My Days On “The Politician”

Now that Season 2 of The Politician has dropped on Netflix, I guess I can relay my experiences without breaking any NDA.

When I first went in to audition, I actually hadn’t seen Season 1 yet. There are just so many shows out there, and although I try to keep abreast of them, every once in a while one slips by. Since there was no time to see any episodes before my audition time, it would just have to wait until afterward.

Well, when I finally sat down to watch it the next day, I was blown away. It was so smartly written and brilliantly acted that I entered that place that actors shouldn’t really go post-audition – I hoped I would get the part. Fortunately, the Fates weren’t paying attention or something that day, because I got the call that I booked it!

I was so excited, yet things were so busy that I only got through like half of the episodes before I had to go in for my wardrobe fitting. I had a wonderful time joking with the costume designer. When I was in one option, I said, “I’m just a guy going to vote!” And he offhandedly replied, “And to get pushed aside by Bette Midler.”

Say what? I wasn’t sure I even heard him right, since that was totally unexpected. Of course, I couldn’t ask him to repeat himself without looking like an idiot, so I waited until I was out of there to look up the show on IMDB (which I usually wait until after seeing a show to do). Sure enough, there is Bette Midler playing “Hadassah,” which is the name of the character mine interacts with. She and Judith Light don’t appear until the last episode of Season 1, which is why I hadn’t any clue they were in it.

At that point I entered another room which is off-limits to actors – I got really nervous about being in a scene with legends like that. Fortunately, by shoot day I had worked through it and was ready to work.

Actually, that was “shoot days.” Since most days cover about five to six pages of screenplay at most, the fact that our scene was eight and a half pages meant that it had to be split into two consecutive days.

We started the first day with a run-through of the whole scene. Mostly the director (actually the show creator, Ian Brennan, who directs about one episode a season) would talk to the regulars and whoever had the upcoming dialogue, so I waited quietly off to the side to wait my turn. When it got up to the point of our exchange Bette said, “now who is my gentleman?” Without delay I spoke up, “I’m your gentleman.” Then we went through our lines a couple times while Ian and Tim (Norman, the DP) figured out the blocking.

Those two ladies were two of the nicest people I’ve worked with yet. I was a little afraid to approach them between shots, and when I finally did I found out I needn’t have been. They even were willing to have a picture with me, but as we were all in costume, they didn’t want to take the risk of getting me in trouble.

On the second day, they were mostly doing the second part of the scene after Ben Platt and Julia Schlaepfer enter and they have their dueling news conferences. So most of that day was essentially being background for continuity, except near the end.

Ian said he wanted to get a shot of me reacting to the craziness going on as I left the voting booth. He did this after he confided in me that Tim told him he thought I was the funniest man he’d ever seen. (Holy crap!) So, they set up the shot, and place the four stand-ins over where the regulars had been doing there thing so I would have an eye-line. I looked away for a second, and when I looked back, there were Bette and Judith standing where the stand-ins were! They are such professionals that they wanted to give me something to react to in order to make that second of show a little better. So they stuck around to do this even though they were done for the day. That is class and professionalism right there.

These were easily the best two days of my career so far!

Life in Eighth Grade

I continue to be blessed by the wonderful attention the film “Eighth Grade” is getting. Now that the DVD/Blue Ray is out, I’m sure more and more people are watching it as we speak. To celebrate the release, I made a video with me dabbing over and over to a parody of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, since October 9th was also his birthday. After a day and a half of only a handful seeing it, writer/director Bo Burnham quoted my tweet about it, and in the next day and a half it got over 10,000 views, and over 850 likes with 0 dislikes (unprecedented). Everyone seems to think it’s funny and uplifting, and I couldn’t be more amazed and grateful.

