Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Little Lesson In How God Can Fuck With You
prologue
Spring, 1984
I was working as a bouncer in a little rock and roll bar on 6th Street. I was minding my own business. I wasn't looking for heartache and rejection. I stood at the front door and took cover charges and checked IDs , escorted the ocassional drunk out the door, and took the trash barrels, full of warm, half-empty beer bottles out the back door and emptied them into the dumpster at the end of the night. Some nights, I got lucky and took someone home. Often, I was slipped joints and lines of coke for letting friends get in without paying cover. I was in my mid-twenties. Life was good.
i
It was Easter Sunday night. Kinda quiet, not much going on. Sunday nights are easy on a bouncer. Most customers don't get shitfaced on Sunday night. I got paid the same.
As I stood at the door, looking out onto 6th Street, two men passed by. One looked at me as they passed and stopped in his tracks. He called to his partner, and looked back at me, smiling. The second guy came into the doorway and smiled broadly as well. They both stood there, grinning at me, for a full second. I'm a friendly guy. I smiled back.
They entered the club and the first introduced himself. He said his name was Kevin Reynolds. He said he was a movie director. He asked if I had ever been in a motion picture. No, I assured him, I had not. He introduced his partner, a skinny guy named Costner. Kevin Costner. Okay. Never heard of him. I shook his hand. Howdy.
They were in town, about to go into production on a movie. The director thought I might be right for a part in the movie, and would I like to read for the part? Well, sure. He gave me his business card, and wrote a phone number onto the back of it. The number was for the Ramada Inn where he was staying. He also wrote down the suite number he was staying in. He asked me to come by at 1pm the next afternoon. Yeah, sure. See you there.
They smiled big again, Costner kind of got close to me to see how tall I stood next to him, and they both disappeared down the street.
ii
The next day, I showed up, really curious if this was anything at all, or some kind of joke. When I knocked at the door of the suite, and was ushered in by a woman who introduced herself as the casting director. She looked me over, ooh'ed and ahh'ed a bit, and pulled out a Polaroid camera and began taking pictures of me. I didn't know what to do. I just smiled.
Then Kevin Reynolds appeared from behind another door. He shook my hand, asked me to sit down and began asking me questions. How long had I lived in Austin? How long had I been a bouncer? Had I ever gotten into a fight? Where was the best place in town for barbeque? I think he was just asking me things to get me to talk. To see what I sounded like. I talked. I'm friendly. I already told you that.
I was given a softbound folder with a white front cover and the word "Fandango" typed in the middle of the page. I was told this was a script and was asked to sit out by the pool in the back and give it a read. Sure. Cool.
I also notice under the title on the front cover was the typed line "Kevin Reynolds". This guy wasn't only the director, he was the writer.
That was when I first said to myself, "Holy shit! Is this really happening?"
As I walked to the pool area, the guy named Costner was walking in the front door, carrying a tuxedo wrapped in plastic covering. We shook hands again, told me to have a good read, and was gone. As I settled into a chair, poolside, I heard the whoops and yells of some kids on a balcony behind me. I turned to see two guys, just a few years younger than myself, yelling "Hey, Dorman!" and "Die Dorman!" and shooting little plastic pellets at me from goofy toy guns. I had no idea what they were talking about. I smiled, waved them off, and turned to do some reading. Shortly thereafter, one of the doofuses ran to a balcony of another room, and they yelled and hooted at each other to die as they turned their war upon themselves.
(I found out later that the two doofs were Judd Nelson and Sam Robards. Judd had just made "The Breakfast Club". I had heard of him. Sam is the son of Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards.)
iii
I found reading the script really interesting, technically and format-wise. The story, well, not so much. This was the story of a small group of friends who graduate from the University of Texas in the early 70s. The group is struggling to figure out what to do with their lives. One is one his way to Vietnam. Another wants to talk him out of that decision. The five of them decide to jump into a car and drive into West Texas on a little quest. From there on out, it's a road picture.
A badly written road picture.
I could tell right away what part I was up for. One of the five buddies is a big, burly, quiet goliath named "Dorman". I was delighted to see that Dorman was in many, many scenes in the movie. I was saddened to see that he rarely had anything to say. Mostly he read comic books. But, he was there, in the shot. I knew I could do this. I knew how to read comic books!
What really fascinated me was the actual format of the script. Paragraphs of description, chock full of details of everything from what is seen by the audience to basic blocking movements of the actors and camera angles and moves. And wedged in between all of this was the dialogue.
Each page had an approval stamp from the studio, and was initialed by someone. I noticed that the studio was called "Amblin".
I couldn't make out the initials.
