This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
I once worked with a very talented actor who mostly worked in features. We didn't really know who he was when we were casting that particular role, but his agent and manager sent us his reel -- a tape with a sample of some of his best work -- and it was obvious from the first clip that he was a gifted, smart, winning, and very funny guy.
A few days later he was in our office, we had a great meeting, and we cast him on the spot.
But during production week, his performance was a little weird -- he'd get it, eventually, after a few run-throughs, so we thought, hey, the guy's from features, where they do a zillion takes of everything. He'll get used to television, which is pretty much a shoot it and move on kind of operation.
So shoot night came, and there was still something off about him, a depressed kind of energy. Like he was under water or something.
But by then it was too late to recast or re-shoot -- we just plowed through and a day or so later were sitting in the editing room watching the actor float through the show like he'd been body snatched.
We were baffled. What happened? Where did the electric performer from the agency reel go? Where was the guy from our office, the funny, engaging dude with the hilarious facial expressions? Where, in fact, were any facial expressions at all, so crucial to the acting bizz.
"You know," said our producer, watching the rough cut, "it's probably the medication he has to take. One of the side effects is a severely depressed energy level."
"Medication?" I asked.
"Yeah. It's like for some kind of brain thing."
"Our lead has a brain thing?"
"Um, I didn't say that. In fact, I'm not even allowed to tell you which brain thing specifically or about the medication he has to take for it. I only know because I had to arrange the physical."
Actors in major roles always have to go for a complete physical exam, to prove to the studio -- and to the insurers -- that they're healthy enough to theoretically last for the entire run of the series, which everybody hopes is a fifteen-year commitment.
"So, let me get this straight," I asked. "You knew all along that the lead actor in our comedy has a medical condition that forces him to take pills that make him boring? And you decided to hold this information back?"
"I didn't decide," he said reasonably. "It's the law."
And he was right, of course. Had he told us, we would have known all along that he was probably going to have to be recast, we would have figured out that the reason the actor was so great in features, and so personable and alive in the room, was because he could make it through a thirty-minute meeting or a set of multiple takes without too much trouble, but a sustained six-hour shoot in front of an audience made his brain thing crave unfunny pills.
A few weeks ago, flipping through the channels late at night, I saw that same actor -- this is now several years after we worked together on that baffling and doomed pilot -- doing a public service announcement for his particular brain thing. You don't have to live with the shame and the embarrassment anymore, he was telling the television audience at two in the morning. There's powerful medication that can keep the disease in check, he said. Chirpily. With energy and charm. With gusto and pep and an engaged, zesty delivery. With a star quality that he can only attain when he's off his meds. And for the rest of us, it's usually the opposite situation.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll come up with something. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.