exploration b

It was cold and dark and the wind was whipping up, pushing the cold through my body like I was naked in the snow.

But I was neither naked, nor in the snow. I was dressed normally and in the Valley, walking from my car to the front gate of CBS Radford for an audition at the end of the day, long after the sun had begun its journey to char the other side of the world and come back to us, and I was listening to Los Angeles so intently, I walked right through the gate and past security.

Wow, that’s a loud and obnoxious alarm, I thought, not realizing until I was stopped by a guy with a gun that I was the one who had triggered it.

“Can I help you?” He said.

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I’m, uh, here for an audition.”

“Okay, just give me your ID, please.”

I fished my ID out of my pocket and handed it to him. A gust of wind tried to tear my audition scenes out of my hands but only succeeded in blowing a bunch of dust into my eyes. While I wiped it out, he handed my ID back to me. “Okay, Mister Wheaton. Do you know where you’re going?”

“No, I haven’t been here in almost ten years,” I said. Because, you know, he really needed to know and cared about that extra information.

“No problem,” he said, and then gave me directions to the building where the auditions were being held.

I thanked him and walked into the lot. It was empty, the windows of the offices mostly dark, and the stages all closed up and locked for the night. I walked about fifty feet down one street before I remembered working on a movie here when I was around 20, called December. It was a tough shoot — I had nothing in common with the other actors, who were all incredibly difficult for me to work with for reasons best left to history — and I’m not thrilled with my performance as a result. I suppose that’s why I haven’t thought about it in twenty-ish years.

I pushed those unpleasant memories away and instead looked around at all the buildings as I passed them. This studio was built in 1928, and it still retains some of the adobe charm of that era around the glass buildings and modern production trailers everywhere. It’s one of the very few studio lots in this town where it’s easy to not just see but feel what it was like to make movies at the beginning.

Being an actor isn’t the easiest thing in the world. For one thing, lots of people think it isn’t a real job, and it’s very difficult to get enough work to support yourself and your family without doing what lots of people would think of as a real job. I’m incredibly lucky to make my living the way I do, and as I looked around at buildings that were almost one hundred years old, I marveled at the tradition I’m part of, and was grateful for it.

I walked down a street called “Gilligan’s Island Ave.”, named for the classic series Charlie’s Angels.

Just kidding. Gilligan’s Island was filmed on this lot, and I remembered that during a particularly frustrating day during production so many years ago, I took a walk down this street (which was then called something different) to see what was left of the exterior sets. It wasn’t much; all I recall is some sand and a murky swamp, but if you squinted and used your imagination, you could see Skipper whacking Gilligan with his hat before Gilligan ran into that water as the credits rolled.

It looked like Gilligan’s Island Ave. was all that remained from the show, though. A huge, modern, television production facility was where I remembered it being. The local CBS evening news was being broadcast inside it. I hope nobody recognizes me and puts together that I make a lot of jokes about CBS and KCAL on Twitter, I thought, because I know what happens when local news anchors have a vicious cock fight, and I don’t think I can keep my head on a swivel like that. I saw the building I was looking for, thought wow, that escalated quickly, then giggled a little bit.

It was a three story glass building, completely dark except for the bright white light spilling out of the ground floor. Inside, I could see a half dozen actors in chairs, pacing the room with sides in their hands, or talking to the glass, which I imagined must look like a mirror from their side.

I walked in, found the sign-in sheet, and wrote my name on the first empty line beneath a mostly-full page of other actors’ names, each one of us hoping that this is The Time and this is The Role and this is The Show. I noticed that a name of a very good friend of mine was written just above me, and when I looked up, I saw her smiling at me from across the room.

We both stood up, crossed the room, and embraced. I adore this woman, and she’s such an incredibly talented actor, I couldn’t believe she was auditioning instead of just saying “yes” or “no” to offers.

“Who are you reading for?” She asked me. I told her and she said, quietly, “Oh my God! You’re totally him! You’re perfect for that role!”

