Prelude to a Big Break

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Notes from a Well-Fed-Artist.

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Getting a job is important. Revelatory, I know. Nevertheless, feel free to indulge my analytical riff. Like any type of analysis, there’s the practical side and the (I’m not sure exactly what to call it which is why I’m going to spill 800 words on it) side. Practical first:

Talk about putting the button on a great year. Saturday night I was toasting 2010 (almost post-script, which is odd since there’s a month left) with at the Kings game. Most of our chatter centered around pilot season (due late January – late March) and how we were going to approach it. There was also a lively exchange on the merits of chili. (We’re both in favour.) On the subject of professional accomplishment, we were both reflecting on a progressive year. Rob wrapped a second season of his television show and a sequel to a very popular prequel — dig it. I moved to the American market, became a resident and notched a few jobs to go with an overgrown pile of moral victories. Cool beans. December was supposed to fall somewhere between preparatory and reflective. Now I’m preparing for the most intensive on-camera action of my career that doesn’t involve a boatload of sand. (Quick aside: Don’t think for a second that I wasn’t snapping photographs throughout my Spartacus screen-test. When I can share them without jeopardizing my ability to make a living… well, that’ll be neat.) December did an about face and I couldn’t be happier.

When you get a job, you make money. I welcome the opportunity to make money because all that’s missing from California’s preliminary tax structure for actors who generate revenue in chunks is Governor Schwarzenegger beating the shit out of you right when you examine what’s left of your pay cheque. (Most of it is retrievable with a good accountant… but still. Money > No Money.)

I’ve flirted with the network I’m going to work for — aggressively — throughout the year. I’m glad we’re finally doing some business together, so to speak. (I’ll stop being dickishly vague about what show I’m doing once filming begins. That’ll be soon.)

Now for the non-practical side: This blog still exists for a variety of reasons, but it began for one: I wanted to chart the journey of a professional actor. Why? Because I wanted to prove that the career arc has the same sort of connective tissue that binds all professional endeavours. The way we measure success for artists (finance-centric) is ridiculous. I can handle that, because what other people think of your career is usually just a reflection of their own professional insecurities. But the characterization that acting is a barren field followed by a transformative star-making “break” or a switch to some sort of grown-up job — with no middle ground — steps past being ridiculous and becomes something I can’t tolerate: irresponsible.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege to speak at Branksome Hall in Toronto. The audience: A film studies class and a Drama class comprised of 40 young women. (Talk about nerves… this guy was terrified.) I was given just shy of an hour to take them through a practical approach to professional acting and then we had a fun Q & A session littered with thoughtful questions. (At some point, I’ll try and reprint two of them and the reasoning behind my answers. The first was a question about why Canadian television doesn’t resonate with, you know, Canadians (!) the same way American shows do. And the second was a really interesting query on whether or not the private persona of an actor can effect the way people interpret their public persona. Fascinating stuff to consider.) The former part of the class was the first time that I’d ever really vocalized the chronology of my first six years in the business. The narrative made one thing abundantly clear: Everything matters. I got this job because I was super-prepared for three other auditions on the same show that I wasn’t totally right for. When it came time for them to make another decision, my work resonated. I believed in these principles before, but now… I have proof. The same strategy that primes a promotion in your office will secure you a three-episode arc on a hit tv-show. These are the facts.

(And to Branksome: Thank you for the gift. It’s keeping me hydrated at 35,000 feet… right now!)

 

Couple of things before I wrap this up: November was the busiest month in the site’s history: 6,691 hits. Thank you to everyone who visited.

(Here’s where you stop reading if a Toronto-centric rant isn’t for you.)

