Night before last, I got home very late from work.
When I checked my messages, there was one from Jonathan Frakes, who said that he was casting a show, and there was “a wonderful acting opportunity for Wil Wheaton in it.”
I can’t tell you how excited I was. To have one of my friends call me, at home, to tell me that they’re casting something, and they wanted to put me in it…well, it was awesome.
Now, I’m my excitement is tempered, because the last time I was promised a role in a movie I got a whole bunch of nothing, but there’s something about Jonathan. He wouldn’t call me if he didn’t really think I could handle this role.
So yesterday, at 12:30, I get a call while I’m at work that they want to see me at 2PM for Jonathan’s project: The Twilight Zone.
That’s right, they’re doing it again! I love the Twilight Zone, the most. When I was a kid it scared the shit out of me, but in a good way. The first thing I ever wrote was an adaptation of one of the scariest episodes, when I was like 11.
So I get the call at 12:30, the sides arrive via FAX at 12:45, and I have 30 minutes to prepare 16 pages.
Somehow, I manage to get a handle on this character, a task made much easier by the high quality of the writing. It’s specific and clear, so I get an understanding of what the character is immediately, and I’m able to add my own shading and color to him really quickly.
When you look at a script, it usually tells you what the writer wants; what he’s going for. All the actors coming in should know that, and should be able to meet the demands of the material. In my experience, sitting on both sides of the table during auditions, the thing that makes the difference amongst all the actors who come in to read is that shading and color; that little extra understanding, or that ability to recall something from your real life is what’s going to make a difference, and get you the role.
Of course, 30 minutes is not exactly the best amount of time to create this complex character, but what’s great for me about not having all the extra time is I am forced to trust my instincts (which are almost always right on, but usually end up getting over analyzed. I can be a little too smart for my own good).
So I am thinking of all this stuff, all the various colors I can add to this character, and the experiences I’ve had in my own life which I can draw upon, while I’m driving over to the audition, which is in the middle of downtown LA, at a place called “LA Center Studios.” I’ve never been there before, but the place is really cool and creepy at the same time. It feels like the set of a 70s post-apocalypse movie. The floors are all marble and linoleum, the walls are all wood, with these strange metal accents, and the whole place is only about 20% occupied, so it really feels like, well, The Twilight Zone.
Oh, get this: on my way there? Totally got passed by a high speed chase, going the other way on the freeway. I gave the news choppers the finger. I don’t think they noticed.
So I get there, park my car in the mostly abandoned garage, and try to find the office where I’m reading. That post-apocalypse feeling is reinforced when I walk up 3 flights of turned-off escalators, which are lit by flourescent lights and covered with dust. I mean, I really did expect to come around a corner and see Charlton Heston screaming, “Soylent Green is people! It’s people!”
I finally got to the room where I was supposed to do my reading, and I saw Jonathan, who gave me a huge smile and a warm bearhug, and told me how happy he was to see me. He always has this twinkle in his eye, you know? It says, “I can’t believe I’m doing this! I’m totally getting away with it! Woo! This is so much fun!”
The casting director tells me that they only want me to read the first and last scenes, which is great because I can spend my 15 minutes waiting just focusing on those scenes, while they set up the room for auditions.
Now, I view warming up for an audition like being a relief pitcher: you don’t want to over-work yourself, so you’re tired, but you also don’t want to be warming up when you’re on the mound, either, so you have to know exactly when to get up in the bullpen. It also helps to know that you’re going to just need your curve ball working, and maybe a slider, so you focus on those, and trust that the fast ball will come when you need it.
Did I just lose everyone? I sometimes do that with extended metaphor.
Anyway, I work on those two scenes, and go in. Jonathan thanks me for coming and introduces me to the other producers. He says, “Wil and I know each other, you know.”
“Yeah, I knew him back when he was cool,” I say.
“See? He tells the same story,” he says to one of the producers.
“Well, your story checks out,” the producer says to me.
“That’s a relief. I thought that the 5 year photographic record wouldn’t be enough,” I reply.
We all laugh, and he tells me to begin when I’m ready.
Now, here’s something that I love about being an actor: I was just joking around, and now I get to totally switch gears, and play a guy who starts out honest and earnest, yet becomes corrupted by power. The two scenes show the beginning and ending of that transformation. I love that I can go from joking around, to becoming this character in a matter of seconds.
I do the first scene, and I can see Jonathan out of the corner of my eye, and he I can tell that he’s really into what I’m doing. It fills me with confidence, and I totally relax into this character. He tells me that it was a great job, and asks me to read the second scene. He gives me some direction, and tells me a bit about this character; stuff I already have figured out, but it really makes me feel confident, knowing that what they want is what I’ve already prepared.
I read the scene, and he asks me if I wouldn’t mind doing a third scene. This is a good sign, because he wouldn’t ask for it if he wasn’t happy with what I’d already done.
But I’ve had all of 30 minutes with the material, and I really haven’t prepared this scene, at all…I mean, I read it once, looked at it again when I was waiting, but I am not nearly as confident with it as I am with the others…but I do it anyway, and it feels really good.
I have really good instincts, as an actor. I know when I totally suck, and I know when I’ve done a good job. Again, to use the baseball metaphor: I know when I’ve hit it out, when I bounce back to the mound, and when I go down swinging. With the first scene, I hit it deep to center. With the second scene, I hit it out. I really need to get a stand up double on this third scene, now. So I read it, and that’s exactly what I do. If I’d had some more time with it, I would have gotten a triple, for sure, but I’ll take the double.
I finish, and put down my sides, and Jonathan says to the producers, “He is such a great actor.”
He turns to me and says, “You are such a wonderful actor. You still have it, W.”
Of course, it would be great to get this job, because I’d like to work with him, and I think the marketing opportunity for the studio is huge: Launch the new Twilight Zone with two guys from Star Trek.
But even if I don’t book the job, I will have Jonathan’s kindness and warmth to hold on to. It will be good balance for all the times I read for people who treat me like shit, and, as longtime readers know, it’s all about The Balance.
Updated at 1:03 PM
Just found out that I didn’t get it. Is there an award for coming in second?
Night before last, I got home very late from work.