I looked around self consciously and quietly agreed with her. “Yeah, I feel like I really know this guy, and feel like I’m kind of perfect for this part … which is why I also feel like I’m not going to get cast.” I laughed a little bit. “Who are you reading for?” She told me, and we repeated the previous exchange, pretty much only changing the pronouns.

“Okay, I have to focus,” she said. I took her advice and also focused.

After a few minutes, the casting associate came out into the lobby and walked over to me. “Wil,” she said, “I have to tell you something.”

There’s been a mistake and you’re just giving me the job? Wait, no. There’s been a mistake and I need to leave? Is the Frogurt cursed? It’s cursed, isn’t it. GodDAMN cursed Frogurt is always cursed!

I looked at her expectantly. “Okay?”

“We worked together,” she began.

Fuck. I have no recollection and now I’m the asshole.

“…when you were nine years-old, on A Long Way Home.”

Yes! I’m not the asshole!

“Holy shit!” I said, “that was one of my first real dramatic acting jobs!”

We reminisced about it a little bit, and then she took the next actor into the room to read. I looked back down at my audition scenes and went over them again. I reminded myself who this guy was, why he wanted what he wanted, and how he felt about it. Then I did my best to let go of all of that so he wasn’t an idea in my head but a person in my body.

I understood why so many actors are nuts.

My friend was called in. The woman who went in before her sat down next to me to change her shoes (this happens all the time: you wear heels in the room, but change into normal shoes after) and she said to me, “it’s a great room. They’re super friendly in there.”

It’s unfortunate, but that isn’t as common as you’d expect, and I was grateful to know that I was about to walk into a room where I could expect to feel like I was playing for the home team.

“That’s good to know,” I said, “thank you!”

“Break a leg,” she said, as she slipped her flats onto her feet, and put her heels in a soft red bag. What a weird life we live, where this is completely normal.

I stood up when she left, and, alone in the lobby, ran the scenes with my reflection in the window, not caring that I probably looked crazy to anyone who was on the other side.

My friend came out, we planned to get together for dinner soon, and then it was my turn to go in and do my thing.

That other actor was right: it was a warm, friendly, and welcoming room. It was the kind of room where the people inside it want actors to be able to do their best work, so that’s what I did. I let go of all the preparation, and just let this guy take over me. I did something similar when I auditioned for Criminal Minds, and that worked out pretty well, if I recall correctly.

I was reading with an actual human actor who gave me a lot to work with, and I did my best to work with it. I had fun, and I felt relaxed and fulfilled when I was done.

“Thanks for seeing me, guys,” I said on my way out of the room. Then, to the casting associate, “Oh, and I hope it isn’t 31 years before we see each other again.”

One of the producers (who will remain nameless, but you’d be all “WOW” if you knew) then said to me, “You made a great choice in that last scene. I could tell that you were struggling to keep your affection for her in check, but letting it bleed through just a little bit.”

I was floored. That was exactly what happened, and it was exactly the choice I’d made (or, rather, what the character told me he needed to do in the scene), and I couldn’t believe that he’d actually seen me do it. It’s so rare for someone in the room to praise an actor like that, and it’s even more rare when it’s holy crap this guy. I was so proud, and I thanked him for telling me that.

I walked out of the room, tossed my sides in the recycling bin (it’s how I physically and emotionally let go of an audition) and began the long walk back to my car. The wind was gusting like crazy, and I had to lean into and away from it as it swirled around the buildings and sound stages. I pulled my cellphone out and told Twitter, “Statistics say I probably won’t book the audition I just left, but godDAMN do I feel good about the choices I made and the reading I gave.”

And that’s all I can hope for. There is so much out of my hands and beyond my control when I have an audition for something, all I can do is my best and then forget about it.

…but I’d be the biggest liar in the ‘verse if I said that I wasn’t thinking about this role, and how much I’d love to be this guy for as long as they’d let me.

26 thoughts on “exploration b”

  1. for your sake, dude, i hope you get it.

    also, i was picturing that entire walk of yours as i’ve been to that lot a handful of times. thanks for the vivid trek down memory lane.

