I Have a Question

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I Have a Question

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

For those of you who are interested in learning new ways to demean actors -- for those of you, that is, who are writers or directors, or producers, or restaurant customers -- here's a term we use to describe an actor with a small-ish role on a TV show.

We call that actor a &quotday; player," because he gets paid by the day, not by the episode. In their desperate, status-obsessed terror, people in Hollywood divide each other not only by the size of the paycheck, but by its place as a budget line-item.

Day players, of course, hate the term. They prefer &quotguest; cast," but &quotguest; cast" is awfully close to &quotguest; star" -- come to think of it, maybe that's why they like it so much -- and &quotguest; stars" get paid by the episode, not by the day, so we're stuck, for a while, with the term &quotday; player," although we're not supposed to use it too much around the set. Sort of like the &quotmaid;" vs. &quothousekeeper;" problem. I mean, you know what I mean, right? Oh come on. Don't get all grand on me. We're all of us day players, when you get right down to it.

Anyway, the hard part about being a day player -- being a good one, anyway -- is accepting the fact that you've struggled and studied and sacrificed, done Shakespeare in the Park and toured with Les Miz and put in years of scene study and fought your way through Ibsen and movement class and mask work and voice training and Once Upon a Mattress at The Play's the Thing Dinner Theater and Medea at the Indiana Arts Festival and Lear at Spokane SummerFest and now you're sitting in an outer office with about twenty other actors waiting to read for a part called &quotMaid; Number Two" where you get to say the words, &quotMore; Tea, Mrs. Conklin."

That's all you have to say. &quotMore; Tea Mrs. Conklin." Four words. Get paid by the day. Wait a lifetime. Dream yourself to sleep every night, thinking about stardom, staring up at a cottage-cheese ceiling in a rickety-rackety dark West LA apartment with a dun-colored formica kitchen counter and a balcony that overlooks a Nails by Yuki and a sliding screen door that screeches when you open it. And...

Whoa. Getting carried away. You get the picture.

Remember: four words. More. Tea. Mrs. Conklin.

I once tried to hire a...guest cast member...to play just such a role and to say just those four words. You wouldn't think it would be that hard, but getting someone to say &quotMore; Tea, Mrs. Conklin?" without turning it into opera, or Mamet, was pretty impossible. One woman walked in, put her stuff down, and then turned to us and said, &quotI; have a question. This...woman...this maid number two. Has she...worked for the family for a long time?"

We looked at each other and shrugged. &quotUm.....sure.; Sure."

She nodded, eyes shut, and smiled, meaningfully. &quotThank; you," she said. &quotThat;'s how I want to play her."

&quotOkay; then. Whenever you're ready."

She gathered herself up. Took a deep breath. And when she had finally inhabited the character of Maid Number Two, the longtime family servant, she said her lines:

&quotMay; I offer you some more coffee, Mrs. Conklin?"

More. Tea. Mrs. Conklin. Four words. Just those.

When she left, our casting director looked at us apologetically. &quotShe; got a Drama Desk Award," she said. &quotAnd; the weird thing is, she works at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. So she's presumably hip to the distinction."

But not hip enough to get paid by the day.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll participate in a focus group. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with artini Shot.



Rob Long