It's Sunday afternoon as I write this. I can't publish this manually, because if I've read my call sheet correctly, I'm currently playing Dr. Isaac Parrish on Eureka. If we're on schedule, I'm working in a scene with Erica, Colin, and Neil. If my experience on the show so far is any indication, I'm having a whole lot of fun right now.
Final If: If I've pushed the right buttons in Typepad, this should have published about one minute after The Wheaton Recurrence finished in the Eastern time zone. If you haven't seen the episode yet, you don't want to click more, because it's going to be spoileriffic.
Because I'm in Canada, and I want to get the most out of Vancouver while I'm here, I'm just going to grab some highlights from my production notes today; the in-depth stuff may come later, once I'm done with Eureka, if any additional details come back into my mind.
I told a brief story about something really, really funny that happened at the beginning of this day on Radio Free Burrito Episode 23. If you've been looking for an excuse to listen to my podcast, there you go.
From the moment I walked into the stage, I felt embraced and welcomed back, like I was coming home. We settled in for a table read, with about fifty studio and network people listening. It went very well, and my notes say, "I don't think I wrecked any jokes. It's weird to hear my name called out as a character."
I got to pick out my T-shirts again, and since I was already wearing an Electric Sheep shirt from Diesel Sweeties, I suggested that the costume department may want to look at Rich's store for ideas. Just like last time, when I suggested Penny Arcade, I was able to get permission from Rich almost instantly via text message. In the old days, this would have been a complicated, time-consuming, inefficient process involving FAXes, phone calls, and a whole bunch of bullshit. It delights me that it's as simple now as grabbing my phone, sending a text message, and waiting for a reply.
I also have in my notes that I was playing ping pong with Kunal, and that I was "saved by the stage bell." After The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary, I trained with my son Nolan, who is a fantastic and competitive ping pong player. I only rallied with Kunal, but at least I felt competent, which was nice.
When I got home from the set, I wrote:
All day long, the cast and crew made me feel like I was part of their family who they didn't get to see very often, even though I've only been there once before. It was really neat to feel like they were as excited to have me back on the show as I was to be there. I really am a lucky guy.
It was a relaxed day, which I bet is nice for the regulars because they taped a show last night. We started with a table read of the episode (which was hilarious) and then spent the rest of the day running the episode. Just like last time, this is the part of the process where we're making very rough pencil sketches on a sketchpad; we haven't even begun to think about picking out paint and brushes for the final canvas ... but that will happen very quickly, probably by the middle of the day tomorrow, because we only have seven working days to take this from a bunch of creative people sitting around a table reading it to an actual show that goes out to millions of people on the magic talking box thingy.
So I'm guessing you know about the big reveal in this episode by now, and if you don't, you only have yourself to blame for being spoiled: the breakup of Leonard and Penny was a very big thing for the cast, and I could feel a slightly different energy on the set as a result. I knew that there were very high stakes for the actors and characters, and I was aware of some focused tension that wasn't there when I did Creepy Candy Coating Corollary. I don't mean that we weren't having fun, or that we weren't focused last time, just that everyone was aware of the significance of this episode, and how challenging it is to handle something as serious as a breakup within the context of a comedy. I remember talking with Mark Cendrowski, the director, about it, and he said that there's a tone in this episode that they don't usually hit, so everyone had to make adjustments.
In my notes, I wrote that Jim was teasing Kaley about Maxim. I can't recall specifically what he said, which is really a bummer, but I recall thinking this time and last time that they have a really great relationship, like brother and sister who genuinely like each other but just tease each other at every opportunity. Jim works so hard to make Sheldon come to life, and it's not nearly as easy as he makes it look. The fact that he can do this while joking around with everyone is a testament to his talent and dedication as an actor.
I noticed, again, that no detail is taken for granted or overlooked. Nothing happens "just because." Everything is very specific, and grounded in reality. Johnny and I were talking about his wardrobe, and he told me this wonderful story about what Leonard wears, and why. That's the sort of detailed character work that the audience doesn't ever know about (except in cases like this, where I tell you) but is just one of many parts that must be connected precisely to bring a character to life.
