On Wednesday last week, I picked up my script in my dressing room, and in the upper right corner, it said that the script was for Will Wheaton, playing the part of Will Wheaton.
I picked it up, and walked into the stage. I found one of the assistant directors, and told him, “I think there’s been a terrible mistake. I’ve been given someone else’s script.”
I showed him the name. He looked mortified. “Oh god I’m so sorry. We’ll fix that right away.”
I laughed. “It’s not a big deal, and I can fix it myself right now.” I grabbed a pen and turned the superfluous Ls into little boxes, like I’ve been doing my whole life. “I really don’t care. I just thought I could make a joke about it, and I’m easily amused, so…”
He laughed with me and apologized again.
“I’m not a prima donna,” I said, “and people have been doing this my whole life.”
He spoke into his walkie. “I have him here, and we’re walking.” He turned to me. “They’re ready for you, sir.”
We walked around the back of the stage and along the space that separates the audience from the set. Today, that space is filled with cameras and equipment, but on rehearsal days, it’s empty and quiet.
“When I was in grade school, I went to this really authoritarian parochial school, and they were all about conforming to the rules. One of my teachers — I’m pretty sure it was my third grade teacher — used the dreaded red pen to add an extra L to my name for the first few days of school, until I got really upset about it and asked her to stop.”
“Jesus, she really did that?”
“Yeah, it was not a particularly awesome time for young me.”
We arrived at Howard and Bernadette’s apartment. “So I learned early on that it’s important to not be too precious about it, and now it’s funny to me.”
Later that day, after our rehearsals were finished and the script was updated to reflect changes the writers made, I got a new script, and it was actually mine, because it had my name on it and everything.
We’re shooting some scenes without the audience today, because there are something like 16 scenes in this episode, and if we shot all of them in front of the audience, it would make for a very late night.
Tomorrow, we’ll shoot almost the entire show in front of the audience, including the scenes that I’m in, where I play Wil Wheaton. He’s just this guy, you know?
“My point is, there was a time when I thought I would never get out of Wesley Crusher’s shadow, but now that’s just a small part of a pretty great life, and it’s a part that I’m glad is there.”
The interstate highways in Texas go on forever, it seems, between major cities. For hundreds of miles, there’s not much to see but other cars, the occasional water tower, a few cows, and a ribbon of concrete that cuts across the vast, flat landscape.
A few months ago, I was in a van with Paul and Storm and Anne as we drove between Houston and Dallas down one of those endless highways. Anne was asleep in the chair next to me, as Paul drove and Storm navigated. I played Carcassonne on my iPad as we left Houston behind us and never seemed to get any closer to Dallas.
As I was losing yet another game (it turns out that it’s much easier to win in a three player game than it is in a four player game, regardless of your opponents’ skill level, due to the additional randomness inherent in the draw) my cellphone played the original Star Trek communicator sound in my pocket. I pulled it out and read a text message from my friend Steve Molaro, who is the show runner on The Big Bang Theory. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” He asked.
“I have all the time in the world,” I replied, “because I’m in a van on a highway in Texas and I think I’m going to be on this road for another decade before we get to Dallas.”
“I’ll call you in a little while,” he replied. I went back to losing my game.
A little while later, the Doctor Who theme came out of my pocket.
“Hey, it’s Steve.”
“Hey! How are you?”
“Really good. Listen, we’re writing a scene for you and I wanted your input on it.”
I was taken aback. It’s such an honor and a privilege to work on The Big Bang Theory at all, but to be asked to provide some input into how my scenes are written, especially when the writers there are so goddamned good at what they do, was pretty amazing.
“Sure,” I said. “I am at your service.”
Steve told me about the story arc they were doing with Sheldon accidentally discovering a new element, and how Sheldon was unhappy about it. “We thought it would be nice for Amy to bring you in, to try and cheer him up,” he said, “so I wondered if there was ever anything in your life that you regretted or felt bad about at the time, but you came to accept as a good part of your life.”
Oh, you mean my entire teenage years and my early twenties? I thought.
