Category Archives: Television

“You see an iron door at the end of the corridor. The door has three lightning bolts engraved on it.”

When I played D&D as a kid, I always wanted to be a magic user, not because it was easy, but because it was hard*. I died a lot in those days of d4 hit points and three worthless levels of cantrip spells before you got to do anything, but when a wizard survived and got powerful enough to melt goblins with fireballs … boy, was that awesome.

I don’t play as much as I used to, and I haven’t even run a game of my own or played in a regular campaign in a couple of years, but with the recent release of classic D&D modules as PDFs, I feel the itch to run Basic rules… you know, for kids.

GS-Tabletop-LogoIf I was going to play, though? I think I’d have to be a barbarian or fighter now, because I have fallen in love with the d12. It’s such a beautiful die, and it just doesn’t get any love at all (that’s why I chose it for Tabletop). I know it’s kind of weird to choose a class based on what kind of dice you’ll be rolling, but it’s where I find myself at the moment … and I’m really okay with that.
…Hmmmm I was going to write all about what it means to switch my preferred class from magic user to fighter based on the die I’d be rolling …. but now I can’t stop thinking that a Geek & Sundry show where I run a classic D&D campaign using Basic rules — maybe a modified module or series of modules or something like that — for six or eight episodes would be pretty awesome. Like, maybe a visit to the Lost City?

The walls of this room as plain stone. An oblong box made from stone slabs lies in the center of the room. Written in several languages on the side of the box are the words: "May the curse of darkness destroy all who dare desecrate my resting place." The box is 3' high, 7' long, and 3' wide. - From The Lost City (Dungeon Module B4)

The walls of this room as plain stone. An oblong box made from stone slabs lies in the center of the room. Written in several languages on the side of the box are the words: “May the curse of darkness destroy all who dare desecrate my resting place.” The box is 3′ high, 7′ long, and 3′ wide. – From The Lost City (Dungeon Module B4) Yes, this is actually mine and I actually scanned it. It was printed in 1980.

I mean, I’ll stay focused on making season two of Tabletop happen, but once we get that locked down, I bet an RPG show would be really, really great. (At least for me, because I’d have an excuse to play it: “Sorry, Anne, but I have to read this module and these rules and prepare these characters … because it’s my job and I have to do it so we can eat.“)

*I’ve written about this before, but I can’t find that post or story or column despite 20 minutes of searching. If it rings a bell for you, please let me know so I can link it.

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.

notes on the back page of a script

Years and years ago, I shot a movie called The Day Lincoln Was Shot. It was from the book of the same name, and I played Robert Todd Lincoln.

Here’s a photo of me from the set, in costume:

Wil Wheaton as Robert Todd Lincoln in The Day Lincoln Was Shot

The movie was a lot of fun to work on. I got to work extensively with Lance Henriksen, who played Lincoln, Donna Murphy, who played Mary Todd Lincoln, and Greg Itzin, who played William H. Crook.

As you can see from the picture, I spent much of the film in proper Union Officer dress. It was an authentic uniform that was authentically hot as hell in the Virginia summer heat, but I was one of the few soldier-dressed cast members who didn’t get a cold during production, because I asked our historians what soldiers did in the summers of the war to keep comfortable, and did the same.*

So — spoiler alert — Abraham Lincoln is shot in the back of the head shortly after my character, Robert, comes back to Washington from the war to visit his family. One of the more memorable scenes for me is from late in the movie, when Lincoln lay dying in Petersen’s House. Robert spends some quiet time with his father, who is unconscious and slipping away. I had to remind myself, as an actor, that I was not with President Abraham Lincoln (Lance looked so much like him, it was eerie), but a young man who was watching his father, who he loved more than anyone on Earth, die.

It was a very emotional day of production. I had to call up profound anguish and despair over and over again, only to let it go to varying degrees when the scene was finished. When we wrapped that day in 1997, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but it felt good. It was one of those rare moments where, as an actor, I was lucky enough to experience my version of leaving it all on the field.

While I was cleaning out the garage recently, I came across a page of the script upon which I’d written down some notes to keep myself focused. I scanned both sides of the page to share.

that penciled "mindy" was me showing someone on the set how this girl I liked in elementary school, Mindy P., wrote her name in 3rd grade. For a brief time, I signed my name "Willy" with the same crazy "Y". Because I wasn't already a big enough goober in 3rd grade, apparently.

