This is the fifth of six posts (yes, I've added a post) 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.
The last two days of production were incredibly intense for me, because that's when I shot all my torture/abuse/rape stuff. I was so focussed on the work, I didn't keep good notes, and I was too exhausted at the end of both days to write anything down once I got home. My memory is even more imperfect than usual, but I'll do my best to recall the time we spent inside cabin six, which had been built on a soundstage at Quixote studios.
This was the big day. This was the day I'd been waiting for since we began production. This was the day I got to really dive into Floyd Hansen's well of evil and find out how deep it went.
I had a late call, and William and Robyn had shot a lot of their scenes before I reported to set. When I walked in for rehearsal, it looked like they'd already been through the wringer. Robyn sat on the edge of the bed, and William leaned against the wall by the fireplace. They both held small sets of sides in their hands.
The cabin set was a practical set, meaning it had four walls and a ceiling (most sets don't have a ceiling on them, so it's easier to hang lights.) I've always felt like working on a movie or TV show is kind of like playing make believe with the most vivid imagination in history, so the more practical - and immersive - the set, the better. My favorite sets on TNG were Engineering and Ten Forward, because they were the most practical sets we had. Right up until my final day on the show, every time they turned on the engine (which was a series of neon lights inside a plastic mold) I expected to hear the whoomp whoomp whoomp (there it is) of the engine pulsing through the room.
It's easy to get lost in a set like the one they built for cabin six. Even though it's a tiny room, and even though the real world is just a few feet away, when you spend a lot of time in a set like that, performing scenes as intense as the ones we performed, you can go a little crazy in the pants. I can't speak for the other actors, but I used that sense of claustrophobia to inspire some of the choices I made for Floyd while we were in there. When I walked in for the first time, I let my imagination go nuts as I looked around the room. "I did [horrible thing] there, I did [other horrible thing] over there, [victim] put up a good fight over there, but I did [horrible horrible horrible thing] and put that fucker in a box . . ." Even though none of this was in the script, I figured that the more I could get into Floyd's head, the more he would live in me, unconsciously directing some subtle actions in each scene. This sort of thing, as twisted as it sounds in this particular instance, is a lot of fun for me, and makes acting much more than just showing up and saying the lines.
I walked over to Stacy, the first assistant director, and said good morning to her. It was afternoon, but when you walk onto the set for the first time, it's always "good morning."
She smiled at me. "Hello! Thanks for coming in."
Seriously. They're all about the thank yous on Criminal Minds. It's awesome.
"Cast is on the set," she said into her walkie. "I need everyone to clear out of the room for an actor's rehearsal."
Everyone except John left. Stacy closed the door, and we were alone in the cabin to block the scene where Floyd takes Ian out of the bathroom, drops him in the chair, and gets ready to have happy funtimes with Abby. For very disturbing values of "happy funtimes."
William Mapother is a huge guy, and I am an embarrassingly small guy. There was no way I'd be able to pull him around on my own.
"Uh, I don't know if I can pull you," I said. "In fact, I know that I can't."
William is one of the most intense actors I've ever worked with. Though he's friendly, kind, and supremely professional, I was terribly intimidated by him.
We looked at John together.
"I'll help him with my own legs," William said.
"Okay, we'll keep them out of the frame," John said. I was relieved.
We blocked the scene over the next few minutes. We tried it a few different ways, but what felt most real and satisfying to me was the tiniest bit of sexual excitement, sitting beneath a lot of rage and hatred and disgust. See, there was dialog from the BAU team about Floyd being a "violent anger excitation rapist" and I used that information to develop how Floyd would interact with Ian and Abby. This was all about power, control, humiliation, and fury. While it could have been interesting and even fun to let Floyd enjoy himself in this scene - after all, he's beaten the big guy unconscious, and after several hours of psychologically torturing them he's about to, as the serial killers say, "get to work" - he wasn't doing this because it made him happy. I suppose I could have gotten even deeper into Floyd's head than that, but even this much analysis made me uncomfortable.
Once we all felt like we knew how the scene would play out, Stacy invited the crew back into the room to put down marks and see the scene for themselves.
Seriously. Invited. That's the word she used. It seems like a small thing, but it's really not. I've worked in television for most of my life, and I can honestly say that Stacy may be the best First AD I've ever worked with.
Allow me to explain: First ADs set the tone for the entire set. If a First is neurotic, the set is neurotic. If a First is disorganized, so is the set. If a First yells a lot, they lose the crew's respect. Stacy was magnificent, though, and a great leader for this crew. She was calm, she was friendly, she was exceedingly professional, and above all she treated everyone on the cast and crew with respect, and it was clear that everyone respected her in return. See, working on a set is like being part of a team, and when a team is relaxed and working well together, they win a lot of games, making it look easy all the way. John Gallagher told me during a break one day that he believed the Criminal Minds crew was the best crew in the business, and with someone like Stacy leading them, they were like the '27 Yankees.
We walked through the scene again, stopping and starting so the camera department could put down marks. We traded positions with the stand-ins, and had a few minutes while they set up the shot.
On our way over to the craft service table, I talked with William about Lost. I probably shouldn't repeat what he told me, but you all think I'm cool now, right? Right? Hello?
Stacy invited us back into the set for filming. I remember being nervous about cutting William with the knife (which was dulled, but real and still moderately dangerous) and feeling sad for Robyn, who really was taped up to that bed frame the whole time. After each take, I would stand up, apologize to Robyn (who told me it was okay) and go back to my starting mark while they reset the scene. Even though it was a more intense scene than the stuff we shot in the office on location, I was more relaxed and comfortable. I felt like I'd shaken off all the cobwebs, like I did this sort of thing every day (the acting, not the torturing.) There wasn't a lot of coverage, and we were done with the scene in just a couple of hours.
I don't remember what it was, but they were filming a really short piece of a different scene that I wasn't in when we finished, so I went to my dressing room to check my cell phone for messages. On my way out, I passed one of the assistant directors (there are like four or five of them, I think), who was coming into the stage with a stack of pink revisions for the next episode.
"Oh, that's sad," I thought as the reality that my time on the show was nearly over hit me for the first time. "They're onto the next show, and I'm about to go back to stupid real life."
I replayed some of the last week in my head while I walked to my dressing room. I reached up to open the door, and as my hand touched the handle, a production assistant said, "Um. Wil?"
I looked up and saw that, lost in thought, I'd walked past my dressing room, and right up to Joe Mantegna's.
"Uh, looks like I upgraded myself to Joe Mangegna," I said. "That's embarrassing."
The PA and I laughed together, and I snuck back to my own room, past the cast parking.
I opened up my laptop, and discovered that there was an open wireless network. I wrote a quick post for my blog:
Today is the day I've been waiting for since I booked this job. Today is the day that I get to really tear into this character, and mainline the good stuff that keeps actors coming back for more, chasing the dramatic dragon until we die. I was so excited to work today, I hardly slept at all last night, and woke up this morning before my alarm went off. I haven't felt like this since I was a little kid at Christmas.
God, I miss this. I didn't know how much I missed it until last week, but holy shit do I miss this. This cast, this crew, these writers, this director, this whole show is just incredible. I'm truly lucky to be here, and I'm so grateful that I can appreciate it, and not take it for granted like I would have ten years ago.
I realize that I keep making comparisons to being a kid at Christmas. The writer in me wants to go back and edit most of them out, but in this case, I think it's the exception that proves the rule: there is no better way to describe the overwhelming joy and excitement I felt while I was shooting this show.
Next: The Big Day Ends