Toronto: Get over yourself. Apparently there’s a new policy at the “hip” restaurants in the city where you can only sit for two hours at a time. I mean… (hang on, I’m getting mad) TO, you’re a lovely city. Really, you are. So stop doing things that make me think you’re an asshole. Sitting down for a 3.5 hour dinner is one of the ways a city generates culture. Limiting the dine-time for patrons paying (WAY TOO MUCH) money to begin with doesn’t make your restaurant cooler. It makes you narrow-minded and greedy; not to mention the fact it wreaks of posturing. Let people sit and eat and then let them sit and talk. And while we’re here… When did a pint of beer start costing $8? When did taxi’s kick off at $4.25 before you’ve even rolled an inch? When did the subway start costing $3 a ticket? Seriously… when did that last thing happen? I want to like the city I grew up in. Stop making it difficult.

The following transmission was written closer to space than sea-level. Wi-Fi on flights!!! Feels like the future.

 

Written by Stephen Amell

December 1, 2010 at 10:05 am

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If I had a nickel for each email I received complimenting my verbiage – – in the past few days, then, in a financially expedient maneuver, opened up an account labeled: “Nickels For Wordiness”, there would be $2.80 in that account. I wouldn’t be able to put a value on that $2.80. Why? Because you can’t quantify the value of unprompted acts of kindness.

Let me tell ya — Hollywood is an exciting place at the moment. Work exciting. Life exciting. And I really like my internet friends. Granted, we’re in the first date phase of our relationship at the moment; you might have halitosis or an unexplained limp, but I doubt it. Time for me to head to Toronto. Highlights will include: My first speaking engagement (somewhere between nervous and petrified you’ll, find my racing heart); meeting babies; Canadian Lager; a cigar (that might not end well); The 7th Annual Syracuse Road Trip with the one and only Tim Grant. Can you sense the photo journal? I can. SA

Written by Stephen Amell

November 16, 2010 at 12:27 pm

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10:44 PM (Whatever time zone I’m in.) –

I finished a book.  I hadn’t read a book since last July.  When you consider my love for reading (Assuming you’re aware.  If you aren’t, there you go.) the second sentence of this paragraph seems a little paradoxical.

The writer has proclaimed a voracious appetite for the written word.*  Why has he been metaphorically starving himself?

The answer in scientific vernacular: Blocked Brain.  My cranium has been wary of neatly bound pieces of paper.  In the past ten-and-a-half months I’ve advanced on, and retreated from, 14 different books: Fiction, non-fiction, biographies, self-help books, semi-religious leaflets, anecdotal manifesto’s on the film industry with interesting titles… and a book of essays by my favorite author.  Blocked Brain.  Honestly.

Thank you, then, to Mr. Christopher Buckley, who birthed the second season of my quest for aptitude with his jaw-dropping memoir: .

Okay…  It’s not the most uplifting title.  I get that.  (I’ve also done worse; see, .) Truth be told, I wasn’t looking for an especially uplifting book.  My goal centered around 1. ingesting the message, 2. enlivening my vocabulary, 3. learning a lesson and, 4. maybe even shedding a tear or two.  (There’s a great story I tell about sobbing my way through the last 40 pages of at a local eatery in Belfast.  At least, I think it’s a great story.)

  1. Got what Mr. Buckley was saying.  Any successful memoir let’s the reader fashion pieces of his/her lives into the narrative.  I partook.  It was lovely.
  2. This man is a wordsmith.  In the Broadway Show: A Chorus Line, a flat-chested dancer turns to the decidedly non-flat-chested dancer and says, “I’d settle for just one of yours.”  If Buckley’s verbiage is the perfect pair of breasts, I’d settle, simply, for one of the nipples.
  3. Love your family.  Appreciate them. It’s a lesson I already knew.  That being said, important lessons should be relearned.  Constantly.
  4. Didn’t shed a tear.  Didn’t need to.

Heading to the airport first thing tomorrow.  Back to Toronto as opposed to home to Toronto.

I’ll be buying and finishing another book.

* — That was me talking in the second-and-a-half person because talking in the third-person is insufferable.

Written by Stephen Amell

May 20, 2010 at 9:40 pm

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Me and Canada win the weekend.

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I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll begin at the beginning. On February 14th I sat on top of Runyon Canyon and wrote that I was Apparently, I was right. What a weekend.

