Sunday, July 18, 2010

Where the Fuck Have I Been?!

Okay, we haven’t talked about this but we all know it’s the elephant in the room. Sometime around the sixth episode of Everybody’s Stupid, I sort of disappeared from posting regularly. I know, it was as if I vanished in a puff of smoke. A post here, and then a post there weeks later. And then all of a sudden, there was The Cannes Diary – fifteen days of nonstop posting. WTF?! Then in May, I posted a Bachelor’s Paradise recipe and didn’t even have the courtesy of pretending that I had been gone. Who the hell do I think I am, exactly?

In my defense, I’ve been busy. And I got busy (hello, mid 90’s) because people hired me from my work here. There are definitely worse things. I figured that now, a week after our second anniversary, would be a good time to share some of my experiences. Well, all that I can tell and not get myself in trouble…

So what exactly have I been up to since I stopped posting four times a week? We’ll have to look back a little.

A producer saw the fourth episode of Everybody’s Stupid, and cast me in a monologue slam and I won third place! It was the first time I’ve ever had to stand on stage alone and deliver a five-minute monologue. I fell in love with it immediately. I did a piece from Fences that is rarely ever done and I will say this: I will play Troy in the next Broadway revival of the show. Yes, I know it’s on the Broadway right this second with Denzel, but I’m talking about 20 years from now. It’ll be me, and you’ll know that I’ve been preparing since now.

Another producer who had been a fan of my show since the first episode cast me in a showcase of hers. It was a tiny, one-line role but I was beyond grateful. This showcase was sold out and real industry professionals who hire actors and writers would be in attendance. This was the first time I felt the idea “Whatever it is, I’ll make it funny.” Because of scheduling conflicts, I only had one rehearsal, and that was during our tech run of the show. I had a few entrances and exits, but my one line came at the very end. In my second to last exit, in one of those moments where you can feel that every single eye in the room is on you, I turned around and gave the main two characters a “look.” The audience fell apart laughing for about thirty seconds. Really. Thirty seconds is a long time in a theater. It was the best feeling in the world.

That same week I was cast as a replacement in the world premiere of a play called The Bitter Herbs. I was excited to play two completely different characters. Not only was it fantastic to be in a play that had an entirely sold out run for seven weeks, it was great just to receive so much love from the audience every night. The theater had to add seats in the aisles to accommodate the people who wanted to see this show! It was also great to settle into a role and let that take over my thoughts for a few months. I loved performing in this play – it was a screwball comedy that had a meaningful idea to discuss. It was normal to hear people blowing their noses because they were crying. I could have done that play eight times a week for a year. Out of all the shows I’ve done, I’ve said that less than five times.

Last summer, I understudied the lead role in a two-person play called 74 Georgia Avenue and wouldn’t you know it, I went on for an entire weekend after just six hours of understudy rehearsal! It was a classically difficult experience, and I learned much about confidence. I was seeing the show one night [as you do as an understudy to get the rhythm in your head] and an audience member tapped me on the shoulder and said she knew me. I couldn’t place her and she thankfully stepped in and said she recognized me from The Bitter Herbs and thought I gave a marvelous performance! Talk about bestowing confidence when I really needed it! There also was a lot of behind the scenes drama that I won’t go into detail about, which I can say helped me solidify ideas on how to behave in a professional environment. I can say that the producers were worried they’d have to turn my understudy gig into a permanent replacement. Really worried. Ahem. We even got reviewed the weekend I went on and I’ll admit to being proud to have been reviewed so positively.

In the fall, I was asked to sing in a concert for Haviland Stillwell, who is an actress most well known for playing Fantine in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables, but you might also recognize her from The Client List and Eastwick. It was a great experience to work with talent of that level and see how these people work up close and know that you belong. Halfway through sound check, I thought to myself “Well, I haven’t been asked to leave yet, so maybe I deserve to be here…?” Sometimes it takes not being fired to know you’ve made progress. Ha! But, seriously. It was also my Los Angeles concert debut.

I also booked an interesting gig as a co-host for a dance show – as a replacement. We were to perform in scenes that were between the dance numbers and even danced in one number. It was a great lesson on acting in that environment. At times you’d break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience, and other times you’d perform just as you would in any other play. Sometimes, you’d speak and dance at the same time, which is more difficult that dancing and singing at the same time, ironically. It was also great to play myself as a character. All the text was fictional, of course, but they hired us for our real life personalities. You had to show up every night and be the “star” version of yourself, which is a skill that is not taught in acting class. You can’t get on stage and just be the dude who watches soccer at home, this is a performance. It made me think differently about the way I approach playing different characters, and that is priceless.

