in which I get to help steer the script

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.

wil wheaton vasquez rocks

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.

Honeywagon

wilw dressing room door steer the script

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:

wil wheaton picture from the set for steer the script

…but I can share this picture of me:

wil wheaton steer the script

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.

108 thoughts on “in which I get to help steer the script”

  1. Congrats, Wil. I’m not an actor and I still understood that photo you posted on Twitter with your name on tape (I’ve got an actor friend and another friend who’s related to someone few people know but nearly everyone’s seen the fruits of his labor–can you tell I’m not much of a name dropper :) ). I actually thought it looked a lot like your trophy tape on TableTop. :)

    And, honestly, it’s not just luck. I’ve often thought like you mentioned…about how different things might be if you could go back and tell your younger self everything you figured out over the years. But, then, you would erase who you are today and none of that would be relevant (can you tell I love timeline conundrums?). All those experiences that made you who you are today affect the people you know and care for and have this sort of ripple effect. Some people call it karma. I just call it the product of being who you are.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing the commercial and really hope you continue to get more work and, of course, get more funding for another season of TableTop. :)

  2. I’ve been waiting for you to post about the experience of the shoot. Now I have a reason to tape and watch the Super Bowl. (None of the teams left playing are any that I care enough about to watch the game for normally.)

    Also — I’ve been reading you since before WWDN 2.0, and following what you’ve shared of your life as you’ve posted it, and I am so so SO happy for your commercial success! I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  3. I just shared this on my FB page under the following heading;

    “In which my hero gets what he’s always wanted.”

    Keep smiling, Wil, there’s so much more to come for you and Anne.

    Believe it…

  4. I’ll keep it brief. My reintroduction to you via the Twitters and your blog inspired me to consider the option of trying to make a career out of writing. This post just solidified my respect for you and for the decisions you’ve made over the years. I don’t know you, you don’t know me, and yet you’ve still managed to inspire me. Thank you, sir. As you might say, I have some junk in both my eyes.

  5. Really touching piece, Wil. I don’t usually comment but this is one of the best posts, if not the very best, that you’ve made on this site and I felt compelled to share that with you. From your blog and my limited interactions with you at PAX and such places I can tell what a genuinely nice and caring guy you are. You deserve every success you have received and I’m so happy it’s all happening for you.

  6. That was an awesome posting Wil. It’s been such a privilege watching your career progress over the years. You’ve grown so much as both a writer and an actor, never given up and always focused on what you’re naturally gifted at. That’s why you’re a success and now reaping the rewards of your hard work.

    Maybe once this commercial has aired you could upload it onto your website. Not sure if the Superbowl shows on mainstream TV in the UK, and we don’t have the Lincoln and Mercury brands here. I would love to see the finished product.

    Even though I haven’t posted on your blog for a while, I still make a point of reading your entries every few days. Your posts and stories get richer every time.

    Hope to see you soon.

    Julian

  7. OMG! I haven’t been able to follow you for a while now (embarrassed to say dial up doesn’t download your page very well) lol, and I check in today from work and you have a commercial in the Super Bowl OMG I am so happy for you. So since I haven’t been on in a long time have either of the boys finished college or gotten married? (please say no so I don’t feel so friggin’ old) Also I was just looking at the Emerald City Comicon line up which I think I’ll go to for the first time and I didn’t see you listed, can it be true?? Can’t wait to catch up!

      1. lol yes, thanks done and done. And I’ve had a chance to go back to the holiday posts and look at the “new” puppies you have! So great, the naughty boxer pup is soooo cute! And the pics of you and Anne are beautiful!! I forgot how funny and poignant your posts are. I think I’ve been reading off and on for 12 years? Good God!

  8. Thank you for sharing your down-to-earth nature with us. I hope you’re able to post the end results of your efforts on FB so we can all partake of your awesomeness. I don’t watch any sports but would love to see your work. I’m so glad that there are some people who get through Hollywood without becoming dicks. Thanks, it warms my heart.

  9. Man, for the first time ever, I’m pissed I’m going to be in Japan on February third… And then someone started cutting onions in my office. Thanks for the sharing, your blog always hits me in the feels and is always a highlight in my day. Thank you (and Anne) for being good people and spreading happy to the far corners of the interwebs. I look forward to seeing this commercial when I get the chance in my travels.

  10. This is excellent news, Wil! As many others here have expressed, now I will have to watch this ‘footyball’ game in order to see you strut your stuff.

