This is a delightful, short documentary about people who play D&D and other RPGs. If you've ever wondered why we play, or if you've ever attempted to explain to someone why we play, I think you'll enjoy it.
Letters of Note is one of my favorite websites.
Yesterday, LoN shared this note from James Dean, which he wrote shortly after moving to New York to pursue an acting career, and before he became James Dean™:
Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. The stage is like a religion you dedicate yourself to and then suddenly you find that you don’t have time to see friends and it’s not for them to understand you don’t have anybody. You’re all alone with your concentration and your imagination and that’s all you have. You’re an actor.
He wrote that note in 1952. During the next three years, he would star in East of Eden, Giant, and Rebel Without A Cause … then his life was over. I can see him, sitting alone in New York — a city that can make the most gregarious, confident person in thw world feel tiny and insignificant — writing that down, staring at an uncertain future that stared right back at him. It's hard to separate the actor and his work from the legend, but when I read this yesterday, I wondered if he was able to enjoy the success that he eventually had, or if he was just one of those artists who need the pain and anguish to create.
But this stuff that he thought made being an actor feel so lonely? I think it’s what makes being an actor awesome. I love being left alone with my concentration and imagination. I love making something where something wasn't before, using my imagination and that weird thing in my artists' brain that makes me weird. (Come to think of it, that’s what I love about being a writer, too.) One of my favorite acting teachers, who helped me level up quite a bit, once told us that when we're performing, whether it's for an audience of thirty or an audience of three thousand, we have to be committed to our character, completely consumed by the scene, and intimately connected to the other actors. She said that acting was "quiet, public solitude," and for some reason I never bothered to examine too closely, I grokked that, and it's stayed with me ever since.
I always feel sad when I think about or watch James Dean, knowing that he died so young, before he really had a chance to figure things out the way we do when we get into our thirties. I hope that, if he had, the lonely kid who wrote that note would have once day found comfort in quiet, public solitude.
I stood in the lobby of the Falcon Theater in Toluca Lake, and looked at Twitter while I waited for the rest of the guys to arrive. The walls were covered with posters from productions like CHiPs: The Musical and It's A Stevie Wonderful Life. Being in a theater during the day, when it's just a building with a stage, instead of the performance space it becomes when an audience fills the seats makes me feel like I'm getting to see The Haunted Mansion with all the lights on, like I'm in a secret place that few people get to see, and I felt an almost imperceptible longing to perform in a play tug gently but insistently at that thing in my being that makes me an actor.
Someone came over and started talking to me. I made polite conversation, but I don't remember what or who we talked about. This was an emotional day for me (though I didn’t know precisely how emotional it would be until later), and while I didn’t want to be rude, I wasn’t in a particularly chatty mood. It was the first time Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell and I would be in the same place since 1986 or 1987. We were technically there to give some interviews to promote Stand By Me’s blu-ray release, but — for me at least — it was much more than that. It was a reunion.
We made Stand By Me twenty-five years ago. To commemorate the anniversary, a special blu-ray disc has been produced. Among the obligatory special features is a feature-length commentary that Rob Reiner, Corey, and I did together while watching the movie a couple months ago. On that day, I was apprehensive: what would they think of me? Would our memories match up? Would the commentary be entertaining and informative? …who would be the first to talk about River, and how would we all react to it?
It turns out that I had nothing to worry about then. It was a joy to watch the movie with them, and I was especially happy to discover that, after a very troubled life, Corey seems to be doing really well. Rob made me feel like he was a proud father and we were his kids, and when we talked about River, it was … well, private. I’ll leave it at that.
So as I stood there in the lobby, waiting for a familiar face to come through the door, I was happy and looking forward to our reunion without nervousness or apprehension. This stood in marked contrast to all the times I reunited with my friends from TNG when I was younger (my problem, not theirs), and I was grateful for that.
A few minutes later, the door opened, and an incredibly tall, handsome, well-dressed man walked through it.
“Holy crap,” I thought, “Jerry grew up.”
It was such a stupid thought, but there it was. I see Jerry on television all the time, and I knew that he was tall and handsome and only two years younger than me, but I had that strange disconnect in my mind that can only come from not seeing someone for about twenty years and I simultaneously did and did not recognize him.
I was standing near some food on a table, and Jerry walked up to grab a sandwich. As he reached toward the table, we made eye contact.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi, I’m Jerry,” he said, with a friendly smile.