While I was performing that at night, I was also rehearsing for the LA Premiere of a new musical version of A Christmas Carol. I was a replacement in that show, so I had a lot of catching up to do. A lot. To say the absolute least, it was overwhelming. I’d never had two shows in my head at the same time before – I never did summer stock. As difficult as it was, it was also invigorating to push myself so hard. And I promptly got the flu. But I survived and also survived doing a show with kids for two months! I’m kidding, I’m kidding… This show was also featured here in the From the Rehearsal Hall series. Best of all, I got to bust out my ballet skills for my solo song. It was all very de rigueur, but doing pirouettes, grand jett├ęs and dancing across a stage that was covered entirely in fake snow while singing was, as they say: “Like, whoa.”

I was fortunate enough to be cast as a replacement in a workshop of a brand new play called From The East to the West this past February. Have you noticed how many gigs get booked as replacements? It just goes to show, you never know… I got the call for that gig one morning and spoke with the director. He said he’d email me the script for me to peruse while he was calling other people he was considering. About an hour after the script was emailed, he called again saying that he asked no less than five different people who they would recommend for the role and my name came up five times. Every single person recommended me. I started rehearsal that very afternoon. It was an exciting process, and because we were opening in less than two weeks, I had to work quickly! Not only was it great just to get a gig at all and have to work so hard so quickly, it was great to be subtle and nuanced in my acting for a change. Generally, African-American males are not used that way in theater or film. More often you’ll find that in television, but still, not all the time. I have to admit, that’s the kind of storytelling where I feel the most comfortable and it’s rare I get to do it. Best of all, that play will have its World Premiere next summer at Steppenwolf…

One day, I was walking out of an audition when someone who saw me leave the building ran after me and asked me if I was interested in doing an indie short? I said sure, and asked when the auditions were. He said he was familiar with my work [what?!] and wanted to offer me the part outright. I was surprised, but was present enough to say yes and took his card. Three weeks later I was on the set of Lonestar. It was my first time with tricky blocking combined with tricky camera choreography, and I again was thankful for my dance training. Some of my scenes had long takes where I would have to hit several marks, with turns, pauses and then fight choreography. At times like that, you don’t want to be the person holding up the entire shoot. It’s funny; you’ll have a blast shooting yet you’ll still be excited to get home like any other day. But on those days, you go home with a grin on your face. Best of all, Lonestar is premiering this week at the Comic-Con shorts festival! Woot.

In the spring, I worked on the new Nickelback video, which was directed by the legendary Nigel Dick. Let’s get real, music videos are not at all high on the ladder of respect, but being able to work with and learn from Nigel was amazing. He ran that set like a film set, and we were expected to keep up with him and his team [who are also top notch], while delivering top notch performances. It was also great to be able to hang with Nickelback for a couple of days. There was even a moment when it was just me, the other football player, and the band, who were playing some music. It was nice. Then they went into Hotel California and I sang with them... Near the end of those two days a member of the crew came up to me and gave me a great compliment by asking me “Do you see how Nigel and the band and the crew are all treating you differently than everyone else?” It was not said with jealousy, this was a member of the crew pointing something out to me. I had noticed it.

Then I spent a week in Ventura County on a film called Adult Entertainment that shot on the same soundstage that Julia Roberts shot Erin Brockovitch. [In fact, our new logo picture was taken from that very stage!] It was a phenomenal week getting to be funny and outrageous. I’ve never laughed so much, for so many days in a row. I get to do comedy a lot, and I am grateful, but this was the first time I was also expected to riff. I was so happy I had done my actor homework so I could totally free myself to improv in character. As much as I felt removed from my everyday life, it was difficult to leave such a fun set when it was over. Westley Eldredge has a career ahead of him as a director, his ability to inspire greatness while staying cool and fun is rare. I can’t wait to work with him again.

The week I got back from being on location I booked a principal role in a national commercial campaign for Cablevision's Optimum Wifi that included two spots in the initial order. I would be the lead, the only character carried over to the second spot. We shot on the lot at Universal Studios, which is amazing on it’s own. It was a huge production – a crew of fifty, fifteen principal actors and two hundred background actors! I even got to work with a blue screen for the first time. And I was in every shot. Really. Every single one. That is the kind of responsibility you can feel. And it felt good, no - it felt great to get my ass kicked in that way. It also gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities.


I shot the lead role (and title role) in a short called The Moving Man. First time I worked with CGI, which is cool. It was also the first time I'd ever done a supernatural thriller. It's interesting, I've played a lot of different characters, but this was the first time I had to spend an entire day scared out of my wits. It was an interesting experience. It was another day where I knew I had become a better actor. I also spent four hours climbing stairs, which my thighs paid for the next day.

