my land of make believe

I handed the security guard my ID and waited to get my pass. Neko Case sang, “I’m so tired … and I wish I was the moon tonight” on my iPod. I wanted to turn it up, but turned it down as he leaned into my car and taped my parking pass to the inside of my windshield.

“I usually come in through a different gate,” I said, “so I don’t know how to get where I’m going this morning. Can you help me out?”

“Sure can,” he said. “Mister Burton was a few minutes ahead of you, and I just gave him the same directions.”

He handed me a map of the studio, and showed me how to get to my parking space in front of stage 18. It looked very complicated.

“It’s not as complicated as it looks,” he assured me. I thanked him, and slowly drove through the gate and into the lot.

I’ve been working as an actor since I was 7 years-old. I can sort of recall a time in my life when I wasn’t an actor, but it’s almost an academic recollection, since most of my meaningful self-aware memories were formed after I started going on auditions and working in front of the camera. Often, during the last 33 years of my life, I’ve lamented the loss of a normal childhood, and envied kids who grew up going to arcades after school instead of casting offices … but in many ways, it’s like wishing I’d grown up on the moon. This is the only life I’ve ever known, so that lamentation is also academic, in a way. I don’t really know what I missed because of the life that was chosen for me, but I know what I’ve gotten: overwhelming joy and a sense of belonging when I’m on a set, especially when that set is on a studio lot.

I drove slowly and carefully, navigating through parking lots and around trailers. Golf carts and people on bikes passed me on their way to their various sets and offices. I got to the end of parking lot I, and made a right onto New York Street. I involuntarily took my foot off the gas and coasted to a stop.

In my rearview mirror, I could see the exterior of the hospital from ER. On either side of me, facades that have been featured in countless TV shows and movies. In fact, the theater we came running out of during the Raiders of the Lost Ark episode was a few feet ahead of me and to my right.

“Wow. I’m driving my car down the middle of New York Street,” I thought to myself. “This. Is. AWESOME!”

I realized I’d come to a stop and looked around, hoping nobody saw me, or — worse — was waiting for me to move. I was alone on the street, and imagined for a moment I was in a post-apocalyptic future where the streets are empty and I’m driving a car for some reason.

I got to the end of the street and turned right, into a dead end.

Aw, shit. I misread the map and made a wrong turn. I laughed nervously and turned around, then made my way down another backlot street toward my eventual parking place, which it turns out is right in front of the stage where they film Two Broke Girls. I have a bit of a schoolboy crush on Kat Dennings, and I was stupidly glad I washed my car, just in case she was around the stage when I was. (I think they’re on hiatus at the moment, making me even more stupid).

I grabbed my backpack and walked to Stage 25. I was greeted warmly by everyone I saw, and felt like I had come home after a long absence. Like I always do, I wished that I worked with these people every week, and was grateful for the opportunity to spend five days with them.

The cast, writers, producers, and crew all arrived and assembled around a giant conference table, temporarily built out of many smaller tables, for the weekly table read of that week’s new episode. Steve Molaro, one of the executive producers who is also the showrunner, praised everyone for their work on the previous night’s taping. It sounded like it was an episode destined to be a classic, and I was excited to see it … and a little anxious to be batting right after what sounded like it was probably a home run.

Hey! A sportsball metaphor! Go me.

The first Assistant Director called for quiet, everyone settled in, and we began the table read. It was really funny, and as nervous as I was, 33 years of professional acting experience served me well and I didn’t screw anything up.

After we finished, we had a little break before we started rehearsing on the set, so LeVar and I headed to craft service to grab some breakfast.

While we put food on our plates, I said, “Check us out. 25 years later, we’re hanging out together in the morning at crafty. This is awesome.”

LeVar high-fived me and said, “it sure is, W.W.”

While we ate breakfast, we caught up with each other. LeVar’s daughter is starting college, and I was in the very strange position of being able to advise him on being a college parent, having put two kids through school already.

After breakfast, we went to our dressing rooms, which are right next to each other outside the stage. I pulled my laptop out of my backpack and prepared to spend my break on Reddit (like you do). A moment later, LeVar appeared in my doorway and asked me to help him troubleshoot his internet connection.

“Did you run a Level 5 diagnostic?” I asked.

He laughed, I laughed, and then we fixed it.

LeVar then looked around, and I could tell that he was taking in the view.

“You know, W. W., after all these years, I still love being on a studio lot.”

“So do I,” I said. “I never feel more at home than I do when I’m here.”

“Did you get to drive down New York Street?” He asked me.

“Oh my god I did!” I almost shouted. “Why is that so awesome?! It’s way more awesome than it should be.”

“It’s awesome because we’re driving our cars down a make believe street that’s real.” He said.