Yesterday there were SAG Award screenings in NYC for it, with Q&As after with Bo and star Elsie Fisher. I decided to go, and ran in to an actor friend who hadn’t seen it yet. It was awesome to get his reaction to the film. Then during the Q&A Bo sees me in the audience and says “Greg!” in the middle of an answer. He introduces me to the audience and continues with his question. After it was over, the two stop and say hi to me, and Bo says, “I am sharing your video with everyone!” It has been so amazing to work with people who are so kind and generous with their time and abilities. Last summer this started out being just another acting job, but it has grown into something so much more than that.

Thank you, Bo, Elsie, and the universe at large!

The Coolest Principal In The World

This summer I had the great fortune to get cast in an independent feature called, “The Coolest Girl In The World.” It was written and directed by comedian/actor Bo Burnham. I was so excited to work with him for this project. He was awesome both at his job and as a person. The cast and crew were fantastic.

Though I was only with them for three of their shoot days, they made me feel very welcome. So acting jobs are just that – jobs. But this one was a pleasure! I can’t wait to see the film.

Keeping Shows Alive

When a show you like runs it’s course it is bittersweet at best for any viewer. But for us actors, it has an extra layer of sadness attached to it – the reality that we will never, ever, be able to work on a show we really liked. And since it is part of our job to watch a fair amount of television, the odds favor it happening once or twice a year. This year for me it was “Castle” and “Royal Pains.” It saddened me to know that I will never be a part of those two shows.

“Parks and Recreation” was another one of those shows for me. Really sad to say goodbye to it there. But, the nature of this business is that, though the show is over, the actors working on it nearly always go on to other things. And that means I can at least work with the people who made those shows so special to me.

For instance, this season I worked on “Difficult People” with Billy Eichner. I also recently got done shooting a scene with Jon Glaser in his new show. And if you count Amy Poehler being an Executive Producer on “Broad City” then I am really making the rounds of “Parks and Rec” alum. It’s almost like being on the show! Almost.

I hope I can continue my tour of working with cast members of one of my all-time favorite shows.

Or even better, be a regular on a successful, well-loved show of my own. Yeah, I think I’ll do that!

That Stupid Part Of My Brain

Part of being an actor is sometimes not knowing what they thought of you in the room, or why they never got back to you. While intellectually we know there are a million variables and only about four of them are under our control (be prepared, make strong decisions, be on time, and be a nice person come to mind), eventually it does affect you on a subconscious or emotional level. This is where the classic actor insecurities come from. We all have them, at least every actor I’ve met has them. They do manifest in different ways for different people though. For me, it’s this stupid part of my brain that keeps telling me my career is over.

For example, last week was awesome for my career, and my general outlook. On Wednesday my episode of “Broad City” aired, and I got such an awesome reaction to it on my social media. The same evening, my short film “Cleaning Up” screened at the NY SAG-AFTRA Short Film Showcase to fantastic laughter, and great comments and networking ops afterward. Friday I made a self-tape audition for a day-player role in feature film with some big names attached to it. So a really good week. Tuesday, the day before my scene aired, the highlight of the day was taking my sister’s dog to the groomers. So naturally, that stupid part of my brain pipes up to tell me how much of a wash-up I am. The conversation in my head went something like this:

TSPOMB: Uh, dude, you know your acting career is over right? Dog-sitting isn’t acting.
Me: What are you talking about? My Broad City scene airs tomorrow night.
TSPOMB: Yeah, but right now you are driving around with a dog. Case closed. Game over.
Me: Are you high? I’m about to have one of the best days of my career so far tomorrow, and you are telling me to give up? The “Difficult People” episode I shot will be out in a few months too. Things are staring to happen!
TSPOMB: Listen, I’m just saying what we are both thinking.
Me: Shut. The F@$k. Up.

Funny thing, on days where I’m working, or auditioning, or even when I get good news, that part doesn’t seem to be around. Only when I am not overtly and directly moving my career forward, even for one day, that voice starts trying to convince me that it’s all done. Fortunately, the voice is not very logical, so it’s not really good at making a case, so even on days when it is practically yelling I’m able to refute it well enough.

