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.