When Anne and I were in Yosemite, my manager called my cell phone.
“I’m sorry to bother you when you’re away,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said. “What’s going on?”
We have a number of deals in various stages of completion, and I have to be ready to act on them when certain decision points come up. This is awesome and weird. It’s awesome, because it means for the first time in my adult life I can rely on work and plan for the future. This is weird because for the first time in my adult life I can rely on work and plan for the future.
“I have a very interesting offer for you,” he said.
“…go on…” I said.
“You’ve been offered a part in a commercial.”
I set down my coffee and looked out the window of our hotel. It had snowed overnight, and a thick blanket of white powder covered everything. The sun was just starting to crest the trees, melting the thin sheet of ice on the window. Little rivulets of water raced down the glass.
“That sounds interesting,” I said, trying my best not to jump up and down.
“Oh, it gets more interesting.”
I waited for him to continue.
“You know that rather popular football event that happens in February?”
“Shut up!” I said.
“Yes. It airs then.”
He proceeded to tell me about the job. It’s for Lincoln (the car company, not the president). It’s part of a promotion that Jimmy Fallon’s been doing with people on Twitter. The website is called steer the script. It shoots in a week.
By the time he was done, I was out of my chair, pacing excitedly around the room.
“This doesn’t make sense,” I said. “People don’t just offer me commercials that run during the Superbowl.”
Anne, who had been wondering exactly what I was so excited about, nearly spit out a mouthful of her breakfast.
“Well, it does now,” he said. I could hear the joy in his voice mirroring my own. Chris and I have worked together for a decade, and he’s stood with me at some of the hardest times in my acting career, when I struggled so mightily to get any work at all, when I had accepted that I wasn’t going to work enough as an actor to support my family, and decided to be a full time writer. Chris and I have worked very, very hard together to make good choices and steer my career to the place it is today. I still have a hard time believing it, and every day I’m afraid I’m going to wake up from this wonderful dream.
“So… it’s not a trick, right? This isn’t some sort of cruel prank by someone?”
“No, it’s real. And I want you to think about something: this helps the bigger picture, too. Not everyone is asked to do a commercial that airs during the biggest television event of the year. This is going to help me and the agents when we talk with casting.”
“Oh my god I hadn’t thought of that,” I said.
“Yes. This is all very good news. I’ll talk to Wes and we’ll get you all the details tomorrow. Enjoy your vacation.”
I looked out the window again. The sun was higher in the sky now, and had melted enough of the ice on the window to give me a clear view of the valley. Ice crystals in the snow looked like stars. A few children built a snowman, and huge clumps of snow fell off the limbs of giant sequoias.
“I will,” I said. “I mean, I already was, but now I’m going to have to go do a little dance.”
He laughed. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Chris,” I said, thinking about the years we’ve spent together, years when a lot of managers would have cut me loose instead of believing in me.
“You’re welcome. Bye.”
“Bye.” I hung up the phone and did a little dance.
Then I did a big dance.
Yesterday, I went out to Vasquez Rocks to shoot the commercial. My call was noon, so I left the house just before 11 to be sure I got there on time. I listened to Poe’s Haunted the whole way (reading House of Leaves will do that to a guy like me) and reflected on all the times I’d driven out to the Antelope Valley for work over the thirty years of my acting career.
When I was really little, probably around 1979 or so, I shot a commercial somewhere in Canyon Country. I don’t remember anything about it, but my mom let me get an Egg McMuffin on the way. It’s funny how the child’s mind remembers what is truly (relatively) important.
…I need to get my bearings…
When I was a little older, I shot a movie called The Last Starfighter out there. We shot at a trailer park up in a canyon somewhere, and I remember thinking that the winding canyon road we drove on to get there looked like something from the Twilight Zone. Later, I found out that they had, indeed, shot the series on that stretch of highway. I remembered how excited I was to work on a movie that was — as far as my young mind could tell — was basically all about a video game that turned you into a real starfighter. I remembered how disappointed I was when I saw the titular game on the set, and discovered it was an empty cabinet with only lights inside. (Fun fact: the classic Atari Game Star Raiders was supposed to be a licensed game from Last Starfighter, but the deal fell through. They kept the gameplay and changed the sprites. Bonus fun fact: My scenes were cut from the movie before we filmed them, but I was already in the background of several scenes as one of the kids who lived in the trailer park, so I ended up in the credits. Every year, I get a hundred bucks or so in residuals. Semi-related fun fact: the market at the trailer park had a Star Castle game in it, and that’s when I fell in love with that game.)
…and I’m lost…
I remembered doing a movie called The Liar’s Club when I had just turned 21. It was a Roger Corman picture, so it was very much a fly-by-night production. It was incredibly hard work, and I clearly feeling despondent that it signaled the end of my acting career for reasons that belong in their own post at some point in the future.