Saturday: 6:00 AM — Driving rain woke me up. When it rains in California, it rains angry. My alarm was set for 6:00 AM because Lou was due for Air Canada Cargo shortly after 9:00 AM Eastern. If my Uncle and my Mom needed anything, it was my responsibility to be awake and alert. So I was.

10:00 AM — I sat around and read a script / watched “The Wire” (this is important) for 4 hours. Lou’s on his way and I have an audition at 12:30. That’s the thing about Pilot Season… You have auditions on Saturday.  My buddy Nate had an audition today (Sunday). Unbelievable.

10:30 AM — Target. Dog Bowl / Mat for dog bowl / Toy that he can’t destroy immediately / Treats / Swiffer Sweeper and pads / Towel rack (nothing to do with Lou) / New collar (that doesn’t fit) / Food / Food scooper.

11:20 AM — Over to Johnny Bennett’s to exchange the Smart Car with a Ford Escape. This is the first instance where a friend of mine stepped up – like a friend should – this weekend. The first of many.

12:30 PM — Somewhere in Studio City for an audition. A great audition. A killer audition. You can build momentum through Pilot Season. The actual auditions aren’t interconnected, but your craft is dependent on repetition and confidence. I dismantled that audition. This is factual.

1:30 PM — Italia Ricci. She’s Lou’s owner… just ask US Customs. And she gave up her afternoon to help me pick him up at LAX. Italia: I love you.

2:15 PM / 3:00 PM / 4:00 PM / 4:25 PM — WAITING.

4:40 PM — Louis. (Italia calls him “Hand Bag”.  Brilliant.)

5:30 PM — Lou and me hoofing it around Hollywood Blvd. You’re not going to believe this, but he was excited.

7:00 PM — Arrived at Capitol City (a spectacular sports bar) for the second half of a great college basketball game.

9:00 PM — Pre-party for the lovely Italia. She’s filming a show in Toronto as of next Saturday. Party, hearty.

12:00 AM (ish) — My thought process: “My buddy The Lou is at home chillin’. I should get out of here.

Sunday:

2:00 – 7:15 AM — Slept with a black guy.

7:30 AM — My head… MY HEAD… I couldn’t wait to take Lou to Runyon Canyon. Get him out… Get him running.

7:50 AM — Remember when I borrowed Johnny Bennett’s car? Well, now I’m out on my street and his car is nowhere to be seen. Seems it touched a red zone and got towed… To South Central.

8:10 AM — Johnny – miraculously, he’s awake – and I are zooming along with 101 towards South Central. Friends. Being there.

8:20 AM — South Central. Tow Yard. We decide the man guarding it is an Alien. Picture? Taken:

9:30 – 11:00 AM — 8 hours later he’s still a mess. Nothing makes me happier than a tired pup.

12:00 PM — Did you know that Canada and the US were playing for the Gold Medal in Hockey? It was on television and everything.

12:40 PM — Warren (my buddy and high school roommate), Italia, Davey, Vanessa and Chantal (by proxy) start cheering.

1:20 PM — Robbie Amell rounds out our booth. We’re exactly the same. Ask anyone.

2:40ish PM — 24 seconds left in the game — It was my understanding the bar was approximately 65% (US) – 35% (CAN). Not so. More like 94% – 6%. When the US scored with 24 seconds left to tie it, Capitol City erupted. We sat there with our hearts in our stomachs. We waited.

OVERTIME (I don’t know what time it was.) — This is tense / don’t get caught too deep / This shouldn’t be 4 on 4 / JUST SHOOT IT / I’d like a Budweiser and some Heroin / Crosby’s diggin’…

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There was a delayed reaction from our booth. As in: “Wait a minute… Is that puck in the net? It is?!?!?!” At which point, we yelled. We screamed. We held it six beats too long. We punctuated with hoarse calls across a deadly silent room. Sidney Crosby — our very best player — scored in overtime for the Gold Medal and one fucker of an exclamation point on the Winter Games. YellScreamYellHugYellPauseYELL.

