"Are you having trouble? Do you need cue cards?"
I look down at a 120-degree angle to see Hayden's shining face and innocent, disingenuous smile. I glare at her with all the venom I can muster.
"I'm just saying," she continues sweetly, "that if you're struggling to remember your lines, I'm sure props could provide you with cue cards."
As she walks away giggling, I wonder if the .45 in my holster is loaded.
I was struggling with my lines. I hadn't worked on HEROES in months and I was surprisingly nervous. It was episode 2 but I had no lines in episode 1 and now, because of the time away, I was a bit jittery.
Nerves are odd. I have just recently resigned myself to becoming more, rather than less neurotic, as I get older. It was not at all what I expected. I assumed one figured things out and got all that stupid stuff, like nervousness, out of the system as one amassed experience. I have been doing this for a long time. I've done hundreds of hours of television and I am as secure as it is possible to be on a show that delights in torturing its cast with imminent demise.
I knew I was setting the stage for Volume 3, telling the audience about the villains who had escaped Level 5 and what unimaginable destruction they would visit upon on the world. I knew I would be seeing and hearing these words in the promos. So, I wanted to give them the gravitas they deserved while keeping as conversational a tone as possible.
There was one line I knew for sure would be in the promos, so I consciously (and helpfully, I thought) separated it out for the editors to pluck from the scene: "They're villains, Claire." Volume 3 is called "Villains." I didn't need Scotland Yard.
After a few takes my nerves faded away. But, why the nerves in the first place? Why, after all these years, all the episodes of television, all the thousands of lines learned and discarded would I still be dealing with bastard nerves at all?
For better and for worse, I am a perfectionist. It sounds good in theory and does, indeed, have an up side. I care about the work and I am willing to put in the time to make it good. But for an actor, controlled recklessness, oxymoron though it may be, is where it's at. Heath Ledger in Dark Knight, Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, Denzel Washington in Training Day. Controlled recklessness. Control I've got down. Recklessness doesn't come as easily.
Perfectionism, on the other hand, can get in your way. It's simple really: fear of failure is crippling. You see it in all aspects of life. The great ones go for it and let the chips fall where they may. The perfectionist can be throttled by the voice in his head that considers the consequences of failing.
Hayden is remarkable in this regard. Ashley Crow (Sandra) and I are constantly amazed by her lack of self-doubt. The other day Hayden had to work until 2 am on her movie, then come to work on Heroes at 4:30 AM to shoot a scene with Ashley and me. Hayden had a mouthful of dialogue and no time to work on it. She gathered herself, slammed down a cappuccino, and then nailed it, take after take. No nerves, no problem. In the getting out of one's own way department, she is my role model.
Still. If that .45 had been loaded she'd have gone down.________________________________________________________________
Part 2: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves
At a party at Tim Kring's house at the very start of this volume, Tim toasted us all and told us what we would be doing more of in this volume. For me, it was stunts. Hmm, I thought. More stunts. OK, I'm game. And, though it built slowly, I now know what he was talking about. We are shooting episode 12 at the moment and in the last few episodes I have done quite a bit of physical work and I've loved it.
I have no intention of being spoilery in this blog but I will tell you that last week Zach Quinto and I had a fight scene that took eight hours to film. We called each other the next day to compare our physical conditions. We were both hurting but I was no worse of than Zach and he is almost 20 years younger than me, so I felt relatively studly.
Heroes has a young cast of incredibly in-shape individuals, so there is quite a bit of pressure to hold the line. A quick snapshot:
Hayden: Athletic and fearless.
Adrian: Navy S.E.A.L. In absurd physical condition.
Zach: Strong, flexible yoga-meister.
Sendhil: Professional tennis player, zero body fat.
Milo: Wrestler, wiry, strong, great at stunts.
Dania: New York tough. Athletic, zero body fat.
James: Ripped, strong.
Masi: Surprisingly athletic. Good at many sports. Ask Adrian.
Ali: Workout fiend, in incredible shape, zero body fat.
Jimmy Jean-Louis: Fuggedaboutit. Adonis.
Grunny: Don't be fooled by his size. Nimble and athletic and scary strong. He once grabbed me by my elbows and bench-pressed me like you would your six year-old nephew. I'm 6'2, 185 lbs.
Chris Rose: The only cast member older than me. A dancer, Chris can probably kick my ass.
Me: Ex-basketball player. Trying to fill in my athletic resume with recent activities, like... I used to play basketball. At Duke. (Junior Varsity. Don't get excited, they don't even have it anymore.) I hardly ever play these days for fear of an elbow to the face, broken limbs, torn ligaments --- all of which I've experienced in the past. Now, it would put me out of commission. And I can't afford to be out of commission.
So it comes down to this: pushups, runs in the hills, light curls, the occasional smacking around of tennis balls, and, of course, a medicinal martini for relaxation purposes. This is my workout. I'm 50, trying to keep up with the beautiful Joneses.
In every other line of work 50 is considered one's prime. In show business, and especially as an actor, 50 is when they take you on the long walk into the woods with the double-barreled shotgun. (For women it's 40 -- more gender inequality.)
Age is also, fiendishly, a co-conspirator in the nerve wars. As you get older, there is more at stake with every job, every audition. In your twenties, every job is an adventure, every audition an opportunity to show off. That's how it should be. Fun. As you age in this business, fun is replaced by pressure; pressure to make your mortgage, to maintain your insurance, etc. It's no longer make-believe. It is terrifyingly real. And it can put you in your head, which is not where you want to be when you act or audition. (I separate the two because they have little to do with one another. Acting is a craft, auditioning is a vivisection.)
This pressure, as you might imagine, can be death in an audition. I've had out-of-body experiences at network tests where I've watched myself from across the room thinking: "Wow, this guy sucks. This is not going well at all." Not surprisingly, I never booked those jobs. This all happened during the "invisible in the '90s" era, for those playing the home game. I'm happy to say, I came out the other side of that morass. Oh, yeah, there is a silver lining to aging. Sometimes you just get tired of being neurotic and stop.
The bank job with my "shocking new partner."
The publicity machine.
And... my movie. When the time comes, those of you who call yourselves fans will be called upon to go forth and spread the word. Stay vigilant!
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