There are no small columns, only small columnists
Let’s get this out of the way right off the hop: there are no small parts, only small actors. I’m not sure who coined that, either the great Russian theatre artist Constantin Stanislavski or my agent, but the jist is that every role is important to the story and the actor’s ego doesn’t always acknowledge that.
Having said that - some parts are bigger than others.
I write from the set of a new CTV show called Motive. I play this garbage man who finds clues in a murder and goes to the police (and asks for a reward). It’s a fine part but in my trailer minutes ago I counted my lines and the number of words my character says; I’ve done this before and yes, it is the handiwork of a small actor...but I got 2 scenes, 14 lines and 67 words.
I want more!!!
We already shot one scene and I gave exec. producer Rob LaBelle (a West Van guy whose son Angus is a hockey defenceman in the mold of a young Kevin Bieksa) a script idea to make my garbage man a series regular. Garbage men are an underrepresented profession on TV shows and I think Rob was intrigued. He did walk away laughing, yes, but he didn’t say no.
I’ve had smaller parts. My first camera gig was the role of a cave man and I said this: “Ugh!” In my next I played a bus driver and said this: “Transfer?” I weighted that line by creating a world for my character that included a break-up, piles and boredom; never saw it but it was surely the most angst-filled ‘transfer’ in the history of film. My best one-liner was “Get outta my way, folks, I gotta clean up some puke.” Didn’t bother with a character inner-world on that one.
I’m in episode 11 of Motive and the series starts airing right after the Super Bowl on Sunday. The script is really good and, as in life, has humor sprinkled throughout and dialogue that sounds like humans do, not always the case with TV. It’s a crime drama that has a twist but won’t give it away.
I’m working with series regulars Louis Ferreira and Kristin Lehman (and briefly Melanie Walden). When you’re on a show for a day or two the regulars can be key to your performance; if they are dismissive, like David Duchovny was when I did an X-Files in 1997, you have to work harder. If they’re supportive, like Lou and Kristin, who are each very good, it becomes SO much easier.
The director is Charles Martin Smith, who as an actor was on American Graffiti, The Buddy Holly Story, The Untouchables, Never Cry Wolf and even episodes of stuff like Room 222 and Baretta. Charles works in Canada a lot and it’s awesome to be on his set.
After the first scene I had lunch but squirreled away cherry pie for after I wrap because I don’t wanna be on the down side of a sugar rush. A knock on the trailer door and a voice says “we’re back” (that’s set parlance for ‘get moving!’). Off for my close-up!!!
Okay, didn’t take a notebook and it’s 3 hours later and I’m done. It was fun. Don’t know what close-ups I got because don’t pay attention to the camera, just stay busy doing the scene. That’s my philosophy: be and do; if you need to know about the camera – “it’s tight on you from the shoulder up” or “look left of the camera and then back to her” - the camera department or director tells you.
I liked this moment I created: my garbage man went to drink coffee, which I quit when I quit smoking years ago and somehow that lead to me taking a sip and making like it tasted bad. I put it back down with a ‘yuck’ expression and timed it so a moment later I delivered my next line. I got it the same each take and hope it makes it to the final cut because it was a nice touch, a nice moment.
Moments are cool in acting. You may have to impose them if they need a certain look or action or movement, but it’s best if they come organically, like the yucky coffee moment. That’s what you work to do, to be real and in the moment. The coolest stuff happens when you do that.
Eating my cherry pie and thinking about how all the moments in a story add up to something that is, hopefully, real and compelling and that contains a dash of meaning. So to be symmetrical about it there really are no small parts, only small moments...which add up to something big.
But I’d still like more lines!