37 Years Later
Got to town today 37 years after my first arrival in New York City. Today I arrived on a flight paid for by my employer, and was met by a very polite, liveried, driver who grabbed my bag and carried it to a shiny black SUV that he used to ferry me to my destination on the Upper West Side, not far from Lincoln Center.
In 1981, I arrived on a flight paid for by my parents, toting all my worldly belongings in two suitcases. I hopped a shuttle bus that took me to the Port Authority Bus Terminal where, upon arrival, I had to fight to hang on to my bags that were being grabbed at by more than a few hungry eyed street types. From there I walked to my friend’s apartment in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. It was a shotgun flat that he shared with a large rat. On the floor above was a madman who screamed all night every night about how he wanted to “cut their heads off”! I slept on a couch he had rescued from a trash pile on a lucky Tuesday night (garbage night).
I might as well have been resting my bones at the Plaza Hotel. I was thrilled, energized. I was overjoyed. I was spending my first nights in New York City. For a mexican boy from south San Jose, that was like spending the night on Mars. My friend told me I had exactly two weeks to find a job and another place to live. Why? His girlfriend, a ballet student at Julliard, who had appeared in the movie FAME, would only be amorous with him in his place ALONE. I was very much a spanner in their sexual works that could only be tolerated for a fortnight. She was very beautiful and very athletic and they were both young and full of life. I promised to clear out with all haste.
Two days later I had a job at an east side ice cream parlor, I lied through my teeth about my vast waitering experience. A week after that I was living in a room at the Belleclaire Hotel on 77th and Broadway. I shared a bathroom with 5 other rooms, one occupied by another young and amorous couple who had a thing for long, candlelit baths.
Today was much easier, much more polished. I’m a grown man, established, mature, seasoned. Accommodations were arranged and paid for with ease, sans limits or ultimatums. And yet, the excitement I felt as the hired car approached the city, the skyline growing closer, was every bit as butterfly inducing as back in 1981.
I’m going to make a point of telling you all about the adventures of today and yesterday as I rehearse and perform my part in Othello at the Delacorte Theatre.
A colleague pointed out to me that the company producing this show has not been called the New York Shakespeare Festival for a long time. He should know as he is, himself, a producer of classical theatre in NYC. However, when I finished my employment in the 2016 run of Troilus and Cressida at the Delacorte in Central Park, I received a letter from my employer for the purpose of applying for unemployment. In the letter the official name of my employer was… The New York Shakespeare Festival.
Othello rehearsal begins at 9:00 AM, 04/23/2018. I’m eager to meet my co-workers.
Another Turn on the Delacorte Stage
1:30 AM. I’m a couple of hours away from heading to the airport, and catching a New York bound flight. As usual I can’t sleep before a travel day so I’m writing. The New York Shakespeare Festival asked me to join the cast of their production of Othello this summer. I’m psyched, jazzed, thrilled. Someone told me a long time ago that “you only get so many opening nights”. A bittersweet truth, and fewer still are opening nights on a major stage in New York City. I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m happy to be working in New York. I’m surprised that I’m already a little homesick for LA. Did I just write that? Yes….yes I did.
As an actor who trained and turned pro in NY I’ve felt obliged to consider my time in LA to be a “temporary stint out of town”. Well I’ve been “out of town” since the last decade of the last century and now my brief stints are “in town”. The great radio star Fred Allen once said that “…the minute you leave New York, you’re outta town”. In a way it’s still true, but so much less so than in my youth when New York was just beginning to come back from a terrible descent into insolvency, crime and decay. Things were happening, a renaissance was gearing up.
The profession of acting was being taught by the students of great teachers like Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, who were both still teaching as well. The generation of actors who came up during those years in NY were smart and talented and maybe just a tad idealistic. We wanted to be artists, to do Theatre, to play Shakespeare. And if you wanted to do the Bard you wanted to work for Joseph Papp, the impresario who founded the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Joe Papp was a star maker, a heart breaker, a big, brawling force of nature packed into 5 foot something frame. He used to call me “Mickey”. I always called him “Mr. Papp”. He’s gone now, he’s waaaayyyy outta town. What he left behind is a legacy of excellence, beauty, vision and sheer talent summed up in two institutions, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and The Public Theatre. Oscar Eustis is the man in charge now and he is doing an amazing job. His production of Julius Caesar last summer was a sensation.
This year I’m honored to play Brabantio in Othello, under the direction of the great Ruben Santiago Hudson. I’ll be there, in the rehearsal hall on Monday morning, script in hand, mind engaged, listening intently and absolutely 100 percent IN town.
You CAN teach an old dog new stunts!
Actors of a certain age are excused from doing fights and action sequences and all that other dangerous stuff. At least that is what I thought until I arrived on set for my guest star assignment on Shooter yesterday. My scene partner, Ryan Phillippe, who also serves as Star and Producer on the show pointed out that, when our scene is interrupted by an assassin who tries dispatch our hero Bob Lee Bragger (played by Ryan Phillippe) there is no reason for me to stay around and that it made no sense for my character to linger while the fight is going on. The best solution would be for me to get involved in the fight, get incapacitated, and thereby be present when it comes time for Bob Lee to get the Truth. The Director took on a look concern and asked me if I was “up for it”! I smiled and said Hell Yes!!
