Simulated Sex and Laughs on the Set of ‘Californication’
JUNE 9, 2012
This week I got to work on “Californication” again, which means I got to shoot another simulated sex scene with Pam Adlon. I’d have to say out of everyone in the world I would want to have simulated sex with, Pam is at the top of the list. We have a difficult time getting through a scene. We’re laughing too hard. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unless you are laughing during simulated sex, you’re not doing it right.
But it brings up an interesting problem — besides signing the legal document beforehand stipulating that no part of me will enter any part of Pam at any time or I will be sued. What about the problems actors have on the set when they are having too much fun?
These problems are a lot sneakier than dealing with shooting under difficult conditions, be it a night shoot, a confused director, an ego-driven star, or a trained dog. When times are tough, it is easier to marshal your concentration for the tasks at hand.
Take my unique situation on “Californication.” This is the sixth season and the third season I’ve worked on the show. It’s the same cast, crew, writers, and directors — a big family. When I showed up on the set for the first time this season, everyone came up to welcome me. It was a wonderful feeling. They called us in to rehearse. The cameramen and sound technicians hugged me or patted me on the back. When she saw me, Pam screamed, ran up, and gave me a huge squeeze.
I had worked with the episode director, John Dahl, several times in the last two years. He is clear, fast, and fun to work with — like all of the directors on the show. He greeted me warmly and asked how everything was going. I talked about my wife, Ann, and what the kids were doing. He talked a little about what he had been up to the last few months. Then he said, “Shall we rehearse one?”
Oh yeah. Work. I forgot.
Pam and I went through the first part of the action for camera positions. I realized I wasn’t in the right place to do the scene — the right place in my head. My focus had been sabotaged by comfort. In spite of the good times, I had to find the beginning of the scene.
John came up and said, “Do we need another rehearsal? Want to just shoot one?” Pam yelled out “Shoot!,” which I totally agreed with on a theoretical level. You don’t want to overrehearse a comedy scene, even if it is a scene that is filled with grief and remorse, like the one we were about to shoot.
I stood outside the front door and got ready to make my entrance when more crew people came up, shook my hand, and told me how happy they were to see me back on the show. It was hard not to feel good from all of the love, but in this case it was counterproductive.
I had to pull out one of my oldest but most tested techniques for focusing: I said I needed to run to the restroom. No one will ever say no.
I ran to the bathroom and locked the door. I took a moment to feel the quiet and mentally get to the moment when I knock on my ex-wife’s door to apologize. I secured the starting place in my head and ran down the stairs and called out to John, “Thanks. I needed that. I’m ready to go.”
He called “Action!” I knocked. Pam opened the door. I looked into her eyes and said my first line. And the rest is part of Season 6 — simulated sex and all.
A month has passed and I have doubled the amount of auditions I have had since my last entry. Now I have had two. Two. Two auditions since the beginning of the year. These are the times that drive every actor crazy.
I called my manager and asked how things were going. I guess I was putting out the scent of desperation because he immediately cut to the chase and said, “Slow.” I said, “Slow. Or slow for me?” He laughed and said, “Slow for everyone!” (which in manager-speak means slow for me).
I try to tell myself that these times can also be an opportunity. It is a chance to focus on things that you can’t focus on when auditions are falling out of the trees. It just takes a while to remember what those things are.
Here is a quick list of some of mine that I have worked on recently.
It is a chance to read. Not just for pleasure but for research. I try to read a great piece of literature I missed in my misspent college years. In great writing, there are inspiring themes that have come in handy on auditions. Can the works of Seneca help on a sitcom audition? Can Charles Dickens help on the first day on a “Law & Order” set? The answers are yes and yes. It’s strange but true. You are what you eat, and George Eliot has almost zero calories.
It is a chance to review my teaching. I teach improv and comedy for Kalmenson & Kalmenson, the voice-casting agents. When I have downtime, I review the notes on past classes and think of things to try in upcoming classes. It keeps me fresh and hopefully enables me to bring something new to my students each session.
