Tag Archives: television

unraveling the mystery

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.

leveling up while geeking out on the set of the big bang theory

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.

[Pause]

Both, in unison: Have you played Pandemic?

Both, in unison: Yes! 

[Laugh.]

[Pause.]

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.

Leverage – The Two Live Crew Job

Early feedback from tonight's episode of Leverage is overwhelmingly positive, which delights me. I'm so happy to hear that so many people liked it.

If you've seen the show already, you may get a kick out of the pictures I took during production and just added to Flickr, but there are spoilers, so don't look if you don't want to see them. (And no fair complaining at me if you don't listen and get spoiled.)

I'm sure John will have a post at his blog in the very near future where you can ask him questions about the spin-off (with robots!) that I'm getting.*

If you have questions or comments for me about the show, feel free to leave them here and I'll do my best to respond in a timely manner. Seriously, I'll really appreciate the distraction.

*I'm not really getting a spin-off. That's my little joke. Ha! Ha! I am using the Internet!

“Hi, I’m Wil, and I’ll be playing the part of the Orange X.”

Trying to think about something else for a moment …

I'm Wil. I'll be playing the part of the Orange X.

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.

(Thanks to Marc Roskin, who took this picture with his iPhone and e-mailed it to me.)

i never did national network tv interviews later on in life like the ones i did when i was twelve

When we filmed Stand By Me, none of us knew it was going to be the huge success that it became. None of us expected it to be part of that 50s revival that was so much fun in the mid-80s, and none of us knew that it would essentially launch all of our acting careers.

But I think that, if you asked any of us – actors or crew – who worked on the film, we'd all say that we knew we were working on something special, something that was definitely not going to suck, something that we could be proud of. The fact that audiences agreed with us was pretty awesome.

I don't know about the other guys, but I was totally unprepared for Stand By Me's success and the way it shoved a lot of us into the center of the spotlight. Maybe Corey knew what to expect, because he'd already been in a ton of popular movies (we all saw Goonies together while we were on location in Oregon) but I certainly didn't know what to do when I came home from a family vacation and saw several boxes on my porch, filled with fan mail. 

You know, I haven't thought about this in two decades, but I just got this almost-photographic memory of sitting on my parents couch long after the rest of the family had gone to sleep, listening to Led Zeppelin IV on my dad's huge stereo (with the multi-band graphic equalizer component attached) on a very hot night in late August of 1986, trying to read and answer all of that fan mail by myself. I recall feeling embarrassed by it all, a little weirded out, but also a little excited. I remember thinking that maybe, in those boxes, was a letter from a girl who might want to go to the movies with me.

As I said, I was totally unprepared for the whole thing.

After about a year of being part of that whole Teen Beat crowd, I was totally over it, I thought it was stupid and fake, and really wanted to just get back to being an actor and having a normal life … but for the first few months, I will admit that it was pretty cool and a lot of fun to travel around the country for interviews on TV shows, like Good Morning America.

I forget what day this picture was taken, but it was 1986, right after Stand By Me had been released. There we are, sitting on chairs in the green room, waiting to go be interviewed by (I think) Ron Reagan, Jr. It was my first trip to New York, and I remember how excited I was to go to that huge, almost mythical city, see Times Square, ride the subway, visit the Statue of Liberty, and hang out with Jerry in his home town.

Waiting to promote Stand By Me on Good Morning America in 1986

This photo captures our personalities perfectly: River and Corey are focused and serious (Corey is even wearing a tie and drinking coffee!) I am listening to the same person they are, but I'm not even trying to contain how excited I am to be going on a television show that I had been watching with my Aunt Val since I could remember, in front of the whole country, no less.

My favorite part of this picture, though, is Jerry. It's almost like he caught my mom or dad taking this picture of us, and decided to strike a pose, just to be silly. I just love that he isn't taking the thing too seriously, and that he's just having fun and enjoying the whole thing. As I got older and began to feel like the teen magazine publicity stuff was taking over my life, it stopped being fun, and it started to feel like a chore. I always envied that Jerry seemed to take it all in stride, keep it in perspective, and just have fun with it. I heard him on the Adam Carolla podcast about a week or so ago, and he hadn't changed a bit: still silly, still cracking me up, still keeping everything in perspective.

I've always said that Stand By Me was so successful because Rob cast four young actors who were so much like their characters, but I think it's spooky how the four of us ended up being so much like our characters: River died too young, Corey struggled like crazy to get his personal demons under control, Jerry found success and happiness, and I'm a writer.

…I have had a fucking weird life, man.

LEVERAGE: day five

“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.

What Happens if You Feed a Dog Chocolate While he Wears a Tin Foil Hat in the Microwave

I think it was about a year ago that I recorded this episode of Cavalcade of Comedy for Seth MacFarlane. I've been hoping to see it for months, but it wasn't until today that I read a post at CliqueClack TV about it, and BAM there it was.

LEVERAGE: day two

Today's on-set report actually begins with a moment from yesterday afternoon that was so unexpected, I'm still wrapping my head around it.

I obviously can't go into any details about the plot or characters, so you'll just have to use your imagination to construct what the set looked like. I can tell you that it was awesome, if that helps.

Just about everyone was assembled for this scene, and I lingered near my mark while I waited for everyone else to get their last looks so we could shoot.

Tim Hutton walked over to me and quietly said, "Hey, did you bring any copies of Sunken Treasure with you?"

I felt like I was going to faint. How in the hell does Tim Hutton know about my books?

"How do you know about that book?" I said, totally baffled.

"I just do," he said. "Did you bring any?"

I was so stunned, I couldn't say anything, and I just kind of watched a little beach ball spin around in my head for a few seconds.

"GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, WHEATON!" My brain screamed at me. "ANSWER THE MAN!"

"Uh, yeah, actually, I did bring some copies with me," I said, at once embarrassed and glad that I'd put five of them into my backpack moments before I left for the airport earlier this week.

I don't remember what he said next because I felt completely overwhelmed. (Pop quiz: how many Academy Award-winning actors and stars of one of your favorite shows have asked you about your books? My answer is, "One, as of about 18 hours ago.") I told him that I'd bring him one today, and that it meant a lot to me that he even knew about the book, much less wanted to read it.

I don't know how he knows I write books; maybe Rogers told him, but … it's weird and awesome, and I signed a copy for him this morning, and he may even read it before the end of the weekend.

Today's work was ultra-painless: I was in 1/8 of a page and was in an out of the set like a ninja. We were shooting outside on a beautiful street up near the hills, southwest of downtown, and during one take a very friendly woman somehow got past everyone, didn't realize we were filming, and walked right up to me during a take.

She asked me a question that I can't repeat, because it would be sort of a spoiler. I noticed that nobody called cut, so I just stayed in character, answered her, watched her walk away, and then finished the scene. It wasn't quite "I'm walking here!" but it was still pretty cool.

I don't think we'll be able to use it in the show, because she was a civilian who clearly didn't know that we were filming, but it was exhilarating to just keep on rolling and keep on acting, even though something totally unexpected happened in the middle of the take.

Making television can be grueling, it can be frustrating, and it can be exhausting. I know how very lucky I am to have worked on a couple shows in the last year that haven't been like that, and I'm intensely grateful to be working on another one right now.

I just love everything about this. I love being on the set. I love the creative collaboration. I love working with people who love doing what we do. I love doing work that I'm proud of.

Mostly, though, I love that I even get to do this. This is awesome.

LEVERAGE: day one

Last night, I tried to convince my brain that it should shut the hell up and let me go to sleep early, because I had to wake up at 5am no matter what.

It didn't cooperate. It sang songs to me, wrote little stories, and told me jokes until almost midnight. Yes, I am my brain's bitch. (Don't worry, I plan to get all burning bed on it with some local craft beers before the week is over. HA! WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, BRAIN?!)

I'm on my lunch break right now, marveling at how weird it is to live in the future, where I can post to my blog from my dressing room. I suppose this isn't that strange, really, but I've been doing this since the days when we had to call Buster Keaton "Mister Keaton" and Mary Pickford wouldn't let you look her in the eye unless you were Douglas Fairbanks.

Yeah, those were crazy days, and even though I tried my best, I never got Louise Brooks to come home with me. I still don't think talking pictures will ever really catch on.

…did I mention I got about 5 hours of sleep and I've been working in a hot van while wearing a hoodie since 8 this morning? Everything is incredibly funny to me right now.

Anyway, about my day so far: Most scripts have a scene that makes an actor go, "WOW, I really want to play this character so I can do that scene." This morning, I got to do that scene, and it was as challenging, fun, and ultimately rewarding as I thought it would be. I can't wait to see it in the final cut of the show.

Before we did that scene, I had a brief meeting with the director, because I wanted to make sure that my take on this character and his vision for the character had more in common than not. I performed some of the more important lines, talked about the arc I'd created in my mind, and made sure that we were on the same page.

He nodded while I did my thing, and when I was done, there was a long pause. I started to get a little nervous, and wondered if I was about to be sent home with a set of steak knives.

"You own this guy," he said.

So, I got that going for me, which is nice.

LEVERAGE: day zero

Greetings from Portland! I'm here for the next few days to work on an episode of Leverage, playing a character who I have a few things in common with, as evidenced by something that happened earlier today during my costume fitting.

The costume designer is an incredibly kind and easy going woman. She was talking with me about who this character is, what he's like, and how those things would influence his decisions when it comes to his clothes. I was glad to have the discussion, because the clothes I wear for a show are very important to
me. I always work hard to find something that is appropriate for
the character, but that I'll also feel comfortable wearing.

She pulled a bunch of different shirts and things off the racks, and said, "So we thought we'd dress you like a nerd." She didn't say it unkindly, it was just matter of fact, the way you'd say, "You know, I think fish would be nice tonight."

I looked at the clothes she had in her hands: straight-legged jeans, slip-on Vans, a short-sleeved shirt with a collar and buttons.

"So, kind of like what I'm already wearing," I said.

We had a good laugh about that, and for the next few minutes I tried on a bunch of different costumes, all of which could have come out of my own wardrobe.

When my fitting was over, I got to visit with John Rogers and Dean Devlin for a little bit. I should probably get their permission before I blog about our conversation, but I think it's okay to say this: I haven't seen Dean since we played hockey together about 17 years ago, and it's pretty awesome to finally be working together on something.

They had to go do producer-y things, so I walked into the stage to meet with the prop department. On my way in, I stopped and introduced myself to Christian Kane (Spencer) and Aldis Hodge (Hardison), who were hanging out just inside the stage door.

Um, I need to just get this out of the way now: Leverage is the first non-animated show I've worked on in years where I'm such a huge fan, I've already watched every episode and know all the characters. It was a challenge, but I did a good job of not losing my shit while I talked with them, just like I did when I met Beth Riesgraf (Parker) right before I went into the wardrobe fitting. We only talked for a few minutes before I had to get out of the stage and do some prop stuff, but I liked them right away. I left the stage feeling pretty confident that I'm going to have a great time while I'm here.

Now I'm going to go learn my lines and prepare for filming tomorrow.

… I'm not going to lie to you, Marge: I love this.