And here’s the front of that page, which as it happens is the last page of the script:

The final page of the script from The Day Lincoln Was Shot

So you can see there are two main categories there: OBJECTS and PEOPLE. The Objects refer to this particular scene that we shot that day, when Robert goes through his father’s belongings. It needed to be intensely emotional, so each object — I think there were about a dozen — needed to be specific and meaningful to me in some way. (This is an example of how acting is a lot more than knowing your lines and hitting your mark). I don’t remember what each thing was, but I do recall a small pocket knife among all of them, that the director told me “was a father’s day gift you gave him when you were small.” I remember that when he said that during the take, it hit me right in the feels, and I collapsed into very real sobs, because I could just imagine what it would be like for me if I came across something I gave my father — that he carried with him — when he died. My dad was and is very much alive, but just thinking about that was too much for me to bear. I remember walking off the set when we printed that take, into a hallway, alone, where I just sat down and cried for a good long time. Sometimes the scene stays with you after you’re done. Sometimes, the scene follows you home.

The PEOPLE category is more general, and helped me make choices when I interacted with different characters in the White House. Some of them, Robert liked, and others he didn’t (the historical record is pretty vague on those matters) so I had to come up with specific reasons to define those relationships.

The final two bits are things I write in every script I ever have the privilege of performing: Keep it SIMPLE and The END is the BEGINNING. These are two things so vital to keeping performances honest and believable, you’d be surprised to learn how easy it is to forget them.

*Sit in the shade, and drink lukewarm liquids — usually tea — and let the linen underclothes wick away your sweat. It sounds gross, but it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as a Star Trek uniform on a hot summer day. Never take off your uniform, and never get out of the car, Groove.

From the Vault: Matt LeBlanc, Vampires, and Me

I saw on Twitter that an episode I did of the old series Monsters was on Chiller channel today (You can also see it on the YouTubes: Part One; Part Two). Here’s a story I wrote about it my column in the LA Weekly in 2008:

Super Fun Happy Slide: Reflections on an Acting Career

I spent the first two thirds of my life working as a full-time actor, but about five years ago, my primary focus shifted from acting to writing. A funny thing happened on my way to being a full-time writer, though: I started working a lot as an actor, both on camera (CSICriminal Minds) and with my voice (Teen TitansLegion of Superheroes). This has lead to a pretty standard question when I do interviews: “What do you like more, acting or writing?”

“It’s a lot like asking a parent which child they love more,” goes my standard response, “the truth for me is that I love both of my children for different reasons, and I don’t think it’s possible for me to love one more than the other. However, it is impossible for me to imagine my life without them in it.”

My acting career has spanned just a few months shy of thirty years. During it, I’ve worked with awesome people, complete douchebags, famous people who were intimidating, famous people who were gracious, famous people who were on their way down, and soon-to-be famous people who were on their way up. This week, I thought it would be fun to combine my actor side with my writer side, and tell a story about one of those people.

In 1990, I did an episode of the syndicated television series Monsters. The show was a lot of fun to work on, and though it’s not one of the the more memorable entries on my resume, the experience I had while shooting it was. The episode was called “A Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites” and I played a teenager who is convinced that the neighborhood barbers are vampires. Nobody believes him, so he convinces his friend to join him in some casual late night breaking and entering to get a closer look inside the barbershop, where he hopes to find irrefutable evidence that will ensure he gets the girl, who is never seen or implied, but was an important part of my motivation.

Shortly after they get inside, the barbers show up, reveal in the usual manner that the damn kids were right all along, and strap our heroes into barber chairs, where vampirelarity ensues … with one of the trademark Monsters twists: instead of drinking their victims’ blood, they collect and feed it to a horrible monster who lives in the basement. The show ends with the the two kids, now adults, working in the same barbershop and serving the same hideous master, in the same manner.

As far as the standard “boy meets vampire, boy’s blood is fed by vampire to hideous monster, boy becomes adult minion of hideous monster” story goes, it was pretty good. It also managed to sneak in a subversive message about the importance of breaking the cycle of vampirism, which qualified the episode as “educational” in some Eastern Bloc countries.

Here’s where the story gets weird. The other kid was played by a young actor who was pretty new to Hollywood. Though he would eventually become one of the highest paid actors in prime time, he hadn’t done very much before we worked together, and I was the well-known veteran on the set. His name was Matt LeBlanc; you may have heard of him.

Neither one of is knew that our career trajectories were on decidedly different paths when they intersected, but we liked each other right away, and rather than retreat to our individual dressing rooms when we weren’t filming, we hung out like old friends, and in the course of getting to know each other, we discovered that we both liked Monty Python, MST3K, and Zucker Brothers movies.

One Friday morning, he asked me, “Did you see The Simpsons last night?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t watch The Simpsons.”