Then you sit and relax. You tell the waiter to bring you something Canadian. They bring you Canadian Club and you kill it. The medals come out and you start making fun of yourself because you’re crying. Your cousin snaps a photo:

3:45 PM — Everybody leaves but me.

4:00 PM — A girl from Vancouver at the bar. She’s a lawyer with a Canada shirt on. Patron, more Canadian Club, Patron. An actor from “The Wire” rolls in and we become buddies. “Hey Man…  Last time I saw you they caught you with 20K in cash.”

4:30 PM — Quiet moment thought process: “Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner. The Golden Goal. The greatest moment in the history of Canadian sport. Paul Henderson should light a cigar somewhere and think about his 38 years of undisputed glory.”

5:30 PM — Again, Lou’s at home. Strolling down Hollywood Blvd. with the sun crashing over all the buildings that L. Ron Hubbard owns. My apartment, my Pup, an audition tomorrow morning.  t couldn’t be more beautiful outside.

I pass 3 Canadians surrounding Alex Trebek’s Star on Hollywood Blvd. They aren’t there by accident.

4,300 KM away from Toronto.  Home.  (Capital H.)

EDIT: Just because…

Written by Stephen Amell

February 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm

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I like numbers.

44 days - That’s how old my terrific beard was when I shaved today.  When the hair on your face is substantially longer than the hair on your head, it’s time to move on.  When you start to look like you should purchase a van with tinted windows, it’s time to move on.  When you give serious thought to being one of those guys with a bushy beard and shaved neck, it’s time to move on.

28 3/4 years – That’s how long Toronto was my home for.  I’ve lived in other places: LA in 2000 - 01, Calgary for the fall of ’08, Aurora in 1999 – 2000, my brief stint in prison, Turks and Caicos for the winter of ’05 and – memorably – Belfast in the spring of ’06.  I suppose those were just places that I stayed.  Toronto was always my home-base.  Let’s hope that I was profound jinx on all the sports teams.  Seriously.

3 - That’s how many home cooked meals my friends Angela and Tavis have crafted for me while I’ve been home.  If memory serves we had Mexican-ish, Steak and some sort of Lamb Risotto WineWineWine combination.  They’re the example I can cite…  If this post listed every instance with friends of mine treating me like Mo’Nique at an Awards show, we’d be staring down the barrel of an 8,000 word post.  Don’t think I wont attempt it…

Yeah, you know what?  Screw it.  A tiny sampling:

  • Andrew and Ilana had me over for dinner and a visit with their two lovely kiddle’s.  I got to be Uncle Steve for almost 45 minutes.  People who frequent this space haven’t met Uncle Steve; he’s a solid guy.  This is to say nothing of Andrew and I commiserating over drinks at odd hours.  Those are the best times. 
  • Jenn and Tim didn’t flinch when I ordered a Poutine / Chicken Wing death spiral at The Rebel House.  This was preceeded by an afternoon on Bay Street with gentlemen who drink (same corollary as “ladies who lunch”).  They also let me emcee their wedding.  So, there’s that, too.
  • Chris Bolton rolled me into the original Terroni on Queen West for a coffee.  When Chris goes to that restaurant he’s greeted like some combination of Norm from “Cheers” and Phillip Seymour Hoffman from “Owning Mahoney.”  (I don’t care if only, like, four people get that reference.)
  • Warren, Peff (read: Jeff) and a special guest appearance from St. Andrew’s Jr. High Graduate, Lauren, made for an improbable Beaconsfield, Drake Hotel, Dakota Tavern combination.  That night solidified the utter uselessness of making plans in advance.  It was a beautiful night.  (By the way…  In keeping with the theme of this site, Lauren and I were in the “Wiz of Oz” together.  My very first organized production – 1994.  One thing that I didn’t mention to Lauren: How bitter I am - to this day - over not being cast as the Lion.  That should eventually lead to a self-shot YouTube clip of me singing “King of the Forest” somewhere in Griffith Park.  In other words, we’re all winners.)  Lauren is putting on a play this spring called “.”  Feel free to pre-order some tickets.
  • Hobbes the Cat, and his basement, put themselves in my “Watching Football Pantheon” along with the living room at 198 Millwood and Barney’s Beanery in LA.  Hobbes also wins a prize for unabashedly wearing Molson Canadian labeled clothing.  He’s earned it.
  • My sister Andrea wins a prize for helping me relearn the fundamental truth for any New Years Eve related activity: House party or bust.
  • Tim (SCH) and I rocked the 6th Annual Syracuse Road Trip (Est. 2004) with a ferocity that harkened back to a time when the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years.  Bonus points to Tim for suggesting a Sunday stop at The Anchor Bar in Buffalo.  Double Bonus Points for our trip being the only game that Syracuse Basketball has lost this year (21-1).  We’ve still got it.

