It was a minor incident but it has left me devastated. That’s too strong a word. But for days I haven’t accomplished anything. I sleep poorly. I notice late in the afternoon that I’m still wearing the clothes I slept in.
I’ll tell you about the incident.
Some weeks ago I auditioned for a commercial. They brought me in because of my headshot and my reel of clips from past performances.
I was relaxed and funny in the audition and they seemed to like me, although often that’s just politeness. But two weeks later I got an email that I had the part.
The commercial was for a retailer with 900 stores in the eastern half of the United States. The scenario was this: I’m shopping with my wife (an actress) and some of the lines were funny. We were the only actors.
I expected the commercial to lead to more and better roles. People would stop me on the street and say, “Didn’t I see you in that commercial?” and I would modestly say, “Yes, that was me.” I’d get calls from agents wanting to represent me and producers wanting to cast me.
I’ve only acted a few years, after retiring from my last full-time job gave me the time to do it. I’ve appeared in a lot of TV episodes—as a ghost, a corpse on an autopsy table, a murder suspect—and several music videos for famous musicians and groups, with millions of views on the Internet (although no one has stopped me on the street after recognizing me). I was part of an off-Broadway hit show for one season. I’ve done comedy videos, including one that amounts to soft-core pornography—it hasn’t been released yet and when it is, I don’t know if I’ll tell anyone, even though the sex was only simulated and we were fully clothed.
None of what I’ve done has paid well, but a lot has been fun. Some has been creative. One film, for a graduate student’s thesis project, involved really intense acting as I portrayed a dying man—as he died, in fact.
I expected the commercial to change things. Maybe I’d start making real money. I’d be asked to play major characters in real films.
Then I got another email from the producer. The shooting of the commercial is postponed, he said. So I asked, Is it a matter of days or weeks? and his answer of “Indefinitely” meant it was canceled. For good.
I could reflect on why I felt devastated. As a young child, after acting with a cast of grown-ups in a community-theater production, I had fantasies of stardom that I managed to suppress later in life. My current agenda is hoping I make enough money to feel secure and even to have some fun or travel to warm places in the winter, like many people I know. I suppose being recognized on the street would become tiresome.
So now it’s back to obscurity. To short films directed by students in film schools. To roles without lines in feature films.
Not that I’m complaining. I did one last week in a film starring a prominent TV actor and a woman who is famous for her comedy performances. I had a brief, wordless scene with the leading lady—the comedian—in which I smiled at her, and I think the smile is the turning point of the film, since it affects her so deeply that she straightens out her life. We shot the scene in a hotel, since that was where the scene took place in the novel that the movie is based on.
If my scene is that important, it won’t be edited out of the final version of the film. Producers may notice my performance and start calling.
I got $50 for doing the scene, which more than covered the cost of gasoline for driving to the hotel.