“Thank you for missing me.” (Jamie)

Alan Rickman has died and we’ve lost a great actor.

The first time I saw him was as Jamie, the recently deceased cello player, alongside Juliet Stevenson in the 1991 film Truly, Madly, Deeply. It’s a romantic, fanciful film, which is not my regular go-to kind of thing. It might’ve been then, it’s not now. I have a vague recollection of someone telling me that I “have to see it” because it’s “so good.” This kind of thing was said often in those days.

This was shortly after I’d finished up college and my acting training, so I was surrounded by actors, theatre and film buffs, etc. We were the kids who watched movies only to analyze the scripts and each acting choice. We’d see a movie because of a well-respected, serious actor carrying it, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. We’d pull plotlines apart, and when we saw things we didn’t agree with we’d decide if the actor, director, writer or possibly editor were to blame, which for a movie like the controversial Last Temptation of Christ, meant long, complicated conversations. We went to see Dead Poets Society not only because of its sweeping coming of age story but also because Robin Williams, known mostly for comedy, was doing a serious movie. “How does that work?” we wondered. We saw things like Unbearable Lightness of Being because of the layered story and subtle, detailed acting. (Our acting teacher said we should go. She said it was some of the finest acting we’d see that year, and that it was “the best sex [she’d] ever had.” But I digress…)

Whether or not I was initially thrilled to see this film or why I went is a moot point, because I recall getting hooked on the story early on and then being completely enthralled by the performances. Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson were incredible together. Their connection was so raw, so natural and true, I was astonished. I felt that the characters were so complete, and his (and her) work was so finely detailed, that together they nearly defined passion itself and that somehow I understood, from watching that movie, just what it was like to love someone.

Maybe I was young, naive, hopeful and looking for love myself. Maybe Anthony Minghella nailed it with his first major directing job, and that’s what I was supposed to receive. Either way, Rickman’s performance left a mark on me. He was immediately elevated in my mind to one of those great actors whose work I admire, and that performance ranks up there among memorable moments on screen and on stage I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Every time I saw him in anything else I always remembered, and often remarked, that the first time I saw him was in Truly, Madly, Deeply. If the person to whom I was expounding Rickman’s accomplishment wasn’t familiar with the movie, I felt  sorry for them. More often than not, it seemed, they hadn’t seen it or heard of it.

An article online this morning included clips of some of his best work, and thankfully they did include this movie. I knew I shouldn’t have watched it, especially first thing in the morning when I’m most vulnerable. Fortunately, only my dogs witnessed the running tears. Such a great scene.

While some mourn the passing of Severus Snape, I mourn the loss of an amazing talent. We were fortunate to have him.

Truly.

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What Did the Cat Say?

Sometimes talking animals in movies are more than acceptable, they’re expected and fun and insightful. Why not?!

However….the other day while looking through YouTube we stumbled upon this gem, and the only thought I had was….

Didn’t anyone working on this realize just how bad it was?

Shockingly bad. And Jody? Oh….oh, Jody.

Being an Actor is Weird

Earlier this Fall I had a few auditions for a film. Theatre auditions can vary greatly in how they’re handled by the producer or director, but film auditions are a really mixed bag. Small rooms, large rooms, cameras or none, one-on-one interviews with the director or with a table full of writers, producers, P.A.s, someone’s grandfather, and a dog. I’d say these recent auditions fell somewhere in the middle—there were enough people there to show me they were serious about making this thing and they were all normal and polite enough to tell me I’d not regret working with them if they hired me.

I didn’t get the part.

That’s not why things can be weird. In fact, there was really nothing weird about this thing except that I was never told I didn’t get it. Generally speaking after a second or third audition an actor is typically notified (that is, at least when they’re representing themselves and not by an agent) and the last thing I was told was “You’ll be hearing from us by the weekend.”

That was over eight weeks ago.

The other day I came across something online that told me the name of the actor who got the part. He’s perfect for it, a much better a casting choice than I would’ve been (yes, I can manage some objectivity) and he’s a great actor. I can’t feel bad—they got the right guy. I’ve worked with him before and consider him a friend, so I had to send him a congratulatory and sarcastic note along the lines of “thanks for taking my part from me.”