“I’m Wil,” I said, “We worked on this movie together twenty-five years ago.”
In a few seconds that seemed to go on for minutes, I saw him look at me in disbelief, surprise, recognition, and joy. He flashed a smile that lit up the room and wrapped me in a hug.
“Oh my God, dude,” he said, “I can’t believe it’s … wow! You’re — I — Jesus, look at you!”
I smiled back, and strangely noted that my son is taller than him. “Look at you!” I said.
We talked as much as we could, trying to compress two decades into ten minutes, before he had to go to the make-up chair. As he walked away, my brain tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know, he’s married to Rebecca Romijn. When he’s talking about his wife, that’s who he means.” “I know, brain. I know,” I thought back, “don’t be weird. Be cool, man.” A moment later, Richard Dreyfuss walked into the lobby, followed fairly quickly by Rob and then Corey.
Before I had time to do more than Twitter about how surreal it felt to see them all, we were all gathered together and directed from the lobby into the theater for our first interview. On the way in, I said to Corey, “I feel like there are all these famous, successful people here … and me.”
He laughed and said, “I was thinking exactly the same thing!”
Before I could make a witty zinger, he clarified, “about myself, I mean. Famous people and me, not, like, famous people and you.”
I laughed. “I knew what you meant, man,” I said.
It was the kind of friendly, enjoyable, effortless conversation we couldn’t have when we were younger, and I was glad for it.
There were five chairs set up for us in a semi circle. Our names were on pieces of paper so we knew where to sit. I was between Rob and Corey, and Jerry and Richard sat to Corey’s left. When we all sat down, Rob looked down the row of seats and softly said to me, “it feels like there should be an empty seat here for River.”
People ask me about River all the time. He and I were close during filming, and for about a year or so after filming, but the sad truth is that he got sucked into a lifestyle that I just don’t have room in my life for, and we drifted apart. When he died, I was shocked and horrified, but I wasn’t completely surprised. I didn’t feel a real sense of loss at the time — the River I knew and loved had been gone for a long time at that point — but I felt sad for his family, and angry at the people around him who didn’t do more to help him help himself. Since he died, when I've talked about him, I've felt like I’m talking about the idea of him, instead of the person I knew, if that makes sense.
But when Rob said that to me, with such sadness in his eyes, it was like I’d been punched in the stomach by eighteen years of suppressed grief. I knew that if I tried to say anything, all I would do was cry, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to stop. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and nodded. “Yeah,” I whispered.
Later that day, when I’d had time to think about it and was recounting the whole thing to my wife, Anne, I said, “I think that having all of us together — the surviving members of the cast — made me feel like he really wasn’t there for the first time since he died. I don’t mean to be callous or anything like that, but that’s what it took to make his death and his absence a real thing that I could feel, instead of an event that I wasn’t part of but am forced to talk about more often than I’d like.”
I spent much of the next few days remembering all the things we did together during production, thinking about how much I looked up to him and how much I loved his entire family. I don’t know what would have happened to us if he hadn’t overdosed, if he ever would have come back from the edge, or if we would even have had anything in common … but when he was fifteen and I was thirteen, he was my friend. That’s the person I knew, and that’s the person I miss.
We talked about River in the interview, of course, and I think Richard put it best when he said that there is this monster in Hollywood that everyone knows about. It lurks just out of view, and occasionally it reaches up and snatches someone … and it got River.
Richard also talked about why we are actors, and what it means to him to be creative. It was so poetic and inspiring, that almost imperceptible longing to perform in a play I felt in the lobby turned into an overwhelming compulsion. Distracted by the responsibilities of every day life, it’s easy for me to forget why I love and need to perform. It’s easy to forget how satisfying it is to create a character, to discover something magnificent in a script or a scene, and then bring those things to life with other actors in front of an audience.
The entire interview lasted for close to an hour, I guess, and will be edited down to something between three and six minutes. I hope that the producers will cut together something longer, or even run the entire thing online somewhere, because it was one of the rare conversations that I think a lot of people, especially artists, would enjoy listening to.
When all of our interviews were done, I asked Jerry if he’d like to get together when he was on hiatus to have a proper conversation and really catch up on stuff. He said he’d like that, so we traded e-mail addresses. I didn’t expect him to actually want to see me once the glow of seeing each other for the first time in two decades faded, but we’re actually planning it, which delights me. Rob hugged me and made me feel like he was proud of me, and Richard blew me away with the work he’s doing for The Dreyfuss Initiative.
