Sunday, May 29, 2011

Character actors

My heart goes out to character actors.

When you read casting breakdowns there are a lot more productions seeking, “Male, 30’s, handsome, charming” than “Overweight, 50’s, Italian/Russian mix, unibrow”.

And the few character actors that are successful enough that they don’t have to be service managers at Jiffy Lube ultimately get trapped by their own success. Producers will glance at their headshots or see them read and say, “Him again? Jesus. This guy’s been on a million shows. Can’t we find any new overweight Italian/Russians? “

When you walk into a room and the producers go, “Hey, it’s the ‘can you hear me’ guy!” or “I’ve seen that big white head before. Aren’t you Jack from Jack in the Box?” you’re dead.

Or if a production is to be filmed on location in say, Houston. They’ll cast from the local pool there. Yes, that Nazi soldier might speak with a drawl but it’s cheaper to over-dub him than fly a real Nazi halfway across the country.

And time is never a friend. They get too old to play the cute waitress, the ballplayer, or Julia Roberts’ best friend (although Julia Roberts miraculously never ages herself).

If a character actor isn’t hot agents often lose interest. There’s always some Chihuahua who’s easier to book.

The most heartbreaking casting session I ever held was on MASH. We had a USO subplot in an episode and needed an accordion player. One by one, ten accordion players came in to audition. They all looked right, they all could play “Lady of Spain”. We had to choose one, which we did. But I felt so terrible for the others. How many calls do they get from their agent saying “MASH needs an accordion player”? How many of them kissed their wives goodbye on the way to the casting session saying, “I know I haven’t worked in six years but I’ve got this one!”

So the next time you’re in Jiffy Lube or Wal-Mart or Staples be nice to the clerk. He may be one hell of an accordion player.

Off to Seattle to begin broadcasting all next week for the Mariners.  Would love to meet all of you in the area.  I'm open to suggestions. 

25 comments:

Reno said...

It was my experience as a production house producer,in casting commercials, that the agency pukes inevitably would be cruel, especially to children. They would say, in the kids' presence, things like "He just won't do," or "She's not cute enough." How many of these kids, I've often wondered, grew up to kill their mother.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I would have loved to see a Cheers episode with ten accordeon players...

Anonymous said...

The fact that Paul Giamatti has the career he has should give hope to every homely looking character actor out there.

leor said...

hey Ken,
any chance you'll be coming to Toronto when the Mariners play the Jays in July?

Gary said...

Ken, pick a Starbucks. I can't play an accordion but I can drink coffee and tell sea stories. Will the M's sweep NY? My heart says yes. I'll be there with my heart, yelling for yet another run scoring fielder's choice!

Anonymous said...

What do you mean Julia Roberts never ages? She hasn't been playing romantic leads much anymore, other than the BS Oceans Eleven 'this is the best part of my day', and even that was 10 years ago.

Ron Rettig said...

Ken what is now difference between character actor and bit player? I think of the Warner Bros stable of character actors like Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Alan Hale,Sr.,etc. Would they not be considered character actors?

Mike Barer said...

Pick any Starbucks and blog when you will be there.

Mike Barer said...

Some of us will be able to make it some won't but it's a start.

DwWashburn said...

Of course the guy (or guys) under the Jack head don't have the same worries as other commercial actors, but I've often wondered how much these character actors that are associated with one product get? As Ken says, I'm sure it really limits their ability to get other jobs.

For example the lady who does Progressive insurance commercials. Any idea how much a gig like that pulls down annually? Cause I really doubt if she's going to get much other acting (although she was on House this year). And the poor lady pushing Phillips laxative. I hope she's pulling down some good bread.

Ron said...

Sandy Duncan did well for a while AFTER gaining traction in a series of United California Bank commercials.

Frank Abe said...

Coming for the Orioles and Rays series? Great. After we win both those series the mighty M's will be in FIRST PLACE!

We can ask the M's front office if we can use Ellis Pavilion before one of the games. If they're putting you up at the Silver Cloud, do they have a decent lobby? We could always gather at Pyramid Brewery across the street, or Elysian Fields down Occidental Way might be less boisterous.

Cap'n Bob said...

Meet me at the Shanghai Sauna in Tacoma. Bring money.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

And the poor lady pushing Phillips laxative. I hope she's pulling down some good bread.

Hopefully, because it sure isn't staying down. *ba-dum-CHING*

Johnny Walker said...

@Anonymous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS155D2HlwY

Mike Schryver said...

I doubt I'll be able to get up to Seattle, but just do me a favor and keep the M's hot, okay?

Anonymous said...

Actually, Starbucks is rather politically incorrect in Seattle. Pick a water a watering hole in the Safeco area.
Mike Barer

Chris said...

Here's one for friday: Why is David Caspe co-executive producer on Happy Endings when he created the series? I thought creators automatically get ep credit.

Laine said...

I was so happy when I turned on the radio to listen to the M's game and there was your voice! So I went to your blog and saw that you will be doing the broadcast all week. Hooray!

Mike Barer said...

I was at the game and heard you on the broadcast. It really was a cliffhanger. Thank God for the wild inning by the Bird's starting pitcher

VP81955 said...

A character actor's character actor will be honored Wednesday on TCM in the U.S. I am referring to none other than the great Frank Morgan, whose birth anniversary is Wednesday. (He's not the only June 1 baby in classic movie lore; some lady named Monroe was also born on that day.)

TCM will be airing 10 lesser-known Frank Morgan films, made between 1932 and 1940, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET). If you only known him as the Wizard, watch him at work -- he's a treat.

cadavra said...

And so is his brother Ralph, who played the revealed-in-the-last-reel murderer in countless films.

Knuckles said...

Collins Pub on Second, at the base of the Smith Tower. Great food, great beer selection and free wi-fi. My home away from home.

Chris said...

One for friday: how does camera blocking work in single-camera?

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

Apropos of nothing, the guy who does the voice of Jack in the Jack in the Box spots owns the agency that has the account.