Archive for April, 2012

Leaving the Character On Set

There are as many different ways of creating characters as there are actors who create them. One of my pet peeves, though, as a performer, are actors who refuse to leave their characters on the set or the stage during a run.

The intensity of diving into a different personality is fantastic. It’s a rush, a high, better than any drug. When one inhabits a complex, often unlikable individual, it’s sometimes hard to snap in and out of it.

In a theatre piece, it makes sense to use half hour to get into character and to sustain that character for the two and a half hours of the performance. However, if you’re completely unaware, as yourself, of anything going on around you, it’s harder to deal with glitches. Theatre is live — something will ALWAYS go wrong. Your performance can be brilliant, but if something goes wrong and you can’t rise to the occasion, you cheat both your fellow performers and your audience. A set piece will get stuck; someone will go up on his lines; a costume piece will rip; a bat will fly across the stage. HOW you meet those challenges says a lot about you, both as a performer and a human. If you can think on your feet and make it work within context, everybody wins. Your fellow performers will roll with you, and the audience gets the delight of the unexpected. If you storm offstage and start screaming about how “it” — whatever the “it” was — destroyed your performance — you look like an idiot, you hurt your colleagues, and you cheat the audience.

Film and television sets are a lot more insulated than theatre. You’ve got additional takes. You’ve got a huge crew to lean on, and dozens of underpaid Production Assistants running around to cater to the “talent”. Being out on location is a lot more uncontrolled than in the studio, but you still get to retreat to your trailer.

But refusing to “be” anything but your character once the camera stops rolling or once the curtain comes down hurts. It hurts you as a human being — you can’t divide yourself like that indefinitely, be possessed by someone else, and retain your sanity. It’s not an indicator of Great Art — more like Great Ego. Giving yourself a break, reminding yourself what it feels like to be YOU, you rest and then can come back to the character refreshed and full of new ideas.

I’ve been on stage when another actor (okay, sometimes — it was me) went up on lines. I totally forgot where I was and where I was going. Total brain fart. I’ve had actors look at me with contempt and just let me hang there; I’ve had actors jump in and guide me back to where we were. Believe me, the latter is far preferable to everyone. Six seconds can seem like six weeks when there’s dead space on stage. I’ve tried to help other actors get back on track. I’ve had a piece of scenery never show up, and, thank goodness, the other actor in the scene and I had a good rapport, so we could stay in character and cover.

I’ve worked with actors in film who are very determined to “live” the role for the duration of the production. They never step out of character. I did a film once where a co-star played a vicious, nasty individual. He WAS that person off-screen as well as onscreen, and it was a nightmare for all of us. You know what? The performance didn’t work. It just wasn’t that good. I’ve worked with co-stars who played the same type of role, but the minute the assistant director yelled, “cut”, that guy started joking around and keeping it light. He knew everyone’s name on the set, including day players. He knew when to leave the character behind and be himself, and how important it was to the overall tone. Not only was the atmosphere on set much better, but the overall performance was better. We weren’t always walking on eggshells around him.

The worst is when the director manipulates and isolates the actors to “get the performance.” We’re professionals. If you’ve cast us properly and give us guidance, we can give an excellent performance without being manipulated or abused on set. The personal cost is too high.

Next time you watch something, take a minute to wonder what it’s like behind-the-scenes. You need a good script, good actors, a good director, and a good crew — but a good atmosphere also enhances the final product.


Why Be an Actor?

It makes total sense why Devon decided to use actors in her story — I mean, HEX BREAKER takes place on the set of an independent film and if you’ve got a live action film, you need actors. Same as if you do a stage play, you usually need actors. Devon’s got a great story about working with a director in Seattle in the 80s who fired all his actors and used Barbie dolls instead because he said they “took direction better.”


So why did I become an actor?

Not to be famous. I mean, I want to get to the point in my career where I’m offered roles and can “take” meetings, rather than sitting in a waiting room with 87 guys who look like me but work out more. It gets depressing to spend day after day in a room full of clones. (Devon just said, “There’s a story in that” — so I’m scared now. But as long as I get to play the Uber-Clone and wind up alive at the end, I guess it’s cool).