“Yeah,” I said. “When I was younger, people gave me such a hard time about Wesley Crusher, there was a time in my late teens and early twenties when I resented Star Trek. It felt so unfair that people who had never met me were so cruel and hateful toward me as a person because they didn’t like a character I played on a TV show, I wanted to put Star Trek behind me and forget that it was ever part of my life.
“But as I got older and started to meet more people who were also kids when Next Generation was in its first run, I started to hear these stories from people, about how they had nothing in common with their parents except for Star Trek, and they wouldn’t have watched Star Trek together if Wesley hadn’t been on the show. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met who are now doctors and engineers and scientists because they were inspired by Wesley and Geordi the way our parents’ generation was inspired by Scotty.”
“That’s wonderful,” Steve said.
“Yeah, it’s really great. You know, my favorite episode of Next Generation is Tapestry, because I fully believe that our lives are a complex tapestry, woven from all our experiences — positive and negative — we have in our lives. There was a time when I really resented Wesley Crusher, but I just love my life now, and instead of feeling like I had to get out of his shadow, I feel like I’m standing proudly on his shoulders.”
“This is exactly what I was hoping for,” he said. “This is going to be such a great scene.”
“If there’s anything I can do, just pick up the phone,” I said.
“I’ll get in touch when we have the scene finished, and I’ll see you in a couple weeks!”
“Awesome. Thanks, man.” I hung up my phone, and looked out at the endless Texas landscape, unchanged in any meaningful way during the phone call.
“Who was that?” Anne asked, waking up from her nap.
“Molaro. He had questions for me for the Big Bang I’m doing when we get home.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
“No, not yet,” I said.
“You’re no fun,” she said.
“I know. I’m the worst.”
I went back to losing my game, Anne looked at her phone, and the van pushed ever onward toward Dallas.
A few weeks later, I got the script for the episode. As always, it arrived late in the evening, the day before the table read. I signed for it, thanked the courier, and ran into my office.
I sat on my couch, tore open the manilla envelope, and began to read. When I got to the scene with Sheldon, Amy, and Wil Wheaton, I read it as an actor: I kept my emotions neutral, and let the characters talk to me. Then, I read it as a fan of the show: I heard the individual voices, and I laughed at the jokes. Then, I read it one final time, as The Guy Who Played Wesley Crusher: I realized that I was going to be on one of the most popular shows in the English-speaking world, saying to anyone who cared to listen, “I’m an author now. I do public speaking, and I have my own web series about boardgames … there was a time when I thought I would never get out of Wesley Crusher’s shadow, but now that’s just a small part of a pretty great life, and it’s a part that I’m glad is there.”
That’s when the tears sprung into my eyes, and the weird mix of joy and something else that wasn’t quite sadness, but had its roots there bloomed in my chest.
I read the rest of the script, and, like I always do, felt like a kid the night before Christmas or his birthday, impatiently waiting for the morning to come.
When I went to the table read the next morning, I was greeted warmly and welcomed by everyone there. When we got to the scene with Sheldon, Amy, and Wil Wheaton, Mayim said Amy’s line, “We’re, uh, trying to cheer him up, so …” and the room exploded into laughter, myself included. Mayim was sitting across from me, and she looked up from her script and said to me, “I’m so sorry. I want you to know that I do not share Amy’s opinion here.” The entire room laughed, again. “I know, it’s okay,” I said. We read the rest of the script, and took a break before we began rehearsal. I found Steve and Bill Prady and some of the other producers, and walked over to them.
“Great job,” Steve said to me.
“I’m not gonna lie,” I said, “I got a little weepy when I read it.” I paused for a second. “Thank you for this.”
“No, thank you for being here.” He said.
“Can I pitch you a joke?” I said.
“Would it be too meta if Wil Wheaton says something about how he gets to guest star on a popular series, but Sheldon doesn’t know what that show is?”
“We thought about something like that,” he said, “but we worried that it may confuse the audience and take them out of the moment. That’s why there’s no reference to you being on Eureka or Leverage or anything like that. We thought it would be simpler and cleaner if our Wil Wheaton doesn’t have the same television acting career that you have.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “And, once again, can I just observe how weird and hilarious it is that there’s your Wil Wheaton, and Wil Wheaton Prime, and they look the same but are very different and I’m both of them?”