We talked about wandering around the backlot at Warners, which is also known as “Every Episode of The Twilight Zone, Ever” or “Holy Crap, This Building Was In [Pick Just About Any Movie Of The Last 50 Years.]”

“I just love playing make believe,” I said, “and backlots are like … make believe brought to life, I guess.”

Just then, we were called into the stage to rehearse. We walked in, and spent the rest of the day getting paid to make believe.

39 thoughts on “my land of make believe”

  1. Does this mean there is going to be a Big Bang Theory episode with LeVar meeting Evil WW? I cannot wait to see that.
    I just love these insight into an actor’s life. Thank you again for posting these.

  2. Love this post. Glimpses of your life as an actor are so cool. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to seeing you on BBT again. Those are typically my favorite episodes. :)

  3. In many ways that is I how I feel about teaching. I *love* what I do so much, and I get to have conversations for a living! I get to work with other amazing teachers and I get to work with students and learn from them at the same time they learn from me. I learn, the student learns… it’s such an inspiring circle. It helps that I teach in a school (chrysalis-school.com) that is devoted to individualized learning, but that feeling of loving what I do is such a privilege in my life. Thank you for your wonderful post, WW!

  4. Very cool. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into a world that few of us see.

    A comment about your blog, if I may. I notice that sometimes I see, below the body of the post, large PREVIOUS and NEXT buttons. Other times I see smaller Previous and Next links in the upper right. If it matters, I prefer the latter. I typically leave the latest post on your blog open in a tab in my browser at work, and refresh periodically (no, not automatically refreshing, relax). If it’s been a long weekend or you’ve posted a lot (that I’ve read elsewhere), I click Next a couple times to get through them. Life’s easier when Next is above the body of the post.

    Thanks for reading (oh yeah, and writing too!)

    1. I’m kinda hoping it’s “Dub dub,” as someone asked elsewhere.

      We’re patiently waiting for confirmation/denial…

  5. whoa…much has changed here in the first virtual place I ever called home….a bunch of us used to hang out up there ^ somewhere on the right side. I like the new look.

    One thing that has not changed…your AWESOME storytelling skills. Thanks…gotta go…something in both my eyes.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I think it’s totally awesome that you are still a squeeing fan, and not jaded about being on the set where assorted cool movies and TV shows were filmed.

    Also, “A sportsball metaphor!” totally made me laugh out loud, as that sounds so like something many of my friends (who are in general nerds who are not that into sports) would say.

  7. I love reading the behind the scenes stuff on your blog. How do you make it sound magical even though it’s so part of your life? Thanks for sharing with us!

  8. It’s no different when you’re the person paid to write the make-believe. I get the same super-geeky thrill driving down New York street as I did the first time I walked along and looked up and saw “The Daily Planet” rotating in the sunlight.

    Super awesome, indeed.

  9. Your life reads as awesome and I’m so glad you share so much of it with us. Borrowing some of your Happy when I’m stuck in depression helps me get up and go on. Thank you!

  10. I was halfway through this story before I realized that the LeVar in my head was wearing Geordi’s visor… Had to adjust my brain accordingly before continuing.

  11. I LOVE the WB lot! It’s the one that still makes me feel the magic in making tv, even after working there for years. I agree, I think it’s the history of the place.

    I remember the first time I was ever on the lot, before I worked in television. I was a HUGE West Wing fan, and a friend who worked at WB got me on the lot one weekend. It was so exciting to be able to walk around. We lucked out that they were actually filming West Wing that day. The doors were open on a stage they weren’t using, and we stuck our heads in. We asked a crew guy if we could walk around, letting him know we knew not to touch anything. He said sure (crew folks are awesome!) It was such a huge thrill. I never forgot that feeling. And I love the days that bring it back and remind me why I do what I do. Like your post did today. Thanks, Wil. :)

  12. Well, I wish would have a childhood and youth like you! I mean be in movies and television, having girls all around you.. being a childstar. I mean im living in a pretty boring and cold country (but, I am a great patriot, I love Sweden), with a pretty boring life! Right now im living 4 hours with car from my parents and friends, while im in a school here. No friends, no girlfriend nothing.. Like WTF im 17 years old! I should love life, but im not! Sorry for the bad english!. Wish you luck with future projects!

    1. @Niklas Olsson – There is still time to make change in your life – Look inside yourself. dig out that dream, use a spoon if you must even if it hurts – While your childhood cannot be changed so much can happen if you open up to the limitless possibilities that surround you every day – If anyone had ever told me I’d meet people like Dave Prowse in person and have a chat about his favourite cancer charity, I mean Darth Vader, when I’d been a kid I think my brain would have exploded. What I am trying to say to you is that your life can go in the direction that you dream about – you just need to pull up your sleeves and start working towards it – and you can always “make believe” till it happens! Wish you all the best in the future – And a great thanks to Wil for creating the forum and all the posts over the years!!!

