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Entries in acting (6)
Daniel Day-Lewis is famous for totally immersing himself in roles, and his Oscar-winning turn as Abraham Lincoln was no exception. After last week's ceremony, Day-Lewis opened up about his process, which reportedly included the following:
◆ He and Sally Field, who portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln, addressed each other only as “Mother” and “Mr. Lincoln,” as the couple did in real life.
◆ He even sent text messages in character.
◆ He built his own log cabin out of rails that he split himself.
◆ Wore a stovepipe hat for a whole year, even to bed and while showering. Made the hat himself from a real stovepipe (even though he was told that stovepipe hats were not made out of stovepipes, they were just called that because of the shape). Made the stovepipe himself, as well as the wrought-iron stove the pipe was attached to. Mined the iron ore by hand and cast it in a foundry, after learning the mining and metalwork trades.
Wow…really? You picked me? I didn’t prepare a speech, ‘cause I never thought I had a chance of winning. Hey, Jack Nicholson! How's it going, Jack? I guess all I want to say is that this statue means nothing to me. I do what I do for the craft and the art and the love of it. Awards are completely meaningless, I’m sorry to tell you. I mean, a hundred years from now, no one is gonna remember who won Best Actor, or have the faintest idea who Clooney and Brad and the other nominees (sorry, I’m forgetting your names) were. OK, maybe you, Jack. In a thousand years, no one will know what a motion picture is, if the human race is even alive. In the post-global-warming wasteland, this hardware will have no value, except maybe as a weapon to club someone over the head with and steal their food.
Earlier this week, I played a small but significant role in a major motion picture. I thought I would write about it, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the working life of a film actor. While on set, I was asked to sign an agreement not give out any confidential information about the project “orally, in writing, or by any other media.” It read, “Confidential Information shall include all scripts, characters, cast, settings, locations, special effects, costuming, make-up, lighting, sound, data” and a bunch of other stuff I wouldn’t even think of talking about. With that in mind, here’s what I can tell you:
I was in a movie. It was a comedy, or maybe a tragedy. The movie was shot in a highly populous city on the Northeastern seaboard. It had a big star in it, someone you’ve heard of and may even like a lot. I was in a scene with the star, and my job was to react to a particular thing that the star was doing. You will definitely hear about this movie, and may even want to go see it. It may or may not be good.
I think I can tell you that I had my own dressing room in a trailer, parked on a street in this Northeastern city. The room was small and narrow, but air-conditioned, which was important, since the city was experiencing a heat wave. It had a bunk with a plastic mattress, a fire extinguisher, and a sink with a sign on it that said “Potable Water. Not for Drinking.” (Doesn’t “potable” mean safe to drink?) I sat in the trailer for many hours. Once in a while, someone would knock on the door and ask me to try on clothes (which I’m not allowed to describe) or fill out paperwork, such as the non-disclosure form. A writer stopped by to brief me on the scene. He told me, “Keep it very small.” I said, “Sure, you mean just be real.” He said, “That’s right.”
Oh, but another thing I think I can say about acting in a movie is that my room had a wall-mounted stereo with an awesome cassette deck, which I would’ve used if it’d been 1985 and I’d had a tape on me. Instead I just listened to classic rock radio. I also had my own bathroom, which I didn’t realize until halfway through the shoot. Before that, I’d used the public bathrooms, which were housed in a different part of the same trailer and marked Desi (for men) and Lucy (for women). These trailers are called “honey wagons.” According to Wikipedia, “‘honey wagon’ is a facetious traditional general term for ‘a wagon or truck for collecting and carrying excrement or manure.’” I hope I’m not disclosing too much, but I know people are interested in showbiz and how it works.
Outside my door, there was a piece of tape with the name of the role I was playing written on it with a Sharpie. OK, I’ll just tell you, it said “Offended Customer.” (I think I can say that without breaking my agreement, since it isn’t really a character name but more a generic description.) It was a part I thought I would be good at, since I am often a customer, am often offended, and frequently both at once.
Like I said, I’d been cast in this role to do a hilarious reaction -- ok, a small hilarious reaction -- to something that the star of the movie would be doing in a particular scene. (I would explain, but I’d get sued.) You might say that a whole joke or set piece in the film depended on my small but hilarious reaction to this thing, and for that reason I was not only worth paying the SAG day rate, but I was money in the bank.
At some point, we rehearsed the scene. The director told me to keep it very small. I said, “You mean just be real.” He said, “Yes.” During rehearsal, I got nervous, because the star was a very big star, and he or she was telling me what to do. But I basically ignored what the star was saying, because I knew that’s what the star would do if he or she were in my shoes, and because that’s just the way I roll. I went back to my trailer while they did some film production stuff.
Later, we shot the scene. It went well. Beforehand, the star came up and chitchatted with me. He or she said to me, “Just keep it very small.” I said, “Yeah, yeah, just be real.” The star said, “Yes! Very real.” We did several takes and the star and director didn’t say anything to me, so I figured I was doing all right. I heard the director say, “I think we got it.” Then I went back to the honey wagon and sat there for a long time in case they needed me again, which they didn’t. I ate some spaghetti from the craft services table, and my work was done.
That’s all I can say, except that the rest of the movie is being made right now, and the film will most likely be released in the future. It will be projected onto a large screen in a darkened room, perhaps at a theater near you. I may or may not be in it.
Now that it's out, I think it's safe to reveal that the movie is The Dictator with Sacha Baron Cohen. I'm in it for approximately one second. My name appears in the credits (along with Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Fred Armisen, and others) as "Offended Customer." Hollywood, I'm waiting for your call!