We all laughed, and they went back to the writer’s building to do their thing, while I went to the set to do mine.
Over the week of rehearsals, the words never changed in that scene, but my performance did. It was Chuck Lorre who pointed out to me that the sentiment may be very emotional to me, it’s more matter-of-fact to Wil Wheaton the character. When he gave me that perspective, the performance settled into what you saw in the episode.
Like Wil Wheaton said to Sheldon, there was a time when I felt like I’d never get out of Wesley’s shadow, but now I truly am grateful that Wesley Crusher and Star Trek are a part of my life.
Their Wil Wheaton couldn’t say it, but my Wil Wheaton can: Big Bang Theory is a very important part of my personal and professional life, and is one of the reasons I can stand on the shoulders of Star Trek in a way that I thought — well, feared is more accurate — I never would, and I’m incredibly grateful that it’s there. I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve made among the cast, crew, and writers, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it’s given me to work in comedy. Every time I’m there, I learn a little bit more about comedic acting, acting in front of an audience, and acting in a sitcom.
I don’t know what the future of my career holds, but I know that whatever is over the horizon, the road I’ve traveled to get here is like those Interstates in Texas: everything can look the same, and it can feel like you’re not going anywhere, until you suddenly get where you’re going and realize that you’ve been traveling for a long time.
You know that montage when we’re walking back home, near the end of the movie, and we go by in silhouette during sunset? It’s what they used as inspiration for the poster.
This picture was taken when we filmed that little bit. That thing we’re sitting on is called a Chapman Crane, and it’s a really neat piece of film equipment that allows for those big, beautiful, dramatic, sweeping panoramic shots you see in movies.
It’s a little dangerous, though, because there are weights and things on the end of that arm to perfectly counterbalance the weight of the camera and whoever is sitting next to it. More than once in film history, someone has stepped off the crane before it’s been rebalanced, and, finding itself a hundred or more pounds heavier at one end than the other, the crane has turned into a very dangerous catapult.
The way I remember it, we kept asking Rob Reiner if we could sit on it when the shot was over, because the idea of sitting up in the sky next to the camera was so awesome, and he eventually said yes, because he was like that.
We were so excited to sit on this thing, and so excited to ride it up as high as it would go — it seemed like a hundred feet, but I’m sure it was more like thirty — but we had to wear seatbelts, promise to sit still and not step off the thing until it was balanced. I don't remember what everyting looked like from up there, but I do remember someone deciding to give the slate to River (who, of course, has his serious face on, like he always did) because it was a fantastic publicity photo opportunity.
I’m glad someone took this picture, because it reminded me of a joyful moment that I haven’t thought of in over a quarter century.
This post contains spoilers. You have been warned.
If I've pushed the Big Red Button correctly, this should post automatically right after my episode of Eureka, All the Rage, has concluded in the Eastern time zone.
I'm at Comic-Con right now, and I've just seen this episode in its entirety for the first time. Since I'm actually writing this yesterday, I can't comment on how I felt watching it, or on the final cut of the episode itself, but I can tell you that during production, it was a bit of a challenge to play a guy who hates Fargo as much as Doctor Parrish does, since I personally like Neil Grayston so much.
Here's an amusing story about how much everyone in the NolWep Lab feels about Fargo:
When Fargo demands a demonstration of the energy field thing, Zane and Doctor Parrish share this knowing look that may or may not have made it into the final cut of the episode. Niall Matter and I decided that we both knew the field wouldn't stop that bean bag, because it wasn't ready, and we really didn't care if Fargo got shot with it. We thought it was a cool way for us to play a character moment together that establishes our relationship, and drive home to the audience just how much we hate Fargo (and illustrate how different Fargo is in this universe.) The thing is, we didn't have time to make sure this choice was okay with everyone, because we were working very fast that morning.
We played several takes like that, and when they came in for coverage on us, the director told us that we should react to the bean bag almost hitting him, like it was a pretty bad thing that could have had really bad consequences. Fargo is, after all, the boss of us.
