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Saturday, January 7, 2017

THINGS NOBODY TOLD ME BEFORE HOLLYWOOD



Obey

I started acting as a child, after my father died in 1968. We were living on the upper west side and my mother was an actress (http://bit.ly/2jpt5qC), so she got me and my brother auditioning for commercials, doing extra work, modeling, and dubbing. I was on the set from time to time as a kid, making commercials for Fisher Price, Kool Aid, Pepsi, Tide, Trident and others. I was on set when my brother did his AMC commercial in 1970 with Robert De Niro not far from where we lived. I officially became a member of SAG in 1979 at the age of 14. I worked as an extra many times, on soap operas like One Life to Live, on Saturday Night Live, on movies like Splash. There are many jobs that I no longer remember. Being on set was simply a part of my life as a child and teenager.

There is an inherent risk in this approach, and that risk is that being on set in my youth came to mean obeying. When you are an adult on camera, if you are simply obeying the people who are telling you what to do, you can miss your shot to bring freedom and spontaneity. 

While we must certainly attend to what the 1st A.D. tells us, and we must be available to carry out the orders as a professional actor, once we step in front of the camera we must live — not as puppets or people pleasers, but as artists. We take the written words and serve them by bringing them to life. 

If we try so hard to please, to impress those in power with our ability to be obedient, we literally sabotage ourselves. Off camera, it may be appropriate, but on camera we will not appear compelling, we will be bland. Trying hard to be "nice" can get in the way. Nobody taught me that. 


Self Sabotage

There are many ways to arrive at freedom in front of the camera. Sean Penn used to display irreverence in order to sidestep buying into the hierarchy of ‘shoulds’ that exist on a set. Mickey Rourke spent his early days in his motorhome with a sign that told producers to “Fuck off.”  On the one hand, we don’t want to give away our power when we’re on set, but the extreme opposite can be self-sabotage. Since self-sabotage can harm an actor's career permanently (or for decades as in the case if Mickey Rourke), there have to be creative, healthy ways to retain your power on camera and on set. 

When an actor displays his masculinity by being overly tough, demanding, bad ass, it’s simply “acting out.” No one wants acting out on their set. The antidote is professionalism—being prepared, being open, flexible and focused, ready to deliver. I grew up in New York in the 70s and 80s when being a bad ass was generally rewarded. It took me time to learn that my acting teachers had failed to fill me in on this aspect of professionalism. It took me time to learn that when a producer is considering hiring you, he or she contacts the producer or director from your last job. This is a fact. Nobody told me that! 


Agents

If you have ever been represented by a smaller agency, you may know that sometimes there are no auditions for awhile.  What no one told me is that you can be at a bigger agency and still have long periods of no auditions, it feels like you are getting no attention.  I was at ICM and found myself in long periods of quiet when I felt I should be going out more. I got illegal breakdowns so I knew what was going on and would try to get my agent to submit me. I had an actor friend at CAA who also got frustrated with his long periods of no meetings or readings. 

UTA asked me to join them when they first opened. I went in there with my manager and we sat in a conference room with an entire table filled with agents. They were trying to show me how much they cared but it was way over the top, like a room full of Mercedes salesman trying to convince you they want what you want. Each one looked like a member of the Beverly Hills Central Intelligence Agency, very slick, expensive, dark, tight fitting Italian suits and the whole time they spoke, nothing felt sincere at all. It was just a big show. When we went down in the elevator, I was sure there was a hidden microphone in there and so we didn’t say a word until we got out of the building. Literally. That’s how crazy that setting felt.

My preference in agents is real people, real communication, no bullshit. Obviously, UTA is massive and successful, but that just wasn’t my vibe.

In 1985, I had an agent at Gersh named David Guc. He is infamous. The first time I went into his office in New York, he closed his door and pulled out a pipe with hash in it. I don’t do that stuff any more, but we smoked a lot of bowls in that office back then. Talk about acting, about everything. Then I’d meet Raquel Welch or someone. David Guc’s assistant was arrested much later with David’s sensimilia, and she did time in jail for him. Crazy, but true.

When I left his agency, he called me over and over screaming at the top of his lungs at me. “You’ll never work again!!!” I’d hang up, he’d call right back.  I stopped picking up the phone after the fifth call. Just let it ring until it finally stopped.