    I’m also ashamed to admit I didn’t know you were credited in the Last Starfighter – but I sure as hell am going to watch the blu-ray of it this weekend to play “spot the Wheaton”!

  11. Hello Wil. I wonder if you remember an 80′s TV show called Amazing Stories? There was an episode that starred Mark Hamil (which is probably why I remember it so well) called “Gather Ye Acorns.” It was about a guy who struggled all his life, but never let go of the things he loved. This ultimately led to him becoming successful. I always think of this episode when I see the many awesome things you are doing these days.

    1. You know, the only episode of that series I remember was the one where the train went through the house. I wonder if it’s online somewhere, and if it holds up.

    2. I think I remember that episode…for the same reason. I was like “Holy crap! It’s Luke!”. He basically kept everything he ever got and was destitute living out of an old car filled with “junk” until some guy comes along and notices some mug or something that’s now a collector’s item and worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Maybe that’s why I still have my old Apple //e and some old baseball cards (not mint!) stashed away in my garage… :)

  12. Maybe it’s because I’m sick and a little overly emotional, but this made me tear up and damn near sob. It’s like that feeling I get when I watch a kid get to meet one of their idols. I feel so happy and proud for them. We’re close in age (I’ll be 40 later this year) so Wes was one of my faves on ST:TNG and I was bummed when you left. I always thought you got the short end of the stick so I’ve been so glad to see how your career has blossomed lately. Good things happen to good people.

  13. Very happy for you. As a “sportsball” fan I am looking forward to see the commercial. Now my wife and I will be interested in the same parts of the Super Bowl telecast.

    Any chance the “How we roll” hoodie will be available again any time soon? The link says sold out.

  14. As a big fan of the sportsball, I am bummed that I will not be able to see the commercial during the game, as I live in Denmark, unless they, like last year, are posted to youtube as soon as they have aired.

    On a different note, I just realised that the zipper on my favourite hoodie used to be shiny, but the plating has worn off almost completely by now. And I just wanted to thank you for your design, which helps me proudly show my love tabletop gaming.

  15. I watched The Last Starfighter two days ago! Awesome film! I hadn’t watched it since I was about 8 years old and it was a nice surprise to see you in the credits. Am I right in guessing you’re the kid in the red football jersey running with the younger kids in the background at the start of the film? If they ever remake it, which is likely as it had a great story that was limited only by what technology was available at the time, would you want to be involved?

  16. Question. Why does the dressing room truck thingy have the same nickname as the carts that used to carry away the fecal matter from London’s streets before septic systems were invented? Do I really want to know the answer?

    1. I have never been able to find a definitive answer to that question, and I’ve been asking it ever since I heard about the carts. I suspect it has something to do with production historically (read: 50s and 60s) having little respect for talent.

  17. This post brought tears to my eyes. I was unaware of the problems that you and your wife had with her ex. I did know that you’d adopted her (now your) son, but reading this summary of the obstacles and blessings that you’d faced really brought it home. You are a very good writer. You convey the emotion without being overly sappy. You also are able to describe a world that is completely foreign to me and most of your readers – that of an actor – in a way that allows us to connect and understand what you’re talking about.

  18. Wil, I’ve said this before but I’m incredibly appreciative for your style of candor and genuinity. (is that even a word? It should be, because you’ve defined it.)

    Your writing style has a hypnotic balance of honesty and fun. Many thanks!

  19. Someday, old-man you is going to visit just-starting-out you, and say, “I bet you’re going to have a really great life.” And just-starting-out you is going to be really confused and think, “oookaaayyyyyy…” and promptly forget.

    Congratulations, Wil.

  20. I remember when you got dropped by your agent many years ago. I’m so happy you found someone who values you appropriately. I predict things will continue to improve for many years to come.

  21. Great read Wil. I really enjoyed the style and added descriptions of your phone call and drive out to the set. It read like short story instead of just a rambling summary (which is the best I could do I am sure). Keep up the posts like this! It was great “being there” with you.

    By the way, when I saw that sloped rocky outcrop, I almost outcrapped my pants! I immediately recognized it from Star Trek! I too kicked into Star Trek Fight Music when I saw that… (and some bad lizard man’s sloppy sounding snarls for some reason). :-P

    Last comment, I always love the “tape gag” at the end of Table Top and the reference to the trailer made me laugh. Awesomeness..

