One life rule I’ve always tried to follow is having a cool and interesting job. It has cost me some money over the years, not to mention a few career opportunities, but I don’t regret it because it’s been an adventure. Also, I’ve never wanted to get to the end and think: I spent 8 hours a day for 40 years on the damn “Pensky file 1.” What a waste.
One of the coolest jobs I’ve held was as a writer for an Xbox football game. It was a shitload of work, but I was able to write a ton of words in a minimal amount of time, make football my life and work in Hollywood auditioning and directing actors in the studio. Pretty cool. Like any other job there were parts that sucked, but that’s another story for another time. This story is about learning humility from a member of “The A-Team.” Yes, that A-Team.
Auditioning actors is a long process. You start by listening to audition CD’s from casting directors and then choose those you want to audition in the studio. Sounds fun, but it’s long and tedious. When it comes to directing actors for jobs like this, you don’t get Tom Cruise. You get the actors you refer to as “that guy from that one show where they worked at that place.” And it paid scale.
My buddy “Tip Toe” and I were at the end of our first day of auditions and it was not going well. We’d just heard about 25 guys read for a coach voice in the game. A former member of Mad TV had just left and wasn’t making us forget Gene Hackman in Hooisers anytime soon.
I was getting the script ready when Tip Toe looked at the next name on our list and muttered, “holy crap” under his breath.
“Who is it?” I said.
“I think it’s Murdock.”
“From the A-Team?” I said.
And in he walked.
It was Murdock.
Twenty years after the A-Team was the biggest show on TV he was auditioning for two guys who could recite the ABC Tuesday night line-up from 1984 – cold.
Pretty damn cool.
Hell — I would have hired him on the spot for the story alone.
Now, let me remind you that I was not James Cameron auditioning actors for Terminator 2. This was for a voice acting job in a video game. No trailers or craft services. I think we had Milk Duds, lip balm and a couple waters.
We sat up in our chairs a bit when Murdock walked in, and it was obvious when he stepped foot in the studio that he was not happy to be there. He barely looked our way, grabbed the script and walked right into the studio.
We spoke briefly through the monitor and he was not impressed with me … at all. Then we were off. My process was to let the actor do it his/her way first and then I would give my feedback and what we were looking for. The next thing that happened was surprising.
Murdock attacked that script like B.A. Barakas was holding him over a cliff. He was channeling a Bobby Knight-style coach, but you could barely make out the words.
I stopped him and very politely said, “Could you bring it down just a bit so you can give us a little range? I’d like to leave a bit for the lines that really make an impact.”
You would have thought I asked him to put on a wedding dress and sing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Murdock gave me a look that said it all: “I shouldn’t be here, and I’m sure as hell not taking any direction from someone who looks like been in this town for a week.” Actually, I’d flown in the day before.
He went on through the first script and strained his voice so much he couldn’t even attempt the second. As soon as it started, it was over. He slipped out quickly.
We will all have a version of this story. Maybe not as big-time actors on a famous TV show, but we all climbed a ladder to get where we are and as our career hits its peak, we’ll be going right back down. Make no mistake about this. You’ll end up working for the people who now work for you one day. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but it doesn’t have to be miserable.
Treat people better on your way up, and the slide down will be that much easier to take. It might be a trip back down the hill, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an enjoyable one. Pass along your knowledge, teach the value of hard work, make a few jokes and be humble.
And don’t be surprised if the old dog still has a few tricks in him.
photo by Julianne via Creative Commons