There was an amazing literary agent there at that time named Mary Meagher (“Ma-Her).”  I had a big crush on her and she flirted mercilessly with me from behind her desk. She was brilliant, an intellect with great humor and very sassy. I was only 19 at the time. Sadly, she developed a drinking problem and years later she actually drank herself to death. It was mentioned in the New York Times.

Agents are people. Sometimes, they want you to think they are above you, but they aren’t really. There was a big agency in L.A. in the 80’s called TRIAD.  I met with Nicole David, it was my first meeting with an L.A. agent. I was already a member of the theater in New York, which was a good thing because she was very highly respected at the time and told me I would never work at all unless I lifted weights a lot and got a dark tan. She said this like it was a rare gem for me to walk out of her office with.  She seemed certain she was making a solid prediction.

I later got Mike Nichols’ “Biloxi Blues.” No tan and no weightlifting! After that movie, my agent at Gersh in L.A. told me I would only play the role from Biloxi for the rest of my career.  They said it was too extreme and no one would see me for anything else.  Then I got ABC’s Thirtysomething. Agents have their limitations…

When I was at the Metropolitan agency, they had an agent who was a porn addict and was sending explicit porn videos via email to people in the business. I received one and it was very hardcore, about as far as you can go with that. He was fired shortly after.

Finally, when I left ICM for William Morris, ICM was not getting me auditions. My complaints fell on deaf ears. At William Morris, I got auditions and booked jobs. I then received a letter from ICM. My former agent wanted me to know how much we respected the roles I had played since leaving ICM. I guess he wanted me to consider coming back?  Or was he just taking time out of his day and writing me a simple old fan letter? The time it took him to write that might have been spent helping one of his signed actors to get another audition before they leave too.


If you want to read a great perspective on agents, read 
this:







Sadistic Directors

My first film was for a director named Michael Winner who had directed Marlon Brando in the “The Nightcomers” and had directed “Deathwish.” We shot in the English countryside.

Michael Winner was a sadistic director. He screamed A LOT. I did a love scene with a 16 year old girl who was terrified of the whole situation. Her mother was outside the room. As the scene started and I climbed gently and caringly on to her, Michael Winner continued to roll but commenced to scream his head off that we didn’t know what fucking was and that I had to approach it in what I would call something appropriate for the angry Benny Hill version, over the top.

Peanut butter: We improvised a scene where I enter the kitchen and look to see what’s in the refrigerator. There was a 1000 feet in the magazine and he was just going to talk me through what he wanted. His directions included opening the jar of peanut butter, getting a big spoon and eating the peanut butter—the entire jar as fast as I could. Needless to say it was very painful for a long time afterward. 

No one told me some directors are going to be saboteurs.  What I learned from that was 
      1) To have boundaries about what I will and 
will not do for a director. 
               
2) Never let anyone sabotage my work. 
People will try.


Sophia Loren told me a story that still upset her as she told it.
When making the Countess from Hong Kong with Marlon Brando. The director, Charlie Chaplin, was sadistic as well. She talked about a tight shot she did that Charlie Chaplin turned into torture, having her do the tight shot 85 times. She said he had it in for her for some reason and the whole shoot was that way. I learned something from Sophia Loren, she always wanted love around her. It seemed that she had found what worked for her and it was a support system of love on the set. Her two sons kept flying in and they were in her trailer a lot. When they weren’t there, I was her son and she would want me around to talk to. Having a support system for yourself while you work is a wonderful way to stay connected to your heart. It was only from her example that I learned that.


Publicity

I once did a series that lasted only one season, and it was a struggle for the writers and for the producers to deal with the network. All season cast and crew would complain to me about the things they needed and were not getting. Usually it was information, assistance. Three quarters of the way through the show, a national newspaper came and did a feature interview with me. Before this series, I was essentially a theater actor from New York. In the theater it was all for one and one for all. If we had issues, we dealt with them all for the good of the play.
This ethic does not always translate to a TV series. No one told me that! I talked in the interview about the frustration I had with what we were all dealing with. I felt like a hero, standing up for the whole crew! On the last day of shooting, the paper printed the interview. Concurrently, the show was canceled. My manager called my cell phone that morning on the way to work, “What did you do?!” My sense of integrity had backfired. No one in the crew would speak to me that day. Including all of the people I was standing up for. I learned that their frustrations throughout the previous 22 episodes were just grumbling, and it wasn’t my responsibility as #1 on the call sheet to try to fix it for them. Oops. No one told me that.

