Earlier this year, at a convention in New York City, a guy brought me this picture to sign for him.
That’s me in 1987, wearing one of Wesley Crusher’s first sweaters.
As I reached for my pen, he reached into a bag he was carrying, and took out … that sweater, which he’d bought at an auction.
“OH MY SWEET BABY JESUS!” I may have shouted, “I NEED TO TAKE A PICTURE RIGHT NOW.”
So this happened:
As I held that sweater for the first time in 25 years, a flood of memories washed over me: the first day I worked on Next Generation, on Stage 16, walking through Farpoint Station with Gates … the first time I walked through the Enterprise, on stage 9, pretending that it was a real spaceship … the first time I walked into the bridge, while it was still being built on stage 6 … the first few months of working on Star Trek, being part of something I’d loved my entire life, and wearing truly awful sweaters in the middle of summer.
All my peers got to wear awesome spacesuits, and I was in these ridiculous things that were never cool, in any century, including the 24th. I remembered how happy I was when Wesley was promoted to Acting Ensign, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to put on one of those hideous sweaters ever again.
That’s when I got an idea.
There’s this thing on the Internet where people will post a picture that was taken in, say, 1987, and then recreate the picture in our modern times. I looked down at the sweater in my hands, and I knew what I had to do.
I’m not gonna lie, Marge: putting that sweater on again felt strange, but also good.
Here they are, side by side:
I love that I can still do that goofy smile — which was 100% genuine, because I was as excited to be on the Enterprise as Wesley Crusher was — all these years later. And though it felt pretty good to be temporarily reunited with an old friend, it felt even better to take that sweater off for the last time.
I feel like all these people who hate Skyler on Breaking Bad* are completely missing the entire point of the series. Walter White is not the hero of this story, kids.
*and extend that childish hatred to Anna Gunn, who is a tremendous actor, playing a complex and compromised character.
I love Shark Week, and every year since it started airing on Discovery Channel, I’ve planted myself in front of the television to watch every minute of it.
So last night, I tuned in to watch the first entry in this year’s sharkstravaganza: a documentary about one of the coolest megasharks ever, the prehistoric Megalodon. This thing was freaking huge, with teeth the size of an adult human’s hand, and it is very, very extinct. Discovery’s special started out with what appeared to be “found footage” of some people on a fishing boat that gets hit and sunk by something huge … and I immediately knew something was amiss. The “found footage” was shot the way a professional photographer shoots things, not the way a vacationer holds their video camera. There was no logical way the camera could survive the salt water for the footage to be found. The footage was alleged to have been found in April … but then it got so much worse: Discovery Channel started Shark Week with a completely fake, completely made-up, completely bullshit “documentary” and they lied to their audience about it. They presented it as real.
I turned the show off after about 15 minutes, and watched Breaking Bad on Netflix to get ready for that show’s final season. But I was having a hard time staying focused, because I was angry, and I couldn’t figure out why. Why bother getting upset about yet another stupid “found footage” fake documentary passed off as real? Isn’t that pretty much par for the course on cable these days?
And then I realized why I was (and am) so angry: I care about education. I care about science. I care about inspiring people to learn about the world and universe around us. Sharks are fascinating, and megalodon was an absolutely incredible creature! Discovery had a chance to get its audience thinking about what the oceans were like when megalodon roamed and hunted in them. It had a chance to even show what could possibly happen if there were something that large and predatory in the ocean today … but Discovery Channel did not do that. In a cynical ploy for ratings, the network deliberately lied to its audience and presented fiction as fact. Discovery Channel betrayed its audience.
An entire generation has grown up watching Discovery Channel, learning about science and biology and physics, and that generation trusts Discovery Channel. We tune into Discovery Channel programming with the reasonable expectation that whatever we’re going to watch will be informative and truthful. We can trust Discovery Channel to educate us and our children about the world around us! That’s why we watch it in the first place!