People get famous now for being stupid, and that’s not my thing. I’d rather be stupid in private and not have it blasted all over the media.

I became an actor because I’m interested in what makes people tick. How does it feel to live inside somebody else’s skin? Why do they make the choices they make? When under stress, faced with a life-or-death decision, do you step up or fold? What are the consequences?

I also get to do stuff I’d never do in real life. I get to be a super-cool, super-smart computer geek. In real life, I’m lucky to get my iPhone working half the time. I get to shoot guns and take down bad guys, and make a positive change in the world. I’m not brave enough to do that in real life. But it’s really interesting to live inside that character and know how it feels.

It’s also interesting to live inside the antagonist, the villain, the guy who loses because the good guy’s got to win (it’s in a lot of their contracts). WHY does someone want to cause harm? WHY does a guy think he’s the best choice to run the world and everyone should do what he says, and he just kills people who disagree with him because it’s easier than having a reasoned conversation and negotiating? Even if I don’t agree with that guy, by living inside him, creating a character, I have a better understanding.

One of the great things about working with a good writer is you find a solid understanding of what makes that individual tick in the script. The writer KNOWS already the whats and whys and the backstory and all the details. The way the writer communicates it in the script gives me what I need to communicate it. Layer on a really good director, and you can go even deeper into the details the rest of us wouldn’t think f AND also get the big picture. The way the director tells me to tilt my head at a certain point of a line, and where I’m placed in the visual composition of the scene changes the impact of the scene.

When it works, it’s true magic.

When it doesn’t, you hope it goes to DVD, you cash the check and move on.

I’m not really good at walking away from a character at the end of a piece and never thinking of him again. Something of the character stays with me. Something of the understanding stays with me. And then I’m richer for it, when I approach the next script.

I’m allowed to share the next bit of good news with all of you.

The second Jain Lazarus Adventure, OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK, was contracted by Solstice Publishing.

You’ll be able to read the first chapter of the second book at the end of the first book when it comes out.

The bad news? I’m not in this one. 😦 It’s all about Jain, Wyatt, and their pasts. (But it still rocks).


How did I wind up in HEX BREAKER? I’m an actor, and the book is set against the backdrop of filming an independent movie.

Like most actors, I have to go audition for roles. I’m not the kind of guy who gets called because someone thinks of me. I’ve got an agent, and the agent sends me out on calls. Most of the time, I’m in a room with thirty other guys who look like me and sound like me because they want a “type”. Maybe some inventive casting director will toss in someone who’s different, but, for the most part, we’re types.

I’ve got dark hair, blue eyes, I’m not leading-man tall or leading-man buff. I’m nearly thirty, but I play younger (although even I can’t get away with playing high school roles anymore). An ex-girlfriend says I play my emotional age.

I’m a sidekick. I’m the one, in the horror movie, who’s likely to go down in the scary basement or out to get some extra firewood and get chopped into pieces. I’ve done a couple of those movies. I’ve been the dorky best friend of the guy who gets the girl a bunch of times. They put a pair of glasses on me, and tell me to “play smart.” Oookaaaay. Whatever that means.

But that’s part of my job, y’know? I’m an actor. The same way a writer is supposed to personify “weird” in words instead of writing the word “weirdly”, I have to “play smart”, only I’ve got my body and my voice and my look and the clothes wardrobe gives me, and whatever life experience I’ve got to back me up.

Few years back, I did this movie with an actor named Nick Swift. Recognize the name? Yeah, thought you would. Pretty much everyone who goes to the movies or reads tabloids knows who Nick Swift is. He started as a quirky character actor, a “serious” actor, then he landed an action movie, and boom! He’s now a major star. A coupla action movies later, I was lucky enough to get a small role in a movie about pirates stealing Knights Templar treasure. Nick was the film’s hero. For some reason, we hit it off, getting to be friends off screen and having a lot of fun in our coupla little scenes on screen. Nick made them write more scenes for me, and we’ve done a few films since together. Basically, we’re playing variations on the same characters, but it’s fun. We’ve got a shorthand and a chemistry when we work together.