Kaley, Jim, and Johnny were rehearsing the scene in the laundry room. I stood off to one side and watched.
If you recall, the scene begins with Leonard in the room, and Penny walks in to talk with him. We don't know Sheldon is in the hallway until the end of the scene.
So Kaley is offstage with Jim, while Johnny pulls clothes out of the dryer. Suddenly, I hear Kaley shout, "OUCH!"
Jim replies, incredulously, "Why would you even do that?"
To this day, I don't know what she did, but it was frakking hilarious to hear that exchange without being able to see it.
We rehearsed the show again this morning, and then we had our first run through for the producers after lunch. This first run through can be really stressful for some actors (including a rookie version of me) because we haven't had a lot of time with the script to get comfortable with the dialog, work out all the comedy beats, and settle on final blocking. I mean, we've only really run it once, and it can feel like putting on an incomplete performance or doing an underprepared audition for people you really want need to make happy.
I've done several run throughs (seven, total, over two episodes) while working on The Big Bang Theory, though, and it hasn't been stressful at all. In fact, it's been a whole lot of fun, and very informative to me as an actor. See, at some point in the last ten years or so, I realized that the writers and producers are working it out just as much as we are, and that they want it to be awesome just as much as we do; this is why we do the run throughs every day until we tape. Knowing this takes a lot of the pressure off for me.
I felt "off" all day. My son was sick, so I was worried about him, and I was upset that Andrew Koenig's body had been found in Stanley Park. I felt distracted all day, and not very funny, especially during the run through.
I wanted to tell Bill and Chuck what was going on, but after we finished the run through, and all the writers and producers huddled together, the "actors need to go away so we can do our work" field was very strong, so I wandered off to my dressing room for a little bit to stay out of the way. When I came back, they were all gone, so I just packed up my stuff and went home for the weekend.
It bothered me, though, that I felt like I hadn't done my job, and I knew that if I didn't talk to Bill about it, it would bother me all weekend, so I called his office. He was gone for the day, but his assistant put me through to his cell phone. I told him how I felt like I was "off" all day and why, and Bill said, "I'm going to say the best and worst thing possible: we didn't notice." I felt relieved and stupid.
We ran the show again during the first half of the day, and then after lunch, the producers and writers came back for another run through. Just like I did last time, I stood among them for the scenes I wasn't in, hoping to pick up some writerly secrets that I wouldn't get while I was in a scene doing my acting thing. I noticed that about half of the writers and assistants wore geek gear from places like xkcd, Think Geek, and The Guild. It delighted me to know that our people work on this show.
One thing I saw that I'd never noticed before: Imagine that you're looking into the set, just off the fourth wall. There are about thirty writers and producers spread out across fifty feet or so, watching the scene. Some of the writers and all of the assistants had scripts and pencils, and were spread out fairly evenly among everyone there. When a joke landed, they made check marks in their script next to the line. I imagine that they take these scripts back to the writer's room, and compare notes to see what worked for everyone, what worked for some people, and what jokes didn't land at all. I point this out because I think it's interesting, but also as an example of the incredible amount of work that goes into fine tuning a show like this.
Near the end of the run through, Chuck was giving notes to us, and he said that the relationship between Sheldon and Evil Wil Wheaton was a rivalry between equals. He said that I was "Lex Luthor to Sheldon's Superman." I was pretty fucking psyched about that, so when he continued, "you know, sort of like Doctor Octopus and —"
I interrupted him and said, "Nononono! Lex Luthor is perfect. Let's just stick with Lex Luthor!" It was a massive breach of etiquette, but everyone laughed really hard, especially Chuck, so I guess it was okay.