Niall and I looked at each other like we'd been caught playing ball in the house.
"We've, uh, actually been playing it like we knew it would happen, and we enjoyed how much it scared him," I said.
Niall quickly added, "but we could decide that we didn't expect him to get shot in the face, like we just thought it would hit him in the chest, so we can still play both beats."
The director told us that he thought that was a good idea, and we finished the scene like that. When he walked away, Niall and I looked at each other.
"I thought I was fired for sure," I said.
"I was glad they can't fire me," he said.
"Still, we established an awful lot with just one look," I said.
"Yeah, that was cool."
We didn't have that many scenes together, but we spent a lot of time hanging out on the set when we weren't filming, and got along brilliantly. In fact, I got along brilliantly with everyone in the cast, and I can confirm that everything you've heard about them being awesome people is entirely true.
This was filmed by one of the producers, near the end of a very, very long day on the set of Eureka:
We're obviously having fun and being silly, but there is an element of truth to what we said: we have a good time when we bring these characters to life, but it really does require a great deal of focus and dedication. One of the reasons I loved working on Eureka so much was the cast and crew's ability to have fun and stay relaxed, while remaining focused and working hard to make the very best show we could make.
Remember that my episode, All The Rage, premieres this Friday at 9pm, on the network formerly known as Sci-Fi!
We rehearsed some more this morning, and then did our run through for the producers and the network this afternoon.
Before I share what little I can about the actual work, let's get the important stuff out of the way: I trained hard to improve my ping pong game with Nolan last night (Nolan plays ping pong competitively, and is one of those freakishly good players who you'd swear are using telekinesis on the ball) and played a singles and two doubles matches today. I won my singles match by 3 points … but lost both doubles matches by 5 and 7 points, entirely because I stink at ping pong. Thus it is official: I have been ping pwned.
Okay, to the work, then:
I can't get into any real specifics, because we've reached that point in the production where any new insights or revelations that have happened (and they have) are all related to things that would certainly qualify as spoilers, or are observations that I feel would be unprofessional to share without the explicit permission of my fellow actors.
However, during rehearsal, I got to watch them take something that was already very funny, and then try several different approaches to one particular bit, each one funnier than the last, until they settled on something that I know is going to kill when the audience sees it. You know you're working on a tremendously funny show when the stuff they throw away is funnier than the stuff that makes it on air on other shows. I also have a new appreciation for how perfectly the writers on The Big Bang Theory balance the extremely geeky jokes that guys like me go crazy for, with the non-geeky jokes that people like my wife enjoy. It's a lot harder than it sounds to gently push a time machine through the eye of the comedy needle every week without touching the sides and making that one dude's nose light up … which sounds kind of funny, but trust me, is not.
The run through (for the producers and the network) was great, and I got a fantastic note from Chuck Lorre during one of my scenes that gave me +10 to funny. While I was delighted to get the note, and Chuck was obviously delighted to give it (he's a wonderful man, and is obviously having the time of his life making television people love), I have to admit that I was disappointed in myself, like I'd failed to do my job by not figuring out the particular acting choice he suggested on my own. Once I heard it, I could see that it was obviously there in the writing, and I just missed it. I plan to redeem myself on Monday by applying that note and one other, so I can perform my scenes without making that one dude's nose light up.
Living out here in Pasadena means I have limited options for getting into Burbank and points North and West. Typically, I head up to the 134 and hope I get to approach 4th gear for at least a few minutes before the whole freeway turns into a parking lot.
This morning, the first morning in months that I had to be somewhere at a specific time and really couldn't be late, the 134 was a parking lot starting East of the Rose Bowl and going all the way through Eagle Rock and into Glendale. Luckily for me, I found this out while I was eating breakfast, and I was able to leave 30 minutes early to loop up the 210 through La Canada and down the 2, adding about 15 miles but only 5 minutes (net) to the drive out to Burbank. Which I guess I should point out isn't even 10 miles, but took almost an hour.
