Talented friends of mine have placed me, kicking and screaming, in front of camera in the past and a number of times I’ve had to jump in and improvise when minor role players haven’t shown up on one of my own productions. To be blunt: I don’t like acting, I’m no good at it and I get no enjoyment from being filmed, which is exactly why it’s so funny that a few weeks back I’d somehow landed in front of camera on “Maryland” (frmly: “Jack Ryan”), the big budget prequel to “Hunting for Red October” and “Clear & Present Danger”. Running face-first into Kevin Costner during a chaotic action sequence, delivering a line of dialogue while manhandling Keira Knightley, and being given specific directions by (5-time Oscar nominated!) director Kenneth Branagh, helicopters flying around as we raced between a cavalcade of stunt cars screeching to a halt inches away. I’ve gotta say, as much as I want to leave acting to the professionals, I could get used to days like this.
They were all lovely people. Ms. Knightley in particular was pleasant and friendly and didn’t seem to mind that I was a bit nervous on the 1st take and probably not as gentle as I could’ve been when I shoved her in the SUV and slammed the door in her face. Mr. Branagh had a comfortable, relaxed demeanor which stood in contrast to the chaos of the scene we were shooting. Kevin Costner is much taller than I’d imagined he’d be, and very spry — zigzagging between 50 crew members during a 180° shot couldn’t’ve been the easiest thing to do on a frigid day in west London for a man his age.
It was pure chance that I’d been cast as an Extra (it’s a long story for another post), and I’d started the day as “Airport Worker” in a bright orange boiler suit until the AD department got wind of my American accent, at which point I was thrust into CIA Agent attire and marched out to set. The day was excellent and bizarre but it was difficult to not have any responsibilities on set — not being allowed to move cables or re-set props or order people around was all very new to me.
Hollywood is a very strange beast. In July 2000 I’d moved with a friend from Southern Utah to Southern California and before we’d had a chance to purchase our first groceries we were offered a 2-man improv stage show in North Hollywood. I’m not a performer, I didn’t hesitate to turn down the offer and I’d do it again if the same thing happened, but I have a lot of friends who would kill for these opportunities. I’m still waiting for the day when a well-connected stranger walks up to me and says, “You know, you look like you’d be an excellent director. Are you looking for someone to fund your next project?”
Anyway, check out Maryland when it hits theaters, and keep an eye out for the moppy-headed CIA Agent awkwardly pushing Chris Pine aside and mumbling something toward Ms Knightley.