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Marco Perella

Oliver the Actor Eater
by Marco Perella

June 2000

Some of you may not understand how I get hired to be in all these fabulous movies. Do they call me up and say "report to the set and be a movie star"? Nope. Do they just assign me a part because my resume has ambience? Negatory.

What I have to do is audition for every part. Which is okay with me. I like driving in the personal ruts I’ve worn in the highways from Austin to Houston and Dallas. I like to audition. Way I figure it, it’s a chance to act, and that’s what actors like best.

What happens is the local casting director sends a call out to various agents to assemble certain actors that she knows or picks out from photographs. We all get appointment times to come read for a part.

The audition consists of reading a scene with the casting director while somebody tapes it. Then the casting director plays the tape for the Director and various brass of the picture and they decide which ones they want to call back. A callback is really just a second audition much like the first except this time the Director and Producer, and maybe the writer and somebody from the network are in the room watching you. Auditions are weird because sometimes you’re reading a scene between a man and his horse and the casting director is playing the horse. But the main variable is always the director.

Sometimes you go into the room and the Director hops out of his chair and shakes your hand. (Wow! Maybe he’s interested in you!) He actually takes the time to look at your resume and ask what you did in JOHNNY ZOMBIE. He doesn’t snicker when you tell him you carried a torch and marched around with a bunch of enraged townspeople shouting "Burn him! Burn the zombie!" Maybe this Sensitive Director will brief you on the character and ask if you have any questions about the script. Then he’ll sit back, give you your moment and watch respectfully while you perform the scene. He’ll shake hands again when you leave, and even if you don’t get the part you’ve been treated with respect, like the artist you undoubtedly are.

That’s what some directors do. Then there’s Oliver Stone.

The Stoneleigh Hotel is one of the grand old hotels of Dallas. Having slipped below the radar of most business travelers on expense accounts, the Stoneleigh has been forced to cater to tourists who are looking for atmosphere. They also cater to movie companies who rent several suites and call the whole hotel their production office.

That’s the case with the movie JFK. Oliver Stone has brought his traveling circus to town and Dallas is aquiver. Big D is still super-sensitive to the assassination, and everyone is quite concerned as to how the whole thing will be depicted. Oliver Stone has somehow gotten permission to use the actual Dealy Plaza and the infamous Texas Book Depository to restage the thing. Mucho buzz.

My fellow actors and I are camped out in the hall of the Stoneleigh, awaiting our turn to see the Man. I’m auditioning for an FBI agent who has an interview with a woman who claims to have seen Jack Ruby cruising the Plaza with a rifle a couple of days before the assassination. I’ve got my grey suit on and my slicked up, early sixties government-issue haircut.

There’s considerable nervousness in the hall. I mean, adrenalin is always in oversupply before an audition, but this is real damp palms stuff. Word has gotten around that Oliver eats actor-burgers. This works on the imagination until you can see him in there now, reaming somebody exactly like you. Or throwing away the script and telling you to improvise. Actors are coming out of the audition room and making bug eyes at the rest of us by way of warning.

I am not afraid. I have an Italian father. I’ve been yelled at by professionals. Besides, I’ve got it scoped. Oliver was in Nam, right? He’s into this Marine thing. Auditions are like boot camp to him. Trial by fire and all that. He’s trying to see what we’re made of.

He’s like a lion on the savannah, scaring hell out of the antelopes. If they run fast enough they get to eat grass again, but if one stumbles... Lion King moves in and disembowels it.

I can respect that.

Anyway, I am ready for the actor-eater. I’ve lucked out and gotten a scene where my character gets real mad. So when my turn comes and I’m ushered into the Presence I’m already primed to come across as one fast antelope.

Oliver is sitting in a great big peacock chair that absolutely dominates the room. The man has actually made himself a throne. I resist the urge to fall on my face and grovel.

The motionless Stone says very little if anything to me. Dance, boy, dance. So I launch into my bit. Except when the script stops I’m just getting started. I’m supposed to be yelling at this witness, but since she’s not there I’m kind of aiming my tirade in Oliver’s direction. I go off on a complete improvisation, laced with the most colorful expletives I can pronounce. I’m stomping around and turning red and lacerating the air.

Finally I run out of gas and look up at the throne. As the Russians say, Is Miracle!

Oliver Stone, Lion of the Stoneleigh, is actually beaming at me! He’s laughing! He loves it! I’m hired!

So after the running of the antelopes you probably think that Oliver backs off and gets all cuddly when we’re actually shooting the movie. Well... not really. But I’m happy to report that he remains very amiable toward me during JFK.

I like to flatter myself that it’s because he recognizes in me a fellow predator but it’s more likely that he craves the meat of elands and I’m more of a springbock.

My first day on the set consists of standing around watching them shoot the Dealy Plaza scene. Oliver has set up in a big tent about a quarter mile from the set. It’s bristling with at least six different camera monitors. Oliver directs the scene from afar as the distant cameras pump visual information to him through massive cables snaking into his tent. This is the highest tech of the time, but he’s so far away from the set that poor Oliver must be content to kick butt through his walkie-talkie.

My scene is shot in an abandoned office building in a cruddy little room. For this scene Oliver is right in here with us. Everything goes well except I have no idea what my character’s motivation is. (That’s your Method talk right there, Baby!) Ed Neal, who played the hitchhiker in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, is my FBI cohort. Ed has no problem with motivation. His motivation is always to escape from Leatherface. I need more details. I make inquiries:

ME: So, Ollie. The Assassination. Did I do it?

OLIVER: I have no f-----g idea.

ME: Well it kind of seems like the FBI may be part of some big conspiracy here, don’t you think?

OLIVER: This interrogation is part of the public record. What was the FBI up to? No one really knows. You decide.

ME: Oh. Thanks for the help.

OLIVER: By the way, did you know that you look like Kevin Costner?

ME: Yeah. I get that all the time.

OLIVER: You could be Kevin Costner’s evil twin.* You know, by the end of the case, Jim Garrison was so paranoid he was checking his own children’s fingerprints every morning to make sure the CIA hadn’t replaced them with look-a-like midget secret agents. Maybe we could work that angle with you. (Laughs.)

ME: Yeah! Yeah! That’s the ticket! I could be the anti-Costner! That’s brilliant, Ollie! Just brilliant!

OLIVER: Of course, that would mean Jim Garrison would be checking his own fingerprints.

ME: Evil twin! Evil twin!

OLIVER: (Musing). I don’t know how that would work.

ME: Anti-Costner! Anti-Costner!

OLIVER: Oh hell, I’ve already got 43 conspiracy theories in this film. Let’s just do the scene.

ME: (humping his leg) Evil twin? Anti-Costner?

OLIVER: ROLL IT!

*In case you forgot, Kevin Costner plays Attorney Jim Garrison in JFK.

Once again, I have eluded the slippery grasp of Fame.

We shoot the scene. I decide that my motivation is to save J. Edgar Hoover from the Mafia before they release photos of him in drag.

Next time you rent JFK, watch for that.

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