Last night, Discovery Channel betrayed that trust during its biggest viewing week of the year. Discovery Channel isn’t run by stupid people, and this was not some kind of mistake. Someone made a deliberate choice to present a work of fiction that is more suited for the SyFy channel as a truthful and factual documentary. That is disgusting, and whoever made that decision should be ashamed.
If this had happened on just about any other network, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But Discovery Channel is more than just disposable entertainment on cable television. Discovery Channel inspired an entire generation to “explore your world”, and it is trusted to be truthful. Discovery Channel says its mission is to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest quality content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten. There is nothing high quality or enlightening about deliberately misleading your audience during what is historically an informative and awesome week of programming. At the very least, Discovery should have made it very clear at the beginning that this was a “What if?” work of complete fiction, presented in a documentary format. Throwing up a 5 second disclaimer at the end of the program just isn’t good enough.
Discovery Channel has a rare chance to apologize to its audience: this year, the network is running a live aftershow with guests from the night’s programming. Someone from the network should use this platform and opportunity to address the audience, apologize for deliberately misleading them, and recommit to providing the highest quality content this week, and every other week out of the year.
This last weekend at MegaCon in Orlando, I met contestant Keri again, and she reminded me that we did this in 1989 when I was at the Disney Studios in Orlando. I asked her if she had a copy of it, and her husband told me they had it on VHS, but she was embarrassed by it and didn’t want anyone else to see it. He and I communicated in the secret language of husbands, and he risked sleeping on the couch to share it with us. I’m really glad he did, because unlike pretty much everything I’ve seen from this part of my life, I’m not mortified by it*. I think it’s pretty cute, and it’s obvious that we’re all having a whole lot of unselfconscious fun.
BUT! There is a cautionary tale, here: Kids, this is what we looked like when we were teenagers in the late 80s. I keep seeing that some fools are trying to make these fashion trends come back for you damn kids today. LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES. DO NOT REPEAT THEM. WE WORE NEON SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.
*except when I’m hollering at 16 year-old me to give the fucking obvious answer you moron!
An all-too familiar coda:
My friend, who I saw yesterday, called me this afternoon. I missed the call, so I heard her message on my voicemail. She was so happy and positive. “I just tested for that show! I wanted to find out if you tested too, because it would be so much fun to work together again!”
Of course, I did not test and I will not test. The only feedback I got from the audition was: “Wil isn’t the guy.”
Thanks. That’s very helpful, and lets me know if I sucked and didn’t realize it, or if I was fine, but not pretty/tall/thin/what-the-fuck-ever enough for the role.
Oh, wait. I mean it’s the platonic ideal of not that. The not knowing is awful and maddening. In the absence of any meaningful and useful feedback, all I can do is tread water in an ocean of self-doubt and try really fucking hard not to drown in pretty heavy seas.
I work so hard to not have a single fuck to give about auditions once they’re done, but the truth is: I wanted this one. I wanted it even more when there was the prospect of working on a series with my friend who will likely book this job because she is amazing.
I’ve tried to remain positive, tried to accept that this is just how it goes … but I have to face a terrible and undeniable reality: I never book jobs when I audition. When I’m offered a job, I do great work on the set, and I haven’t done a single project in the last ten years that I’m not proud of, but something clearly is not working when I audition. Something isn’t clicking between my perception of my work and the actual work, and I can’t see it. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong, no idea how I’m not getting it done, and I genuinely don’t know what to do. I know I’m a decent actor, but I think maybe I’m just horrible at auditions.
I haven’t felt this awful after not getting a job since … Jesus, I don’t know how long. But I know that I feel like it’s just a giant fucking waste of everyone’s time for me to audition for anything, because my batting average is so far below the Mendoza Line, I would be cut from a T-ball team.
After 33 years this should be easy. I shouldn’t feel this way, ever, because math just says I’m going to go on 20 auditions for every job I book, if I’m beating the average.
It should be easy, or at least easier … but it isn’t. It never is.
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.
I just watched, for the first time in over 20 years, the third season blooper reel from Star Trek The Next Generation. It’s going to be included on the Blu-Ray disc, and I get to see it before it’s released to offer any notes or concerns that will be politely ignored.