…and these shadows keep on changing…
We shot ten nights out in Canyon Country, in the bitter cold. Driving out there in evening rush hour traffic and back home in morning rush hour, hardly seeing the sun for almost two weeks, was miserable. That experience played a very, very large part in my decision to stop acting professionally and attend drama school full time.
…and I’m haunted…
It was, as most long solitary drives are for me, a journey of miles and years and memories and questions without a lot of answers.
It was a good drive, with something wonderful at the end.
I pulled into the parking lot just before my call time. I turned off my car, picked up my backpack, and walked toward the set.
Vasquez Rocks — or, as I like to call it, Every Planet Ever In The History Of The Star Trek Universe And Most Sci-Fi Movies From The Fifties — has an incredibly rich film history, but most of us know it from the aforementioned projects. In fact, from the moment I saw the iconic rocks, my brain began a loop of the Star Trek fight music that did not stop until I left the set hours later.
I walked up to the honey wagon, which is what we call the truck that has a bunch of dressing rooms in it, and found the door with my name on it.
I told Twitter that actors would understand why seeing this makes me so happy. Many people made Tabletop jokes, like “The budget isn’t big enough to keep the trailer, but you get to have this piece of tape with your name on it.” I wished I’d thought of that, and filed it away for future jobs, because you can bet your cheerleading trophy I’m going to make that joke a lot from now on.
For those of you who aren’t actors: it makes me so happy because it says to me, “Welcome home, Wil. You’re on the set, doing a job, earning a living doing what you love.” Lots of things change over the course of an acting career, but the dressing room door with your name on a piece of tape is one of the constants, whether you’re in a honeywagon or a million dollar tour bus (yes, big fancy celebrity stars have those. It’s nuts.)
I put my stuff down, and went to make-up. When that was done, I got my wardrobe approved, and then I sat down and waited to be called to set.
My agent, Wes, came out to set and sat with me while we waited. For a couple of hours, we talked about the things we’ve done together, the people we’ve worked with, and what our hopes are for the coming year. A few years ago, I made a decision and then a commitment to only have awesome people in my life, from my friends to the people I hire to work with me. I will only work with people I like, good people, honest people, people who are honorable. It is as hard as you think it is to find those people in the entertainment industry, but I’ve done it: Chris, Wes, all my agents at VOX and my theatrical agents at Stone Manners Salners, they are all good people who I consider my friends as well as my business partners. I’m incredibly lucky to have found them all, and even more lucky that they all wanted to work with me.
So we ended up talking a lot about gratitude, and how not everyone feels it, and how sadly rare it is.
I was eventually called to the set. This is all I can show you, because this part of the commercial is pretty cool and they don’t want me to give it all away:
…but I can share this picture of me:
You can’t really tell, but I got to wear the How We Roll hoodie I designed. On television. For millions of people. Squee!
It was insanely cold, and everyone was working very hard through the windchill that dropped temperatures into the high 20s. In spite of the weather, it was one of the great filming experiences. I had all kinds of fun, and everyone was quite kind to me.
“It’s so cool to work here,” I said to the director, “because even though Star Trek always came here, those sons of bitches never let Wesley on the landing party.” (I didn’t ask him if they’d been on the lookout for Gorn, because I didn’t want to be too nerdy.)
When I finished, I thanked everyone who had hired me, the other actors I worked with, and the crew. I thanked Wes as we walked to our cars, and then I began the long drive home.
I called Anne on my way.
“How was it?” She asked.
“It was amazing,” I said. “How was your secret project thing?”
“It was great,” she said.
We were both quiet for a minute.
“I can’t believe that this is our life,” I said. “I mean, we’re really, really lucky.”
“We really are.”
“I want to get in the time machine and go back to the younger us, who are struggling so much, dealing with so much bullshit from [her shitbag ex-husband] and just trying to make it through every day. I just want to tell them that it’s going to be okay.”
“They know,” she said.
“Oh? Did you tell them?”
“No. I was them, and I always knew it would be okay, because we’re good people and we worked hard and we never gave up on each other.”
I was quiet again for a second. Our life together flew through my mind’s eye: our first date, our first dinner after moving in together, my proposal, our wedding, the years and years of custody struggles, Ryan asking me to adopt him, the actual adoption, thousands and thousands of words in this blog and some books and some other places. Lots of ups, even more downs, and all the while standing tall together.
“Are you still there?” She said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just thinking about how grateful I am. I’m really lucky.”
“You’ve worked really hard.”
“That too.” Then: “I’ll be home in about an hour.”
“Okay. Drive safe. I love you.”
“I love you too. I love you the most for one thousand times.”
I pulled onto the freeway and drove toward home.