The Nobility of the Misunderstood

I went to a party in 2000 at a friend’s apartment on 46th between 8th and 9th in Manhattan. It’s important, the address, because the people at the party were all Broadway People, all triple threats. I felt like a small fat child walking through the apartment. All of these men were 6′ 2″ and over, all of them with Grecian profiles and t-shirts that sat on their chests, hanging loose over their taut ridiculous stomachs. I poured three fingers of scotch, and then three more, and then three more to nurse as I walked around.

I had been invited by my college friend “Carl”, who is now a big-time Broadway star. I saw Carl across the room and I moved over to him, freshly drunk and feeling a little shit-talky and snarky about the whole party. We said hi and hugged and I asked him if I could get him a drink. He held up his bottled water and said, “I can’t, I’m in training.” I held up my scotch and said, “If you’re a real actor, this is how you train…” He half smiled and looked at me and said, “No. No, it isn’t.”

There are two American stories that have plagued my life. The first is the idea that hard work, mixed with a little talent and little luck, can make your dreams come true. That leads to the inescapable conclusion – you can’t do anything about your talent or your luck, so you just keep working hard, that’s the only part you can take care of. When the door is opened, be prepared to walk through.

The other, I like to call “The Withnail Tragedy”, where you stand in the rain, drunk at ten in the morning and romantically recite the monologue that would make your career, if only things had been different, if only someone could hear you. The bowed but not yet broken man, half smiling at you with old eyes, who has the wisdom to know against whom the deck is stacked and who refused to play the game, refused to do what the little people asked, so he never had the success he rightly deserves.

I am a very good actor. I know this because I’ve been told it a thousand times. But somehow, I stumbled along, submitting my headshot and going to open calls and signing with agents and it never quite worked out for me. My friends know why – it’s because I’m hard to pin down, I’m not really a *type* – or at least I wasn’t in my twenties and thirties. I have all this presentational training, this 1940s-musical-background, but I’m much more at home in a small theater playing true moments. And I’m not quite a leading man, and not quite a character actor. I transcended type, and the industry didn’t quite know what to do with me.

Or, in my worst moments, alone and away from my friends, I was never handsome enough. I was always too fat. I loved growing my hair down past my shoulders and I love having a beard… or actually, no, what it is – it’s that nobody really believed in me. I never had a mentor, my teachers would often suggest, time and again, that I ought to go into *teaching*. There was never anybody who saw me and thought I was going to be successful, only a handful of my friends that I was on stage with (and, frankly, probably sleeping with) thought I was any good.

Oh what a noble misunderstood failure was my acting career. What a beautiful cancer-ridden kitten, still smiling up, still purring, while she cough-coughed her way through her days. The Tony just never had my name on it, the cards were not dealt in my favor and despite an enormous wealth of talent and a resume that stretches back to when I was a child, I am simply the kind of person for whom it was never meant to be.

All of that is a fucking lie. An egregious, disgusting, self-serving lie.

This is the week when I come clean, and I’m here to tell you that the night I was drinking scotch with a future Broadway star as he drank water – that was one of a thousand turning points when I made the decision to fail. And I made that decision time and time and time again.

The industry didn’t know what my type is? Really? REALLY? So, the *problem* with your career is that you’re too diverse, too capable of playing a bunch of different roles in almost any style, right? That’s the problem? Oh, and also, yes – it’s a beauty pageant in a lot of ways, movie stars tend to be beautiful and not-beautiful people can be locked out, but the only problem with that is that I’M MALE and I NEVER WANTED TO BE IN MOVIES. Maybe I wasn’t gonna have a movie star life, but guess what – the friend who was drinking water at that party has never been in movies either. And also? I’m actually reasonably good-looking, something I choose to avoid by dwelling on one or two crooked teeth and back-acne.

But there’s also the problem that nobody believed in me, that I never had a mentor or anyone in the industry shepherding me through the process. But, of course, if I *had* then the whole thing would have been *easy*. Instead of *hard*. Which is what it is, which is what everyone told me it would be, which is what everyone always says to everyone about this industry. It’s hard, it’s almost impossible, the streets are littered with talented wannabes that never got their shot… and my complaint was that “it’s too hard without someone telling me constantly that I’m good enough”? Good Christ, that’s some Grade A bullshit right there.

It’s pathetic and it’s infuriating, and there are a lot of us and we recognize each other on sight. If there had been two of us at that Broadway Giants party, we would have recognized one another. Of course there *weren’t* two of us, that would have made it a different kind of party. And ever after there wasn’t even *one* of us because I wasn’t  invited to those parties any more.

And I shouldn’t have been. Because it’s a community of actors who are struggling and supporting one another’s struggles, who remind each other to go to the gym, who give each other advice on the best classes to keep their skills sharp and their voices strong. We don’t do that, me and my friends, we talk shit through rehearsal and afterwards we drink – or sometimes during. At that party I got drunk and openly mocked a group of chorus boys from Phantom. And I was *hilarious*. I even got to mock Andrew Lloyd Weber! But every day, we’re all getting older and we see the generation rising up below us and when we’re swallowed up it won’t even fill anything, there will be so little of us to swallow.

Now, look, this is the important part. I don’t regret anything. I can say that right now, how I’m feeling today, I am utterly free of regret. The reason that I wanted to devote a week to coming clean is because I think the best way to live a life free of anxiety and depression is to simply live an honest and somewhat loud life, and my life was defined by dishonesty, anxiety and depression for years. Maybe it still will be, but my brother Kent gave me some good advice once  – “if you’re doing it wrong and you’re not getting what you want, do it wrong a different way and see if that works.” I want to try honesty and see if it creates a feedback loop that suppresses the anxiety and depression.

There is no nobility in my lack of success as an actor. It’s a crying shame, it really is. Because regardless of how good or how talented I was, or am, the simple fact is that I love acting. I love my kids more, I love my wife more, I love that I have the life I have now and I love that all the work I do now has no drama attached to it, it’s simply work. And it’s possible – actually likely – that if I had a career as an actor, one that took me all over the country in rep theaters and on tour, that I wouldn’t have Jordana, Barnaby, Marlena or Gideon Productions. And if I had a time machine and could go back, I would tread as carefully as possible in the hopes that I would still end up here with the life I have now.

But I love being on stage. I love being on stage the way a 16 year old boy loves his 17 year old girlfriend. And the reason I don’t get to have a career can be summed up in the simple revelation that I didn’t work hard enough to make it happen, and almost every chance I had to sabotage my career, I did it. And there is nothing romantic or noble about that. It is just simply a shame.