It’s very, very funny. By the third season, we were all a very close-knit family on the set, and when we messed up, we laughed about it and reset the scene.
Well, everyone, that is, but me. In this reel, when I screw up, I get angry at myself. I try to laugh, but it’s clear that I am frustrated beyond belief. I say, “I am so sorry,” but without any of the 10th Doctor’s charm. My frustration and embarrassment is palpable.
When I watched this just now, I viscerally remembered being that awkward 15 and then 16 year-old kid, with the awful helmet hair, the uncomfortable grey spacesuit with the embarrassing muscle suit underneath it, and almost crippling desire to be the kind of cool I was never going to be. I remembered how, when I was on the bridge spouting nothing but technobabble (which was a large percentage of what Wesley got to do in Season 3, so much so that it lead to my asking to be written off the show), it was so hard to remember because it didn’t mean anything, and that was frustrating on a number of levels. I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to perform a character, and most of what I remember doing that season was plotting courses and saying “Aye, sir.” In the blissful, arrogant ignorance of being a teenager, it never occurred to me that there were eight regular cast members, and everyone except the Holy Trinity of Picard, Riker and Data had their turn spouting technobabble and saying “Aye, sir.” I was the only one who was too young and foolish to understand. I was the only one who was too young and foolish to attempt to understand.
Wesley (and I) did get to do some really great things in Season 3: The Bonding is fantastic and Ron Moore wrote a couple of magnificent scenes for Wesley in that episode, Evolution was pretty awesome (and I got to work a lot with Whoopi, which was as totally cool as you’d expect it to be, and got real character growth from writer Michael Piller), and Yesterday’s Enterprise remains one of my favourite episodes of all time. But, like youth being wasted on the young, most of what made that season awesome was wasted on me.
Season 3 and part of Season 4 are really tough for me to watch, because I regret being such a tool back then. I wish I could go back in time and tell that kid to relax and enjoy what was a pretty awesome job, but I know that he wouldn’t listen to me any more than he’d have listened to anyone else. He was a confused, weird, awkward nerd trying so hard to be an adult, and failing spectacularly.
I wish I could go back in time and have a talk with that kid, but I learned something important from Star Trek when Picard told Riker: “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of… there were loose threads… untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads… it had unraveled the tapestry of my life.”
I will continue to simultaneously feel ashamed of myself, embarrassed by myself, but compassionate towards myself. That kid was doing the best that he could, and I’ll keep trying to accept that. Maybe one day, I’ll even make peace with 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.
If 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?
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.
When Anne and I were in Yosemite, my manager called my cell phone.
“I’m sorry to bother you when you’re away,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said. “What’s going on?”
We have a number of deals in various stages of completion, and I have to be ready to act on them when certain decision points come up. This is awesome and weird. It’s awesome, because it means for the first time in my adult life I can rely on work and plan for the future. This is weird because for the first time in my adult life I can rely on work and plan for the future.
“I have a very interesting offer for you,” he said.
“…go on…” I said.
“You’ve been offered a part in a commercial.”
I set down my coffee and looked out the window of our hotel. It had snowed overnight, and a thick blanket of white powder covered everything. The sun was just starting to crest the trees, melting the thin sheet of ice on the window. Little rivulets of water raced down the glass.
“That sounds interesting,” I said, trying my best not to jump up and down.
“Oh, it gets more interesting.”
I waited for him to continue.
“You know that rather popular football event that happens in February?”
“Shut up!” I said.
“Yes. It airs then.”
He proceeded to tell me about the job. It’s for Lincoln (the car company, not the president). It’s part of a promotion that Jimmy Fallon’s been doing with people on Twitter. The website is called steer the script. It shoots in a week.
By the time he was done, I was out of my chair, pacing excitedly around the room.
“This doesn’t make sense,” I said. “People don’t just offer me commercials that run during the Superbowl.”
Anne, who had been wondering exactly what I was so excited about, nearly spit out a mouthful of her breakfast.
