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I got a message on my machine from Stacy Martin. She had recommended me as a likely candidate when someone was casting a movie and needed a “Lord Byron” type. Acting? Never. Movies? Nope. Get me an audition!
I met with the film’s director, Lynn Hershman Leeson. I gave Ms. Hershman an overview of what I do, the recent enhanced CD Big White Lies with interactive liner notes, sound and videos (not unlike a web page now), to which she said, “I did interactive in the ‘70s.” I began to wonder why I was still there, since she knew I was not an actor. We talked for awhile, and she decided to have me read for the part of Nick. He was the boyfriend of Emmy, a computer and genetics buff using dial-up Internet and a Macintosh II to travel time and space with "undying information waves" to reach Countess Ada Lovelace (Tilda Swinton), who was a real-life 19th-century English mathematician. It’s an interesting idea; I’ve always had difficulty following the story.
I remember being told not to read from the script, although I had one in my hand, as did the girl reading for the part of Emmy. Our characters were lovers bickering about the dangers of smoking while pregnant. It was odd, having never auditioned for a part, feeling totally sucked into the character, feeling things although they were the character’s feelings. So, there’s something to that acting thing... I didn’t get the part and neither did the girl, but I was asked to be in the film as a street musician.
I showed up with my guitar at 1261 Howard St., a typical SOMA live-work space of the time. It had the evidence of a film location - thick black cables taped down, drapes hanging on poles, and a bossy girl with a clipboard. She was the PA, the Production Assistant. I was instructed where to hang out, where to find the bathroom, and not to disappear. I just wondered who lived there the rest of the time. It was J. Otto Seibold’s office on one floor, and much more recently, it’s the home of Cassel Gallery where I played music at an art party with Prairie Prince.
Then came time for my closeup, or so it seemed. The script called for the pregnant couple to come out the back of the building, onto Tehama St, where I’d be busking. They didn’t have the proper permit, so they stuck the three of us in the freight elevator...where you often find musicians just rocking out alone. The film was shot on 35mm, and that Panaflex camera with the huge lens took up half the space. It was about a foot away from me, but it doesn’t appear that way in the scene.
There was not much direction. I don’t remember the director speaking to me at all. All I knew was that I was to start playing on “action,” and keep playing while the actors got in the elevator. Since I came down and then went back up, I sang “One Side In Heaven,” hoping this song was long enough for the scene. “Nick” was going to give me a dollar (kept it) and I was to hand over my card, which was actually only a blank piece of paper. Do street musicians hand out cards? I believe we shot two takes, one might have been incomplete.
Watching the film at the Lumiere in SF when it came out, the Nick character was constantly praising and kowtowing to Emmy, and she ate it up without a whole lot of reciprocation. I’m really happy that I got to play myself instead. And sing my song.