Agents

51 days here and quite a lot of my focus is having to shift to what happens when I get back. This morning was rather schizophrenic in that I was mixing emails to managers out here with emails to agents back at home. I’ve been put into an interesting situation. 

Over here, actors tend to have three business relationships. An agent, a manager and a publicist. In the UK, more frequently, there is just the one, under the umbrella of “agent.”

 

Fiction has brought us many examples of dysfunctional relationships between actors and their agents. Frequently my friends outside the industry have these as touch points for what it must be like for us. Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty says “I remember my first agent. Raymond Duck … Four floors up on the Charing Cross road and never a job at the top of them.” It’s important to note that Withnail and I is not a documentary. I do know some actors who seem to think it’s the manual. And I have some friends who seem to assume it’s how I live. But it’s nothing to aspire to. I think of it as a beautifully told cautionary tale.


Stephen Merchant’s Darren Lamb in Extras is another painfully observed fictional agent, where all of the worst experiences of a pool of actors have been honed into this blithe venal cheerful incompetent dead weight. The reality is scarcely as extreme as these examples. Oh, I could tell you some stories. But I won’t.

 

It’s a business relationship. A professional one. I’ve been unfortunate in that a lot of my previous agents have retired, due to age, kids or pressure. I’ve not had time to develop a strong understanding with anyone, and the best actor/agent relationships are forged by time. I am lucky to have a manager who has had nothing but time, in that she knew me when I was 12 and has seen me change and grow. My most recent agent, though, never saw me work outside of my showreel. He was working hard on my behalf, doubtless, but juggling alongside that his work as a producer, actor and musical theatre jack of all trades. We have both admitted it wasn’t working for either of us. I will be leaving his books at the end of the month.

 

So now when I get back to London I’m going to need a new agent. This is a brilliant position to be in, as I can try to shop around and see if there is somebody that I get on with that gets what I’m about. A blank canvas, if you will. It’s an opportunity for a really positive change. I’ve fallen into the last two relationships I’ve had, so this time I’m trying to paraglide. Maybe I can find someone who operates on both sides of the Atlantic. More than that, maybe I can find someone who understands what they’re selling and wants to run alongside me. I’d love my next agent to be the one who, in twenty years time, we go on holiday together and laugh, because we actually really like each other. I might need to be in something visible in London, but that should be easy enough to make happen if I keep my ear to the ground.

 

Today I’ve found a rhythm that I can handle. I hate selling myself so I send emails until I can’t bear it anymore. Then I stop and meditate in the sunshine for a while, and pet the dogs. Then I send more. Then meditate and dogs. It’s slower than doing a generic mailshot, but the dogs love it, and at least every email is personal. Past experience of this sort of exercise has taught me that it will probably yield nothing but a couple of generic autoreject emails from an assistant. But despite saying that I feel strangely positive. Probably because of the sunlight and the dogs. If I can yield a few meetings when I get back then it’s all good. All I need is one click. I suppose it’s like internet dating, which is the other thing that I utterly hate loathe and detest. But some people swear by it. Never fear though, I am not sending cock shots to agents.

 

Or am I?

Time to Get Out

50 days. That’s a long time. Shortly after I first got into town, I saw posters all over the place saying “Do you belong in this neighbourhood? Get Out.” They stuck in my imagination as I had just arrived and I had to be careful not to take it personally. At the bottom it said “Playing in theatres” and a date. I initially thought “How can they play it in multiple theatres at once?” and then I remembered that it’s another translation error. A movie theatre. A cinema. It’s a film, not a play. Called “Get Out.”. It’s a brilliant poster, especially in this political climate. A visitor from the UK clocked it and was initially shocked. You could believe that some validated bunch of xenophobic dorks had clubbed together to put it up.
I went to see it today. It’s described as a comedy horror film, and I suppose it is. It’s very funny at times. But the humour is edgier than Tucker and Dale vs Evil. It’s a compelling  watch. I went in knowing nothing about it but the poster, and came out happy. Every performance was superbly well turned. Rather than spoil it I’ll just say I loved it and leave you to catch it if you want to. I suppose it’s a comedy race horror. It’s got plenty of good shocks, and some truly joyful performances and it’s really dark. It’s a very American film, but it carries.