As I drove home from the theater I was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. It was wonderful to see those guys again, and especially to reconnect with Jerry, but it was also tremendously sad to truly feel River’s loss for the first time. That turbulent mix of joy and sorrow stayed with me for several days, which is why I haven’t been able to write about it for almost a week.
Most actors will go their entire careers without doing a movie like Stand By Me, or working with a director like Rob Reiner. I got to do both when I was 12. For a long, long time, I felt like I needed to top or equal that, and it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I accepted that it’s unlikely to happen — movies like Stand By Me come along once in a generation.
But getting to spend a few hours remembering the experience with Rob, Jerry, Corey and Richard, free of the burden to prove to them that I was worthy of Stand By Me’s legacy, was something I will cherish for years. I just wish that River was here to enjoy it with us.
A friend of mine recently accomplished one of those things which is worthy of being celebrated with champagne, so I went to the store this afternoon to get her a bottle.
I picked out a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, which is Anne's and my favorite, and walked up to the register to pay. On my way, I thought I saw Amanda Peet standing in the cereal aisle. I don't mention this to drop names, (which is pointless anyway since I'm not sure it was actually her,) but because it was so surreal to walk past, glance down the aisle like you do in the store, and a few steps later have my brain say, "Hey, Wil, I think that was Amanda Peet." By the time I'd registered what I thought I'd seen, there was no way I could go back without officially being a total creep, so I left this mystery woman in an eigenstate and continued walking to the register.
Checkout 5 had one person in it, but his cart was overflowing with more meat products than one person could reasonably eat over a weekend. Checkout 8 had three people, all of them with a few items in hand baskets. As usual, it only took a glance at the express aisle to confirm that it was not appropriately named.
The speaker in the store blared: Lane 11 is now open accepting all orders. No waiting on lane 11. It was extremely loud in the nearly-empty mid-afternoon store, which was a little jarring, but I didn't complain, since it solved my line-choosing problem quite nicely. I turned to my left and headed toward lane 11 quickly, almost knocking over a display box of DVDs and blu-rays that I swear to Steve the Fruitbat hadn't been there ten seconds earlier. While I caught my balance with one be-champagned hand and stopped the display from toppling to the ground with the other, I saw that the blu-rays were on sale for $5. I also saw that one of them was MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS.
I reached out and grabbed it so fast, I nearly broke the sound barrier.
Champagne and blu-ray in hand, I got to lane 11 (which I was still calling 'Checkout 11' in my head) and put my two items on the belt. The cashier scanned them both while I pulled my wallet out of my pocket. While she put them into a bag, she said, dourly, "So … looks like you have quite an evening planned for yourself."
"You know it," I said, as enthusiastically as I could without jumping around or raising my voice.
She recoiled slightly. In a voice that was a combination of suspicion, caution, curiosity and fear, she said, "Well … you … have a …" she paused, like she was choosing her next word very carefully, "nice evening, Mister …" she looked at the receipt … "Wheaton."
I took the bag from her outstretched hand and flashed her a Tom Cruise Crazy smile. "Oh," I said, "that was never in doubt!"
I walked out the doors and into the unseaonsably warm January afternoon, incredibly amused with myself. As I walked across the parking lot, I wondered if Amanda Peet was buying the blu-ray of 30,000 Leagues Under The Sea, with a fine champagne, or if it was more of an Asti Spumante kind of film.
I think about these things, you know.
"I want to have a date tonight. Do you want to have a date tonight?" Maybe I should have passed her a note that said "check yes or no" but after fifteen years together, I often think of these cute and clever things hours after the fact.
Anne looked up from her magazine. "I like having dates with my husband," she said.
"Yeah, I was talking to him online earlier today, and he said that he likes having dates with you."
She closed her magazine and tossed it onto the coffee table. "Where do you want to go?"
"Someplace we haven't gone before. That'll be an adventure."
Yeah, I've been suburbanized so long, going to a restaurant I haven't been to before now qualifies as an adventure. Twenty-two year-old Wil just put down his copy of Naked Lunch long enough to shake his head in either sadness, or disgust, depending on what angle you're looking at him from.
"Let's try that cafe on Raymond," she said.
So we did, and it was amazing, and we'll be going back frequently in the weeks and months to come.
