Watching Inception the other night I was struck by the subtext of a particular scene. No, nothing to do with “dreams within dreams” or why dream-projection security guys can’t aim their guns effectively. It was an actor’s recognition of residuals.
The excellent character actor Michael Gaston appears in one scene with one line as an immigration officer. Now, Michael has been in a buhzillion things, give or take a kajillion, so one might wonder why he’d take a one line role. But not I, said me. The residuals, baby! Residuals (even for one day) on a film as big as Inception is so worth it. (Yes, yes, and the prestige of being in a Christopher Nolan film, working opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, yadda yadda, but the residuals thing is a better hook for this post, so play along, por favor.)
Obviously I’ve never been in a major blockbuster, but I have had a similar, albeit mini, experience. (See? Without that hook, I’d be sunk… No pun intended.)
Back in the early 1990’s (my pre-pectoral/love-handle days) I used to audition for the Lorenzo Lamas TV show Renegade a lot. Never could quite land a role. Dorian Dunas, who had seen me at a casting workshop, was the casting director who kept putting my picture in front of her boss, Barbara Claman. Finally, success! [Dork Warning! View at your own discretion.]
Then, a couple years later she called me in for Steven Seagal’s Under Siege II. My first major film audition. The role was of a technician who worked in this satellite control room throughout the film. He had 13 lines – which was big for a character named “Technician #1.”
When I got to the Warner Brothers lot to audition, I saw that she was only auditioning TWO actors for it! I was loving the odds! The audition went well and I went home and waited by the phone (well, actually, I had a pager hanging on my belt like a dweeb and went about my life).
Then the call from my agent…
“You’re working for eight days on Steven Seagall’s movie!”
“I got it?”
“You both did!” That’s when my brain locked. “Huh?”
This is how cool Dorian is; she wanted to get us both a job on the film, so we both were cast in the same role. The director said for both of us to learn all the lines and we’d figure it out on set. So, I was sharing a film role with Thom Adcox-Hernandez (who is now a very accomplished voiceover guy).
Then I got a cold. You know, because that’s what one should do before their first major film job.
The first day, after Thom and I agreed not to kill each other, Geoff Murphy (the director famous for The Quiet Earth), greeted us and then looked around the high-tech set for open seats. It was a three-tier set of consoles facing a large screen wall. Thom was in front of me, so Geoff gestured to the first open seat for him. Then looked around and gestured to the second open seat he saw for me… On the third tier! And this is how my 13 lines dwindled down.
See, it was a steadicam shoot and they were way behind schedule. So, they were just blocking as they went. Wherever the camera landed after a particular shot is where they blocked the next scene. This being the case, there was no way the steadicam guy was going to lug his gear up to the third tier just to get a precious line reading from moi! So, Thom got the first few lines, then the next five or so lines went to other actors who had actual character names.
Then, finally, they blocked me to come down from my perch and say A LINE. A line that, when heard through my nervousness, stuffy nose and Dolby Stereo, sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher on crack and under water. Ah, what a debut!
As days went by, lines were cut or doled out elsewhere. Then Steven Seagal showed up with a very beautiful model/actress (wink wink) and told, er, asked the director to find her a few lines in the film. The assistant director quickly welcomed her and then planted her smack next to me, essentially sucking up any D.C. camera time (which was all I had going for me at that point)!
And, yes, when the steadicam finally did come up to the third tier, “very beautiful model/actress” got the line.
Days went by and I accepted that, at the very least, it was a good credit for the resume.
On the final day, and the final shot, there was a final line that had yet to be taken from me. It was a good line, too. Essentially Stevie blows up the train with the bad guys on it (including the awesome Eric Bogosian). Cut to the control center. My character rises up and yells, “We’ve got control of Grazier One!” and the whole room goes crazy! People shout, scream, applaud and hug! An awesome moment in the film… So, I run up to the AD and ask, neé, beg him for the last line. He says, with a broad smile, “It’s yours!”
“But it’s been rewritten a little.” My brain locks. “Huh?”
Yup, my big moment turned into, “Sir, there’s a message coming in. I’ll patch it through.”
So, what devolved into two lines (one barely understandable) also became one of my favorite acting stories.
And it also became one of my longest running residual checks! I still get ’em! And that’s not even for a major blockbuster. What I would have given to have one line in Inception!
At the heart of this story, though, is Dorian Dunas. A casting director who cared enough to get two actors some work out of one role. That’s a class act and a classy lady. Thanks Dorian.
[This is part of a series – Love Letters]