Through some miracle, great luck, a warping of the spacetime continuum, (or, more likely, a combination of them all) I arrived at Warner Brothers and pulled into my guest actor parking spot in front of Stage 25 only ten minutes later than I wanted to arrive, which put me in the stage ten minutes before the read through was set to begin. I'm not going to lie to you, Marge, getting to park in a spot that said "Reserved for The Big Bang Theory" that was right in front of the stage was awesome.
The stage was filled with actors, writers, and crew. There was an excited buzz in the room as they all talked about how great their season premiere ratings were, and how happy and grateful they all were. I was introduced to the cast, tried and mostly succeeded to keep my geeksquee under control enjoyed the read through. The script, which already sounded funny in my head, was absolutely hilarious coming out of the actors who play these characters, and it was really cool to sit around the table with them, as a peer.
When the read through was finished, I talked with Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady for a minute, then grabbed breakfast while we all got ready to run through the script on the sets with the director. Johnny Galecki was getting food at the same time, and while we filled our bowls with oatmeal (breakfast of champions, kids) he told me how excited they were to have me on the show, and thanked me for being there.
"I think I should just out myself now and get it over with," I said. "I'm a huge fan of your show, and I can't even believe that I get to be part of it this week."
He laughed and said, "Well, it's a great group, and you're going to have a great time."
"I don't doubt it," I said. Then I got out of there before I could say something stupid and embarrassing about how much I loved that one thing they did in season two, or how funny it was that one time when they made that one joke. Yeah, I didn't say anything stupid or embarrassing or fanboy at all, and as far as anyone knows, that's exactly how it happened.
I finished my breakfast, wandered through the comic shop set (which is put together with such incredible attention to detail, I almost went looking for the latest issue of IRREDEEMABLE) and tried to stay out of the way while the actors and director got ready to run through the script on the stage.
It was neat, how quickly the room and the mood changed once the read through was done: everyone but the actors and a few crew left, and the stage became very quiet and intimate for the rest of the day while we walked through the first broad strokes of the episode. (You could think of today's run through like an image that hasn't been completely rendered, yet. As the week goes on, we'll apply colors, textures, anti-aliasing, lighting, and all the other things that take us from a wireframe to a realistic-looking tea pot that throws a lens flare and a nifty shadow.)
Once they started running through the script, I pretty much parked myself in a chair near the director, and just watched. As a fan of the show, it was awesome to see the actors (who I don't know very well) bring their characters (who I know extremely well) to life. As an actor, it was tremendously informative and inspiring to see how the actors and the director worked together to bring the script to life. I saw things I used to take for granted, that happened automatically, when I was working as an actor every day, and remembered the importance of finding the truth of the scene, hearing the music of the scene, and knowing how a character would organically exist in the scene. Working as a writer, I create those beats and use the same fundamental skills, but in a very different way, and if I try to do that as an actor, it doesn't work (I recently tanked an audition because I couldn't get access to The Actor in my head, approached the thing like The Writer, and left the room in a stinking cloud of Epic Fail.)
I remember being in drama school in my early twenties, and having at least a decade more experience than everyone else in the room except our teacher. I remember paying close attention all the time, even when I wasn't working on a scene in front of the class, or getting notes directly from her. I remember her telling the other kids in the school, many of whom were convinced that they were going to be The Next Big Thing (all of them except Salma Hyek were wrong) that they didn't learn anything about performing while they were actually doing it. They learned while watching other actors perform, and understanding why their choices worked or didn't work.
I haven't done a show like this in years, and I want to make sure that I am completely back in shape, I guess you could say, by the time we perform the episode next week. To make sure I get there, I spent the entire day, even when I wasn't in the scene, watching and listening, and remembering skills that I once used every day, but haven't even thought about in a very long time. By the time we got to my last scene of the day (God, I wish I could describe it, because it's hilarious) I felt confident, I felt funny, and I felt weird but also good.
Wait. Not the last part. I'm saving that for the weekend, when I finally get to celebrate being on The Big Bang Theory.
When I wasn't watching them rehearse, I spent the rest of the day talking with one of the other actors (I'm not saying who, so don't ask) who is as big a gamer as I am, totally geeking out about Space Hulk, Dominion, and how much we love Eurogames.