Some chunks of the script did not have the studio stamp on them. In fact, there was a big dream sequence, when the buddies are all out in the West Texas wasteland, sleeping in the car. Each buddy has a dream. Dorman dreams of running through a forest surrounded by little people who take him into a cave. He finds a monster-sized lobster prepared for him to consume. The lobster is the size of a small whale. Dorman dreams that he dives into the lobster, slathered in melted butter and begins to eat.
Well, I thought, at least I'll actually get a chance to act. It was stupid, but I would make that scene MINE!
I read every word on every page. I was delighted to see that Dorman had the last line in the movie. Sweet! It was a lame line, but I didn't care. I wasn't an extra that gets killed off, or floats by in a scene or two. The character actually has a little story arc of his own. A very slight one, but I'll take it.
I marched back to the room with the casting director and director. I was Dorman. Now, I had to sell myself and convince them that I was as well.
iv
We talked alot more, me, the director, and the casting director. I read a passage of the script that was a poem Dorman had written to his friends. It was the second scene in the movie where I would get the chance to "act". Man, threw my back into it. I noticed, as I was auditioning, that this soliloquy was on a page without one of those initialed studio stamps. They took more Polaroids. Then we talked money.
There were offering me $1000/week guaranteed for 11 weeks, extending to possibly 15 weeks. Did I have a problem with that? I assured them that I did not. Could I take that much time off from my job to go trapsing around West Texas? I assured them that I could.
They said they were very excited to find me. They said they needed to get in touch with the studio and they would call me the next day. Would I be available Tuesday morning for a phonecall. I assured them that I would.
They thanked me for coming in and I left the Ramada Inn, floating just above the ground by an inch or two. I was going to be in a movie!
v
yeah, like I got ANY sleep that night...
vi
Tuesday morning came and went and the phone never rang.
I waited until nearly 2pm before calling the suite at the hotel. The casting director answered the phone. She was sorry she hadn't called back yet, but they had been very busy all morning. Late the night before, on a trip to a local convenience store, the director had met a security guard. He was slightly heavier than me, and more fit the physicality of the character.
They offered the role to him, and he accepted.
But, it was nice to meet me. Thank you and good luck.
I hung up the phone and reached for the bong.
I don't remember the rest of the day.
vii
The local paper had a big write-up about it the next day. Chuck Knox was his name, minding his own business, doing his job when Fate stepped up and changed his life. They had a picture of him with the article. He looked like he could have been my brother, he looked so much like me. But fatter.
Yeah, Fate. Motherfucker.
epilogue
Fall, 1985
I wasn't wrong when I said this was not a good script. The movie never had a theatrical release. Nope, straight-to-video.
This pleased me greatly.
Still, my friends and I collected when the videotape came out and we had a party. They listened patiently as I recounted, blow by blow, my experience in meeting everyone and what I went through.
Like they hadn't heard it a thousand times in the previous year.
But, we watched it together. My friends laughed and made fun of how stiff and amateurish poor old Chuck was as Dorman. I joined in, laughing at him. Truth is, he did a fine job. The script stunk.
The best part was finally seeing what I had read on the page now turned into pictures on the screen. It was fucking magical. And, by the way, those scenes not stamped with approval by the studio? Nowhere to be seen. No dream sequence where Dorman frollicks in the woods with the little people and dives headfirst into a monster lobster in a cave. None of the characters got a dream scene, except for Kevin Costner. His dream was about a girl he secretly loved. Of course, that had to be in there. The poem Dorman reads was also cut. If I had been in the movie, that would have chapped my ass. "Acting" scenes = zero for poor old Chuck.
My friends all hugged me as we watched, and told me how much better I would have been.
I loved them for that.
For years after, the movie would pop up on Bravo, the cable channel. I would flinch and wince.
I still happen by it once in a while. Jesus Christ, what must professional actors do when films they were up for yet didn't get are all around them? I really wonder what that must feel like.
Kevin Reynolds went on to make "Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves" and "Waterworld" with Kevin Costner.
His movies suck.
Amblin Entertainment is Steven Spielberg's studio. This was their first production.
I've always wondered if those were his initials on the approval stamp.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

A minor design suggestion: stories (or any text longer than a few lines) are easier to read when left-aligned. Not centered, please.

dirk.mancuso said...

I have honestly never seen a good Kevin Costner movie.

It sucks you didn't get the part, but it is still pretty cool you got asked.

Larry said...

This is bittersweet, because although I'm sad you didn't get the movie, I'm kinda glad you weren't in that "movie". It really did blow. Curious. You were in drama in high school and you almost got this shot. Did you ever actively try to have an acting carreer?