As an Actor by name and most often a Stand-In by trade, I learned decades ago that as long as you believe that you ARE the role you’re playing, your performance will come off with complete honesty and an audience will buy it. Take all the classes you like, but if there’s no commitment to the part you’re playing it simply doesn’t matter how much money you spend with acting coaches teaching you to be an oak tree or a slice of sizzling bacon.
“Are you studying with someone?” the very first Director that I ever worked with asked me squarely on the spot.
“Um, no Sir; never took a lesson in my life” I confessed, staring uncomfortably at my gym shoes and waiting to be canned after my first week of employment in Hollywood.
“Well thank God for that” he smiled. “Don’t. Then you won’t screw it up!” he chuckled, patting me on the back, his Italian tasseled loafers carrying him away to his directorial podium.
In hindsight, that was probably the best advice I’ve ever been given in my career. Standing-in for multitudes of characters over the decades, as long as I honestly believed it, so did everybody else!
Well, with one slight exception: Having rehearsed a scene all day with my ADs and PAs for back-up a few times as we stormed into a restaurant as ‘an Angry Mob of People’, I suddenly found myself waiting alone outside the main door of the set while every other crew member was tending to their regular jobs for a Network Run-Thru.
But mustering up the proper amount of fury and blasting through the entrance on cue all by myself as ‘an Angry Mob of People’ I raised a resolute fist in the air and shouted the only word that happened to occur to me:
OK, so, not my finest moment…
But darn it, I BELIEVED I was ‘an Angry Mob of People’!
(And rather rewarding to hear the laughter of the writers and producers who were trying desperately hard to believe it too!)
Reassuring my heroic feline sidekick Pretty that I had to get up early for work (untrue), I set the alarm clock, went to bed on time and took a shower in the morning. Drying my hair, applying make-up and squirting on some perfume, I almost believed the lie myself.
But scooping up my cat in her relaxed trusting snooze, stuffing her into a crate and motoring boldly to the veterinarian for her tooth extractions, I realized that the brave face I had put on was even less convincing than my absurd one-woman performance as ‘an Angry Mob of People’…
“Where’s Pretty?” a technician called out, stopping to pat the head of a mangy-looking dog with cataracts that was currently urinating on the floor.
“Um, over here” I squeaked, (momentarily distracted by an odd random thought that should Disney or Pixar ever need someone to do voice-overs for an animated spineless jellyfish, I’m their gal!)
But mustering up a pant-load of courage before handing over the carrier, I took a deep breath and looked at the technician squarely in the eye: “You WILL take good care of her” I stipulated in a low voice with a raised eyebrow, “and I’ll tolerate nothing less.”
“Yes of course” he replied meekly, an intimidated audience of one, succumbing to my less than perfect (yet still apparently effective!) impersonation of Sean Connery.
Retrieving my heroic feline sidekick (minus five teeth that they creepily gave me in a plastic baggie as souvenirs – EEK!) I curled up with Pretty as she napped on a blanket.
Yes, The Universe was almost beginning to make sense again when the telephone rang.
“Package from UPS” the driver announced as I buzzed him through the security gate. “It’s kind of heavy” he added, handing me the monster box after I opened the door.
“The calla lilies are in bloom again!” I swooned ala Katherine Hepburn.
“Hunh?” the delivery guy responded waiting patiently for a signature.
“Sorry, this is my new TiVo Premiere” I shook my head, scribbling my name on a computerized tablet.
“Well then your world just got a whole lot better, didn’t it?” he laughed, casually walking back to his truck. (Oh, the irony!)
Gingerly unwrapping the World’s Greatest Technological Advance in the History of All Mankind Whatever Was Ever Created, I stepped outside the realm of my normal acting abilities to channel a completely different persona. Yes, this performance would require an entirely different skill set…
And in the blink of an eye, I became what my friend Mike Taylor – a professional Hollywood Electrician – refers to as a “Juicer”.
Dust bunnies be damned (although they were more like a tufted colony about to unionize and kill me in my sleep), I dug in and got my hands dirty. And once the path had been cleared, all that was left was to hook up the proper cables. “This goes here, that fits there, this is input and that one’s output. All that’s to be done now is to plug it in!” I beamed to my dentally-challenged kitty (whose face currently bears an uncanny resemblance to Jack Nicholson as “The Joker”).
And humming Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” whilst dancing a minuet in my socks in the kitchen, I threw my arms in the air in gratitude as my coneless companion feasted on a saucer of milk, and my TiVo Premiere recorded TWO SHOWS at the SAME TIME, while I was paused on, and watching ANOTHER ONE!!!
Wishing you all the true meaning of a Thanksgiving, whatever you believe it to be,