I know who I am, and I know where I want to be, and I am getting it done. So, shut up, That Stupid Part Of My Brain, and let me work!

The Virtue of Cheat-Sticks

Before I preface this post, I must pre-preface it by saying that I have decided that I will endeavor to express more gratitude in these posts. There are so many people without whom I wouldn’t have gotten as far along this journey of life, let alone my reinvention as an actor, and I will try to point out at least one such person in every post from here on out.

Now, on to the post-pre-preface, otherwise known as the preface: when I was growing up I was in the Boy Scouts, and my scoutmaster, Walter, was one of the best adult influences I’d had at that time. Of course, he taught me all the usual Scout stuff, such as knot-trying, flora/fauna identification, citizenship and so forth. But he also taught me right from wrong, to take responsibility for my decisions, to help those in need, and overall how to be a functional decent human being. For all of this, I am eternally grateful – thank you, Walter.

Okay, now for the post-preface: One of the things Walter taught me was how to get a campfire lit and going with only various-sized pieces of wood (and maybe a match if we were lucky. I have always been very proud of this ability, which I have used from time to time over the years. One such incident was over the last week while at my sister’s house.

She has a wood stove in the basement, which is nice to have running when the basement is occupied. When I’m there, I usually lit it up in the tried-and-true method (with matches though), and had no problem getting it going. This one particular time, however, most of the wood hadn’t had a chance to dry out completely, so most of the tinder (the thinnest wood that is used first, from nearly hair-thin to almost thumb-width) and pretty much all of the kindling (the slightly larger wood to put in once the tinder is going good, from about thumb-sized to around two inches thick) was at the time unusable. So to have some way to jump straight to the fuel (anything larger than kindling) without using any smaller stuff.

So I reluctantly go to the store to get what I call cheat-sticks. They are pieces of wood on the border between tinder and kindling in size that have been chemically treated to burn really hot for a while. Put about three at the bottom of a pile of split log pieces, light the ends, and you will have a fire. Yes, extremely powerful tool to have, but as you can imagine being forced to use them did rankle my Boy Scout instincts quite a bit. I even posted a funny little quip on Facebook about being “sullen and unclean” having used them.

Then I got to thinking, the situation was something of a metaphor for what some of us actors face in our careers. We may find it necessary to used the cheat-sticks from time to time, and if they are like me, an actor will likely let pride or some other feeling take over, and end up doing whatever it was the hard way, sometimes the extremely hard way.

Those aren’t cheat-sticks. That is help. There is no dishonor in accepting help, just as their is no harm in asking for it. None of us can do it alone (no matter what ‘it’ is), and from time to time we have to put our personal issues aside and take what help is given. I have learned this through my own error many times, and I think I am at the point that I recognize help for what it is, and take it as I need it.

Cheat-sticks aren’t a magic wand, either. You need to know what you are doing, be prepared ahead of time, and follow directions in order to get optimal effect from them. And they don’t get you anywhere you can’t get to by doing it the hard way; they just make it a little easier to get there.

So, use the cheat-sticks when you have to. It’s okay. That’s what they are there for.

On the Set of Broad City!

About six weeks ago I went in for an audition for a co-star role on Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” I was super-excited, as it is easily in my top three of favorite shows shooting in the NY area right now, if not my top favorite! But I managed to hold it together and deliver my best audition like it was just any other gig. After a couple weeks I figured they must have had the callbacks already, so I thought, “Oh well, there are more where that came from, especially since I’ve now been in that casting director’s office.” But little did I know that they weren’t having callbacks. About a month ago I get a call from the agent I was working on this with to find out that they “liked” me for this role, and wanted to check availability on or about September 18. For those who don’t know, this is the way it usually works – they want you for the role, but they don’t want to use the B-word (“booked”) until they get about a million other duck in a row. Finally they did use the B-word, and I was ready to go!