The very next afternoon, as I was recuperating from the stairs, I got a call asking if I could be at an audition in an hour. Sure, why not. I got the material, it was 12 pages! Good thing I'd been working on my cold reading skills, riiiight?! I did the audition then went to the grocery store. As I was putting down my groceries, I got a call from my agent saying I booked it, and it would start the very next morning! I booked a Guest Star role on, iCarly, the hit Nickelodeon sitcom. It was my first guest star role. It was an amazing week. And difficult. And more fulfilling then I'd ever imagine. I'll actually do a multi part series to talk about it in length.

A few weeks later, I booked a co-star role on Outlaw, the Jimmy Smits drama on NBC. My scene was with Jimmy Smits!! It was a physical scene with difficult blocking, where I broke up a fight. It's so simple, but it took time to get right. I will say this: Yet again, I was glad I have dance training. I highly suggest all actors spend some time in a dance class or at the very least, take a movement class. It will not only help you hit multiple marks without looking down, but your sense of physical timing will be improved. Trust me. At one point, Jimmy Smits (who is a producer on the show) yelled at me because I wasn't hitting a specific mark in time. "Fuuck, Jimmy Smits is yelling at me!" The entire cast and crew grew silent and every single person stared at me. You could hear a pin drop. Then I took a deep breath and charmingly explained exactly why I was having difficulty hitting it and what we could do to fix it. From that moment on- from the director to the PAs - everyone treated me differently. They treated me with respect. I think it has just as much to do with how I said it as it was with what I actually said. At the end of the shoot the Jimmy Smits and the director both came up to me, shook my hand, and thanked me for my hard work. It was a good day. And, Jimmy Smits yelled at me!!! :D

I’m ready for the next challenge.

As you can see, I’ve been busy. What’s crazy is I can trace just about every single one of these jobs I booked directly back to Everybody’s Stupid or back to something I learned from doing it. Either someone saw it and hired me, or them seeing it got me into the audition room.

My favourite part? I’ve become a better actor because of all of this. And that, my friends is what it’s all about.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Ballad For Ed Limato

Ed Limato, Hollywood’s last great agent, passed away early in the morning of July 3rd, 2010. He was the best agent in Hollywood and had the best client list in a generation. Simply the greatest.

Most don’t know I spent two and a half years working at ICM when Mr. Limato was Co-President. At first I was a floating assistant based in the mailroom before I settled in at Agency Contracts. At that time, it was a cushy job where HR let me go to auditions in the middle of the day. And best of all, I learned about the industry from the belly of the beast. It was like going to grad school, and you received a Masters in Show Business. Without that job, I would not have been able to start producing as soon as I did.

Now when I say that Limato had the best client list in a generation, I am not exaggerating. His client list, over the years included Antonio Banderas, Michael Biehn, Nicholas Cage, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Claire Danes, Geena Davis, James Franco, Matthew Fox, Ava Gardner, Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Thomas Jane, Frank Langella, Jennifer Lopez, Derek Luke, Adrian Lyne, Madonna, Matthew McConaughey, Bette Midler, Liam Neeson, Sam Neill, Nate Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dennis Quaid, Doris Roberts, Diana Ross, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep, Paul Walker and Marlon Brando.

Because of that list, it was normal to see the likes of Denzel Washington, Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Gere or Clare Danes walking through the building. By the way, and just so you know; Michelle Pfeiffer would stop traffic even if she weren’t a famous actress. Mr. Limato represented Hollywood royalty.

He was Hollywood royalty.

And we all knew it. He had the clients he did not only because he was a prodigiously talented agent, but also because of his commitment to his client’s art. Most importantly, Mr. Limato had the clients he did because he treated them all like family. And it was rare for any of his clients to leave him - some never left. Other left and came back immediately. When you consider the level of clients he had - that's almost incomprehensible.

Because of that, his office was busy all the time. Limato’s office was so busy, the mailroom would send up his morning mail two hours before the first official mail run, which would be met by Limato’s third assistant. THIRD. This man had three assistants, and they were always busy.

If we had to do something for his office, his name created miracles. If we were in the middle of development season and the TV Lit department was duplicating hundreds of scripts, every other script order was slowly worked into the queue. If I walked into duplication and asked for four scripts to be copied immediately, I would be laughed at. Then I’d utter three magic words: “It’s for Limato.” They’d be ready in less than fifteen minutes.

Mr. Limato's style was uniquely sartorial. If you’ve never seen him or met him then you can’t really understand how well heeled he was or what a gentleman he was. He would wear plaid suits. To work. Or a salmon colored shirt. I’m just kidding – he would wear a salmon colored SUIT. Or mustard, just because. All without a hint of irony! That’s what I noticed about him immediately, if this were NYC these tailored garments would have be worn with a sense of humor. But Limato actually liked them, and he knew he could do anything - if only because he said so.

