and now for something completely different
Seven days ago, the only thing I could think about was my cat. We didn't know what was wrong with him, we didn't know how to treat him, and we didn't even know if he'd ever recover.
He spent the entire day with his vet, and I spent the entire day wondering . . . well, if you read WWdN for the last week, you know.
In a tangible example of "life must go on," I had an audition on Monday afternoon of last week. Though I felt like I'd rather just stay home and stare at the phone, the call was for a producer's session on a fantastic show that I love, so I called on all my acting experience, temporarily set my worries aside, and drove to the studio.
It was 4:30 when I got there, and the skies were getting stormy. I had to park at the bottom of a hill, and walked to the gate through a bitterly cold wind. On the way up the hill, a twentyish girl driving a Prius pulled up next to me and shouted across her passenger seat, "Excuse me! Are they making us all park in that lot down there?"
I wanted to reply, "No, I'm just walking all the way up this damn hill in the freezing cold because I want the exercise and possible pneumonia." But she was cute, and she smiled at me. So I said, "Yeah, I think so," and kept walking.
She thanked me and backed down the hill into the lot.
When I got to the guard shack, I was breathing heavily. I couldn't help but think of Sketch as I told the guard where I was going.
"What's your name?" The guard said.
He scanned down a long list of names, found mine, and crossed it off.
"Do you know where you're going?" He said.
"I haven't been here in a long time," I said. A year ago, I would have felt weird saying that, but the familiar feeling of angst wasn't there. "My priorities have changed." I thought.
He gave me directions to the other side of the lot. A short walk later, I signed in below someone named "Dane," and took a seat. The waiting room was little more than a long and narrow hallway with chairs lining both sides, reducing the walkway to about ten inches wide. In an alcove at the end of the hallway, a copy machine duplicated scripts with a familiar ka-chunk! whirr ka-chunk!
The cute girl turned heads as she walked in. "That hill is murder in heels," she said to me.
"I'm glad I wore my Converse," I said.
"Sure, rub it in." She said, coyly.
"Is she flirting with me?" I think that this is a universal truth: no matter how stupid in love a guy is with his wife (and we all know how stupid in love I am with Anne) when a cute girl flirts with you, it makes you feel good, like you've still got something worth flirting with. I said nothing and blushed.
A very young casting assistant came out of the office and looked down the sign-in sheet.
"Are you Dane?" He said to me.
I almost laughed out loud. "No. No I'm not." I said.
"Who are you?" He said.
It was one of those moments where time comes to a complete halt, and a thousand things race through your mind:
"Who am I? I'm the guy who's been acting longer than you've been breathing, kid."
"I am Sparticus!"
"Are you serious?"
"Ah, this is my place, and I've just been put in it."
I heard the distant ka-chunk! whirr ka-chunk! of the copy machine, and I knew that time would soon be returning to its normal passage. I didn't feel insulted, or embarrassed, or anything unpleasant. "Am I offended? Should I be offended? Where's that Prove To Everyone voice? Where's that Voice of Self Doubt? They live for this sort of thing . . . Huh. That's weird. I'm not offended. I'm actually amused. Yeah, this is funny!"
"I'm Wil Wheaton." I said with a grin.
He looked down at the list. "Oh, here you are! Okay, Will. Did you bring a picture?"
I haven't needed to bring a picture to auditions for about a decade, but I didn't tell him that.
"I did not," I said, "But I can have my manager send you one if you need it."
"Oh, it's not a big deal. They just like me to ask." He smiled warmly. "Oh! The script describes this guy as 'a real eager beaver', but the producers don't want you to play it that way. They want you to make it a little more dark."
"Thanks for the heads-up," I said.
"No problem. You're on deck, right after Dane." He lowered his voice and added, conspiratorially,"if I can find him." He walked down the hallway, found Dane, and took him into the room.
"Nice kid," I thought. Immediately followed by, "I can't believe I'm thinking of a twenty year-old as a kid. I am so . . . old? Lame? Both? Yeah, both. Ha."
I sat back down, and looked at my sides. The scenes were short, and I was already off book, but it just felt wrong to not look at them, especially with this new information about the character. This show is very well-written, so making the adjustment from Eager Beaver to Dark Beaver was simple. I just made up a slightly different backstory and gave myself a different "want" in both scenes (In most scripts there's usually a character who wants something, and another character who helps him or stands in his way. The drama or comedy comes from their interaction) It's much more fun to be dark than it is to be eager, anyway, and I had a lot of real life Darkness in my life to draw upon last Monday.
Dane came out, I went in, and I did my thing. I was dark and scary. The producer told me to adjust a little bit less dark, so I did, and read the scenes again.