 

Fifty days have flown by. I am feeling ready to get back to the familiar. I want to make the most of my last two weeks, but the weather is still a total let down. It was grey and drizzly again today. If it’s going to be like this then all the other things that scream “home” should be in place. I want to say “Hello” to a stranger and be treated like I’m an axe wielding maniac. Here they say “Hello” back and then start a conversation. I want to walk across the road and have the traffic speed up : “it’s my right of way and I’ll hit you if I can.” Here they slow down and let me cross. I want a waiter to behave as if he actively hates me and wishes I was dead, but here they smile like lying bridegrooms. Also I want to eat chocolate, not this sugary crap. How can standards have dropped so low? It’s the profit motive all over again. Look what happened to Creme Eggs when they were bought by Kraft Foods. They were great and now they’re made out of goat shit.

 

After the movie I went home. Self imposed early night tonight so I can get up and be my own office for the coming week. I ended up in deep conversation with my flatmate Mark. I can’t overlook how lucky I am to have landed here. My room is beautiful, and Mark and Laural are great fun and kindred spirits. It seems all the people I hang out with in this town used to be on one soap or another. Mark was on Home and Away, Lyndon on Emmerdale. Both for years. Both are now out here fielding movies, and the thing that binds them together is an easy going nature and a generosity of spirit, coupled with a drive to create. I suppose that’s important when the schedule is so packed. For the first time in my life I see how my energy and approach, coupled with my spongebrain, would fit that sort of dynamic. I’ve never thought to target TV before but if those two are anything to go by it’s a lovely fellowship. At base I do this work because I love it. And this has been a long time for me without doing the work that makes me who I am. Maybe it will prove to have been an investment down the line. Certainly it has been a personal investment, in the sense that I’ve had time to get to know myself. But thank God I’ve had these words every day as a vent for the creative impulse. I’m sure I’ll find a use for the next few weeks. There’s a few things I’m writing that I want to finish, and a company me and a friend are very seriously meaning to start rolling with immediately on my return (more on that anon.) But not being able to work is beginning to take its toll. I need to do some acting, pronto.

 

London, I am ready for your face.

Mission

Day 49 and we woke early. Last night we were lost in the woods. We burnt until we ran out of logs, then burnt sticks and cones, and eventually succumbed to the cold with sleep. We had had no cutlery so we were hunched over chargrilled steaks clawing and slurping like cavemen. My hands looked like ape hands in the morning. Miraculously there was hot running water in the campsite as well as wifi, so I washed the blood, juice and marshmallows from my beard in a hot shower while considering the long road home. 

First we decide we need to go to the ocean. We still smell of smoke. Sea air will help. The Pacific is punishingly cold at this time of year, the water drives an ache into your bones almost immediately, so a long dip is out of the question but we spend some time on Carmel beach before the long drive home. Such a gorgeous little town, built consciously to look quaint but they’ve gotten away with it. I spend as long as I safely can in the sun before getting back in the car. I don’t want to be falling asleep at the wheel. “Let’s have a road trip and not a mission,” we decide, appropriately enough as the road is an old mission trail. As we drive I start to notice distinctive bells again and again on the path beside us. “Historic Camino Real” some of them say.

 

We stop for coffee at the pinkest hotel in the world. The Madonna Inn. It’s trying to look Swiss, so I feel oddly at home having spent so much time in the graubunden as a child. There are 110 rooms spread out over a 1000 acre ranch. All of them are done up in a different theme. Cheapest is $210 a night. Jungle rooms, stone grotto rooms, pink fairy rooms, Flintstone rooms. It’s so kitsch I’m almost sick on myself. We sit at a vast wooden bar where a lady dressed as Heidi pours us odd coffee. If they were playing accordion music I think I’d regress almost immediately. Thankfully they aren’t, even though it’s very popular in Mexico. Next to us, identical twins are celebrating their birthday. They eat three gargantuan slices of cake. Their conversation is as scattered and enthusiastic as the decor. Nobody is talking backwards yet and there are no dwarves or giants. The twins want us to eat cake. We eat cake. Cake is delightful. Fuelled by sugar we go and find the receptionist. I ask him about the bells. “They’re mission bells.” So THAT’S a mission bell. Another line in Hotel California cleared up. In a hotel. In California. We get back on the road before the Captain brings us his steely knife.

