It was just a couple of years ago when everything came crashing down. Life. My life in particular.
After having worked for years on end – developing a screenplay, getting talent attached, raising money, shooting the proof-of-concept trailer, offering a pay-or-play to an A-List actress, and attaching one of the most revered casting directors – it all came to a sudden halt. I was fighting for my dreams like a warrior, securing this, tackling that, controlling every aspect of what I thought I was driving forward. Driving so hard that "feature film" ended up on the floor in bits and pieces of creative carnage.
I searched and scoured for the enemy stopping my dreams from becoming a reality… and realized it was me. My own past returned to teach me a lesson.
"You may be done with the past, but the past isn't done with you."
I felt annihilated to the point of a creative purification… a letting go… a forcible universal cause and effect, a cleansing.
All told I was spent in every respect of the word. My most prospective script, my last and final hope to launch me into my dream role, was instead off the launching pad and stored away in a mausoleum… cremated… dead.
How could this happen? And why? So much blood, sweat, and tears. I looked in the mirror and wondered, "Now what?" And that's when I realized I had been down this road before, a number of times. I needed to take another path… into the unknown… the uncontrollable, the unpredictable…
I had to exit off the freeway into new terrain and start auditioning again. This is my craft, and I am an actor. This is all I have ever known and everything I trained for. My friend Ron said to me, "Sometimes you gotta pull yourself up by the bootstraps." I never forgot that, and it certainly spoke to me.
A couple of months passed after my last dream's funeral. I finished mourning and it was time to go hunting for my creative yearning. I met with several agents and quickly got a pulse on the present day marketplace for film and tv. I was aware of the industry climate, but I was so involved in producing that it didn't really affect me.
Everyone is an actor now, or destined to be, in every town around the world with YouTube. This is what I wanted to avoid; by producing my own films I thought that I would hop, skip, and jump past the reservoir of actors and the endless competition.
I remember asking an actor that I worked with in the play Death of A Salesman, "What is the method?" He said, "There is no method. When you're standing at the edge of the abyss, you don't know what's going to happen but your instincts will save you. In that fleeting moment, JUMP! And it will catch you."
Well, seeing that I landed face first on the concrete, I realized, "oh, it caught me alright… head first." But I had it in me to stand up one more time, one more time. I secured an agent and a manager, thinking this would support the cause.
I started submitting myself along with my reps on the breakdowns. I was excited to audition for a couple of great films and got callbacks, but didn't book. Running into the holiday season, things got slower pushing past Thanksgiving and into Christmas. And then to my surprise, I was submitted to a film that would end up changing my life and faith.
Persistence in the eyes of defeat persevered. I remember when I got the audition sides I thought, "If I don't get this part, I should give up acting." Again, totally oblivious to the hundreds of actors that were submitted for this project.
At the initial audition, the director and casting agent seemed very responsive to my first reading, so they asked for me to read it again with some small adjustments. After the second reading, the film's director was silent and turned to the casting agent looking at her for what seemed an eternity and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" The casting agent said, "Yes, I am thinking what you're thinking." I thought to myself, "Is there a hidden camera in here, is the joke on me?"
The director turned to me and asked, "Would you be interested in reading for another role? You can come back another day, or we can read you today if you want take it outside and look it over and decide."
They gave me the audition sides, and I went out into the waiting room. Instantly the new character resonated with me, it was as if these were my words. I decided to read for it that day because I wanted this part. And I needed this job, even though I had no idea what the film was about. I only knew the writing was exceptional based on the audition sides.
The part I initially prepared for took a lot of effort as the character used medical terminology and symbolism to describe drugs and their effects. For the second reading, I only had 10 minutes to create a persona in my mind's eye before returning to read. The response was unanimous: they reacted positively to my read. They said thank you, great job, and nothing more. I left.
This is not abnormal for an audition in Hollywood as the competition is stiff. But I knew in my gut this was a purification in the making from all the defeat I experienced from years of attempting to develop my own scripts. I couldn't sleep while anticipating a callback. Christmas came, along with the new year, and I heard nothing.
Finally, in the first week of 2017 I received feedback from my agent that I was one of 3 actors for the lead role. I thought, "One in three is good odds." So I waited, with little patience. Every thought that went through my mind was intercepted with, "Are they going to hire me for the lead role?"
Around January 7, I got the callback. I still did not have the whole script, just the initial audition sides of the role. So I got to work, digging and exploring every possible creative space that I could fill with my imagination for this character, or rather finding myself within the character.
I contacted three of my mentors for their advice on the character. The first was Lou Antonio, who has been my teacher for over 10 years, starred opposite Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke," and directed over 85 productions for TV, film and stage. I also reached out to Michael Arabian, who directed me in several productions. And my third call was to Charlie Dierkop, who starred opposite Robert Redford in "The Sting." These masterful teachers and mentors all had the same advice: when it's drama, play the comedy and let the pain seep out.
From the audition sides, I gleaned that the character was very complex with hidden layers. When the callback audition arrived, I was ready, locked, and loaded. Most importantly, I was relaxed and prepared.
I went into the audition room and read with the film's lead actress. The director's only comment was, "There was an improvement from before. Thank you for coming in – have a good day." I said thank you and exited the room.
As I walked to my car, I started to run the audition over in my head. I thought, "Okay that went well" though I was surprised I was not asked to read a second time, or be given an adjustment. It all went very fast.
Three or four days passed when I received an email with the offer to play the lead role. I was floored with excitement, however little did I know there was so much more in store. There it was in the attachment: The SCRIPT.
I started reading immediately, and 90 pages later I still did not realize I had opened Pandora's box right within my soul. I was breathing in this story like some cosmic inhale. I read it again, and again, and again, and again…. absorbing in the endless possibilities of creativity. The script was so good, I thought to myself, "This is exactly what I have been looking for my entire career. This is the universe showing up right on time."
I accepted the role in the film via my agent. The work had only begun as I had to now memorize 90 pages of dialogue and scenes, not to mention, develop the character. There was no hiding from this mammoth challenge. I had only 60 days before shooting to excavate this character and then dive back into it a living breathing being.
I was reminded of the abyss: just jump and it will catch you.
The production had a table read and two run-through rehearsals to establish blocking and the director's notes. Then the 3-week shoot began, with 15 to 18 hour days. It was like being on a rock concert roller coaster. The entire shoot ran on high octane creativity, unlike I had ever known.
The character got into me, it possessed me. Something within myself was freed that had been rumbling to get out. The pain, the anger, the power, the deepest of vulnerability poured through me. A cleansing of my true self, my creative being reaching for love and final acceptance. I knew then, as I know it all the more now, that what you're looking for is looking for you.
Or as Mick Jagger says: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might finds you get what you need."