I'm not sure if this made it into the final cut, but I bet it did: Sheldon does a Vulcan mind meld with his bowling ball, and it's very, very funny. Jim wasn't sure how to do it, so I demonstrated on Simon, which I realized afterward was probably an invasion of Simon's personal space - hey, sometimes my inner geek gets a little excited and I pet the rabbit too hard, George.
I don't recall why - maybe someone didn't know what the mind meld was - but Bill and Lee ended up demonstrating the mind meld on each other so someone near them could see it. In my notes, I wrote that they joked about the "dark horrors" they each saw, which was funny to everyone, but positively hilarious to the geeks.
We spent all of this day filming the bowling alley scenes. I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to work in front of the audience, but I totally understood why we had to do it this way; these scenes were so technically complex, if we'd shot them in front of the audience, it would have taken six hours to do the episode, and nobody wants that.
Monday morning came very early for me, and I was four minutes late. Everyone on the set was ready to go, so I felt like a total dick for being late. I mean, four minutes?! These guys are fast!
We blocked the scenes a little bit, and then went off to makeup and wardrobe while the cameras got set. It's delicate work, setting up the cameras, and I didn't really appreciate how important it was until this episode. The way they frame shots, who they put in them, and little things like how much space is around them are very important to the telling of the story. That little beat where Leonard and Penny just sit down and look at each other after Sheldon sprays the hell out of his shoes was originally about a half page of dialog, and during one of the rehearsals, one of the producers realized that they could accomplish the same thing, tell the same story, using framing and just some awkward tension between the two of them.
After makeup, I sat in my dressing room and wrote down a lot of the notes that I used to write a lot of day three. While I did that, I heard the crew say things like, Leonard bowls, then we're on Sheldon, and then we push in on Wil Wheaton." It was a little bit of a mindfuck, to hear that, and to be playing myself, even if it's an evil version of myself, when I heard my name said in the same way as the other character names.
In my notes I wrote,
"It's almost 9am, and we're about to start, so I have to put my game face on.
"Yes, my delightfully-evil game face."
Hurr. I was excited, what I can I say?
Once we started filming, I had a lot of fun, and felt much less pressure and stress to get it right than I did during all of our rehearsals and run throughs, because I knew that, one way or another, we would shoot the scenes until we got them just right. It was great to have Bill, Mark, Chuck and Lee there to give me notes and ensure I hit exactly the right level of evil - more than once Chuck reminded me not to play Evil Wil Wheaton "too arch" – and after a few takes, I felt a little too comfortable in my Lex Luthoresque role.
Fun fact: when I tell Sheldon, "I'm living rent-free right here," I thought I'd messed up the line. I think it was originally written, "I'm living rent-free in your head." I'd gotten the line change just a few minutes before we shot it, and while I got the intention right, I didn't get the words right. I felt like I'd dropped the ball, and even though I thought it was a funny line, it was changed a few times over the next several takes. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the way I did it on that one take actually made it into the show, because I still think it's funny, it reads better than I thought it did on the set, and it represents one of those rare moments when I got to truly make something "mine."
It was a long day, but ultimately a fun and creatively satisfying one. I was, as expected, a little sad when we wrapped because it meant I was done calling The Big Bang Theory home, but just like last time, I left with a strong sense of camaraderie and esprit du corps, and the not entirely unrealistic hope that I'll get to bring Evil Wil Wheaton back at some point in the future.
I went to the taping, even though I wasn't going to work in front of the audience. I mostly went because I didn't want it to be over, but also because some of my friends and family had planned for a week to come watch the show, and Nolan desperately wanted to challenge Kunal to a Ping Pong match. I am proud to say that he held his own, and restored our family honor.
The taping went very well, and the audience seemed to love my scenes. When I came out for the curtain call at the end of the show, they cheered for me! It was really wonderful to feel like the audience was as happy to see me in the show as I was to be in it.
When everything was done, and the audience was gone, I walked backstage with some of the cast and crew. Just like last time, it felt like the end of summer camp, and I didn't want to go home. Just like last time, though, everyone made me feel like I was already there.