My favorite non-rehearsal moment went like this:
Me: Do you play any cooperative games?
Him: They're not my favorite, but yeah.
Both, in unison: Have you played Pandemic?
Both, in unison: Yes!
Him: I guess it's appropriate that we're playing geeks.
Me: It certainly is.
Now I'm home, where I get to learn lines and hope that the bulldozer next door doesn't wake me up from this wonderful dream where I get to work on my favorite show.
6:26pm:I've just remembered something that isn't enough for its own post, but certainly warrants an update to this one.
This morning, after the table read, one of the other actors (I'm not saying who, so don't ask) said to me, "You are a very funny man, mister Wil Wheaton." I thanked this other actor, but pointed out, "I just did my best not to mess up the funny that was already in the script." The other actor nodded and said, "Me too. Me too."
This other actor is a tremendous comedic talent, and I can't see anyone else in the world playing the role this actor plays, because he/she/it brings a great deal of personality and acting talent to the role, and it wouldn't be the same if another actor played it. But I think it's awesome that this other actor feels, like I do, that everything we do starts with the words the writers give us, and sometimes the hardest (and most important) thing we can do is not screw them up.
Trying to think about something else for a moment …
When we shoot a TV show or a movie, we often have to cheat our looks closer or farther away from the camera during our closeups.
Most of the time, the place we're supposed to look is marked with a piece of tape, like an orange X, for example.
When we shot the "showdown" sequence on Leverage, Aldis and I both had to cheat our looks on most of the shots, so whoever was on camera played a lot of the scene looking at a piece of tape while the other actor stood behind the camera and delivered his lines. There was one set up, though, where I was able to stand just to the side of the camera for him and he could talk directly to me. We were feeling silly that day, so I grabbed some tape and put an orange X right on my forehead. You know, for continuity.
"Hi, I'm Wil, and I'll be playing the part of the Orange X," I told him.
We all laughed, and I spent several minutes describing the different choices I make for different colors of tape.
"Playing the Red X is very different from playing the Blue X, and though I've tried my best, I've never really been able to nail playing a Green X."
My episode of Leverage, The 2 Live Crew Job, airs tonight on TNT.
I did a whole bunch of interviews last week to support tonight's show. If you'd like to read them all, here is a huge list that TNT publicity just sent me. Some of these links include video, too.
There are two ways that I can commemorate Patrick Stewart's birthday, today.
And the second, which comes in two parts. The first part should illustrate how awesome Patrick is, and why I like him so much. The second part should remove any lingering doubt.
This is from Chapter Seven of Just A Geek, which is titled A Sort of Homecoming. It recalls a convention appearance I did with Patrick, Jonathan and Brent in 2001. Wow, 2001 … was I really just 29 when I wrote this? I guess I was.
A deep, commanding voice bounced off the marble floor of the hallway, and filled the room before its creator crossed the threshold.
“Are there Star Trek people in this room?” it boomed, “I just love those Star Trek people!”
We all turned to the door, as Patrick Stewart walked in.
Patrick is one of the most disarming people I've ever met. If you only know him as Captain Picard, or Professor Xavier, his mirthful exuberance is shocking. Patrick is one of the most professional and talented actors I've ever known, but he's also one of the most fun.
“Bob Goulet? I haven't seen you in ages, man! You look great!” he said to Brent, and hugged him.
“Jonathan Frakes! I am a big fan,” he smiled at Jonny and hugged him to.
He turned to me. “Who are you? You look familiar, but . . . I can't place you.”
“Wil Wheaton, Mr. Stewart,” I said.
He looked thoughtful for a moment and shook his head. “I'm sorry, but it doesn't ring a bell.”
“I was Wesley on Next Generation,” I said.
“Get out! You were never that young!” he said.
“Oh, but I was, sir,” I replied, solemnly, “I believe we spent some time in a shuttlecraft together.”
He nodded slowly, but remained unconvinced. “Go on . . .”
“That's all I've got, man,” I laughed.