Obviously it’s not the first part I haven’t got, wasn’t the last, and I don’t really fret about losing a role. That would be really self-destructive. It’s just the nature of the work. And that’s kind of the weird thing. Auditions are this ridiculous way of getting a job. You stand up in front of people to be judged, and frankly liked, and you have to have the right skills, the right talent, the right look. You could be too short, too young, too old, or even not look enough like someone else. Or too much. And even then, there’s this weird elusive thing about chemistry with another actor, usually a stranger.

As my friend said in his response DUDE! I’m sorry about taking your part. Isn’t acting weird? We do our thing and a bunch of other people get to decide if we work, where we work, when we work and what we work on.

He’s right. But of course, if that were the only thing it would be just like everything else. I mean, if I were a chemist and wanted to work for 3M it’s not like I could just show up one day and say, “Hey, I can do this. Where can I set up in the lab?” I’d still have to apply, interview and be chosen. But if we apply the rules of hiring actors to the process of hiring a chemist then the chemist also has to be the right gender, the right age, the right “type”, look like he could wear the right lab coat, and it would make a difference as to whether or not he showed up to the interview with a pocket protector.

Do chemists use pocket protectors? Probably. But I digress.

A couple days ago I had an audition for a commercial. I didn’t even have to speak, it was just walk and give the right attitude. There are no lines. You’d think just about anyone could do it. For that job I have a callback on Monday. Yes, there are callback auditions for that non-speaking ,5-seconds of film, job, because of the thirty guys they’ve seen they couldn’t just pick one.

My friend was right. Being an actor is weird. This isn’t news to me, but sometimes things happen that really bring it home.

I’m going to practice my attitude now.

Raining, Pouring

A month ago I had virtually nothing on my artistic schedule for this Fall, and very few opportunities on the books down the road.

In the past few weeks that has all changed:

      • I’m currently producing and directing short-story adaptations for a late-night show for Balance Theatre Project to perform in less than one month from now. I have a killer cast and a jigsaw of a rehearsal schedule that may also kill (me).
      • We had our first read-thru of the production, when we gathered in the attic playroom of a historic mansion
      • I got cast in and have already shot a mini-short film (is that a category?)
      • I had a fun audition for a new (to me) company and new (to me) director, where the talent and creds are high, and have snagged a call back for it to be done sometime in the next week or so
      • I had an audition for a feature-length film (a paid feature length indie film = a rarity) and have a callback in the next week or so
      • I was invited to audition for another show for another (new to me) company with a really cool script, and which also happens in the next week or so

Over a century ago, small children put on little plays in this space

Those bottom 3 items will likely all conflict and I may have to make some choices of my own. That is if the rain keeps falling.

A Not So Bad Audition

The other day I auditioned for some independent film, at an old warehouse or factory building in northeast. Northeast Minneapolis, that is. Or also known as Nordeast. After living here for 20+ years I’ve finally started to find my way around that part of the city, and I don’t get lost up there nearly as much as I once did. I’m not directionally challenged in most of the world, except for a small area of Minneapolis on the other side of the river.

It was sort of an audition. More like an audition/interview. There was no camera recording me, even though this was a film audition, and strangely, think I was the most calm and confident person in the tiny studio. The writer/director seemed nervous and not sure how to go about any of this. The other person (whose position wasn’t made clear to me) was more confident, and tried to act like she knew what she was doing, even though she clearly questioned herself.

Not unlike a set of red lips along a highway

All this was fine with me—I don’t mind when others are nervous. In fact, I often wish everyone else were nervous most of the time and not me.

What would life be like then? Perhaps discomforting.

But I digress. I didn’t end up getting it.

So what does all this have to do with this picture?

Nothing really.

Except that on this beautiful afternoon when I went on this audition and as I was walking back to my car I noticed how prominent the General Mills building was on the skyline in that part of the city. In some weird way it made me think of the Magikist sign off the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, which is sadly no longer there. (The sign, I mean, not the expressway. Or Chicago.) And it didn’t remind of that because a set of big lips are like tall white mills but because it seems so brazen, so distinct against the back drop. You drive past it every day, see it all the time, and don’t really acknowledge its presence.