1 – That’s the only instruction I need to give the person cutting my hair.

0 - This number has something to do with the Toronto Star, but I don’t want to be quoted.  I’m not seeking publicity.  I am, however, looking forward to the bankruptcy of that newspaper.

64 - The number of days I spent in Toronto.  Not sure if it felt like a fortnight or five years.

To everyone mentioned in this post, thank you.  To everyone I forgot, sorry.  I’ll be bidding a beer soaked goodbye to everyone Wednesday evening.  Thursday I’ll drop a massive photo blog, otherwise known as the fourth installment of “God Bless Friends.”

EDIT: After a quick review, I realized that this post may have been a little too serious.  There are more numbers.

6.3 - That’s the number of times I watched “Inglorious Basterds.”  I’ve already written about Christoph Waltz; German for brilliant.  Right before Christmas this movie reached “I’m watching it before I go to bed status.”  “IG” was usurped by the second viewing of “Mad Men” Season 3 late last week.  What a run!

.5 – Number of NFL Sunday’s I missed from early December until now.  Tim and I were navigating through a blizzard for the 4:00 games on January 3rd; that being said, none of them had any playoff implications.

5 - The number of months I waited to take my MacBook in to repair the trackpad.  It’s ironic that I waited that long because, much to my suprise, it was under warranty.  Don’t think you can out-stupid me.  You’ll lose.

3-ish - Number of weeks I’ve been waiting to hear about a job thingie.  An interesting job thingie.

7 - Seconds I’m able to keep my eyes on an episode of “The Bachelor” before having to turn away.  The internet is littered with rants about the stupidity of reality television.  These rants are unoriginal and, often, spiteful for reasons the author doesn’t fully recognize.  With all that being said, I honestly believe that “The Bachelor” is going to destroy our society.

(Hyperbole Alert!)

This show is a perverted, soul-sucking television experience.  If you aired an explicit video of Secretariat’s greatest ejaculations, there’d be more educational takeaway than this program.

How are they positioning themselves?  Is it supposed to mirror real life?  Does everyone realize that the female contestants model their reality show habits after the Season 1 “Newlyweds” performance of Jessica Simpson?   Do adjectives want to file a class action lawsuit after every “date” scene?

I could go on.

6 – Number of consecutive weeks that the traffic has increased at Prelude to a Big Break.  This is a really neat thing for me to witness.  I’m writing less and I’m not advertising the site, with the exception of an occasional Twitter update.  I don’t know where the people are coming from, but I know they’re reading and that makes me feel great.

2 - Number of times I saw “Up In The Air.”  Can we skip the five year waiting period and elect Ryan Bingham into the movie character Hall of Fame?

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.

98 - That’s the percentage of “stuff” that I no longer have.  I’m going to California with one bag.  5 weeks later, Louis the Dog is coming.  That bag will be filled with every material possession I have left.  It is an outrageous, wonderful, life altering feeling.

I don’t agree with the middle section of Clooney’s monologue, ultimately, neither does his character.  Friends and family are desperately important.  Even more pressing?  How hard you try to figure out who those friends are.  I know who my friends are, and I know who I am. 

It’s the only thing you can take with you.

SA

Written by Stephen Amell

February 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm

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