It was the year 2000, I’d already filmed the Gilmore pilot in Toronto and I was looking for another job. Remember - I was but a guest star in the pilot and once my duties were fulfilled, I was a free agent all over again, released back into the Hollywood jungle to hunt down another opportunity to work my craft and get paid for it.
When I started studying in New York I never dreamed I’d ever get paid. Slogging away in one off-off Broadway play after another and loving every minute of it, I never thought for a minute that anyone would fork over substantial sums for my services. It wasn’t why I entered the profession and it never really crossed my mind. I just wanted to be great at it. I’d gotten a late start learning the “techniques” of the craft of acting, but I had built an incredible and varied library of life experience while still in my early twenties, so I thought I had something to give, express, emote. I went through repetition classes at Carnegie Hall with one of my all-time favorite actresses who happened to star in my all-time favorite TV series – “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”. It was like a Phillip Roth novel on TV with a female lead. Utterly fascinating expose on the subjugation, alienation and the silent suffering of the American housewife in the modern age. It was all in one a Beckett play, Theatre of the Absurd-ists rubbing elbows with Walmart. I could not take my eyes off it and, to me, Louise Lasser was a miracle and doing things in front of a camera on a level I’d never seen before. Remarkable show.
Anyway, there is a little theater space upstairs at Carnegie Hall where classes where held and there I was sitting behind Louise, completely in awe to the point where I couldn’t even muster a “hello” or a “I loved you in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”. Nothing. Clammed up. For those who have no idea what repetition in an acting sense is I will explain it thusly; the teacher brings two students onto the stage who face each other four to five feet apart. You are then instructed to simply observe the other person - their clothes, face, eyes, etc. Feel them. Take it all in. Almost try and read their mind, if you will. But the thing is you are not supposed to speak until you are compelled to speak. For example, a lot of the speaking starts off “You’re wearing a blue shirt”, then you repeat “I’m wearing a blue shirt”, and back and forth and away we go into uncontrolled laughter, rage, tears, anything that comes up. It’s an observational exercise that trains you to be open and accessible to the other actor and to yourself. It’s about not judging, not editing yourself and accessibility to an emotional life. That’s the simple explanation. It gets way more complex but for now you get the drift. Let’s just say repetition classes breed fireworks of emotions and it can be pretty thrilling.
On that particular day I had had a big breakthrough during my repetition exercise and after it was complete, I sat back down behind Louise. It was a big, emotional, explosive exercise with a very dynamic actress and the air was a-crackling. Louise then turned around and in that very distinctive voice that I fell in love with only a few years before and said “You’re going to get everything you want”, and smiled. I was floored. Absolutely gobsmacked floored.
Now, back to the year 2000, Gilmore pilot in the can, I’m back in LA hustling for work. Now, one thing was going on that made life pretty exciting at that point and that was Warner Brothers had made contact and offered an additional two shows. After some back and forth it was decided that I would turn down that opportunity. Here I was back in LA, beating down doors to get work and I am saying no to two shows, some money, some exposure. No sane person would do that - say no to one of the biggest studios in the world. Along with a very sick feeling that washes over you after getting off the phone with the manager informing you that they have officially passed on the offer comes a somewhat comforting sense of power. I rationalized it by thinking “Big stars do this all the time. They get calls from their power agents who tell them they passed on the Universal offer for the franchise, three picture deal. "25 million and 5% of all ancillary is just an insult so I passed. I mean, who do they think they’re dealing with?”
Can you imagine ever turning down that deal? I can’t, but people actually do this every day out here. They say no. Sometimes it works and the offer improves and everyone holds hands and skips in unison to the bank. Most often it does not work. In the annals of Hollywood there is story after story of how this actress or actor was offered the biggest and best role of the decade and they turned it down only to end up on a tv series at forty, the luster gone. It happened to a friend of mine. He turned down what ended up being a very prestigious role in a very prestigious film that launched the career of a current superstar box office king of the universe. My buddy never recovered from that and, what’s more, his reputation took a major hit when word got around town that he didn’t have the foresight to grab the role of the decade. You want to know the reason he said no? It was because the money wasn’t good enough. The guy who said yes, Mr. 2nd or 3rd choice, is now worth 500 hundred million dollars.
So, yeah, I said no. Then I sat in my little studio apartment basking in that decision for all intents and purposes. A big, lonely no had been issues to Warners.
A few days later the manager called and said the following, “They came back with a better offer. Four shows. I don’t like it. They know you and LG have chemistry and they are just testing us. I’m going to say no with your approval.”
Again, I approved the no. Silence. Shock. I kept thinking of my buddy. I dialed his number and then hung up. Didn’t want to remind him of his decision that will go down as the single costliest decision in the history of Hollywood.
I put on my running clothes and took a long jog down Fountain Ave towards Beverly Hills. Once you get out of West Hollywood and hit the Beverly Hills border there is actual grass to run on all the way up Santa Monica Blvd to the Beverly Hilton, where all the awards shows are held that I’ll never be a part of because I keep saying “no” to the major studios who want to give me work.
So, I ran and ran and ran. The lonely runner who says no.
Letting go is hard but liberating. After about a week I’d settled back into my groove of auditioning for tv and film. I had become a good audition-er, if that’s a word. Auditioning isn’t acting. Auditioning is gunslinging. It’s psychological warfare and I was getting good at it (this is another blog for another time, but it’s coming). I had just returned from another run and my phone rang. It was the manager. She sounded not angry but a bit cryptic “You’re meeting me for lunch in one hour at that French cafe on Doheny. We have to talk.”
This was it. She was going to fire me over lunch. I wasn’t booking enough jobs and I was being let go. After all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears it was over before it started. I could now call my buddy and say “Well, pardner, saddle up another mule because I can now join you on that dank, dusty road on the way to Loserville”. Yep, it was all over. I showered, dressed, cranked up my old Toyota 4x4 and steered towards my execution.
When I arrived, she greeted me with her usual smile and brief hug and as I soon as we sat down I started in “Look, I know i haven’t been booking the way I should but I don’t think you should let me go because I am very hard working, dedicated to the craft, everything I need to do I do to give myself the best chance at…..” She stopped me dead, “What are you talking about?” She smiled and then handed me a large manila envelope. “Open it.”
I opened it, pulled out the thick, stapled pages and on the top of the cover sheet it read “Warner Brothers………” I read the first few paragraphs and stopped, looked up at her smiling face and said “Holy f—ing s—t! I just stared at her and she kept smiling back at me.
Getting a six year, multiple seven figure deal from Warner Brothers is not something I had ever expected to get at this particular lunch but there it all was, right in front of me. My future - and a really good one - came in the form of a nice little lunch at an outdoor French cafe on Doheny Drive with my smiling friend and manager.
My parents weren’t in showbiz, I started my acting training late (but man did I ever work at it), I was forty-one years old and living in a $550 a month studio apartment (utilities included) and driving a $3000 used truck, I had come to LA with one phone number and $600 dollars, I’d slept in my old ’66 Pontiac Tempest for two weeks in between telemarketing jobs, yet there I was sitting at a French cafe and holding an envelope that would change the course of my life and take me on a journey I’m enjoying still - and I expect, for the rest of my life.
I woke up this morning at around 6:30am. Always been an early riser. Could never sleep in. Too much to do. My four year old son was next to me, sleeping peacefully in his orange sherbet shirt, my wife snuggled against him and snoozing away.
It is our love for people and ideas that advances us.
And then you make coffee.