He looked surprised. “Dude, it’s exactly the kind of show you’d like.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve watched it a couple of times, and I thought it was funny when it was part of the Tracy Ullman show, but I just don’t think it works for a full half hour.” I was 18 at the time, and due to my vast experience in life, the universe and everything, I was certain that The Simpsons wouldn’t last more than two seasons. (Someday, I’ll tell you how I also predicted that nobody would remember Nirvana after Smells Like Teen Spirit, or thatArrested Development would be on the air forever. Ahem.)

Matt turned to face me, put down his script, and for the next twenty minutes, reenacted the entirety of the previous night’s episode, a rerun from the first season titled “The Crepes of Wrath.”

“They send Bart to France, where he gets stuck working at a vineyard. They make him sleep with a donkey, they put antifreeze in the wine … it’s really terrible. But there’s this part where he picks a grape,” he stood up, and held an imaginary grape between his fingers. “And then he looks around …”

Matt looked to his right, then to his left, the grin that he’d trademark four years later beginning to stretch across his face. “They cut away from him, and show that there’s nobody around,” he held his hands in front of his face, pantomiming a camera panning from side to side. “But when he tries to put it in his mouth, a hand shows up from nowhere and smacks him in the back of the head!” He started to giggle, “and then the French guy goes, don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!”

His fake French accent was hilarious, and we both giggled like idiots for several minutes. For the rest of the episode, whenever we were supposed to be serious or focused, Matt would catch my eye and quietly say “don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!” and I would crack up. I never ratted him out, even though the director grew tired of my seeming inability to keep it together when I was supposed to be skulking around the barbershop, or watching my precious bodily fluids flow down tubes into the gaping maw of some nameless horror.

On the final day of production, we traded phone numbers and planned to stay in touch, but when we didn’t have working on Monsters in common, we returned to our regular lives and never got together to hang out and watch The Simpsons together.

A few years passed, and one night my friend and I watched an episode of this new show,Friends. I wanted to watch our Ren & Stimpy compilation on VHS, but there was a girl involved and … well, you know how those things go.

I recognized Matt as soon as I saw him. “Hey,” I said, “See the guy who plays Joey? That’s the guy who convinced me to watch The Simpsons! We worked together on Monsters. Cool!”

I was genuinely excited for him. We’d only worked together for a week, but I liked him a lot. He was such a kind person, so guileless and so excited to be working as an actor, it was like one of the good guys – somebody who actually deserved success – had made it.

Life is rarely comfortable for anyone who hopes to be a full-time actor. It’s intensely competitive, unreliable, and totally unpredictable. While some will get to grab the brass ring and never let go, most of us spend our entire careers watching fate dance right up to us, seductively unzip its top just enough to get us excited, and then laugh as it dances away with a different partner. It’s like Lucy with the football, and it sucks. But there are moments on the set, when a guy you just met puts on a hilarious fake French accent and says, “don’t eet zee grapes, Baaharrt!” and you collapse into giggles that you can viscerally recall fifteen years later. Those moments are priceless, and even though they don’t put food on the table or open up any casting office doors, they’re a big part of why I keep coming back to the dance.

About that Star Trek Proposal Picture…

You’ve probably seen this picture, or at least heard the story about the man who proposed to his now-fiancée at the Austin Comic Convention a couple of weeks ago.

I was asked on Reddit to fill in some details, and though I was not OP, I delivered:

It was Sunday at Austin Wizard World Con. I had the flu, and almost missed this photo session. Though I had a fever and no cowbell, I sat there and smiled for everyone as best as I could, grateful that I’d spent the entire night throwing up so there was nothing left in me to vomit all over the fans like I was cosplaying from the Exorcist.

 

The way this sort of photo session works is pretty standard: people come in, stand next to Patrick, say a few words, and then we all pose for the picture. Each person is there for less than half a minute (which I think really sucks because of how much they pay for the opportunity, but is pretty much the only way we can manage the hundreds of people who usually sign up for these things.)

 

About 30 minutes or so into this particular session, these two people came in. The girl went to stand between Patrick and Frakes, and the guy directed her to stand in the front, instead. All of us tried to figure out what was going on (usually it’s small kids who come to the front, usually sitting on Brent’s lap or Gates’ lap), and the guy said, “I really love Star Trek, but I love [her name] even more.” He got down on one knee, and proposed to her.

 

Marina started to cry, I felt like I was going to cry, and we all applauded and celebrated when she said “yes.” Apparently, they’d met Marina earlier in the day, and Marina had given him shit for not marrying her, so Marina was embarrassed about that.