I try to take an honest look at my strengths and weaknesses. In the heat of battle, when you are auditioning and meeting producers and directors, it is not the best time to criticize yourself. You need all of your strength and confidence for the tasks at hand. A lull is a perfect time for gentle self-evaluation. I ask myself: What is easy for me to do? What is hard? Why is it hard? Is it hard because I am not working on something I should be working on? What used to be easy that has gotten more difficult? Why?
This month I realized I have changed in the way I approach an audition. It has been harder for me to get out of my writer-director head and just work on the script I have in front of me. I can’t think of a single producer who wants to hear script notes from an actor on a first audition. Things like that will get you put on the “naughty list” when pilot season comes around again.
I have focused a lot of energy this month on my book, “The Dangerous Animals Club.” Word of advice for future authors: Writing is hard. Rewriting is a killer.
The book will be out in August. That’s when I am supposed to start a book tour. I am accepting prayers from any and all denominations. Until we meet again …
March 2, 2012. I am headed back to Los Angeles after performing the Tobolowsky Files live as a fundraiser for the International Film Festival Boston – and at the Bell House in Brooklyn – as a fundraiser for me. The Files are stories I began writing when I was recovering from a broken neck four years ago. The project is a portrait of what actors always have to do: make lemonade when you have lemons. In my case it was making lemonade in a neck brace.
Following the theory that one thing often leads to another, David Chen at Slashfilm.com recorded the stories. They became a popular download on iTunes. They were picked up by public radio, most notably KUOW in Seattle and WFPL in Louisville. That led to a book deal with Simon and Schuster. Now they have become a one-man theatrical performance.
The actor has a series of interesting problems in performing a one-man show. The most inescapable one is that you are the show. Everything. The audience becomes aware of this after about eight seconds. The performer must stay ahead of them. There are several ways of doing this. Some actors rely on technical elements like changing lights, costumes, sets, or props.
I choose not to do this for one reason: I don’t want the success of my performance in the hands of an unknown technical crew with a one-hour mike check and lighting rehearsal right before the house opens. I want the burden of the show’s rhythm in my hands.
Financially, I am returning home with a box office percentage in my wallet. After paying hotels, meals, airfare, the theater’s cut, and David Chen’s cut I have netted a negative $200.
However, at the Boston show I was given a set of Davy Crockett drinking glasses from Nancy Campbell, one of the directors of the fundraiser. At the Brooklyn show, I met several of the fans of the podcast who have been ardent listeners for the last two years. I had a beer with my editor from S&S and my literary agent. I met a man who flew from Poland to meet me because of the story I wrote about Auschwitz, where his grandparents were killed.
So when you add it all up, I figure I am deeply into profit. An actor can never discount the value of experience. It can keep you warm on cold nights, too.
Can’t get to Boston or Brooklyn, Feb. 27-28? If you are in Los Angeles, here’s the first opportunity to hear some Tobolowsky Files Stories LIVE and benefit local theatre. February 21, 2012, 8 PM, Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA. Free Parking! Pay at door – Open Seating.
Call (310) 364-0535 to reserve!
I used to love Christmas time. I still love the time. I’m not sure why there has been steady pressure to convert it into a bank holiday. I’m not sure who benefits. Even the commercials on television have gotten so puny and small. Santa as a car salesman. Santa running to Target. Santa with an iPhone. I am sure the ad company that came up with campaigns found them amusing. They only work by the transitive property of algebra. Here is something that had an unknown value. Santa. Now we swap it for something that has real value. Target.
Of course the problem is that it is a lie. Target has no real value. It has no significant history. No mythology. No universal appeal. The commercials don’t seek to reaffirm goodness in the world, but only to underline the absolute absence of magic in our lives.
A few years ago I was driving the carpool to school. It was the day of the Christmas program. I told the kids I was eager to come to the show. I asked what Christmas songs they were singing. There was a lengthy pause followed by the innocent reply, “We’re not singing any Christmas songs. Our teacher says that they are too religious. We are only singing songs about the Winter solstice.
It was one of those moments I wished I carried small caliber weapons. I took a breath and said, “Who is your teacher?”