      1. Thanks for the kind words!:) I know my future will be great! Im in this school so far away from my family and friends beacuse im studying for something I really want to become!- flight technician! so right now my life sucks! But in 2 or 3 years I will work with airplanes which I love. Thank you! Wish you all the best in the future too! Yeah Wil is awesome!!

  13. I wish there was a “Like” feature on your blog. There are so many good things I was going to say that others have already pointed out. The best thing about reading your blog is experiencing the creativity you live! I can’t remember the last time I was filled with that much wonder, that much happiness. You get to stand before history and take it all in. Thank you for giving us that first hand view that allows us to appreciate all the hard work that goes into creating these 30/60 minute adventures we view on TV every week and thanks for allowing us to peer behind the scenes. It makes a bad physical day a little less hard. :)

  14. I’ll let you in on what a “normal” childhood in Southern California was like, at least in part:
    watching TV and wishing you were doing what those people were doing.

  15. There are all kinds of childhoods – idyllic, tragic, moments of joy, moments of sorrow. But you had a childhood where your imagination was unleashed and your dreams were encouraged. A childhood where you learned to soar while also learning to keep your sobriety, your ethics, and your integrity. A childhood lived in the public eye with moments of awkward teen photos, but also moments of indescribable wonder. Could just be my humble opinion, but that sounds like a child who had an amazing life, and then turned into an adult with an even more amazing life. A very fortunate childhood indeed :)

  16. I too wonder what it would have been like with a childhood of different circumstances, but in my experience it’s those who don’t wonder who have turned out worse (opinion, I know…).

    My family was poor. Utilities were shut off and I remember spending a night in a motorhome at a repair facility where my father worked. For me, that was just camping out. I am so much more thankful for every dollar I earn today, doubling my family income from my childhood. My only regret is being unable to attend space camp :). For me staying up to watch MacGuyver and tuning into TNG as a family was more than enough.

    This reminds me of the outmeal cartoon “what they should teach in highschool” where the odd one is “cultivating an interesting personality”…

  17. Beautifully written…. You are exactly where you were meant to be – this from someone who has watched you get there…..

  18. I love, LOVE hearing about how after 33 years of acting, walking on the Warner Brothers lot is as magical to you as it was the first time I saw it as a film student in college, also the very same day I realized I was falling in love with a man that would be my husband, (and still is, ah thank you). And I admit, I have a secret crush on Kat Dennings, too… She’s my girl hall pass if I ever felt the need to switch teams. You never know when you need to keep your options open.

  19. While I’ve never been an actor or crew on a set, I’ve had the good luck to work for 3 different Hollywood studios. And even as an office paper-pusher, I still get a kick out of walking (or driving) on a lot. When I worked at Universal, it was doubly cool to have the park tram pass me by (as if I was important). I remember crossing the street from the parking garage to the building I worked from and the security guard telling us, “See, even Mr. Spielberg has to stop for you.” Nowadays I take daily walks on the Fox lot and love just seeing all the action. It’s the one thing I’ll miss if I ever leave the industry.

  20. I have to share this with you then. I fix computers for a living (well, working on doing it for a living, anyhow) and I have a three-level diagnostic system that fits most situations:

    Level 1 Diagnostic: is it plugged in?
    Level 2 Diagnostic: have you tried rebooting?
    Level 3 Diagnostic: I’ve replaced your motherboard, reformatted your hard disk and removed the dead rat from your power supply. How would you like to pay for that: cash, credit or second mortgage?

  21. Gah. I wish I could paint a picture in words as eloquently and effortlessly as you do! *jealous*

      1. modestalmond Is right. I know you are enjoying acting and your many other interests (as am I and others) , but please try to make time for your written pursuits. You have a true gift with the written word, and I for one would love to see you develop more if time allows. I STILL what to know what happens next in “The Day After”

  22. I was thinking of my childhood memories the other day. One my earliest was of playing on this lot behind my home that was once an amusement park and right next door to this park was an abandoned mansion, which some friends and I thoroughly explored (abandoned mansions can be creepy, maybe that’s why I love horror films with creepy mansions). On that lot I used to catch feral kittens and bring them home to tame them and then let them go. I was about 6 or 7 at that time. I find it remarkable that me and my friends were never hurt on that abandoned lot. I find it cool in that you still get to ‘play’ and therefore you get to retain that sense of childhood which in the long run, I believe, will keep you beneficially young. I think we all should take a moment at least once in a while to find that playful child spirit we once had in us all. This was a great post, Thanks Wil Wheaton!

    P.S. Kat Dennings is totally the cat’s meow. :P

  23. Cool that you could talk college parenting with him, cool indeed.

    Thanks for sharing your viewpoints and thoughts as you experience your world; it is a pleasure reading.

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