their name and job description, and department heads had the name of their department. I found my name, back in the corner farthest from the door.
Before I could sit down, Paget Brewster walked up to me. Several years ago, Paget and I worked together on a live pilot presentation for a show called Celebrity D&D. It was a pitch for Comedy Central, I think, and it was hilarious. She and I and one other girl were the adventurers. An actor played the Dungeon Master, and lots of improvisers dressed up in silly costumes as they acted out the various scenes and challenges in a short, comedic dungeon crawl. We did it for a sold out theater, and they loved it. It was superawesome, and I was shocked that it didn't get picked up, while dozens of less-funny, less-creative, totally stupid pieces of crap did that year. I wasn't sure if Paget would remember me, so I had my "Hey, I don't know if you remember me . . ." speech all loaded up and ready to run when she said, "Hey, I don't know if you remember me but -"
"We did Celebrity D&D together!" I said. "I thought there was no way you'd remember that!"
She laughed and said, "I thought the same thing!"
We talked for a minute about actor things. She told me how excited she was that I was there, and gave me the inside scoop on all the different people in the cast and crew, which pretty much came down to "everyone here is awesome and we all like each other a lot. You're going to have a wonderful time."
I began to slowly trade my nervousness for excitement. I'd only been there for twenty minutes, and I already felt welcomed, and part of the team.
Paget was called away by someone from production, so I sat down, and opened my script. I looked at it for a moment, and there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and a smiling woman introduced herself to me.
"I'm Erica Messer," she said, "I co-wrote this episode."
I stood up, shook her hand, and thanked her for hiring me. She said some really nice things about my audition. I wanted to ask her a million questions about writing, but put that shit in check; I was there as an actor, and I could be a geeky writer some other time. (I wrote a little bit about this in a post called changing gears for criminal minds.)
We talked about Floyd's pathology as the room filled up. I was pleased and relieved to discover that my take on Floyd was essentially in line with hers.
"This is going to sound really horrible," I said, "but when I was a kid, I was just fascinated by serial killers. I think it's because I grew up during the whole Night Stalker summer. When I was in my teens and early 20s, I read way too many true crime books, so I think I have a slightly broader knowledge of these bad guys than the average person."
I don't recall what she said, but she didn't look mortified, which I took as a good sign.
"We're really happy that you're here," she said, reaching up and squeezing my shoulder, "I'll see you later."
"Thanks!" I said. She walked over to the other side of the room, and I sat back down.
I felt a presence to my right. I looked over, and saw a beautiful woman with incredible red hair sit down.
"Oh my god," I said. "Robyn Lively."
She looked at me.
"It's Wil Wheaton," I said.
"Oh my god! It is!" She jumped up and hugged me. We knew each other when we were kids. We always seemed to end up at the same Teen Idol things, and I really liked her. She was normal, not into being famous, and was always incredibly kind to me.
"Are you playing Abby?" I said.
"I'm Floyd." I said. "I'll be your kidnapper and torturer for the next five days and four romantic nights."
We looked at each other for a second and giggled. Before we could say anything else, someone on the other side of the room called the table read to order, and we went around the table introducing ourselves. I kept it together, and my voice was steady when I introduced myself. We continued clockwise around the table. All the way down, on my left, an actor who I recognized but couldn't recall in my mental imdb said, "William Mapother, playing Ian Corbin."
"Hmmm . . . Ian . . . that sounds kind of like . . . Ethan! OMG ETHAN! That's Ethan from Lost! CREEPY! AWESOME!"
Luckily, these were inside thoughts, and they stayed there. I may have surreptitiously scribbled "OMG ETHAN FROM LOST" in my notebook.
Once everyone was introduced, we began to read the script.
Floyd didn't make his first appearance for several pages, so I was able to observe the room while everyone else did their thing. The regulars were relaxed, and cracked some jokes. In my notebook, I wrote, "Lighthearted - they do this every week."
I noted that all of the actors were conserving their energy, reading their lines quietly, while my instinct was to project enough to the entire room. I thought about the differences between us: these guys work 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week. They're used to performing for the camera, which is considerably more intimate than what I've been used to. For the last couple of years, most of my performances have been on stage, to audiences that average a couple of hundred people. I was glad I picked up on this before I read my parts, because I think it saved me from what could have been some embarrassing over-projection.
The whole thing took about 45 minutes, and when we were done, I got to meet some of the cast who came in after I was in my seat. Kirsten Vangsness and Matthew Gray Gubler, it turns out, are real-life geeks who thought my "I'm uncertain about quantum physics" T-shirt was funny because it's true. Joe Mantegna didn't freak out at me when I slimed him - just a little bit - about playing Fat Tony. Thomas Gibson had a disarming kindness that makes the intensity he brings to Hotch even more impressive. I didn't get to meet any of the other actors before the first AD called them back to work, but when I eventullay did, I wasn't surprised that they were all as friendly and gracious and wonderful as the people I met during the table read.
It was going to be four or five days before I got to bring Floyd to life. I couldn't wait. I felt like kid counting down to Christmas.
Next: Run Floyd, Run!