Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sex Or Violence?

I'm too self-conscious.

Other things aside, that inhibits me as an actor. Imagine being a big idiot on stage or on screen. It's hard to pull off because instinctively you don't want to be seen as an idiot. So to be good as an actor, you have to be able to divorce yourself your own idea of self and allow your character to go to places that would otherwise be anathema to you. You have to be okay with being ridiculous.

With this in mind, I've occasionally wondered in a fairly abstract way if I could ever do a nude scene on stage or film. My thinking was,  if I were able to do that, it'd be proof I've pushed past that constraining boundary of self-consciousness.

Now, we actors are generally an immodest lot, especially stage actors. I've had a few experiences where I've had to strip down to my skivvies. For a play called "There Goes The Bride", I was a distracted advertising exec whose daughter was getting married. Since I was being way too slow in getting ready for the wedding (I bumped my head, hilarity ensued), it was up to my stage wife and stage daughter to get me into my wedding clothes. The two of them took off all my clothes -right down to my boxer shorts (it's always boxer shorts) - and then got me dressed again in my good suit.

This all happened downstage centre. Everyone got a good look.

But that's not naked.

The last play I did, I played a male nurse who has to get re-costumed off-stage as a female nurse. Cast-mates were standing by to strip me to my underwear, then re-clothe me in a balloon-filled bra and white nurse's dress.

Immodest among my cast-mates, sure, but not naked and not in front of an audience.

Still. You get the idea. The theatre, the theatre, you need to be comfortable with the idea of showing a fair bit of your own skin in the theatre.

I got a call from my agent to tell me that Thom Fitzgerald was interested in having me audition for a part in his new TV series, "Sex And Violence". The role was for the older half of a gay couple. Nudity and simulated sex would be required.

So, my agent wanted to know: Would I be comfortable with that.

Well now.

The honest answer would be no. But suddenly before me was the opportunity for some self-discovery. Could I do it anyway? Could I be an honest to-god fucking ACTOR and play a gay man. Naked. And having sex.

The idea made me very nervous. There were lots of things to consider beyond just being naked on TV. Like the reactions of people around me to having maybe seen me gay and naked on TV. My parents. My family. My co-workers.

But I wanted to try.

There was a period when I was acting on stage where I had three consecutive roles as a gay man. For "Amelia Earhart Was Not A Spy", I played "Kevin" who was gay in name only. The play took place around a kitchen table, people just talking to each other. Then I was "Bradford Kyle" in "Slaughterhouse". He was an aging drama queen, effete and stereotypically gay. Finally I was "Sidney Nichols" in "California Suite", a closeted gay man with an actress for a wife, both of them in town for the Academy Awards for which the wife was a best-actress nominee. For this I got changed into pyjamas at the end of the scene and got into bed with my wife. So, not really gay.

"Sex And Violence" was going to have it all. My agent asked me if I was up to auditioning. I thought about it. I talked to people. Someone asked me, "Do you want to be known as an actor who takes risks or who plays it safe?"

I said yes to the audition.

I received the sides by e-mail. Two married-to-each-other guys talk to a social worker. Although there were none in that particular scene, the e-mail contained explicit warnings about the requirements for nudity and simulated sex. I was asked again by both the casting agency and my own agent if I was comfortable with being considered for the role. I said yes. They asked me again before I went to audition. I said yes.

The day came. I sat in a chair, pretended my husband was sitting beside me and performed the scene, one take, knocked it out of the park. Got great feedback from the girls running the audition. I was very pleased.

Some time later I got a callback. The callback is where I would have to take off my clothes for the director. I was asked for the fourth time if I was okay with this. And still I said yes.

The most alarming part of the callback turned out to be after Thom gave me suggestions on how to improve the performance from the audition and then asking me to run it again. Well, a couple of weeks had passed since that original audition and I was unprepared to do the scene again. I hadn't studied the lines.

"Did you think you were just coming here to get naked?" Thom asked, amused.

Well ... yes, I said.

Thom had said some very nice things about my original audition. As I bungled my way through the scene a couple of times, I was irked at how badly I blowing that first impression.

"Okay," Thom said. "This is the moment." I stripped off in an adjoining bathroom and took a deep breath, same way you would if you were about to jump into the deep end of a cold pool. I walked out and ignored that I was naked except the once where I interrupted our chat to say, "Oh yeah. Front side, back side." And turned around.

So I did that. I got naked. But I didn't get the part. Not that one anyway. My agent called me days later to say I'd be getting a role but she wasn't sure what. I figured a bit part, some guy with a line. It wasn't until a production assistant called some weeks later to confirm my first day on set that I was very pleasantly surprised to find out I was to be "Martin Sattoway", a principal character (thank you again, Thom!), a victim of domestic abuse. I get clocked pretty good by Genevieve Steele. Otherwise, I was very happy to have had her as my wife.  As Martin I had three days on set and five really good scenes. I was ambivalent about how I thought I did (of course). But there was one scene I thought I did very well, getting emotional in a way I wasn't sure I was able to do. But I did it (I think). Of course having done it, the trick was, okay, do it again the same way for about twelve more takes.

Anyway. I'm interested in seeing how it all came out ... unless I sucked in which case I'll probably go all the way back to being completely self-conscious again and all that audition nudity would be for nothing. Until next time.

Speaking of nudity, here's me in character and clothes as Martin. Obviously Thom saw me with no clothes on and decided,  "Ummmm ... violence."

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