Don’t get me wrong, Ed Limato was also legendarily demanding - as demanding as anyone who is great at his job should be. The opportunity to see how this legend really worked was priceless, and most of his assistants worked so hard because they understood this. Some couldn’t handle the stress and pressure. I remember one assistant who quit by leaving a message on his office’s voicemail in the middle of the night.

“Oh, WOW,” I said. “That fool didn’t just quit working at ICM – he quit show business.” We all knew being that disrespectful to someone as great and legendarily powerful as Limato meant he would, as the saying goes, never work in this town again. It was sobering. And completely understandable.

As someone who was not an agent, nor one of his assistants, I was never really on his radar. Or so I thought. Late one morning I was riding the elevator from P4 to the third floor. The elevator stopped at P1, the VIP parking level. The doors opened and an impeccably dressed Ed Limato walked in. I didn’t know what to do – just Limato and me in a slow elevator together! I shouldn’t make eye contact! Should I bow my head and look at the floor? Just as my head was about to explode, I forced myself to speak.

“Good morning, Mr. Limato.”

“Good Morning, Malcolm,” he replied.

HE SAID MY NAME!!! I could have fainted right there in the elevator.

The only time I ever saw Mr. Limato outside of the ICM building was at a party for Tom Ford. Ford was leaving Gucci Group and was receiving a star on the Beverly Hills Walk of Fashion. I'd been to all sorts of parties, but this was easily the most luxurious party I had ever been to. A friend who worked at a management company scored me an invite, because he knew how much I respected Tom Ford’s work - this was the hottest party that month. Seriously. Not only did you have to be on the list, but they were checking ID's at the check-in table. They completely shut down Rodeo Drive from Little Santa Monica to Wilshire and built a party in the street that was two blocks long, with a third block for catering. I mean, it was built up off of the street and lined with black carpet! Imagine, Rodeo Drive, carpeted in black with multiple levels that you could get to. Every star in town was there. And I mean stars, there were no celebrities. At the three-hour mark, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson gave a little speech and presented Tom Ford with his award. I was trying to find a place to stand and found a place at the top of a small set of stairs. I could see above everyone.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a smiling and stunning Lucy Liu bounded up the stairs and hugged the person next to me. She looked so happy to see this man – I had not yet seen her look that luminous on screen. I looked over to see Ed Limato. They hugged and chatted for a minute. I remember thinking “Nothing about this is fake. Everyone truly loves this man.” She hugged him again and went back to her guest. I did notice she went up to him alone, she didn’t bring her guest up with her to be introduced…

I turned to him and forced myself to say something. “Mr. Limato… I work at ICM. It’s nice to see you here.”

“Oh yes,” he said and extended his hand for me to shake. “Are you enjoying the party?”

I was always impressed by his behaviour, he easily could have high-tailed it somewhere else so he wouldn’t have to make small talk with me, who was not even an agent. But Mr. Limato was a gentleman.

Rita Wilson presented Tom Ford with a plaque. As we cheered, white rose petals rained down on us. Now that’s confetti. This party was magical. Then, Gloria Gaynor took the stage and sang her huge hit “I Will Survive.” Mr. Limato, the greatest agent in Hollywood, in a sotto voce, sang right along with her. Really. Right before the bridge, he turned to me and said:

“This is my favourite disco song.”

I chuckled. I thought back to what his life and career must have been like. From working with Franco Zeffirelli in Italy in the 60s to going to work in the mailroom in NYC at the agency that would later become ICM. Being promoted and surviving a merger, then moving to William Morris and then back to ICM, becoming Co-President of the agency and still, all the way through the late 2000s having the greatest client list in all of Hollywood. Yes, of course “I Will Survive” would be his favorite disco song – a song he still knew all the lyrics to. All of them.

“It really is a good song, isn’t it...?” I replied, looking right into his eyes. I knew by his look how much he meant it.

Gloria Gaynor finished and Mr. Limato moved on, but not before putting his hand on my shoulder and saying goodnight. The man was a class act.

In just two brief moments with him, I may have learned two of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in showbusiness. I will always us remember passing each other in the ICM hallways, him being so impeccably dressed and making my Banana Republic wardrobe look like thrift shop rags. Not once did Mr. Limato ever fail to nod his head to me or say “Good Morning,” as he passed by. He truly was incomparable,and what he did as an agent will not ever be duplicated.

This is the end of an era.

In a class by himself, Mr. Limato was a true gentleman. The real deal.

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