  22. Ahhh, I love this post so much! And DARN YOU, you almost made me cry with that last bit of your conversation on the drive home.

    Thank you for sharing all of this with us. It is so wonderful to know that there are people out there grateful for their lives. :)

  23. I finally made a wordpress account just so I could comment and say how great this is. You deserve all the success in the world. Well done, and thanks so much for sharing with is.

  24. Wil, I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I follow you on the social media thingys. Technology is great, isn’t it?
    I loved reading this for one reason: I validates my belief that good things happen to good people.
    Excuse me, there’s some dust in my eye…

  25. That’s what I like about you Mr Wheaton, the style of your writings is great and we you take us with you on this shooting. And it’s so nice to see good things happening to good people. I hope to see the commercial one day. (I’m in France so I’ll have to wait til the commercial hit You Tube).

  26. Damn… how do you keep pulling the feels out of me. Oh… and Wil, you can never be too nerdy. Gorn and Julie Newmar trash talking the guys in Friday’s Child. See… can’t be too nerdy. ;)
    But thanks for the heads up. Now I know what to wear for the big game.

  27. I’m so happy and excited for you Wil! You deserve this and so much more!

    I always love reading/hearing about your interactions with Anne, because you are both such good people. I just adore her, and even more so, you two together. I’m glad you’ve made it through everything that you did to get to this point, because this point is amazing to see.

    <3
    -Syndelin

  28. I’m so happy right now I think I *squeed* right out of my chair! I couldn’t stop saying OHMYGOD the entire time I was reading this. My copy of The Last Starfighter has always been special to me, but I think now it’s got an even higher level of awesome! I CAN’T STOP FANGIRLING AT THIS. I will watch the Superbowl with an even higher level of interest now for this sure-to-be-awesome-commercial! :D

  29. I’m a new comer to your blog/Twitter/podcasts (yes, I went back and listened to all episodes of “Memories”and “RFB”- they really helped the 8-5 desk job go a lot faster last week, and I want to say thanks for that.)

    But, anyway, I was just want to say I really appreciate your mixture or candor, honesty, and entertainment in your blog posts. (I actually picture you reading them in your audiobook/podcast voice, if that makes sense).

    But, anyway before I really start babbling, Congrats on this excellent opportunity…you deserve it!

  30. Yeah there was no almost about it for me. This post made me tear up and reminded me to be grateful for all the awesome things I have in my life. Following a dream can be beyond difficult and I’m inspired to continue my own journey knowing about yours.

    I was gonna skip the Super Bowl this year (which I only watch for the commercials anyway) but now I’ll have to watch. Football is the one with the funky shaped ball, right? ;)

  31. You know, I usually only watch the superbowl for the commercials anyway, taking bathroom and snack breaks during the game and run it when I here the “going to commercial” music.

    This is one of those things where even though we have never met, it feels like we have. I’m excited for you that this is happening and all the awesomeness that will come of it! Also one thing I admire about you is that even though you are a “famous celebrity” with a huge following of internet stalkers strangers it’s refreshing to see that you are very real and very normal. You are one of the few that keep it real. (going by pictures taken in your home, which looks like a totally normal house, and not some huge mansion type place)

  32. Well said and well done, Wil, in so many ways.

    I have some extra feels for you, if you need ‘em.

    #brohug #sticktap

  33. to be fair, they did take wesley on an away mission and he almost got himself executed.

    that was a beautiful drive down memory lane. thank you for letting us ride shotgun.

  34. Right there at the end, it got all dusty in here. *wiping eyes*
    I understand your love of working with great people, and your decision to only work with people you like. I’ve been fortunate enough to have that option myself. It’s wonderful! I can’t wait to see the commercial!

  35. That’s excellent news. Wishing you all the best that this leads to more! I do love hearing stories of people being able to make a living doing what they love – keeps the dream alive!

  36. I suspect your manager is looking forward to calling you “Wil, you know, from the Superbowl” (and he’ll say the whole thing every time, like “A Tribe Called Quest” or “A Pimp Named Slickback”) for at least the next couple of years.

  37. Awesome story, and congratulations! You deserve your success. Poe’s “Haunted” is a great album. And with your new Superbowl fame, you should get that How We Roll hoodie re-issued (so I can buy one!)!

  38. Lovely, lovely blog post. It is so encouraging to hear when nice people get ahead and that somehow we live in a world where working hard and having a family that loves you is all that really matters.

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