The shoot on the night was on location in the Bronx County Court Building, a work of art that was built in the 30’s. It’s one of those classical ones with marble columns. In the huge central room that they used for holding, craft services and catering there were huge murals and quotes from Woodrow Wilson on the walls – very impressive. The murals reminded me a bit of the ones they’d occasionally show on “Parks and Recreation,” which made me smile because of Amy Poehler’s connection with “Broad City.” After I was out of wardrobe I spent a lot of time in that room doing what I mostly do on these things – waiting and eating.

Sometime after midnight (I know because we ate lunch at midnight) I got called back to the set for my scene. At that point I met show creators and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, as well as the director Todd Biermann. Everyone was super-nice, and Ilana said she saw the audition video and thought I was really funny (squee!). After that they put me in place so we could shoot the scene. I don’t want to go into specifics before the air date, but needless to say the art department did a wonderful job dressing the set for our purposes. My scene was with Abbi (Ilana didn’t have any scenes that night, but was there anyway like a trouper), so we ran a rehearsal a few times while they set the cameras in place, and we shot her side first, then spent almost as much time shooting my side.

Here I am on set with the ridiculously funny Abbi Jacobson! Photo: Ilana Glazer (!)
Here I am on set with the ridiculously funny Abbi Jacobson! Photo: Ilana Glazer (!)

Between shots I asked Abbi if she’d mind taking a photo with me. My agent insisted I get one for her to use in selling me, and I’m glad she did because I always feel weird asking that. But I need not have worried, because Abbi was all like “Sure!” And then when I was about to take it selfie-style, Ilana offered to take it like a regular picture. How awesome is that – one of the stars of my favorite show volunteers to take a photo of me with the other star of that show! I was pretty much on cloud nine, which only made my upcoming scene more difficult, as that character is supposed to be a little depressed.

When I was wrapped both Ilana and Abbi thanked me and told me to drive safely. As I was going out the door, Abbi said, “You killed it!” I only hope that when it my turn to be a TV show regular I remember to be as gracious and awesome as these two!

Not only is this a nice milestone for my career (and hopefully will look good on my reel), but I had an absolutely wonderful time doing it. I can hardly wait to see how it turns out, which should be sometime mid-March. I will definitely keep you posted!

Awesome 48HFP News!

Back in June I did the Baltimore 48-Hour Film Project with Team Citra, a team I had worked with on 48HFPs in Baltimore and Washington over the past few years. We had made some good films and “Kings Crossing” was no exception. We had two separate units running and everything went great despite some logistical curves that our production team handled flawlessly. We ended up with a humorous story with a heart that we were all pretty proud of.

A few weeks ago, the festival coordinator announced the list of films that would be shown at the “Best Of” screening, and our film made the cut. This is typically comprised of films that would win judges awards to be announced that night, audience picks from each of the screening groups, and rounded out with other films that the judges liked. Since we knew we hadn’t won the audience award for our group, we were likely to be in line to get something.

Well, we got something alright. Our film was awarded Best Use of Line for using the required line of dialogue (“Sometimes the best answer is no answer.”) the most naturally or cleverly (some would say “least awkwardly”) in the judges’ opinion. The was due (I’m guessing) both to the script as written as well as the delivery of the actor who said it. We also got Best Use of Character for using the required character (Q. Treller, member of a secret society) in a manner most pleasing to the judges. I think this was partly because of script decisions to never refer to the character by name in dialogue, but have it show up in physical notes that were used in shots, and also because the actress played the role straight which made her more believable as a person.

But it didn’t end there. We got 1st Runner Up for Best Film! To clarify for those not used to film festivals or beauty pageants, that is 2nd Place (that always gets me, so I felt I should explain). The whole field consisted of good films, so second out of that lot is quite an achievement. But I also got the award for Best Actor! I was surprised and humbled. Everyone was so happy for me and I was happy too, but also a little stunned. I was feeling all, “but I just did what I do, and…award? Wuh?”

What a great night. I am so proud, not only of my award, but for our awesome team who came together and did a great job making a film in 48 hours! Congrats, everyone!