Sunday, 28 September 2008

Married: With Children


My agent called with an audition for an American TV show that was filming a couple of special episodes in the UK. Had I heard of something called "Married: With Children"? I had. It was, and remains, one of those shows that I can't quite work out. I truly don't know if it's funny or not. Sometimes it's quite sharp and has some killer old-school one-liners. Other times it's just awful. Anyway, yes, I was interested. They wanted a couple of swordfighters. Did I know anyone I could audition with. Oh yes.

I don't know how old I was when my dad first put a sword in my hand, but I can't remember a time when I didn't know how to hold it right. I can't remember a time when I didn't know the basic five parries, how to do a jumping lunge, and what a mollinelo is. I was a curly blonde haired moppet barely in school when I first performed with my dad's swordfighting group, so did I know someone I could swordfight with? Oh yes. I got in touch with dad and he was in.

The following week we arrived at the audition and showed them a short but kick-ass little fight and they loved it. They said they'd get in touch and thanked us for coming and before we knew it we were across the road and sitting in a MacDonalds. My dad isn't really a professional performer, but he'd done lots of acting in various things over the years and was way better than me. As an actor, I make a damn good juggler, but my dad coulda been a contender. We sat there chewing on our McBreakfasts talking about how we thought it had gone. The consensus was that they liked us, and being sappy Americans, they'd quite like the idea of employing a father and son swordfighting team. Good story for them to tell their other halves back in the US.

Turns out they did like us, and we got the gig. Which is how we found ourselves, a week later, along with a couple of other actors, sitting in make-up in teddington studios being made to look like ghosts of deal duellists. My dad had a large cannonball hole through his stomach, while I had a three and a half foot long broadsword through me. Half sticking out the back and half sticking out the front.

This was, to say the least, inconvenient. The two halves of the sword were attached to a harness which I wore underneath my costume, so taking it off was pretty much impossible. As was sitting down. Just getting through doors was a complex and careful set of dance steps, like getting a new sofa into your flat, except I was the sofa. As for going to the bathroom, well that was just ridiculous.

It's always interesting to watch a TV show being made, even more so if there's the added culture clash of an American team working with a largely British crew, and American actors working with British guest stars. Let's just say Bill Oddie, who was one of the guest stars, has the patience of a saint.

Most of the day was taken up by the cast and crew watching one member of the principal cast - who shall remain nameless - spend more than an hour failing to correctly deliver one gag. It was one of those gags where the line is only funny when the emphasis is on a particular word - like "and I thought I was lazy" is not funny, but "and I thought *I* was lazy" is funny. Not rocket surgery for an actor with the most basic of comedy chops, but the owner of the line was clearly having an off day, because he couldn't nail it. Take after take after take, with the director gently trying to communicate to one of his regular players how simple this was to make work. It got to the point where me, my dad, and most of the rest of the cast were gathered in a small green room, looking in disbelief up at the monitor, practically yelling "AND I THOUGHT *I* WAS LAZY", before rolling our collective eyes. Like I said, Bill Oddie, who was in the same scene - patience of a saint. A little beardy saint.

The day was dragging on and I started to get a little anxious. I was working nights in a theatre show and although I'd been assured that filming would be finished early afternoon, it was now mid afternoon and we hadn't even started on my scene yet. Word of this got to the director and, rather than be annoyed at a schmuck with one line whinging about schedules, he seemed enthused, almost excited by the fact that here he was in England and one of his cast had to go and do a real, honest to goodness play. He was, strangely, impressed.

It got to my scene and I stood on a little black podium in front of a black screen where I would be filmed and later superimposed floating over the teenage daughter's bed. Oh yes, I've done a bedroom scene with Christina Applegate. I forget my line, and would rather not have to track down the episode on YouTube and get it right as that would involve watching myself, which usually ends with a lot of self-questioning and some comfort eating. It was something like "Run away, there is nothing good for you here", which I delivered a bunch of different ways while moaning in a ghostly manner and clutching at the sword that skewered me. I received one piece of direction: "Less pain, you've been dead for hundreds of years, it doesn't hurt any more, k?". You can't argue with logic like that. A couple more takes and we were done and the director grinning from underneath his "Married with Children" baseball cap barked "Good job Mat", and, turning to his runners, "Get Mat out of costume fast as you can". Then he clapped me on the back and, like an excited child said "Go do your play, Mat! Go do your play!"

I was hustled into makeup and they started to de-ghost me while I chatted to my dad, who still hadn't done his scene and probably had a long wait ahead of him. In the moments when the make-up girls were out of earshot, I pointed out that the director had left his baseball cap on the make-up table and I wondered if I had the guts to steal it. It doesn't count as a gig unless you lift a souvenir, after all.

Finally, back in my street clothes and without a sword through me for the first time since 8am, I was done. I said goodbye to my dad and made for the limo that the production company had laid on to get me to the theatre. Sitting in it, I giggled as I put on the cap that my dad had stolen for me and got driven to my play.