Alex answered back, “Mr. Webster.”
I said, ”Alex, you know Mr. Webster probably doesn’t know this, but the Winter solstice is religious too. It celebrates Paganism. So if he really wants to cut out religion he should just stick to Beatles songs.”
Alex was silent. He recognized the signs of an adult quietly flipping out while driving. I was too angry. I couldn’t stop. I calmly said, “Alex. I have a question for you to ask Mr. Webster. Tell him that Mr. Tobolowsky wanted to know many songs Johann Sebastian Bach wrote in honor of the Winter solstice? How many paintings of Michelangelo were inspired by the solstice? In fact I would like Mr. Webster to cite one reference to the solstice in the works of Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Jane Austen. Just one.”
The decision to remove Christmas songs from a children’s Christmas show was the definition small-minded. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was the kind of choice you expect from an expensive private school in Los Angeles.
I dropped the kids off. They ran inside for another date with meaninglessness.
I calmed down when I realized there are a lot of fools in the world. It was a good education for my kids to experience them at an early age. I never went to the show. I watched the video. The children wore red and blue sweaters and sang meaningless songs about sunshine and mead.
Last year I ran across the video in a pile of computer cables in a drawer of my son’s room. I rescued it and put it in a safe place. Now it sits in darkness waiting to share that precious moment of my son’s childhood with forgettable songs and vapid philosophy. A celebration Dickens would have christened, The Ghost of Christmas Lost.
My director on this episode of Californication, Michael Lehmann, told me privately that next week I should “give him whatever I was comfortable with.”
I wasn’t completely sure what he was referring to. I double checked my script and saw I have a moment in one scene where I talk to my penis. I am not sure that there is a comfort zone for that.
Entertainment has changed a lot in my life. I remember when I was a child there was enormous controversy over saying “pregnant” in a movie or a play. I am serious. It was a national sensation. From that primitive, innocent time in the 1950’s we slipped into what was referred to as “groundbreaking television.”
Probably All In The Family led the way breaking down barriers as to what subject matter could be used in a comedy on national television. The one hour dramas tried to break barriers with Mariel Hemingway kissing a women and Dennis Franz showing his behind. Each year the boundary was pushed a little farther toward the Roman Coliseum.
The logical reason for this has really nothing to do broadening our sensitivities or breaking barriers, real or imagined, but probably has everything to do with television’s hunger for easy ratings. If you can get TV Guide to report on a controversy that would be featured on an upcoming show, it will guarantee a bigger audience.
It never matters that the things used to break barriers on television are things we weren’t particularly shocked by. We all knew that Dennis Franz had a behind, we just weren’t all on board in seeing it. TV plays by its own rules. One of television’s most endearing qualities is its desire to pat itself on the back. It’s hard to count the number of awards shows spawned by television, to honor television, also designed to get ratings. In my experience I have found that usually when television claims it is “breaking ground,” it is usually just breaking wind.
However much television likes to think it is a force in modifying society and changing perspectives, its main function is and always will be lowering the bar. Because the motives come from a place that is intensely commercial at every step of the process, the results will never be the voice of enlightenment. It will always be the voice of the locker room.
That’s why we love it so much.
I had to sign another sex scene contract for my work on Californication this week. I not only had to jump into bed with Pam Adlon, but I had to stand in a Speedo and watch a fairly undressed Camilla Luddington.
Costumers told me I would have to have a special fitting to increase the appearance of size of my penis in a bathing suit. I was not humiliated. I knew I was in good hands. So to speak. Our costumer said he was expert in packing the package. He brought all sorts of contraptions to build the bulge.
On the day of the shoot, I was a legend. I had a three-page contract to sign that said no part of me would enter any part of the two actresses. That was easy. I have no intention of giving any producer more reasons to fire me that already exist. I was determined to read all of the legalese of the contract. One section left me scratching my head. The old BS detector went off when a clause said, “All of the dailies for said scene will be kept in a secure location.”
I had no idea what this could mean. I asked our director, Bart Freundlich, what the secure location was. He said, “We call it the Internet.”