Saturday, April 23, 2005

Workin' in a Coal Mine

I would think most people agree as to what constitutes a hard job. Lifting heavy things for twelve hours a day would be hard job. Performing hours of microsurgery is probably a bit taxing. A Sherpa who guides clueless Americans up Mount Everest would certainly get a workout for the thighs. And while I would never imply what I did this week was anywhere near those jobs, I would propose that being interviewed on-camera is not so fabulous. I was interviewed yesterday for an hour, and I’m still avoiding the sound of my own voice. For anyone who thinks being interviewed is part of the Cavalcade O’Glamour which is the entertainment industry, please read on.

Let me describe the physical details. First, it’s always hot and airless. The lights are large, bright, close, and directed right at you. The noisy air conditioner has to be off during taping, otherwise the audience might miss something meaningful you’re droning on about. So you sit there, painfully aware of how your carefully applied foundation and powder is slowing beading up and dribbling down into your shirt collar, where it meets your hair which is changing from a meticulously casual coif to a damp noose around your neck. If you are lucky, there is a hair and make-up person whose job it is to make sure you don’t look as if you are under indictment or melting from Ebola. Yesterday, I had no such person, and no easy access to a mirror, so I was left saying plaintively to the guy holding the microphone, “How do I look?” knowing full well as long as I didn’t eat his microphone, he thought I looked fine. If you think I am being overly shallow about my appearance, please remember this sweaty image of me will be seen on cable reruns until our sun burns out.

So what is being interviewed like? Imagine a first date. Imagine a first date where the other person only asked questions, and never leapt in and added things to what you were saying: didn’t laugh, didn’t interject and never met your story with a story of his own. I never notice how much language is a social interaction until I am being interviewed and I realize that this person will let me talk forever. Yesterday, the producer would ask a question, I would give my regulation answer, with the appropriate anecdote, and then wait a beat. The producer would stare at me, and I would think Oh, he wants more. So I would dither, blather and then try to bring it home with some sort of tie-in. There would be a pause, and he would ask the next question. This is the conversational equivalent of piano-tuning.

The producer sits directly to the side of the camera and feeds you questions. However, since he won’t actually be part of the show, you have to rephrase his questions into your answer, in order to make it a fully-contained thought. It sounds very natural, in a “Learn English in 15 Days” tape sort of way:

“What is your favorite color?”

“I would have to say my favorite color is florescent orange”

If done right, you should sound as if the only topic you find endlessly compelling is yourself. If you are me, you start having thoughts after the tenth rephrased answer along the lines of “What kind of monomaniacal jackass do I sound like? Someone watching this is going to think I buttonhole people on the street and, unprompted, tell them my favorite memory of the People’s Choice Awards”

There is another problem with my doing interviews. There is always the bit where I talk about what I am doing now (, but mostly they want to talk about what amounts to four years of my childhood. I have been talking for twenty years, more or less, about those four years, and let’s just say I’m pretty much over the novelty. I don’t blame the producers who write the questions. If the audience is watching a show about people who were actors as children, they’re going to want to know:

How did the child get started acting,
Did the child like it,
How was (Insert name of famous co-star),
What was it like when it was all over.

But you must realize, I am entering my third decade of telling the same anecdotes so it’s not as if am suddenly going to remember something new.

QUINN: I remember walking on to my first job, which was a commercial…no, wait, I just remembered! My first acting job was Hamlet in the nude! I played Hamlet's mother! Mrs. Hamlet! Polonius was played by Danny Bonaduce!

My job on those questions is to vary my intonations enough so that the viewing audience doesn’t notice that I have slipped into a waking coma. But I cannot leave and go to my Happy Place completely, because there is always the Inappropriate Question. There is always at least one question posed to the interviewee that the interviewer wouldn’t have the balls to ask his own brother-in-law. But former celebrities such as me are exempt from the basic laws of social interaction, so I got these two:

"So you made a lot of money, right?"

I want anyone reading this to recall the last time a stranger asked you that question. You were in a bar, and he was one Kamikaze away from vomiting on his own shoes, right?

And then there’s the inevitable:

"What kind of trouble did you get into as an adolescent?"

May I be forgiven for the response I choked back, which was “Less than average. How about you? Ever catch any STD’s?”

I know these questions are there to create a fun show, and I do appreciate that. But part of the reason I stopped acting, as I have said before, is that I don’t find being poked for public amusement very relaxing. Much like a pill-bug, my instinct is to curl up and wait until the predator finds an easier meal.

I do these shows now in order to benefit The Hiphugger, and they do. But I cannot help but feel like Norma Desmond, waxing rhapsodic over how the child actors of today don’t have faces like we used to (If you don’t know the reference, it’s Sunset Boulevard, and it’s worth renting right now). This whole acting thing was great fun, but, hour for hour, ballet took up a larger percentage of my life, and left a longer imprint on me. But my bunched-up calf muscles don’t increase sales for The Hiphugger, and my brief acting career does.

So look for me on any of your major cable channels in perpetuity. I’ll be the sweaty one telling the same damn story.


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