Monday, July 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 426: And The Horse You Rode In On...

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"-- which Dorothy Parker re-jigged to "You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think" -- which brings us to actors, who are often considered the whores of the culture because they'll do just about anything to make a buck.

Now, having been one (an actor) for a big chunk of my career, I can confirm that actors lie a lot. Mostly to get hired. Not that they lie any more than writers and directors do to get hired or producers do to come up with production money or simply to get laid. But only actors will admit they lie. 

The reason is simple. The root from which the word actor derives is "action" -- he who does something. And actors are always being asked if they can do something most people can't. 

Can you ride a horse?

Can you water ski?

Can you play tennis?

Nobody ever asks "Can you act?" since that's supposed to be a given. But this myriad of other skills which might be required of fictional characters takes up a lot of most actors lives. In addition to acting classes and voice lessons, actors spend a lot of time learning to do things most people can't -- and which they likely will never have to do either.

At the bottom of all resumes you'll inevitably find a list of unique things each individual actor can do. Juggle. Kick-box. Ballroom dance. Make paper airplanes.

When I was in high school I was into gymnastics, so that was on my list. But I soon learned that knowing how to do something might get you the job, but it didn't necessarily mean you'd get to do the job.

Allow me to explain. 

I got a call from my agent about a commercial where they needed somebody who had some gymnastic skills. Okay. I could probably do that. So I get an audition. At the audition somebody asks me if I have any gymnastic experience and I go through the list of what I can do. They seem happy. So happy I get booked for the job.

A week later, I turn up at some gymnasium with a whole crew and some ad agency guys. In the middle of the floor is a mat and hanging from the ceiling are a set of gymnastic rings. Now, I know Olympic athletes make those things look easy. But they're about the hardest thing you can do in a gym. 

I'd never been on a set and the director had a whole choreography he'd designed based on being in Munich in 1972 or something. After he laid out a routine only about 8 guys in the world could probably do -- moving from a Giant Swing into an Iron Cross and then a Kip Over to whatever. I politely explained that the rings weren't on the list of gymnastic events at which I was skilled and in addition nobody had ever asked if I was some kind of ring expert.

Everybody freaked out. And I was suddenly another lying actor and dispatched from the set while they frantically tried to reach their number 2 pick at his day job.

I'm pretty sure they couldn't reach him, or number 3 or number 4, because by the time the commercial aired, the poor guy they hired was doing somersaults -- and not doing them very well either.

This experience served me well later in life, when as a producer I would ask if an actor could ride a horse, knowing full well he or she would swear they could. Whoever we hired was them immediately dispatched to a riding school to "brush up" their abilities while the riding instructor was told he was getting somebody who'd never even seen a horse in real life.

Nobody got embarrassed. The production stayed on time and on budget. And the next time the actor was asked to ride a horse there wouldn't be any need for lying.

Which brings me to this lovely little anecdote from Sam Shepherd, a fine actor, superb writer and all round nice guy, who honestly does know how to ride a horse.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

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