(Parenthetical highlight: during our meal, a woman in her late 40s, wearing a fur leopard-print bucket hat and a shiny patent leather overcoat sat down next to us. It was such a stunning display of wrongness that I involuntarily stopped talking in mid word, and just stared at Anne. She looked back at me and very calmly said, "I have … comments." I laughed so hard, it must have looked like I was having a seizure.)
After dinner, we went to BevMo to get a present for one of our friends. While we were there, I picked up a Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and a Rogue Chipotle Ale.
"I thought we were just here to get [REDACTED BECAUSE OUR FRIEND READS MY BLOG]," Anne said.
"It's so weird when you talk in all caps like that," I said. She looked back at me, patiently.
"Well, we are … but if I don't buy these beers, the terrorists have won."
"What is this, 2003?"
"NEVER FORGET, ANNE."
She gave me a look that said Tired of Your Shenanigans, Next Exit.
I got the message and quietly took my place in line.
(Incidentally, our time in BevMo may not have transpired in precisely that manner, but as I found the creation/retelling of this experience entertaining, I hope you will indulge me this bit of creative memory.)
When we got home, the night was still young, so I suggested we watch a movie together.
"What did you have in mind?" Anne asked.
I turned on our Roku and went to my Netflix queue. "How about … Thank God It's Friday?"
"The Disney movie?"
"… oh. That's Freaky Friday. Never mind."
We laughed together. "This is a disco movie that was made in 1978, and features Donna Summer and The Commodores, plus career performances from Debra Winger, Terri Nunn and Jeff Goldblum."
"You had me at 'disco movie,'" she said.
I was delighted to see that it was streaming in HD, thanks to my ISP temporarily forgetting to serve up about a quarter of the bandwidth I'm paying for, which is their custom.
The movie was just spectacular, and a ridiculous amount of fun. If you have 90 minutes and the means to view it, I highly recommend it.
About twenty minutes into the film, Anne paused it and looked at me. "You know what would make this movie even better?"
"Something I wouldn't want to recount on my blog?" I didn't actually say, but you must admit just made you giggle.
"Scotchy scotch scotch."
"It goes down … down into my belly!"
I went to our liquor cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of Laphroaig. I poured two small glasses and gave her one of them.
"To cheesy 70s disco movies and dates together," I said.
"I just love my husband," she said.
"I love you the most," I said.
Twenty-two year-old me turned up Chet Baker on the CD player, and sighed wistfully. He didn't have any idea that in less than a year, he would meet the girl of his dreams.
I shoot Big Bang Theory on Monday before I go back to Vancouver to finish out the fourth season of Eureka, so I have scored an entirely unexpected bonus weekend at home with my wife.
Yesterday, we heard that Toy Soldiers was playing on local station KDOC (which was one of the truly great UHF stations here for my entire childhood). Anne told me that she'd never seen it before, so we flipped to channel 56 and began to watch.
We picked it up somewhere toward the middle, in a scene where we're all sitting around in our underwear at night.
"Why are you in your underwear?" Anne asked.
"Because that's what dudes do," I said.
She frowned for a moment, thinking, and then said, "how long did it take you to choreograph the upcoming sword fight?"
"Not long at all," I said. "Turns out it was a class feature."
She gave me a blank look.
She nodded, patiently, and turned her attention back to the movie.
I don't remember the exact line, but in the theatrical version, I say something like, "We should get a fucking machine gun, Billy. Wid a machine gun, we could shred dees muddafuckas!"
FUN FACT: Dan Petrie, the director, asked me to do some kind of New York accent for the movie. I was only 18, and didn't think to actually study up on a specific one, so I just did what sounded right in my head, and asked Dan to ensure that I never sounded "like Corey Feldman in Lost Boys." Dan has always said that he thought it sounded fine, but I'm not so sure. I trust and respect him, though, so I'm willing to accept that I hear (and see) this movie through a lens of self-consciousness that exists only in my mind.
The version we were watching, though, was the TV edit, so I actually say something like, "We should get a [jarring edit] machine gun, Billy! Wid a machine gun, we could [jarring edit] these money finders!"
Because, you know, that's how rebel dudes in bording schools talk to each other.
"Hey, what's up, money finder?"
"Oh, you know, just flipping around."
"Did you see those girls from Delta house last night? They were flipping hot!"