“Wil, darling, you look wonderful.” he said with a huge smile. He held his arms wide, and pulled me into a warm embrace. “I am so happy to see you!”
He held me at arm's length, and looked at me. Even though Patrick and I are the same height, I felt, like always, that he towered above me.
“You too,” I said.
This is also from Chapter 7 of Just a Geek. This excerpt picks up right as I’m about to wrap shooting on Nemesis.
The day is a blurred composite of images, and no matter how hard I try, I can't get my brain to separate them into individual memories. All I can clearly recall is how I spent the day spiraling around the Yin and Yang of joy and sorrow, until the director called cut on the final take.
"Thank you, everyone!" The First AD called out, "That is a company wrap for today, and picture wrap for Wil Wheaton!"
There was some polite applause from the crew, who really didn't know me, and some very genuine applause from Patrick and Gates, the only cast members who were still on the stage. They walked over, and embraced me. We knew that this was the real Journey's End for me and Wesley Crusher, but we didn't talk about it.
"I'm going to walk back," Patrick said to me. "Would you like to walk together?"
"I'd like that a lot," I said.
It was late, but not nearly as late as it had been the night before, and it was very cold as we walked through the "New York Street" area of the back lot.
"Remember when they built this for Bronx Zoo?" I said. "I used to come over here and pretend it was real."
Patrick slowed, then stopped. A huge arclight towered over us. Apple boxes and cables ran into the facade of a deli, and someone had left a styrofoam cup half-filled with coffee on the window ledge.
"When I first came here to audition for Next Generation," he said, "I didn't know if I'd ever get a chance to be on a backlot again, so I left the casting office, and spent nearly an hour's time walking round here."
He began to walk again.
"That's so weird," I said. "I mean . . . here you are, fifteen years later."
He smiled. "I know. I remember worrying that the security department would catch me, and I'd end up in a great deal of trouble!"
We laughed together.
"I've lost count of the number of times I had run-ins with the security department." I said. "Most of them involved dangerously speeding around the lot in a 'borrowed' golf cart, or playing music too loudly in my dressing room.
"I wish I'd been able to hang out with you guys when we were doing this every day," I said.
"Oh, my dear, you missed out on a great deal of fun!" His voice became excited. "The late Friday nights when we'd close down Nickodell's [A restaurant that used to be on Melrose, with a backdoor that opened right onto the Paramount lot. It was bulldozed for "progress" in the 1990s] were great!"
"Can I tell you something?" I said.
"Of course," he said.
"I really blew it when I was here before. I should have treasured the experience that I had working with you guys, and I didn't. I'm really sorry that I was such a dick when I was a teenager."
He stopped again, and put his hand on my shoulder. "Wil, my dear, you were a teenager. We all understood."
"Yes. And when we worked together, I always related to you as an actor, first, and you were a lovely actor. You know, I wasn't thrilled about working with a child, but working with you was a great pleasure."
What do you say to that? How do you respond, when it comes from the man who was, for all intents and purposes, a father figure, mentor, role model, and hero? If you're me, you say, "I'm so sad that this is over for me."
"So am I," he said we began to walk again. As we turned the corner and neared stages 8 and 9, I saw someone come out of the stage.
"Hey! That's Brad Yacobian!" I said.
"It is!" Patrick said. "Hello! Brad!"
Brad started as a First AD on Next Generation, and has worked on all the incarnations of Star Trek since then. He was working as the co-producer and unit production manager on Enterprise.
"Hey you guys," he said. "Are you just wrapping?"
"Oh yes. It's Thursday, you know." Patrick said. Brad smiled a knowing smile, and I laughed. See, production usually starts out with early calls on Monday, but the Screen Actor's Guild requires a 12 hour break for the actors between their release, and the next day's call time. So if we start at 8, but don't wrap until 10, we won't start until 10 the next day, and so on. This doesn't happen very often, because it's very expensive for the studios, and if a show isn't starting until the afternoon on Thursday, it usually means that the director is incompetent, the schedule is very complicated, or a little of both.
or schedule?" Brad said.