I stopped a moment at my car as I tossed my stuff in to the back seat and I thought, “Well, I don’t think I’m what they’re looking for, but it’s a lovely day and it wasn’t a bad audition and I’ve met some new people, so life’s not so bad. And hey—that’s kind of a cool view!”

So I took a picture.

General Mills. “Life’s not so bad.”

Finding a Good Book

Last weekend I returned from a week-long, beach vacation in Mexico. I did nothing other than sit on the beach, read, people watch, jump in the Pacific and eat and drink my way through the town.

This was basically my view for about 8 days.

book, beer, beach.

Before going I had asked friends for suggestions of good beach reads – nothing too dense, fiction, perhaps suspense or mystery. I received plenty of ideas, and in addition to having my Nook with me I picked up two paper backs. (I’d rather a paper back be destroyed, stolen or lost, so they were my intended beach-time indulgence.) I downloaded a free sample to my Nook of both books and read them on the plane to figure out which I would read first.

We arrived on Saturday, and by Thursday I had completed the first book. It was fine, it was interesting, it was the right mind-candy. THEN I started the second book.

Just as I had done with a bowl of Lucky Charms when I was a kid, I saved the sweet marshmallows for last. I was immediately intrigued by this one with the sample, and by the time we left on Sunday I was about two-thirds through it.

Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close by Jonathan Safran Foer quickly moved into the ranks of some of my favorite books.

It hadn’t been a suggestion, but the recent movie ads had intrigued me. It seems like it might be a bit sappy, but the story struck me as possibly being imaginative and epic. I came across the book on one of my final dash-to-Tarjay-and-get-stuff-for-vacation trips and I was still searching for a second book. They didn’t have what I was seeking, but I saw this, I picked it up and thought…well, why not?

As with most people, when I read a book there’s a specific voice that I hear. It gets established quickly in my head and remains there unchanged. (I don’t know how it happens or how it all works. I’ve talked to people about it and my experience makes sense to some, but I’ve had a few people who think I’m a bit looney.) This kid’s voice in my head narrating the book was immediately charming and fun. His words and the writing flowed easily from one thing to the next, like some kind of ADD issue was involved, but I flowed with it, enjoying the ride and feeling very much in tune with him. It was going to be a perfect read.

The only problem was every once in a while I’d have to put it down. There I was in a tropical, relaxing setting, and suddenly because out of nowhere would come this beautiful or touching image or passage or something that reminded me of someone or something….I’d find myself gasp at a line, and tears would roll down my cheeks. I’d have to put it down.

Yes, it’s about 9/11, or at its basis that’s the event that propels the story, but it’s really about so much else. Family. Relationships. Wonder. Hope. Fear. And there’s no evil in this book. The, for lack of a better phrase, heart wrenching elements are out of compassion and kindness. And there are surprises and twists along the way. Also, it’s a visual book. There are graphics and photographs and fonts and text designs all along the way. There’s a whole monologue for two pages written in numbers because it’s spelled out on a telephone keypad. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the specific words (although I want to translate it now) because I know what the character was saying – and it was beautiful and touching. There are places where words are missing or written over each other and illegible. It’s not just text. The art here is also in these visual elements. It makes for a brilliant package.

What I really wonder is how the movie could possibly be made. There are, essentially, multiple story-lines happening, and in fact the POV of the writing changes between three different characters. (I suspect the movie doesn’t do this.) Any one of these points of view make for a good story, and as I was reading it, with the words flowing so naturally and interestingly as they do, I kept thinking how I wished this were an unknown writer and not a book with a major film version, because I would love to create a stage piece from these characters and words. In my head I could see something imaginative and playful and just a bit stylized, as if Dominique Serrand or his now defunct Theatre de la Jeune Lune had created it. It’s that kind of lovely. That kind of creativity.

I don’t know. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time to read this. Even if that’s just the case, I relished my time with it and I’ll miss these characters.

Of course, I’ve already downloaded Foer’s other book.