Monday, August 10, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 8: actor trouble

Previously in our story, our raffish hero Buddy Best, under marital duress, allowed the loathed Ancient Mariner to audition for a featured role in Buddy’s new film, Triggerwoman II

(Go here for Chapter One of this “no-holds-barred epic of today’s Tinseltown in all its tawdry glory” -- Bennett Cerf.)


Yeah, they all had a good laugh about it, but the Ancient Mariner got the last laugh. Bob Forster couldn’t do it after all, and neither could Michael Parks; Mike Ironside passed and Lance Hendrickson was on vacation, so they got another old guy who didn’t have much of a name but he was a good actor and they’d worked with him before, but he had a heart attack and died three days before the start of principal photography. Joan got into the act again, and not only did Buddy have to deal with her because she was his wife, but she was also acting in the show, there was that to deal with, and so, finally, after making a few phone calls and getting nowhere, he talked it over with Harvey and Iggy, and the Mariner got the job.


Three days into the shoot Buddy got a call from Iggy.

“Houston, we got a fuckin’ problem.”

“What?”

Normally Buddy was on set all day during a shoot but right now he was driving around the city trying to buy a ‘67 Dodge Charger to match the one that Sally drove in the movie, so they could blow it up. (They’d already blown up one ‘67 Dodge Charger but it had been about the most pissant car-explosion in history, so they’d decided to try it again.)

“It’s the Mariner.” This was the Mariner’s first day of work. “He won’t come out of his trailer.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“Uh, because he’s a fuckin’ retard?”

“Okay.” Buddy was already turning his car back in the direction of the studio. “Just tell me what happened, Ig.”

“All right,” said Iggy, “first set-up, we do the master of the interview scene with him and Sally.”

“Yeah? So?”

“So, Sally’s fine, but he keeps fucking up. Keeps stepping on her lines, forgetting his own lines, but, you know, finally I get a usable take after about twelve tries.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So, we move everything around to shoot over Sally’s shoulder, and that’s when he decides to camp out in his trailer. Says he wants to talk to either you or Harvey. Harvey’s downtown with the second unit so I guess that leaves you.”

“Fuckin’ hell.”

“I’d fire him but I know it’d fuck up our budget and shit.”

“Yeah, right.”

“What we could do is move everything around to the other side and shoot Sally’s close-ups, maybe he’ll cool out in the meantime, but that’s gonna take us at least another --”

“No, fuck that. Look, I can be there in about twenty, twenty-five minutes. Leave the set-up as it is, I’m on my way.”



They were shooting police station interiors on a standing set in the old Columbia lot. On the way in Buddy passed most of the cast and crew gathered around the craft services table. Joan, in her costume as the tough female detective, saw him come in but turned away to talk to the wardrobe mistress. But Debbie Greenberg marched right up to Buddy and said:

“Why the fuck’d you let yourself be pussy-whipped into hiring this schmuck?”

Buddy stopped and looked at her. Debbie was actually pretty damned attractive in this mode. Also she was wearing a fairly low-cut top. He opened his mouth as if he were going to reply verbally, but instead he shook his head and walked on.

On the almost deserted set Sally Fenster sat in her place at the interrogation table, reading a Ruth Rendell paperback. Heather and Iggy were sitting by the camera consulting Heather’s shooting-script. Buddy waved to Sally and went over to Heather and Iggy.

“Still in the trailer?”

“Still in his trailer,” said Iggy.

“All right, look,” said Buddy, “give me five. In the meantime, coffee break’s over. Get everybody back on set and ready to shoot.”


Of course the Ancient Mariner didn’t have his own trailer, but he did share one with Milt Dickens. Buddy thought of knocking but then he thought, Fuck it, I’m paying for this fucking trailer. He opened the door and there the asshole was sitting on a chair looking at himself in the mirror.

“Oh, hello, Buddy.”

He had his police detective suit on but he hadn’t cut off his ponytail or shaved his goatee. That was two strikes. Also he wasn’t on the set doing his job. That was three strikes.

Buddy had been prepared to do a little mollifying, a little stroking; sometimes you’d get these actors, they’d strangle their own mother for a part and then when they got it they wouldn’t play it. Buddy had had to do this kind of thing before. But the ponytail, the beard -- he even still had that annoying stud in his ear --

“Okay, Stephen, I want you on the floor in five minutes or you’re fired.”

“Don’t you want to hear my complaint?”

“All right, but you’re still fired if you’re not on set in five minutes, so make it quick.”

Buddy sat down on the cot and looked at his watch and wished he still smoked cigarettes.

“That bitch, that, that little tart--”

“What,” said Buddy, “who -- Heather?”

“No, the other one, the alleged actress --”

“Sally.”

“Whatever her name is.”

“Sally. What about her.”

“I cannot work with her.”

“Why?”

“She does not treat me with respect. I say my lines and she rolls her eyes.”

Oh Christ.

“Stephen, the girl is acting. She is rolling her eyes at what your character is saying.”

“She sneers at me when I am speaking.”

“It’s called acting, Stephen. Her character does not like your character.”