In my youth I was involved with stage combat, staged fights, and rudimentary stunt work. I got to meet and work with some great fight arrangers; B. H. Barry, Steven White, David Leong and the amazing Rick Sordelet. It was so much fun and always exciting and challenging.
Now, although I’ve reached that “certain age” I’ve kept in shape, watch my weight, do yoga and other exercises and try to keep my body strong. Yesterday it all payed off as the Stunt coordinator padded me up and put me through my paces. My bit was small but important to the story. At the start of the fight the assassin pulls a gun and it is slapped away. Hero and assassin start to fight and I go for the gun. Our hero sees me reaching for the loose firearm and lands a back kick to my exposed ribs that knocks me down and renders me immobile. Then he puts some finishing moves on the assassin.
Once the other baddie is tied up, Bob Lee Swagger interrogates me and gets the truth about why he was being set up.
I had a great time. We did the whole sequence in two takes and nobody got hurt. Kudos to Ryan and Tierre (Stunt Coordinator) and Eric (Stunt Man/Assassin). They were amazing.
It was a great day on set. One to remember for sure.
Guesting on SHOOTER this week
March has come in like a lion this year. I garnered two bookings for this first week of March. One for a very interesting short film out of AFI that I really pushed to do, the other a guest star shot on the USA Networks series SHOOTER with Ryan Phillipe. And the icing on the cake was…?
Both jobs were scheduled for the same day. Such is the life of a freelance actor. Big kudos to my reps for their heroic effort to make the schedule work for both assignments. Alas it was not meant to be though and I’m going to have to wait for a later opportunity to do an AFI film.
Looking forward to working on SHOOTER. The role is a juicy one!
Toronto is not an edgy city. It’s a place of balance and equity, harmony and symmetry. It sits on the edge of Lake Ontario and smiles and it’s not an edgy city. It’s a good town for food, for beer, for culture, for inclusion, for meshing cultures, heavy traffic and television/film production. I like it fine. A city doesn’t have to be edgy to be good.
Big day on set today. A harrowing scene involving Rebel soldiers terrorizing a busload of Americans they have kidnapped. We had them in a thatched roofed shack and were shouting in their faces, pushing them around and just generally causing havoc. All well and good until one of the hostages started fighting back against our oppression. He swung at me and missed, I thought it was on purpose, I supposed he had made the actors choice to be the “defiant” hostage. I respected that and opted to take our improv further. I took him by the shoulder and held him at arms length. I cocked by fist and hesitated. Then I called one of my henchmen and told him to “take this one outside”. My guy took hold of the “rebel” and got a sock in the eye for his trouble. The “thwack” of the collision of flesh and bone was unmistakable. There was a pause and the my henchman broke the silence with “Excuse me, I don’t think he’s supposed to hit me”. Outside the director yelled “cut”.
As ever there were two sides to the story and the poor guy who threw the punch was aggrieved and angry and frightened at the way he was being treated. He came to the set unprepared for the kind of moment we were playing. The Director took charge of the situation and got everyone calmed down. He’s a really sweet guy and very actor friendly. There was no bad blood between the two actors involved and I didn’t even mention the punch I slipped seconds before the one that landed. The day ended well and the extra with the mean right cross stayed on. Twenty years ago he would have been sacked. It’s good to see that the industry has evolved in some way. And frustrating to know that some of the people with power in our business are still abusing that power.
Loving Toronto. I could definitely spend a lot of time in this town. The people are friendly and welcoming. The city is clean and modern. The food is fresh and varied and delicious. And the beer is cold, cold, cold.
One more day of shooting tomorrow, and an early morning flight on Tuesday. Hopefully I’ll have some time to catch the Dia De Los Muertos festival at Olvera Street.
Up late. Packing, sitting, looking at my sides, glancing at my carryon to be sure my passport is still sitting atop it. It’s the ritual, it’s the pattern, it’s what I do when I go on the road. I stay up late, saving up weariness for the flight. I check and recheck my necessaries. “Do I have what I really need?”. I push aside thoughts of air disasters, and keep a positive outlook. I look up museums and metro maps in the city I’ll be in. Toronto is a very cultured town. It has a metro system and the museums seem to be top notch. No doubt there are some good restaurants. And Beer? Hell it’s Canada.
Of course I wonder how I’ll be received. I’ve been a hired gun all my career. A day here, a week there, folks are usually friendly and welcoming. I remember Blair Brown making an effort to chat me up and put me at ease when I was guesting on The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, it was my first network job and her kindness helped me so much. Mark Harmon on Navy NCIS welcomes guest stars as though he is welcoming guests to his house. That man is a class act.
I’m an old bunny now and much less needy. But even so I’m still the “new kid in class” whenever I’m guesting on a show.
Oh Canada! Here I come.
The life of an actor is a bakeshop filled with fresh baked surprises and nectarous delights, dusted liberally with disappointment. On the surprise and delight side of things, I’m happy to announce that I just booked a really good gig. Gonna do a guest star job on Designated Survivor in Toronto next week. I’ve never been to Toronto and I’m a great admirer of Kiefer Sutherland. This is the first time I’ll be working in Canada, and hopefully, not the last.
From time to time you get a gig where you can really rely on imagination and just go wild. I’ve had such an opportunity lately. It was a lot of fun and such a joy to be working with an outrageously creative crew and cast. Here is a clip –