Everyone in the room was extremely kind and gracious, which I didn't expect . . . I mean, this show is so popular, people are practically stepping over the corpses of their competition just for a chance at auditioning . . . but everyone there made me feel comfortable, welcome, and like they respected the effort. "Whether I book this job or not," I thought, "I won't take this for granted. These people are a class act."
The one hundred percent honest truth? I had fun. I had a fucking metric assload of fun reaching into this character's soul and pulling him out of my guts. Remember when I wrote about how you're not supposed to give a shit? Well, a gave a lot of shits, but I didn't feel like it was life-or-death to nail this. I honestly had so much more on my mind, I just went up there, did my thing, and thought, "Well, here's my take on this guy. Hope you like it."
"Thanks for coming in, Wil," one of the producers said to me, "you did a really nice job."
Usually, "really nice" is Hollywood code for "do not darken my door ever again," but there was a sincerity in his voice, and he didn't have to say anything . . .
"Thank you," I said with a smile. I wanted to add, "I love your show, my kids love your show, and I appreciate the opportunity to read for you," but I kept my big mouth shut and stuck to The Plan: Well, here's my take on this guy. Hope you like it. I walked out of the room, and dropped my sides in the first recycling bin I saw. It's a post-audition ritual: my way of letting go, because at that point, it's totally out of my hands anyway.
"Careful when you walk back down the hill." I said to the pretty girl as I passed her.
"Are you kidding me?" She tapped one of her heels with her fingertips. "These fuckers are coming off as soon as I get out of there!" She laughed. She struck me as one of those rare women, like my wife, who call her shoes "these fuckers" and drink beer, and watch the playoffs, and are entirely charming and beautiful. We're lucky to have them in our lives.
I laughed with her. "Break a leg."
I walked out of the building, and into a strong wind. The sun was setting, and the building, white when I entered, was pink. Reflected in its windows, golden clouds raced from West to East across the deepening blue sky toward the impending night.
I walked quickly back to my car, and drove to my meeting at ACME in Hollywood. The clock in my car read 5:21. Anne had picked Sketch up at 5, so I called her to check on him. When she didn't answer, I feared the worst.
"I'm on my way to ACME," I told her voice mail. "Call me as soon as you get the message and let me know how Sketch is. I love you."
Ten minutes went by. I called again and left a similar message. Five minutes after that, I called Ryan at our house.
Me:"Is mom home?"
Ryan: "No. She's with Nolan."
Me: "Is she getting Sketch?"
Me: "Tell her to call me when she gets home if she hasn't talked to me already, okay?"
Me: "Thanks. I love you."
He's fifteen and doesn't say "I love you" very often, but that's okay. I know he does.
The sunset, off to my right, was particularly beautiful as I crawled down the 5 in rush hour traffic. The storm clouds were heaviest behind me and to my left. Normally, I'd take time to enjoy the juxtaposition, but while I'd been focusing on my audition, lots of worry about my kitty had backed up, and now it was coming out.
"Should I blow off going to ACME and head home? Yes. Yes, I really should go home. I'll go East on the 134 in six miles, and just go home."
For the next several minutes, I looked at my phone over and over again, certain that I was going to miss the call, equally certain that when the call came, it would be Anne's voice, bravely trying to stay steady, while she gave me The News.
"Oh god. What am I going to do? What am I going to do if he has to be put to sleep? This isn't fair! He was fine on Friday morning! Why is this —"
My cell rang.
It was Anne. "How did your audition go?"
"Fine. How's Sketch?"
"Please say he's okay."
"He's not doing well, Wil. His breathing is really heavy, and his eyes look scared. I wish we had known to get his ultrasound yesterday." I could hear the fear and worry in her voice. She was doing her best to keep it together for me. She's incredible, my wife.
I drew a deep breath and felt a strong wave of grief and worry shudder through my body. I didn't know it, but I would get very intimate with this feeling over the next seven days.
"Should I just come home?" I said.
"It's not going to make a difference. I'll call you if anything changes."
"Okay," I said. "I should be home around nine. Take care of my fat guy."
"I will," she said. "When do you think you'll hear about your audition?"
"Well, I think it works pretty soon, so maybe tomorrow or Wednesday, I guess."
My phone chirped twice: call waiting.
"I have another call. It's Chris [my manager]."
"Maybe you got the job," she said.
"I don't know. I'll call you when I know what's up."
"I gotta go. Give Sketch some love for me. I love you."
"I will. I love you too," she said.
I clicked over. Chris wanted to know how the audition went. I told him about it, and about Sketch.
"I hope your cat gets better," he said. "I'll call you as soon as I know anything from casting."
