D.C.’s usual self-deprecating wit and sarcasm will not be seen tonight. Instead, we bring you this sentimental post, filmed before a live studio audience.
There was my cue. I waited for the studio audience laugh to recede and then hollered out my first line. My blocking took me across the set and in Ed Asner’s general direction.
“That sucked,” Ed whispered to me as I passed. Yes, he was joking, and yes, I was honored.
I worked for two days on the set of Hot in Cleveland last week and couldn’t escape that surreal feeling of being a kid who climbed into the TV set. After all, I was working with so many people whose shows I had found refuge in as a loner kid. I wasn’t into cartoons like other kids. I fancied all my “adult” TV watching (which was inordinate compared to the national average) as research for my future acting career.
And now? There was Betty White upstage, waiting for her cue. And over on stage right was Valerie Bertinelli finishing her line! And, yes, Ed Asner just told me I sucked!
The closest I had ever been to this “folding of time” was back in 1994 when I had heard about some unknown whack-job reverend – a certain Fred Phelps – who was planning on protesting outside Bewitched actor Dick Sargent’s impending funeral. Dick, who came out publicly as gay in 1991, had just announced on Entertainment Tonight he was losing his battle with prostate cancer. I was so furious at this Fred A-hole Phelps in Westboro that I spent an hour writing a scathing letter.
When I finished it, I realized I’d rather send positive vibes to Dick Sargent. So I tore up the letter and wrote to Dick’s agent, telling Dick how watching Bewitched as a kid was one of the few moments of solace I had from a life of school yard bullies. I wrote about how I saw him years later in a bar that my acting class used to hang out at in the late 80’s – Fellini’s on Melrose Avenue – and how seeing him in that moment was a signpost to me of how far I had traveled towards my dream of being an actor.
I finished the letter by saying that even though he shot an episode once, it’s syndication through the years reached hundreds of thousands of people, including me. His art, in effect, helped a kid in San Jose forget about the bullies at school. He called me a week later and left a very touching message. I played the message over a dozen times, astonished that I had made a momentary connection with this very familiar stranger – a TV friend from years ago.
But now I’m a forty blah-blah year old actor who’s just doing a job, keeping my childhood awe in check while on the set of Hot in Cleveland… Yet more “time-folding” occurred:
The hysterical Alex Borstein was guest starring on the show. I used to see her at the ACME theatre back in the 90’s working on stage with a friend of mine. She took the picture of Ed, Betty and myself (above) … but not without yelling “awkward day player moment!” as she snapped the shot.
The dashing and talented James Patrick Stuart was also guest starring. He reminded me that we knew each other back in the late 80’s at an acting workshop we used to attend (Estelle Harman Actors Workshop). That was the first time I randomly met an alumni on set. A talented and nice man who has a knack for landing recurring roles!
Then, in talking with Ed Asner and his son, I realized I had done a play with his daughter, Katie Asner, back in the early 90’s at the Company of Angeles in Silverlake. (It was called Neon Tetra and I have no idea how I was able to pull that out of my brain on such short notice.)
When I wasn’t being bowled over by these “time-folding” moments, I was thoroughly taken with watching Betty White work (so damn amazing in her delivery and sharper than some 40 year olds I know). And watching her and Ed Asner together? Priceless.
During rehearsal, Ed’s character approaches Betty and taps her on the shoulder. On the first go round Betty turns and ad libs “I’d recognize that bad breath anywhere…” And the teasing continued from there…
Just as fun as watching two old pros reunited was watching guest star Jon Lovitz in all his unique glory. Even a simple line for one actor becomes a catchphrase after Jon works it over like a balloon sculpture. Of course, I knew that about him. What I didn’t know was that he’s a very kind and gentle man off camera.
All my scenes were with Emmy award winning Wendy Mallick who’s so good that she makes everyone around her look better. (Which means I could phone it in and still get a laugh – nice!) She was very funny, sweet and made me feel at home.
I also got to work with the radient Maree Cheatham. Soap fans will know her for the several “delicious” characters she’s played over the years. A truly classy and talented woman.
Okay, I need to stop here and rest my arms from all this damn name dropping. Feel free to shout, “Holy shit! What a cast!”
Back to the “time-folding.” Hot in Cleveland shoots at the CBS/Radford Studios in Studio City. I had been on 11 episodes of Boston Common back in the 1990’s, which also filmed there. But, there were huge differences between then and now:
Then: I was skinny and had glasses.
Now: Love handles and Lasik.
Then: I was playing a freshman college kid.
Now: Middle-aged fart.
And most importantly…
Then: I was always nervous that I would lose a line, be fired, wasn’t good enough and/or they wouldn’t have me back for another episode. I was on a never-ending, self-imposed treadmill.
Now: I was a professional, enjoying the amazingly serendipitous experience unfolding around me.
That is, until right after the curtain call!
I was doing the rounds of saying goodbye (which included trying not to tear-up as I expressed my love of Betty White to Betty White) and was finishing with a kiss to Wendy Mallick’s cheek when Valerie Bertinelli took my hand and said, “We didn’t get a chance to meet, but you were very funny!” I looked into her eyes for the first time and I froze.
In a millisecond I traveled back to being 12 years old and watching One Day at a Time with my Mom and sister. You see, aside from my overt “male”-ness, we were a mirrored version of that TV family. And I simultaneously identified with her character as well as had the hugest crush on her.
And, in that moment, this now forty blah-blah professional actor immediately defaulted to a love-struck kid. I stumbled over a “thank you” and sheepishly broke eye contact with her for fear of blurting out “I love you!”
As I drove off the lot, though, I still felt I had retained the majority of my dignity. And that was quite an accomplishment for being surrounded by my primetime TV childhood.
. . .
My Hot in Cleveland episode will air in 4 or 5 weeks. Subscribe to this blog or join the Facebook page for updates.