"Schedule," Patrick said. He pronounced it with a soft "ch" sound, like "shelf." I suppressed a giggle.
"Who's working tonight?" I asked, hoping the answer would be "Jolene Blalock, and she wants to see you without your pants in her trailer right now."
Brad looked at his call sheet. "I think Scott is still here –"
"Is he in his trailer?" Patrick asked.
"Yeah. You want to say hello?" Brad said.
Oh my god. I'm going to stand with Patrick while he talks to Scott Bakula!
"I'd like to, yes."
Brad walked us to Scott's trailer. It was in the same place where Patrick's trailer was so many years ago.
That's a little weird.
He rapped twice on the door, and from behind it, a muffled voice emerged. "Yeah?"
"Scott, it's Brad. I have someone here who wants to say 'hello.'"
I thought back to all the times I heard this when I was on the other side of that door, and felt a little uncomfortable. The door opened, and there was Scott Bakula, in that cool Enterprise jumpsuit.
"Hey, Patrick! How are you?" He said. Oh . . . they know each other. Interesting.
"I'm well," he said. "Scott, this is Wil Wheaton, he plays Wesley Crusher."
Plays Wesley, not played Wesley. That was cool.
He extended his hand and I shook it.
"It's really nice to meet you," I said. "How are you guys doing?"
"It's Thursday night," he said with a tired grin.
"Some things never change, I guess, " I said.
We all laughed.
"Listen, Scott," Patrick said. "I've been on and off the lot for several weeks now, and I should have come over much sooner to say hello to you."
"Thank you," Scott said. "I've seen you pass by several times, but I've always been too busy to say hello myself."
They talked for several minutes about the things that you talk about, I guess, when you're the captain of the Enterprise. I remember Patrick said, "You're doing a wonderful job," and I realized that he was having the conversation with Scott that Shatner should have had with him in 1987; he was passing the torch to — well, to the next generation.
I looked at Brad, and before either one of us could say anything, his walkie said, "We're ready for First Team on the bridge." How many times had I stood in this exact spot, and heard those exact words, over the years?
"Gotta go to work," he said. "I'm so glad you stopped by. I'll come over and visit you . . . are you on 16?"
"Shortly," Patrick said. "We're on 29 until tomorrow, then location."
Scott shook my hand. "It was nice to meet you."
"Have a good night, you guys," Brad said, as they walked into the stage. He keyed his walkie and said, "I have Scott, and we're walking . . . "
I turned to Patrick. "That was very cool, man."
Patrick just nodded.
We arrived back at the dressing rooms. My trailer was farther away than his, so I said, "I guess this is goodbye."
“It is with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to Wil Wheaton,” the assistant director said.
I threw my hands up in the air and yelled into the sky: “NOOOOOOO!!!”
I sadly rode back in the van to base camp, packed up my stuff, said my goodbyes, and took my time walking through downtown back to my hotel, suddenly feeling adrift and sad.
Whenever I finish a job, I feel some degree of sadness and loss. Working on a movie or doing a play gives me months to get to know the cast and crew, and when that journey ends, and we go our separate ways, I’m often the one who’s cryin’ now.
Guesting on a series, though, is a little different: I drop in for a week, and right around the time I’ve learned everyone’s name, established some awesome running jokes, and started to feel like I’m part of the family, it’s over. It guess it should be like ripping off a bandage but it’s more like a different metaphor simile that I can’t create at the moment; feel free to create your own.
As I wandered through downtown Portland I thought about the week, and how much fun I had while I worked on the show. I thought about how much I wanted to spend more time with this cast and crew, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it’s going to be before I get to be an actor on the set again.
I want to publicly thank John Rogers and Dean Devlin for letting me be part of their world, even if I only got to see a little bit of it. I want to thank the cast and crew for welcoming me with open arms and making me feel like I was part of their family while I was here.
I also want to thank Portland for being awesome. 99% of the people I met here were fantastic, and your city kicks ass.
A lot of people have asked when this episode will air. I don’t know, but it’s the 7th of the season, so if they run them in order, it should air 7 weeks after the season premiere on July 15, so look for it around the end of August.