"Yeah, I totally flipped that girl Gina. Flipped her [jarring edit] yeah!"
"You lucky bad man! Well, see you later, money finder. I'm going to go get some ponies and get flipped up."
I've often thought that the TV edits of movies are pretty silly. At the End of Stand By Me, Ace says, "You going to kill us all?" Gordie replies, "Just you, Ace [jarring edit] you cheap dimestore hood." OHHH BURN! You can see that Ace is so horrified by what a mother flipping bad man Gordie is, he has no choice but to back down.
Anyway, we had a really good time watching the rest of the movie, Anne just enjoying the 1990 time capsule, me watching 18 year-old me and his painful fashion choices though the spread fingers of a facepalm.
Speaking of facepalm, I paused the movie right after Joey died (SPOILER ALERT – he couldn't handle a flipping machine gun, and didn't shred a single monkeyflapper) so I could share this with the world:
Though I give myself a lot of shit for things like my accent, the dangly ankh earring, and the endless scenes of underwear-clad dudes who were totally not gay, I should point out, and make very clear, that I like Toy Soldiers a lot. Even though it's incredibly dated, I'm proud to be part of it. I had a great time working on it, made some good friends during production, and gained several levels in acting and being an adult while we were on location.
Anne and I had a surprisingly good time watching it, and it seemed like every scene prompted a memory that I hadn't thought of in years. I had so much fun recalling them, I'm considering making my own commentary track as an mp3 and selling it at Lulu for a few bucks. You know, in all my vast amounts of free time.
If you want to watch Toy Soldiers in all its non-TV-edited glory, you can stream it from Netflix, or you could always buy the DVD … though I think it really needs to be viewed on VHS for maximum authenticity.
For this month's Geek in Review, it was only natural that I write a column about the new Star Trek movie. This was much easier said than done:
Since I saw Star Trek a little over a week ago, I’ve struggled to write an adequate review of the movie, and what it meant to me, as someone who was part of the first effort to make Star Trek relevant to the, uh, next generation of fans. I’ve started and abandoned a few thousand words, mostly because I can say everything I need to say in just six:
It was awesome. I loved it.
Seriously. Whenever I tried to write more than that, I felt like it was gilding the lilly, as they say. But I spent a lot of time thinking about the movie, talking about it with my friends, and I noticed that we kept talking about essentially the same thing. That's what I decided to write about:
Star Trek has meant too much to too many people for too long for those of us who love it to blindly accept that whoever makes it will treat it with the same love and respect that we believe it deserves. I think it was normal and natural for all of us to have reservations, especially about Star Trek.
It turns out, I think, that a lot of our fears, while well-founded, were unnecessary. JJ Abrams may not be one of us in the convention-going sense, but I think he has something in common with us, and I think it's a big reason why Star Trek made so many of us so very, very happy.
If you want to know what that is, head on over to the SG Newswire and find out. As always, the content of my column is SFW, but Suicide Girls is NSFW. You have been warned. Approach with the appropriate degree of caution, and enjoy.
PS – A comment at SG pointed me to this strip from PvP, which I think is a brilliant companion to this column.
PS2 – This press conference with JJ Abrams (mp3) is another, longer, companion to my column.
Between work and meetings, I’ll be AFK for most of today, but this is important enough to warrant its own quick entry until I can write something more in-depth later today: I went with Chris Hardwick and his girlfriend to see Star Trek last night.
Speaking both as a member of the Star Trek family, and as a fan of what we do, I can tell you that it is fucking incredible. As I said on Twitter: Star Trek has been reborn, and it is SPECTACULAR.
The story is such a perfect Star Trek story, the cast is pitch-perfect, the visuals are brilliant, and the sound design will blow your mind. I loved it so much, I wanted to watch it again RIGHT AWAY as soon as it ended, and I hope they do eleven movies with this cast and creative team. After seeing it, that satire from the Onion is even funnier than it already was.
Here’s a picture of me and Chris looking, um, excited after the movie. Well, Chris looks pleased, and I look … maybe excited isn’t the right word. Maybe “crazy as shit because OMG I just saw Star Trek and it blew me away” is more accurate. Anyway, it should tell you all you need to know (both about how much I liked it, and how much of a complete dork I am when I’m excited about things like Star Trek.)
This is such perfect satire, I have to believe that there are some Class 5 Trekkies writing for The Onion. To them, I say: Q’Plah!