People often ask me why I never went into acting like my sister. Aside from the fact that Brooke worked her ass off to get where she is and I’m a lazy sod, I reply to these inquiries with my standard observation that I have a good face for radio and then launch into the tale of my acting experience in fifth grade.
It was 1976. The bicentennial. And I had the lead role in the school play. I don’t even recall what it was or what it was about, other than something to do with the Revolutionary War. I want to say it had something to do with the story “Johnny Tremain,” but I don’t really recall. I’ve blocked most of the experience out of my conscious mind.
I went to rehearsals. I studied my lines. I did what I was supposed to do. And then came time to perform the play and I forgot my lines. No, not some of my lines.
Every. Single. Line.
Every last word. Complete and total brain lock.
I froze. I didn’t just stumble over my lines. I forgot every word I was supposed to utter. I forgot the little interstitial I was supposed to do that involved reciting the Declaration of Independence. Basically, I stabbed Thomas Jefferson’s corpse through the heart with a dull blade. And Laurence Olivier’s, too, and he wasn’t even dead yet.
I haven’t been on stage or in front of the cameras since.
But then last week, a friend sent me an email about a company in Boston that was casting for a commercial. The guts of it was: “We are also looking for former hockey players in their 40’s or 50’s. We are looking for the kinds of guys who have been around the rink their whole lives.”
40-something hockey player? Hello? Yeah, I think I fit that demographic just a wee bit.
The email included these details: “We will be casting both principals and extras. Those selected as principals will be paid $400/day, and extras will be paid $200/day. Shoot will be in the Boston area.” Whoa! Two hundred bucks (I didn’t expect to make principal status)? Sign me up!
So I sent an email detailing my hockey experience and included a couple of photos: the golf shot that is my current Facebook profile photo, and a shot of me skating in an alumni event in 2009.
A couple of days later I got a phone message asking me to call back and arrange a time to do an audition. And not wanting to be the guy who’s afraid to try something, I said, “what the hell?” and called back. I made an appointment to do an audition a day later and that was that.
But it’s never just that. You can’t help but start to wonder: what if this goes well? Hey, 200 bucks is nice but maybe this will lead to something else…maybe even an acting gig, even just a small supporting role. And then, hey! Maybe I hit an untapped demographic: never-married 40-somethings. One score: accolades, moolah, too much fame and fortune. Better than hitting the lottery, right?
Instead, I drove to a seamy neighborhood in Allston (shocking, right: seamy neighborhoods in Allston?!) with nonexistent parking for a building wedged between the Mass Pike and a shopping center complete with rent-a-cops to make sure would-be George Clooneys don’t park in their lot. I finally found a spot on the street and walked in, dressed, as requested, in chinos and a polo shirt.
A 20-something girl sat at a folding table in a hallway and asked if I was there for the audition. She handed me a clipboard with a form on it and had me stand against the wall for a photograph. I smiled. I wasn’t sure if that was the right move or not, but too many years of being told I never smile for photographs came to the forefront just then.
I sat on what looked like a church pew and filled out the form, detailing my height and weight, my athletic abilities and any other skills and certifications I had that might be relevant. The 20-something girl reappeared and stapled an 8.5-by-11 printout of my photo to the back of the form, and when I finished my bit, I turned it in to her.
There were three other guys in the hallway. Not one of them looked like they’d played any hockey beyond bantams, and they were all young enough to be my sons. So much for 40-somethings. One guy’s take on a polo shirt was a button-down biz-cas shirt with jeans. I started working on my Oscar acceptance speech.
A door opened and a man and woman stepped out and called for the next audition. The woman read four names — coincidentally, the names of the only four of us in the hallway — and we stepped into a room with another folding table and some folding chairs. There was an empty pizza box on the table and a video camera on a tripod a few feet away.
The guy explained what we were to do. First, we each, individually, stood between the table and the camera and, when prompted, held our hands beside our face and recited our names, our agent’s name or the fact we were non-union, and then turned to present a profile.
After that, we each took a seat around the table. We were supposed to pretend there was pizza in the box and act like we were old friends and talk about last night’s game and other assorted malarkey. I mentioned the hockey aspect of the listing and the camera guy said, “Yeah, in the commercial, you’ll see an empty zamboni run down the rink and then you’ll cut to Papa Gino’s where the zamboni guy and a bunch of hockey players are digging in. And, no offense, but you know, you hockey guys all look alike.”
Through it all, I had a huge shit-eating grin on my face. This was the first step toward Hollywood stardom and this clown wanted us, hockey players, to gush over Papa Gino’s pizza? Okay, like Master Thespian, I can do anything. I am, after all, the brother of a professional. And then the camera guy said, “Action!”
And I froze.
Oh, I kept the shit-eating grin on my face. I smiled the whole time. But the three kids fell right into it like they’d known each other all their lives. I chimed in with a “you’re outta luck” when the one guy asked why the box was empty, but that was about all I had to offer. I just didn’t know what to say. I had no lines to forget, but I also couldn’t generate any lines. I had expected a photo check or something, maybe there’d be a question or two about our ability to skate (I was really counting on the hockey part of the posting), but hell, this might as well have been Shakespeare and I was back in fifth grade all over again.
After a couple of minutes, it was, mercifully, over. We walked out and I asked one of the guys if he did this sort of thing often. “Oh yeah, all the time. Don’t you?”
“No,” I said. “First time.” I should have added, “Last time, too.”
Unsurprisingly, I never heard back from the casting agency. And the shoot was scheduled for today. Oh well. So, Brooke: your role as the actor in our family is secure. Me, I had a gas on my one audition. I’m glad I went, but I won’t be going to any others.
Before I drove off, I’d switched back into surf shorts and flip-flops, and I was headed back to the beach (via a marina to check out a couple of sailboats for sale).