18 August 2010


Image from Outlaw Hat Co.
Today I had myself a callback for a truly despicable character.  That is to say, despicable in terms of his behavior in the story (and, sadly, in history).  Yes, folks, I can now count on TWO hands the number of times I have been considered for the role of a murderous fiend.  It's just not an archetype many seem quick to apply to me, which is a shame, because I think I'm pretty durn good at it.  And I know I enjoy it, when I can do it right.  But I understand, Rest Of The Casting World -- I am not huge, nor oddly shaped or scarred, I have a relatively bright natural speaking voice and when you meet me, I definitely give off a more Horatio vibe than, say, a Richard III.  This may change as I age.  My nose may grow ever crookederer, my face more deeply lined, and coming soon to a theatre near you: Gryndl!

I won't write too much about the project itself, as: ew, tacky, and also: don't have the job (yet?).  It's a short film about a famous atheist activist, and I came to it through working on Laid Plans last month (in an utterly round-about fashion).  The audition was an on-camera read with the lead actress, and today they asked me to be off-book for the one big scene that will ultimately by interspersed into the rest of the narrative.  I got to work with the actress again, and take some adjustment from the director as well, and all-in-all I walked out feeling good.  I can't be sure I summoned the menace that they were looking for, but it was fun and the people very easy to work with.  Sometimes that's the best you can ask for.

As a result of my preparation, I have for the past twenty-four hours been contemplating villainy.  Not villainous acts (though I did eat a lot of chocolate yesterday...) but the motivations and mindset of a villain.  The conventional wisdom states that an actor must never play a character as someone who knows he or she is "bad," because everyone is the hero of their own story, and judgments are dangerous trade for an actor.  I understand this advice, but wonder if it always applies.  David Waters, for example, seemed to understand whilst kidnapping, murdering and dismembering O'Hair that what he was doing wasn't strictly moral.  It was a means to an end, but also one with seeming emotional complications.  I don't know.  Maybe he didn't even think about it too much.  The point is, this acting advice doesn't help anyone find the villainous (or, in the judgment-free zone: alternate morality) mind-space.

I also heard an interesting interview with a criminal profiler recently on Fresh Air that had me thinking about the emotional dynamic of some murders.  One of the behaviors he mentions is that murderers who kill for emotional reasons actually tend to feel elated after the deed, as though they had accomplished something intensely satisfying.  Now, I have to imagine that such emotions then become increasingly complex, generally speaking, but  it's fascinating to me that someone would feel that kind of emotion even as their hands are still red.  Maybe one does feel utterly justified in the moment of killing.  He goes on to say that one way to ensnare criminals in interrogation is by making them relive the sense of anger that drove them to kill.  Suppose that's the only way to inspire remorse, too -- to make the killer experience that emotion anew.

So there I am at the kitchen table at 6:00 this morning, contemplating my lines and what sort of truth they're trying to pull out of me.  Anton (the Cat) lolls drunkenly on the floor beside me, stuffed for the time being with a fresh wad or two of pulverized meat, and I'm frustratedly whispering my way through threats and incriminations for fear of waking the wife.  It's hard not to just edit myself to death with doubts -- no way you can pull off this kind of dialogue, look at you you're a puppy dog, just give up on memorizing and try to find a threatening sub-vocal noise to use -- but I really want to make myself into a murderer.  What's the hook?  Maybe I can bring a hook...?

As the callback time approaches, I find myself remembering great film villains.  Walken's crazy rhythm, utilized in its insane best in the Bond film A View to a Kill.  Heck: several Bond villain actors.  Ledger's Joker.  Javier Bardem  in No Country for Old Men.  Nicholson in The Shining.  The closest I could think of to my guy today was DeNiro in Cape Fear.  (Sadly, I had not a few months to pack on the muscle and get really comfortable with having my fingers sucked.)  Can I channel one or more of these?  Is there a key to this little puzzle?  Will the people I'm auditioning for at least let me prowl around a little, get in my body?

The answer to all these questions was of course: No.  No, once in the room, once faced with delivering the lines to another human being, it became all-too clear that the only way to do it was to do it.  To be Jeff as he might be if he would do something so terrible as the man he's playing did.  And, when you look at it that way, it takes a lot of the pressure off and allows us to just, you know: act.  Let them figure out if I'm believable.  I'll be too busy believing to care.