  2. I minored in theater back in college so I had a taste (a very small taste) of what you were going through. I remember reading a brief article depicting just how nerve-wracking it was just trying to get a regular spot on a TV series. About how expendable you were: how it didn’t matter how far along in the process you were, you could end up being kicked out because you had the wrong hair color.

    You mentioned that role in that movie you didn’t enjoy but I have to defer to a certain actor who shall remain nameless but who commented on criticism about some movie he did that wasn’t anywhere near Oscar material. His response was “but I got to make a movie” (I’m paraphrasing). In a way, I think the struggles you have to go through as an actor just end up making the fact that you get to play these varied roles and work with great people (sometimes) and do stuff no one else gets to do (okay, astronauts might beat you there) that much more worthwhile. You get to savor those moments when you get to do something great or work with great people. It’s true of any career to be honest, as long as you see it that way…the boredom or unpleasant times just remind you how great the awesome times are (and maybe also remind you that if you’re not doing something you love or at least like a lot, it’ll be that much harder to wake up each morning to do that job). Keep at it. :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this story. There’s so much vulnerability coming through in this post, you captured the experience so well. I think that’s what makes you a great actor, you can write a scene and the audience just gets it, even if we’ve never been there. So good luck, and I hope it’s a positive outcome.

  4. First, let me send some good vibes your way. Good luck!

    Out of curiosity: are you prohibited from saying the name of a show you audition for, or is it just more of an understanding (being polite/courteous/whatever)?

    Is there a point where you can (like after the show airs), and if so, do you, or do you choose to/not to?

    And as a way of looking on the bright side: at least this isn’t Broadway where you have to break into song during an audition. ;)

    1. I’ll never identify things specifically unless I’m already working on the show, because I think that would be unprofessional.

  5. Wil, love your stories about auditions. Hope and pray that you get the part. With Winter Storm Q in the area, please tell us about your remembrances of John deLancie as Q on ST:TNG. Thanks so much.

  6. Just how often do you wear heels in the room, but change into normal shoes after? And do you think it helps or hurts your chances? [eyebrow raised]

    Seriously, always love to see more of your work on any sized screen. :)

  7. I remember that the reason I didn’t go into acting was the amount of time sitting around and waiting. These days, I can work on computer (“um, stuff”) software/hardware anywhere I go, even in waiting rooms, but even now I don’t have the attention-switching skills to keep myself entertained in a waiting room and perform in an entirely different arena a few moments later.

  8. I was wondering if your internet geek-fame ever gets acknowledged by The Hollywood Powers. Like does anybody mention tabletop, or your blog, or even the guild?

  9. I just wanted to take a second to thank you for sharing moments like this. I read your blog religiously but rarely comment, but this post hit a cord.

    I saw the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” this week. It’s kind of stuck in my head. Set in 1990 it was a few years after my own high school days, but the soundtrack could have been lifted from my own (I almost said “record”) collection. The story follows Charlie, a shy outcast, as he finds a place among other “misfits”, has his first kiss, his first crush, etc. It really captures those feelings.

    I have strong memories of those years, and I can remember feeling incredible highs as well as a lot of crushing lows. This movie brought a lot of that back. I thought it was ironic that on the same day I saw this movie I randomly came across this xkcd comic that kind of sums it up: http://xkcd.com/420/

    Now I consider myself very happy, but the happiness of an adult life seems a bit tempered compared to my youth. Don’t get me wrong, I like the cycles of my day: getting up, working with the horses, going to a job I love, spending time with my bride of 20 years – and I have none of the lows of that time, but I am feeling lately that something is missing. I need to make time to see my friends, play games, get stupid and stay up late. Maybe not every weekend, but much more than I do now.

    Your post seemed to encapsulate that: you are doing something you love and you run into your friends, and they provide energy just as you give it. I am a strong believer in karma (not the formalized belief but the idea is that if you do good things they will come back to you) and your encounter with someone from years ago mirrored an incident in my own life where a kindess I did 10 years ago recently back me back in spades.