 

I’m not sure why this picture is being circulated online, like Patrick is giving the literal Picard Facepalm, because that’s just not what happened. We were all delighted for this young couple, and I know that I was honoured to be part of this moment in their lives. I think it’s likely that Patrick was just wiping sweat off his brow or something like that.

It wasn’t awkward, other than that moment when everyone except the guy had no idea what was going on. Once we knew what was happening, it was awesome. I’m incredibly happy for these people, and I love that I got to be part of what is hopefully a moment they’ll celebrate and remember for the rest of their lives.

Yesterday, Anne and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary (More like ANNE-N-WIL-IVERSARY AMIRITE?!), so I stayed off the internet for most of the day. However, I got a very sweet e-mail from the young woman who was the proposed, and she said something that I think is pretty awesome:

I just read your comments on Reddit and I wanted to thank you. It was nice to hear your thoughts on it. My fiance proposed to me in front of the TNG cast because of a school girl crush I had on you.
Thanks for battling through your flu to be there.  It was very special having you and the rest of the cast there.  I will cherish the moment forever.
So will I, and I’m sorry I look like a hobo. Also, I like this picture much, much better than the first one. I’ve never seen myself look so happy.

Holy Shit The Walking Dead

Confession time: I hated last season of The Walking Dead. From about 15 minutes into Episode One, I hated it. I hated it so much, I stopped watching it after 3 episodes, because I hated it.

My friend Ed told me that the last 4 episodes were a solid arc, though, and encouraged me to give it a second chance. I trust him, so I did, and it wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t Game Of Thrones or Bordwalk Empire, but it was good enough to make me want to watch this season.

The first episode was uneven, but I liked the stuff I liked more than I didn’t like the stuff I didn’t like, and there wasn’t anything that I hated like last season.

So I’ve stayed with it, and now that we’re only four episodes into this season, I feel comfortable saying that more has happened already than all of last season, not just in terms of action but in terms of story and character development. This is the show I wanted to see after season one, the show that season two did not come close to delivering.

I’m glad Ed talked me into watching it again, because I’m just loving what I’ve seen so far this season.

And tonight’s episode? Holy Fuck.

in which the audience cheers

We taped Big Bang Theory last night, and between scenes, I realized that I could check in from Stage 25 on G+, so I did because of reasons.

There were numerous requests for pictures, presented in the usual manner. Considering that I still had scenes to film, getting the fuck out wasn’t an option.

So I took a picture that I thought was unlikely to get me in trouble. It looks like this:

Behind the Scenes at The Big Bang Theory

Not bad for a cell phone picture, if I do say so myself.

The taping was a lot of fun. When I walked into my first scene, the audience cheered and applauded so loudly and for so long, it threw me off balance and almost knocked me right out of the scene. I mean, it was like Al Bundy Walks Into The Living Room In 1990 levels of cheering. I wasn’t expecting it at all. When we did the second take, the producers had to ask the audience to tone it down, even. I got to make a big production out of that, pretending to storm off the set and stuff. It was pretty funny.

The audience loved the show, and I’m super proud of the work we did. When the taping was over, I got a sad. But then Kaley told me that I’m like family to them and she hopes I come back for more episodes this season, and I had a happy.

 

my land of make believe

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.

You can tell that this is Wil Wheaton Prime and not Evil Wil Wheaton, because I’m not trying to sit in his spot.

It's laminated and everything, so you know it's serious business.

This afternoon, while we were in between scenes during our run through, I asked Kaley and Jim if they’d take a picture with me for the Internet.

I expected Kaley to say yes (she’s all Internetty like I am), and I expected Jim to politely decline (he’s a very private person). I was very surprised when Jim not only said yes, but thanked me for including him.

I was just going to do the “turn the phone around and mush together” picture, but Kaley pointed out that those always look like you just turned the phone around and mushed together, so she got someone to take this picture for us:

Wil Wheaton, Kaley Cuoco, and Jim Parsons on the set of Big Bang Theory

You can tell that this is Wil Wheaton Prime and not Evil Wil Wheaton, because I’m not trying to sit in his spot.

You can see so much about how each of us is on the set in this picture: Kaley and I are goofing off like crazy, and Jim is just quietly awesome. I really love these guys. I’m so lucky they’re my friends. Spoiler alert: Jim and I have some fucking fantastic scenes together in this episode.

LeVar Burton is also in this episode, and when we were at craft service this morning, 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.”

And I know I keep saying it, but I’ll say it again: this is awesome. I get to work with people I love making a show that I’m proud of, that is one of the most popular shows in the English-speaking world.

When you love what you do, the saying goes, it isn’t work … so I guess I wasn’t really at work today. I was at … play?

Whatever you call it, I’m grateful for it.