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No Roles, This Guy was Real

September 17, 2012

I’ve always thought it is a bit strange when a celebrity dies and people who worked with the person, once, or met them at a premiere, once, feel the need to post that online with an outpouring of grief. I wonder what it says about our society that we need to feel “connected” if only minutely, to someone famous. I always thought it was weird…

That was until I heard the news that Michael Clarke Duncan died earlier this month and realized I really wanted to tell about my brush with his star.

To make it clear, I did not “know” Michael (I met him once) nor am I under any illusions that he remembered my name. But our brief encounter stayed with me for many years and news of his death brought back the feelings. I’d like to think that I can have this reaction to anyone, not just someone famous. But our encounter touched me so much, indeed, because he was famous and hugely talented, and how he acted, in spite of that.

I think this story can have relevance to the way we actors might strive to behave, both on and off screen/stage.

So here it goes:

Back in early 2000, I was freelancing as a producer for an international news agency in their TV division. For a young person, just out of journalism school, I got to go to A LOT of big events, and well, after a while, it could get a little ho-hum. Until this one morning….

Now here is a little secret I’m going to divulge about big “nomination days”…news editors are prepared for them well in advance. From the Nobel Peace Prize to the Oscars, news editors have a good sense of who might get nominations, and so they often position crews outside homes or hotels on the morning of such nominations, to record the first excited comments from nominees.

Occasionally, news editors get lucky, and a publicist (also very secure that their client is on the verge of a nomination) will work with the press to let them in on the moment.

That’s how I found myself in Michael Clarke Duncan’s hotel room (with a cameraman!!) around 5 AM, waiting to see if he would be nominated (as it was widely expected) for an Academy Award for his work in The Green Mile. There were just two news organizations there to see what would happen.

And it did.

And we watched this talented and cool actor totally lose his cool with happiness and excitement and absolute, genuine pride and joy. Then, he called his mom.

No one in that room could stop smiling.

I’ve met a lot of people in my life and done of a lot of interesting things. But that little moment in that hotel room was truly one of the most authentic things I’ve ever seen in another person. He was just so real and not afraid to show us how he felt. I guess that’s what made him a great actor as well.

In contrast, later in the day we interviewed a veteran, grumpy actor, nominated in another category, who was obviously tired of the press and just ready to give rote, short answers, devoid of real emotion. He played the part of “veteran actor commenting on another Oscar nomination.” But Michael Clarke Duncan, well, he was a human being, absolutely in the moment. And I was so lucky to be there.

Now to bring it back to the start of the blog… I did not “know” Michael Clarke Duncan and have no idea how he was outside of this one moment in time (though by all accounts I’ve heard, he was truly a wonderful guy.) But whenever I think of that moment, as I have often since he died, I can actually feel the emotions again that we had in that room.

And I think what the experience is telling me is that in life, that’s all we really have to do…. be real. As actors, as friends, as writers, as humans, the only way we can truly connect with another is if we stop playing a role and just go with the joy of the moment we are in. No matter if that is on stage, screen, in a hotel room or on the street. Don’t play roles, just be real. It’s the only way to connect.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2012 3:51 pm

    What a totally cool experience for you — thanks for sharing! He sounds like such a lovely and genuine man.

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  1. Sunday Summary — September 23, 2012 « The Green Room

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