“Well, it does now,” he said. I could hear the joy in his voice mirroring my own. Chris and I have worked together for a decade, and he’s stood with me at some of the hardest times in my acting career, when I struggled so mightily to get any work at all, when I had accepted that I wasn’t going to work enough as an actor to support my family, and decided to be a full time writer. Chris and I have worked very, very hard together to make good choices and steer my career to the place it is today. I still have a hard time believing it, and every day I’m afraid I’m going to wake up from this wonderful dream.
“So… it’s not a trick, right? This isn’t some sort of cruel prank by someone?”
“No, it’s real. And I want you to think about something: this helps the bigger picture, too. Not everyone is asked to do a commercial that airs during the biggest television event of the year. This is going to help me and the agents when we talk with casting.”
“Oh my god I hadn’t thought of that,” I said.
“Yes. This is all very good news. I’ll talk to Wes and we’ll get you all the details tomorrow. Enjoy your vacation.”
I looked out the window again. The sun was higher in the sky now, and had melted enough of the ice on the window to give me a clear view of the valley. Ice crystals in the snow looked like stars. A few children built a snowman, and huge clumps of snow fell off the limbs of giant sequoias.
“I will,” I said. “I mean, I already was, but now I’m going to have to go do a little dance.”
He laughed. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Chris,” I said, thinking about the years we’ve spent together, years when a lot of managers would have cut me loose instead of believing in me.
“You’re welcome. Bye.”
“Bye.” I hung up the phone and did a little dance.
Then I did a big dance.
Yesterday, I went out to Vasquez Rocks to shoot the commercial. My call was noon, so I left the house just before 11 to be sure I got there on time. I listened to Poe’s Haunted the whole way (reading House of Leaves will do that to a guy like me) and reflected on all the times I’d driven out to the Antelope Valley for work over the thirty years of my acting career.
When I was really little, probably around 1979 or so, I shot a commercial somewhere in Canyon Country. I don’t remember anything about it, but my mom let me get an Egg McMuffin on the way. It’s funny how the child’s mind remembers what is truly (relatively) important.
…I need to get my bearings…
When I was a little older, I shot a movie called The Last Starfighter out there. We shot at a trailer park up in a canyon somewhere, and I remember thinking that the winding canyon road we drove on to get there looked like something from the Twilight Zone. Later, I found out that they had, indeed, shot the series on that stretch of highway. I remembered how excited I was to work on a movie that was — as far as my young mind could tell — was basically all about a video game that turned you into a real starfighter. I remembered how disappointed I was when I saw the titular game on the set, and discovered it was an empty cabinet with only lights inside. (Fun fact: the classic Atari Game Star Raiders was supposed to be a licensed game from Last Starfighter, but the deal fell through. They kept the gameplay and changed the sprites. Bonus fun fact: My scenes were cut from the movie before we filmed them, but I was already in the background of several scenes as one of the kids who lived in the trailer park, so I ended up in the credits. Every year, I get a hundred bucks or so in residuals. Semi-related fun fact: the market at the trailer park had a Star Castle game in it, and that’s when I fell in love with that game.)
…and I’m lost…
I remembered doing a movie called The Liar’s Club when I had just turned 21. It was a Roger Corman picture, so it was very much a fly-by-night production. It was incredibly hard work, and I clearly feeling despondent that it signaled the end of my acting career for reasons that belong in their own post at some point in the future.
…and these shadows keep on changing…
We shot ten nights out in Canyon Country, in the bitter cold. Driving out there in evening rush hour traffic and back home in morning rush hour, hardly seeing the sun for almost two weeks, was miserable. That experience played a very, very large part in my decision to stop acting professionally and attend drama school full time.
…and I’m haunted…
It was, as most long solitary drives are for me, a journey of miles and years and memories and questions without a lot of answers.
It was a good drive, with something wonderful at the end.
I pulled into the parking lot just before my call time. I turned off my car, picked up my backpack, and walked toward the set.