I actually did a film where I wasn’t the sidekick, but the romantic lead, and I got the girl for once. Unfortunately, it died on opening weekend; just couldn’t compete with the vampire and superhero films that came out. We’d probably have been better off if we’d done it as a movie on LIFETIME, or something.

A director named Vince Cannon wrote a small budget adventure piece and got it to Nick through a friend of a friend of a friend, the usual. Nick read the script and thought it sounded like fun, and the character was a little different from his usual. He thought the sidekick role was a good one for me, so he said he’d do the film if I did the film. Vince called me in to audition, he liked what he saw (and he wanted to sign Nick really, really badly). I was unemployed after my attempt at being a leading man, the script was fun, it would be great to work with Nick again, so why not? Vince’s girlfriend, Cady Bruce, was cast as the female lead. Maybe it was nepotism, but she’s a good actress and a nice woman, so that was all cool. And, somehow, Vince and Nick talked Clive Gaskell, that good-looking British guy, into being our villain. I think he and Nick did some buddy cop thing together a few years back.

We had a good cast, we had a good crew, we head off to Western Massachusetts to film. What could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty . . .

HEX BREAKER coming soon from Solstice Publishing!

Yup, it’s April first, but this isn’t an April Fool’s Joke. I’m Billy Root, a supporting character in the Jain Lazarus Adventures. Since fans keep asking for more about me, I get the chance to blog, and be both a character in a series, an actor in my life, and now. . .a blogger. School wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, so this will be, um, different. I hope you’ll stick with me as I navigate my multiple realities. I’m supposed to blog on most Mondays, but since April 1st is a Sunday, and Devon wanted to launch on April Fool’s Day, here I am.

I was like, “What, is this a comment on my intelligence? You think I’m a fool?”

She told me to look at it as The Fool in the tarot, which is someone getting ready to step off a cliff into a new beginning, with companions on the journey. I guess that’s pretty apt — I mean, in HEX BREAKER, I find out all sorts of cool and weird things about myself I didn’t know going in (and I’m not even a main character).

Maybe one day I’ll graduate to being the Fool in Lear — now there’s something to aspire to! Smartest one in that whole bunch.

Cool cover, isn’t it? This is for the re-release of HEX BREAKER from Solstice Publishing and the re-launch of the Jain Lazarus Adventures. It was designed by the amazing artist and writer PJ Friel.

Um, that isn’t me on the cover.

Kinda wish it was — I should look so good.

The cover features Jain and Wyatt, the two leads, along with the chaos dragon (who happens to be MY favorite character in the book). It’ll make sense when you read it.

I don’t have an exact release date yet, but you’ll know it as soon as I do! I’ll keep you up-to-date with what’s going on with HEX BREAKER, and the books in the series that follow. The third book, CRAVE THE HUNT, alternates between my point of view and Jain’s — but you’re going to have to wait awhile for that. I mean, Devon’s about haft way through writing it, but the second book in the series still has to come out. The second book, OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK, is from Wyatt’s point of view.

When HEX BREAKER re-releases, a new story called “Town Crier” will be available for a free download (for a limited time). I’m not in that one, either. It takes place before the events of HEX BREAKER.

Devon said maybe, just maybe, I’d get my own short story set in New Orleans. I make a reference to a trip to New Orleans I barely remember in HEX BREAKER, and she thinks it would be fun to play with that. If she does, maybe I’ll remember whether or not I had a good time there. I mean, how could you not have a good time in New Orleans, but I’d kinda like to remember how much of a good time I had there.

There are two other short stories that will also be re-released, in cycles, over the next few months. I’m in one of them — it takes place just a few months after the events of HEX BREAKER, but before what happens in OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you want to read an excerpt of HEX BREAKER and find out more about the series, you can visit the Jain Lazarus Adventures website.

Hope you’ll take the journey with us.