(But dang: DeNiro in Cape Fear was incredimazing.)

12 August 2010

On Chris Hardwick, Nerds in General & Collaboration

I can't quite remember how it started.  I got awfully into podcasts several months ago, and I think I heard that Chris Hardwick (at the time, to me: that guy who sometimes reviews gadgets on Attack of the Show) had one, and so I gave it a try.  I liked it, and subscribed to his 'blog, The Nerdist.  Not too long ago, Signor Hardwick started casting about for 'blog contributors and, having something of an idea at the time, I submitted a proposal.  It was not accepted (but not NOT accepted [but we actors understand what that means]) and I thought, oh well: Can't fault a guy for trying.  (I've since had a much better idea for a pitch.  Still mulling it over, though. [Spicily.][I'm kind of hoping you actually didn't see what I did there....])

So this cult of Chris: I'm in it.  There's a lot that appeals about the dude; he's funny (helpful quality in a  comedian), intelligent and kind.  He's self-professed nerd, which means my likes match his likes pretty durn good.  The thing that really grabbed me about him, though, is what he chooses to talk about and how he talks about it in his interviews with various celebrities on the podcast.  Hardwick has a lot of fun, makes (occasionally crass) jokes, is well-supported by fellow podcasters Jonah Ray and Matt Mira, but the key for me is that he seems to love most of all to talk about people's ideas.  Not just their work, mind you, but the work they'd love to do.  To my mind, there's nothing more telling about a person in the moment than that, and frankly nothing more interesting to me.

About a week ago, I acquired an invitation to join the alpha stage of a new little project by Chris and collaborators Rachel Masters and Athena von Oech (of Red Magnet Media) called "The Node."  The Node is an idea that Hardwick had been hinting at on his podcasts for some little while, realized.  Essentially it's an online social network specifically for nerds (or whatever description you'll apply).  Now, I flinch immediately at the idea of another social network.  Thank you Friendster for reminding me of birthdays, MySpace for making me feel I could manipulate my own web presence, LiveJournal for...uh...being there when I just didn't get it at all, and Facebook for at least initially making me feel safe to come out and play again.  Thank you, and done.  Great.  No more.

EXCEPT:  The Node has a proclaimed purpose.  It's an exciting idea.  Something Chris calls "nerdsourcing," referencing the term crowd-sourcing, or utilizing a group of folks of varying (including no) acquaintance to accomplish something concrete.  The purpose of The Node is to facilitate this kind of collaboration between nerds or, as Hardwick puts it, people who are unabashedly obsessive and creative.  In other words, we're hoping here to create a little online community of folks who will make cool stuff and happenings together, not just post pictures of their pets (yes, I posted a picture of my cat). Will it happen?  I hope so, but we'll have to see.  And I use the word "we" because I think I'm in, dogs.

When I look back over the work I've done over the past several years, the strongest and most consistent component has been creative collaboration.  Now, I always pretty much chalked this up to my being deeply entrenched in theatre projects, and theatre being sort of the ultimate collaborative art form.  On considering it lately, however, I've realized it all has more to do with collaboration being a huge personal priority.  Not necessarily for any logical or pragmatic reason, I value collaboration a great deal.  It's like having a built-in audience at every stage of creation, and means that whatever you made is something greater than yourself just by the nature of its making.

There's a lot going on for me right now that shares this theme, from directing the next Zuppa del Giorno show, to revamping The Action Collective with Friend Andrew, to an untold-of project or two.  So far, The Node seems to be facilitating mostly a lot of excited nerdly chatter, and one or two ideas for real-world nerdsourced projects.  I'm trying to dream one good one up myself, though my first contribution to the pitch pile might simply be from a necessity that arises out of my current work instead of some nifty new thing.  I can't, in other words, give as much time to The Node as I might otherwise (though I'm stealing time left, right n' center).  If it sounds like something in which you might be interested: Hit me up, dawgs.  I can invite you in.  Such is the power of an alpha nerd.  *barks quietly, pushes glasses back up snout*