No one told me never speak in public against the project you are shooting. This may seem obvious, but literally no acting teacher told me how to do this part of the business. 

This was my kind letter of warning from actor/director Peter Bonerz. 



At the time, I thought standing up for the show was honorable. He is saying it is at times. But too much fighting and defending will backfire. 




Love Scenes

I’m a sensitive guy and it took me time to learn not to take it personally when a woman in a love scene acts like she is made of ice, she may have issues all on her own. Women can go in many different directions on love scenes. Sometimes they are committed to the work and don’t put out the porcupine vibe. The porcupine vibe may mean, “You are so gross, I just want to get this over with.” Or “Don’t misunderstand what we’re about to do.” (Fair enough, but not when it gets in the way of the scene itself.) It can also mean, “I feel vulnerable and self conscious and I hope you don’t think you can abuse this moment of mutual semi-nudity.” Whatever it was,  I felt it was my job to be safe for them, to be present and appropriate to whatever vibe they were sending out. But that doesn’t matter to some, they are going to be in their own world and they are not going to let you in. It’s not my job to make it all better. No one told me that either! If I take it too personally, my work will suffer. My job is to create the illusion.  I can tell myself not to get aroused in that situation. If a woman doesn’t want you aroused, don’t. Every male actor has his ow way of doing this. 

On the other hand, I once did a love scene where I was with a highly trained and emotionally present actress. I was in my early 20s. In this situation I did relax and I became aroused.There was no negative reaction. We shot the scene for about an hour. Afterward, as we walked away she asked me if I wanted more of that in the trailer. Alas, I was married and I honored my vows. Nobody told me that actually happens.

I did a gay love scene for the BBC. The other actor was also straight. We met and talked about it and resigned ourselves to the awkward nature of it. But I did feel safe with him and I felt like we were staying connected as we went through the scene, which was covered extensively. 




Late

I was once shopping in Beverly Hills shortly before my call time at USC. I arrived late, assuming they would be setting up the shot for rehearsal. However, when I got there the entire crew was standing around a fully set up dolly shot, waiting for me. Never be late!


Young and foolish (with Melora Hardin)


Good Energy

I was taught that it is your acting that gets you the job. Period. But as Terry Kinney talked about in his interview on this blog (http://bit.ly/2jgv3pv), people want to know that you are good to be around.

The audition is a time to see not only your acting but also your vibe, your energy. I once got a job where I was a guest and the leads were good people who had a lot of media attention. I liked them but I just didn’t want to be an ass-kisser. I wasn’t trying to be bad ass, I was friendly just not overly so.  I acted normal instead of fawning all over them every time we talked or even exchanged glances. The arc of my character had originally been described to me by the head writer as going into the future, but the arc was suddenly cut short. By not ass-kissing/fawning during a couple of episodes, I became someone the actors didn’t think belonged in their setting. My work was solid, but it is about more than the work. I probably should have just kissed their ass. Nobody told me that!



The Right Choice

I was once a recurring on a show called thirtysomething. My character got some attention and ABC decided to make me an offer. The offer was I could become a series regular on thirtysomething or I could have my own show opposite Treat Williams, a series based on True Believer, a film with James Woods and Robert Downey, Jr. thirtysomething would be 15k an episode, and TB would be $30k an episode. I was married with a child by the age of 24, so the bigger paycheck sounded good. I also didn’t want to become known only as another actor from thirtysomething. I decided to do TB and I did a recurring on thirtysomething at the same time. TB was produced by Walter Parkes, who works with a director named Steven Spielberg. The writer was the same writer from the movie. This was going to be good. I think we shot 6 shows before it was canceled. As soon as it was canceled, I met with the writer from thirtysomething who told me they wanted me back for next season as a regular. Melanie’s character and my character were going to get married and have a baby. The next day, ABC canceled thirtysomething. You never know.