    I think you could amend your catch phrase of “don’t be a dick” to include “and be more like me”.

    Anyway, I’m in a weird mood today and it’s probably odd to have something like this pop up in your comment stream, but I just felt like saying it.

  10. I always love your posts like this – rich detailed scenes that make me feel as if I were walking there with you. Since you mentioned the age of the lots and such I wondered if you’ve seen “Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies”? It’s on Netflix and not only a wonderful narrative of Mary herself, but since she came up with and had such a strong hand in creating the movie industry it also is a great piece on how the movies are what they are today.

  11. Wil, may the cursed frogurt infect your soul. (Do you think that is enough bad to wish on you to get the part?) I cannot say I have seen you doing many roles that turned out to be lemons due to your acting. It was the material you were given to work with. This is a hard confession as I believe Wesley broke ST:TNG, but I always felt you were excellent in the part. May the Gods of Acting send you good news for this new part.

  12. I’ll be honest. I’m having a tough day. What’s the best thing to do when you are having a tough day? Don’t be a dick and make someone feel better.

    I was just starting high school and spending a lot of time alone when I happened across Star Trek: The Next Generation. My parents were never home, my sister had just moved out, and we lived in the middle of nowhere leaving me too much time on my hands during the summers before I could drive a car. As burgeoning nerdy teenage girl, I noticed the cute boy who happened to be near my age who also happened to be super smart who also happened to embody some of my own general angst.

    As happens to teenage girls, you fall in love with an actor that you see and idolize on screen. Posters go up on walls, you track down every movie he ever made, and you try to watch every tv interview you can. You know, everyday crazy teen stalker things, pre-internet. Even your mom helps you out and brings home a movie you might like because “it has that kid from Star Trek in it”. I watched this movie because not only did it have Wil in it but it also had hot guys in a boarding school. What can I say, I grew up during the era of hot guys in boarding school movies. It was a 90′s thing.

    However, December wasn’t the norm. It wasn’t about being different and gaining acceptance. It was about an entire generation whose lives changed in an instant when the radio broadcasts announced the first attack on American soil in WWII. It was about lives changing in an instant and fate throwing a wrench in the best laid plans. It was about kids making an adult choice to go to war for their country or to stay behind. To me, most of all, it was about history. While those specific events in the script might not have occurred, similar events were happening all over the US. Those kinds of conversations were held that night. Men did hop on buses the next day to go sign up. It really struck something in me as a teenager who had just watched the first Gulf War play out on the nightly news. I will always remember that movie for what it made me think about. Coincidentally, I turned on the news the next day, and the anniversary events for Pearl Harbor were playing. Now, every year at that time, I think about not only the lives that were lost that day but also the lives that stopped and changed course. It’s silly sometimes how a simple movie can bring humanity to a subject you had only read about in history books.

    I’ve watched December once or twice as an adult. I have to admit that sometimes it doesn’t hold up to how I remember watching it at 15. Yet, I always forget about what my adult eyes see and remember what my teenage eyes felt.

    So, long winded story short, even when you think you suck, Wil. You don’t. It’s all in how you look at the big picture. You had a crisis of confidence and wrote a blog that briefly mentioned a movie that I happen to love. I wrote a novel length comment about said movie, and now my crappy day is actually a little better due to some cathartic writing. I’m just one person who happened to speak up. What about all the others who remained silent? While it sucks to miss out on something you really wanted, you helped a lot of people today because you were honest and sincere and real.

    TV show missing out on someone great, 0. Wil being an awesome human being, 1.

  13. I would pay cash money to see the short film that was made from this blog post. Written by you. Starring you. Directed by you. Cast by you.

    Your talents far surpass any one audition. Hell, you’re a dad. (Still, I’m eagerly awaiting your next on-screen appearance.)

  14. I know this was totally not the point of your touching and superbly written anecdote, but nice use of Mike Doughty lyrics. :)

    p.s. – Sorry it sounds like the audition didn’t work out.

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