A marked-up script lay on the make-up table. Buddy reached over and picked it up. He took off his driving-and-TV glasses and saw that the script was open at the scene they were supposed to be shooting now. He read aloud:

“’You’re an asshole, Broadridge. You’ve always been an asshole. And you’ll die an asshole.’”

He laid the script down, and put his glasses back on. At this distance the glasses made the Mariner more vague, which was a good thing.

“Do you see the subtext here, Stephen?”

“Subtext?”

“She doesn’t like the guy.”

“But she’s acting like she doesn’t like me.”

“You said it, Stephen. She’s acting. She is an actor. An artist. Now stop being an asshole and get in there with your fellow artist and do your work.”

The Mariner gave a great dramatic pause.

“I don’t think you need to call me an asshole. I am a professional. I studied with Bill Hickey, with Jeff Corey. I have shared the stage with Meryl Streep.”

“I saw it on your résumé. That was in 1975, Stephen. The fact is this is the biggest break you’ve gotten in about twenty years, so stop acting like an asshole and get the fuck in there.”

“Not if you’re going to call me an asshole.”

“If you get your ass in there then you won’t be acting like an asshole and so I’ll have no right to call you an asshole.”

“But the fact is you are calling me an asshole.”

“That’s because you’re still sitting here on your asshole. As soon as you’re on that stage I retract all asshole nomenclature.”

“So take it back.”

“Yes,” you asshole, “as soon as you’re on the set I take it back.”

Another dramatic pause, which was costing Buddy money.

“Very well,” murmured the Mariner, looking at his horrible over-made-up face in the mirror.

Buddy really wanted to tell him to take an extra ten and cut off his damn ponytail, shave that facial pubic hair and pull that fucking stud out, but then they would have to re-shoot any footage they’d already done with him, so he let it go.

“Good. You got two minutes.”


Back on the now-bustling set Buddy took Iggy aside.

“Okay, Ig, if he fucks up again, you don’t have to ask me or Harvey first, just fire the goofball.”

“Okay.”

“Cool. Can I have a quick word with Sally?”

She was still in her chair at the interrogation table, smoking a cigarette and tapping the ash into a paper cup while the hair and make-up girls touched her up. Buddy went over to her.

“Hey, girls, give me a minute with Sally, please.”

They walked away, and Buddy leaned over and whispered:

“The Ancient Mariner thinks you don’t like him.”

“I don’t. He’s gross.”

“Well, do me a favor, pretend to like him.”

“Fuck him. He’s so unprofessional. And it’s not like he’s any good. The real reason he’s sulking is because he was so fucking bad during that last set-up. He’s got stage-fright, pure and simple.”

“You’re probably right.”

“I know I’m right. The skeezy old hack. Why’d you hire him, Buddy?”

Buddy saw the Mariner step tentatively onto the edge of the set. All the crew and cast were pointedly ignoring the man.

“Okay, look, Sally, we made a mistake, but we’re stuck with the guy. You’re a trained actress. In between takes, just act like you don’t hold him in complete and, you know, utter contempt.”

“That’ll be my most challenging motherfucking role ever.”

The Mariner was still hanging back. Joan came over to him, touched his arm and whispered something.

It was a pet theory of Buddy’s that bad taste was the only reason the human race still existed.


(Now, Buddy, be nice! Continued here. Please look to the right hand column of this page for a listing of all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Danny Thomas Production.)

10 comments:

Manny said...

I love the insider's perspective of this story. Dan, did you ever direct B-movies? Or for that matter A-movies?

kathleenmaher said...

It was a pet theory of Buddy’s that bad taste was the only reason the human race still existed.

I know that feeling. He's so good at dealing with people. If I cursed like that--no I still wouldn't be effective.

marcus said...

Hey that Ancient mariner sounds like me! You prick you wrote that character around me you cynical fucking bastard. I hate you Uncle Buddy!

Dan Leo said...

Manny -- ha, no, but I would love to direct a B-movie, the cheesier the better.

And, Kathleen, yeah, I think Buddy knows that a producer's job with "the talent" is to keep 'em happy.

Dan Leo said...

Heh heh -- Marcus, settle down, your royalty check is in the mail, dude!

kathleenmaher said...

Such great photos, Dan--without fail. Like book cover art.

Dan Leo said...

Glad you like the pictures, Kathleen. The current one is James Dean, Natalie Wood, and the director Nicholas Ray, working on "Rebel Without a Cause".

blue girl said...

...and there the asshole was sitting on a chair looking at himself in the mirror.

LOL.

Sally pegged him! He's a big baby. Can't face the truth of his horrible-ness so he blames others.

blue girl said...

I've never directed a B-movie. But, the first time I was involved in producing a TV commercial, I was stunned and horrified by the people around me. These (somewhat) normal, talented creative people I had worked with for years and years (in print) all turned into Steven Spielberg in their own minds.

Oooh, the egos inflated like you wouldn't believe. Tempers flared, etc. It was ridiculous. lol

Dan Leo said...

As the young people say, BG: "Word".

I think one of the big reasons that good directors tend to work with the same people over and over again is not just that they know these people can deliver, but because they want to avoid the dreaded "X-Factor" of working with someone for the first time.