I’m sitting in my hotel in Atlanta, waiting for my breakfast to arrive. My clock says it’s 1045, but my body thinks it’s 745, so I’m a little squishy in the brains. I also had epic and endless nightmares last night, the kind where I wake myself up and don’t know where I am, and then calm myself down by reminding myself that it was just a dream.
I haven’t had nightmares like that in a long time, since I started Operation Reboot, and I hope it’s just my brain and body dealing with the travel, jet lag, and uncertainty of playing a new character in a new show.
Maybe that’s why I had all these stress dreams and nightmares last night. I don’t know this crew, I barely know this cast. I have a pretty good sense of who this character is, and I’ve prepared my scenes and broken down everything into actions and beats, and I’ve done all the basic preparation and homework, but I’ve only lived in his skin for a couple of scenes, and I still don’t really know him, the way I will by the end of the day today.
Strangely, I sort of feel like being an actor is outside of my comfort zone, at least at the moment, because I’ve been putting myself into a writing head space more and more for the last several weeks. Because I’m American, I’ll use a baseball analogy to explain.
For me, being an actor is like being a shortstop: there’s no time to think, you’ve just got to be totally prepared, relaxed, and ready for whatever comes at you. You’re at your best when you’re honestly and naturally reacting to what’s happening, even though you know that you want things to go in a certain direction, and can reasonably expect plays to unfold in a particular way.
Being a writer is like being a pitcher: you get to decide when the play starts, and you have a tremendous amount of control over what happens up until it does. You have time to think, to reflect, and to observe everything that’s happening around you. It’s slower, more methodical, more precise.
Once the camera rolls, I have to be completely focused and present and out of my head. I have to be connected to the other actors, and totally committed to what my character wants, and honest in how I react to what he’s getting. I’m an experienced actor, so that’s not particularly difficult. In fact, it’s rewarding and fun to play make believe, and there’s nothing better than discovering something unexpected within a scene, and making it live inside me.
But as a writer, I’m a few beats behind everything around me. I’m thinking all the time. I’m in my head and processing everything, cataloging it, seeing how everything fits together, and looking for the hidden levers and strings that hold everything together, so I can mess around with them and make something happen.
Monday, on the set at Big Bang Theory, I struggled like crazy for the first time since my first episode, because I just couldn’t get out of my head (Meisner actors will know precisely what I mean by that). I was thinking too much, carefully measuring everything too much, and not just existing in the moment. Luckily, the director (who is amazing and massively experienced) got me through it, and helped me get out of my own way. Eventually, the scenes we shot were very funny and very real, but the entire time I felt like I had never worked before, like I wasn’t prepared at all, and like I was ruining it for everyone. In fact, the writer in me was hard at work making notes about the whole thing, so I could recall it later. That wasn’t particularly helpful.
I just heard from the set that the rain has stayed away long enough to allow them to shoot more exteriors, and my call time has been pushed into the afternoon. That’s great news, because I can do this writing thing right now, and then go over my scenes for today (I wish I could share a picture of my notes, my actions, my motivations for the various beats, but NDA), so I’m ready to take the field and go wherever the play takes me.