Vasquez Rocks — or, as I like to call it, Every Planet Ever In The History Of The Star Trek Universe And Most Sci-Fi Movies From The Fifties — has an incredibly rich film history, but most of us know it from the aforementioned projects. In fact, from the moment I saw the iconic rocks, my brain began a loop of the Star Trek fight music that did not stop until I left the set hours later.
I walked up to the honey wagon, which is what we call the truck that has a bunch of dressing rooms in it, and found the door with my name on it.
I told Twitter that actors would understand why seeing this makes me so happy. Many people made Tabletop jokes, like “The budget isn’t big enough to keep the trailer, but you get to have this piece of tape with your name on it.” I wished I’d thought of that, and filed it away for future jobs, because you can bet your cheerleading trophy I’m going to make that joke a lot from now on.
For those of you who aren’t actors: it makes me so happy because it says to me, “Welcome home, Wil. You’re on the set, doing a job, earning a living doing what you love.” Lots of things change over the course of an acting career, but the dressing room door with your name on a piece of tape is one of the constants, whether you’re in a honeywagon or a million dollar tour bus (yes, big fancy celebrity stars have those. It’s nuts.)
I put my stuff down, and went to make-up. When that was done, I got my wardrobe approved, and then I sat down and waited to be called to set.
My agent, Wes, came out to set and sat with me while we waited. For a couple of hours, we talked about the things we’ve done together, the people we’ve worked with, and what our hopes are for the coming year. A few years ago, I made a decision and then a commitment to only have awesome people in my life, from my friends to the people I hire to work with me. I will only work with people I like, good people, honest people, people who are honorable. It is as hard as you think it is to find those people in the entertainment industry, but I’ve done it: Chris, Wes, all my agents at VOX and my theatrical agents at Stone Manners Salners, they are all good people who I consider my friends as well as my business partners. I’m incredibly lucky to have found them all, and even more lucky that they all wanted to work with me.
So we ended up talking a lot about gratitude, and how not everyone feels it, and how sadly rare it is.
I was eventually called to the set. This is all I can show you, because this part of the commercial is pretty cool and they don’t want me to give it all away:
…but I can share this picture of me:
You can’t really tell, but I got to wear the How We Roll hoodie I designed. On television. For millions of people. Squee!
It was insanely cold, and everyone was working very hard through the windchill that dropped temperatures into the high 20s. In spite of the weather, it was one of the great filming experiences. I had all kinds of fun, and everyone was quite kind to me.
“It’s so cool to work here,” I said to the director, “because even though Star Trek always came here, those sons of bitches never let Wesley on the landing party.” (I didn’t ask him if they’d been on the lookout for Gorn, because I didn’t want to be too nerdy.)
When I finished, I thanked everyone who had hired me, the other actors I worked with, and the crew. I thanked Wes as we walked to our cars, and then I began the long drive home.
I called Anne on my way.
“How was it?” She asked.
“It was amazing,” I said. “How was your secret project thing?”
“It was great,” she said.
We were both quiet for a minute.
“I can’t believe that this is our life,” I said. “I mean, we’re really, really lucky.”
“We really are.”
“I want to get in the time machine and go back to the younger us, who are struggling so much, dealing with so much bullshit from [her shitbag ex-husband] and just trying to make it through every day. I just want to tell them that it’s going to be okay.”
“They know,” she said.
“Oh? Did you tell them?”
“No. I was them, and I always knew it would be okay, because we’re good people and we worked hard and we never gave up on each other.”
I was quiet again for a second. Our life together flew through my mind’s eye: our first date, our first dinner after moving in together, my proposal, our wedding, the years and years of custody struggles, Ryan asking me to adopt him, the actual adoption, thousands and thousands of words in this blog and some books and some other places. Lots of ups, even more downs, and all the while standing tall together.
“Are you still there?” She said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just thinking about how grateful I am. I’m really lucky.”
“You’ve worked really hard.”
“That too.” Then: “I’ll be home in about an hour.”
“Okay. Drive safe. I love you.”
“I love you too. I love you the most for one thousand times.”
I pulled onto the freeway and drove toward home.