I went to ACME, even though I really felt like I should have been home. I got back shortly after nine, and ran into my bedrooom. Sketch was on my floor, looking like each breath would be his last. I opened my mouth to tell him I love him, and sobs came out instead. I cried myself to sleep while he struggled to stay alive on my bedroom floor, and took him to the vet the following morning. On the way home, I got a call from my manager.
"How's your cat doing?" He said.
I told him, and we spent a few minutes talking about animals and what they mean to us. Most managers have earned their stereotypical image as Armani suit wearing ponytails who end every conversation with ciao! but Chris is antithetical to That Guy. More often than not, I call to talk about an audition, or ask a question about something work-related, and we end up talking about our kids. It's fairly common for me to call him, end up talking about report cards, and have to call him back to ask about the project I'd called about in the first place.
"Well, not to abruptly shift to business, but how tall are you?" He said.
"How tall do they want me to be?" I said.
"Seriously. How tall are you?"
I told him, and pointed out that it's pretty easy to make me one or two inches taller with the right shoes.
"Hey, if you put me in really funky shoes, like James Brown shoes, I could even be four or five inches taller."
He laughed, but I laughed way too hard and way too long for the joke. Now that we knew what was wrong with Sketch, and how to treat him, I laughed more out of relief than anything else.
"Why do they want to know how tall I am? Am I going to lose another role because of the way I look?"
"Quite the opposite," he said. "You made a great impression up there yesterday. They like you so much, they're considering you for a different role in the show."
"Really?! What role?"
"Well, that depends on how tall you are. Let me call them back, and I'll call you when I know something."
I hung up, and I didn't think about the audition again until later that night at ACME.
After we'd been pitching material for about an hour, a friend of mine sat next to me and said, "Are you okay?"
I told her about Sketch. "I'm emotionally exhausted right now."
"I understand," she said. "I'm really sorry."
"Thank you," I said. We talked a little bit about work, and I told her about the audition.
"Oh my crap!" She said, "You're totally going to book it. I just know it."
(This is something that actors always say to each other. If my friend Greg auditions for a wasabi commercial, and he's the only 30ish white guy in there among a hundred Sumo wrestlers, I am bound by the actor's code to tell him, "Dude. You're totally going to book it. I just know it.")
"Well, we'll see." I said.
I watched a lot of really funny sketches (especially Ethan's — we're lucky Travis doesn't grade on too steep a curve), put up a mildly amusing one of my own, and raced home so I could sit up most of the night worrying about my fat little guy.
Early Wednesday morning, I spoke with Sketch's vet: he was improving. I spent the morning working on my Onion column, and did some re-writing of my mildly funny ACME sketch. Around eleven or so, the phone rang. I felt the too-familiar surge of adrenaline before I saw the caller ID. It was my manager.
"Wil? It's Chris."
"What's up?" I said.
"How's Sketch doing?" He said.
"His vet says he's getting better."
"How are you doing?"
"We're not out of the woods yet, but at least I can see the path."
"Okay . . . so how are you doing?"
"I don't know, Chris," I said. "Okay, I guess."
"I understand." He paused, we both shifted gears. "Well, I heard from casting."
"You won't get the official offer until later today, or maybe tomorrow, but they wanted you to know that you're going to get the job."
I sat up in my chair.
"Yes. It turns out that you are exactly the right height. You're playing a homeless guy who . . . let me read it to you . . . 'has been talking to the voices in his head for years, but has just recently started talking to them out loud. He's a suspect in the murder.'"
I jumped out of my chair. "Wait. Did I get a bigger role because of my acting?"
I could hear the smile in his voice. "I think you did. They wanted you to have something more challenging and complex to do."
I did a little dance in my living room, where I run back and forth and shake my thing. Riley saw me, and ran across the house to my side. She didn't know why I was excited, but she danced with me anyway before she got really interested in chasing her tail. She's good like that.
"Chris, this is . . . this is just . . . holy crap!" The reality of this job was sinking in. "For years I've been told, 'you were the best actor but . . .' and 'we loved your acting, but . . .' this is just so cool! Can I blog about it?"
"Well, until we get the official offer, you can tell your friends and family, but you shouldn't put it on your blog just yet," he said. "And starting right now, they don't want you to shave, so you look good and scruffy. Can you grow a beard?"
"Uh . . . in some spots, I can grow a beard . . . ish . . . thing." I said.
He laughed. "Just do your best."
"It's all I can do," I said. "Chris, I can't believe this. I think this is the first time in years you've gotten to call and tell me that I actually booked a job!"
"Congratulations, Wil," he said. "I'll talk to you later."
I hung up the phone, and that's when it really hit me:
I'm going to be on CSI.
I have said it out loud to my friends and family, and even though I just wrote it down, it still feels surreal.
Holy shit, I'm going to be on CSI!