Friday, September 17, 2010

They Had Great Character

by Stephen Tobolowsky

New York Times
September 16, 2010

One evening not long ago, my wife and I were standing in the lobby of a theater when a group of women approached me with “that look.” It’s a look that I have come to know as the “You are either someone in show business or my former chiropractor” look.

The women smiled bashfully and the brave one asked, “Are you who we think you are?” I responded, fearful of litigation, “That all depends on who you think I am.”

She giggled and said, “The actor.” I bowed and replied, “Yes, ma’am.” She brightened: “The one on ‘Lost.’”

I said, “No, no, sorry.”

Undeterred, she followed up with, “No, I meant the movie by the Coen brothers, ‘A Serious Man.’ ”

I was not in that movie either, though I auditioned for it and offered to wash Joel and Ethan’s cars if they would cast me. I suggested to the women that they had seen me in “Groundhog Day” or “Glee,” neither of which they had heard of. At this point I was certain that I had to be talking to visitors from another world or time travelers.

This is an encounter that I have had quite often. I am a character actor: the perfect combination of ubiquity and anonymity. But this particular comedy of errors made me give some serious thought to the strange, occasionally delightful and often humbling path we character actors tread. My thoughts were tinged with the sadness of having recently lost five magnificent companions on that road — Kevin McCarthy, Carl Gordon, Maury Chaykin, James Gammon and Harold Gould.


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