Sound Engineers

Broadway Bound. Wholesome. America. Anne Bancroft, Hume Cronyn, Jerry Orbach, Michelle Lee, Johnny Silverman. Neil Simon. An entire period house had been built on the stage at the Warners Hollywood studio. Johnny and I were in our set room, filming a scene between brothers. We had lavaliers on. The sound engineer is at his cart, somewhere on the stage. Johnny and I are in between takes, waiting for reload or something. We start confidentially talking about a girl that was Anne Bancroft’s assistant. She was pretty, she was smart, she was responsible, we liked her. Each of us would suggest how nice it would be to get to know her a little better. Brother talk. We never thought anyone could hear us, since the sound board should have our levels down. By the time I start talking about me and her ‘getting down’ in the sand in Malibu, I hear Anne Bancroft say playfully, “I can hear you…!” Bad moment. Damn sound guy. But I can’t blame anyone if it’s my words. At all times, the sound may be on. Period. Anne taught me that.





Dis-honesty

I did another series where they went through many changes in what the show was supposed to be. It was silly, but we tried to make it work. Then I heard the dreaded phrase, we were taking two weeks off to work on the writing. The night before we were to start work (need the paycheck), I got a call from the producer saying that they were firing all the leads and replacing us.  They had lied. Hollywood talk normalizes anything and everything they might do or say. I was replaced with Corbin Bernsen. The show had started out being about an L.L. Bean like company in New Hampshire. The coach producers started placing footballs, baseballs and tennis rackets all over the set for us to use while talking. It was not written in. Just do it. When that didn’t get ratings, I guess they decided to replace the L.L. bean guys with sporty guys. I literally had a speech fighting for my company in one scene and was told to throw the football in the air as I did it.








Gorgeous scene stealer

Finally, no one told me that a beautiful woman in a state of constant urgency will steal the scene. I did a series with Tea Leoni, she was a tomboy when she arrived, literally drove a convertible Cadillac Eldorado with a huge bull horns mounted on the hood. She went through a transformation, and here I am thinking only about “the work.” But she is beautiful and always in a state of urgency, my character is her rock. We were constantly in bed and running around like nuts. But I noticed over time that although I was there, I wasn’t what your eye went to when we were on screen. One day I went to the Porsche dealer in Santa Monica. Just looking.  One guy thought he recognized me but didn’t know from where. I said, “ You know that show on Fox on Sunday night with the gorgeous redhead?” 
He said, “yeah!” 
I sarcastically said, “You ever notice the guy whose back is to the camera? The one she’s always talking to? 
The guy with dark curly hair ?” 
He said, “Yeah!!” 
I said, “That’s me!!”









Final note: No one ever told me to take care of myself while in Hollywood. Today it is common knowledge for many actors. If you’re auditioning, if you’re testing, if you’re on a show and watching the ratings like a rollercoaster ride, if you’re listening to your agent, manager, publicist, accountant, lawyer….take care of yourself. A million ways to do it. Meditate, journal, form a group, do play readings with friends at home, breathe, meditate, do relaxation, get therapy if you need it, don’t let psych meds be your only answer, deal with who you are and what you really need as a human being. Ask for help, don’t isolate, create a network of support, be honest. You are a human in a business that is not designed for human care, it’s designed for capitalism. Industry. Take care of yourself. Ask for help. If you need it, go to a 12 step for…drinking, drugs, living with an addict or alcoholic, codependence, compulsive sex, gambling, eating. Take care of your heart, of your spirit. Acting is a journey, a life journey. Auditions are just stops along the way. Go to the beach, go to the state park in Topanga, hug a tree. Set goals.
Train as an actor. If you stop training or only do private sessions, you are missing a great source. Class. Always be in class. You develop tools, skill, confidence, flexibility, artistry, craft. The quality of your product improves.  
Do the thing you love to do. 

Never let anyone sabotage you. At auditions or on the job. Someone is rude, someone talks to you like you're dirt, someone shows off their new show or super model girlfriend, someone is selfish, a casting director talks on the phone WHILE you are taping with a reader, a director never looks up while you do your audition, whatever. They are all trying to sabotage, because if they can sabotage you, they win. You justify them not hiring you. Plus they have all their problems and issues and frustrations. When I am at an audition or on the job, my deal is I win if I stay focused on the work I love no matter what happens. That is all I am there to do. If I allow myself to get emotionally engaged with any other crap, I lose. Go to war with your art. Bring all of you. There will be moments that hurt, but you get to tell those stories too. 


Peace,

Corey































































































For more information, go to coreyparkeractor.com

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