 

The Camino Real stretches for almost 1000 miles. It’s the route that the early Jesuits and Franciscans used to spread their faith across this huge region. The bells are made to resemble the staffs that the Franciscans carried. They are very distinctive and attractive objects, these bells. Part of their appeal to me is that they are almost completely pointless. They just sit there in inaccessible laybys looking pretty. Good for them.

 

Back on the road. As the sun falls, Lyndon keeps looking behind us. “The sky is incredible.” That’s all the excuse I need to pull into a layby and crouch down as the juggernauts are blaring past, to take this shot of Lyndon, a mission bell and the sunset.


I’m back in my room now on Saturday night, with an early bed ahead of me so I can properly stand up and be counted for the last two weeks I am here. This has already been an immensely positive experience, in that I have had the space and the context to overturn a huge amount of the nonsense that my overactive imagination has been running on myself. No harm in throwing myself around a bit more before I come back, seeing who else I can meet out in this glorious ridiculous town.

Camping

Day 48 and when Lyndon first arrived in town, before the tow truck struck lucky and fucked us, we had booked a tent for this weekend. A Californian getaway. Something to look forward to, we said at the time. Here we go, crashing through the prairie in my beat up old Chevy for a weekend in Carmel at the top of Big Sur. The Big Sur is an area of vast natural beauty. Big woods, Big sea, Big views, Big stars, Big Sur. Only a few hours drive from LA. It’s enshrined in culture as the place where Kerouac went over the edge into alcoholism and supreme self indulgence. He went there to recover but just got more tangled and started his descent into wasteful death. We eat up the miles, and very quickly we are on roads like scars through rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Right now they are shocked with green. All this rain has done the area the world of good. We stop at a roadside rest stop. Wooden counters and country music. Beware of the rattlesnakes. I’m surprised there is no spittoon. The man behind the counter tells us “Nah it’s the wrong time of year for the snakes. All you got to worry about is the tarantulas.” How can this place be only 2 hours drive from the city?
It turns out Big Sur is inaccessible. We are going as close as we can get. The floods have taken their toll, and the bridge is not safe for traffic, and it seems Big Sur is only accessible by bridge. We have had to compromise.
A further 2 and a half hours drive from the rest stop and we think we have found the campsite. It’s pitch black by now. The grounds of the site are stratified into a hillside like an Inca Garden. The whole place has been flooded out with soaking wet mud roads and runoff ditches carved so deep into them that driving to the tent is too treacherous. Nobody is staying here. And we can’t find out tent. Has it even been set up? (We had no tent so we paid for it to be done. Oh the glamour.) 
Lyndon and I get out of the car and walk up the hill. Better that than accidentally drive off the ledge. It’s a long drop. What we find is not promising. Passing a sign saying “No entry, maintenance only,” which in retrospect hints pretty clearly it’s the wrong direction, we stumble upon a destroyed tent city. Ripped and collapsed structures. Piles of rubbish. Dumped gas canisters. We are in blackness lit by only the halogen glow of my mobile phones flashlight. Two little Englishmen in the wrong part of town. The back of my neck starts to prickle. I don’t want to end up getting raped by zombies again. I think the first time was a dream. We go back to the car a little quicker than we might, and try another direction.
Everything is so washed out here I eventually leave the car in a pool of light announcing the presence of washrooms. Suddenly it’s the veneer of civilisation. Even out here I momentarily worry that the tow truck bastards have snuck out and followed me. But we leave the car, puddle jump over a load of ditches, and find a massive great bell tent that has our name on it. Paydirt. Literally. In that a few weeks ago we paid to sleep in a load of dirt. But there are two fire pits. One that was here already and one we carried up the hill because nobody was using it. We have filled them with logs and got them blazing.


I am now sitting between the fire pits wondering how I am going to be able to send this out. My legs are boiling. We are in a pool of darkness and I can hear the cicadas mimbling in the trees. Lyndon brought red wine and I brought five fillet mignon for a tenner, left over from last week’s amazing Japanese supermarket. They’ve been marinating for a week. Who says luxury needs to be expensive? If I can post this it’s a miracle… go go gadget gadget.
… You’re shitting me. They’ve got wifi. How the hell? Ours not to reason how. When it’s light I’ll probably realise I’m in an industrial estate. Right now it feels like I’m lost in the woods. Darkness is great like that…

Myths

47 days out here. The morning was a strange and beautiful thing, where people got in touch with me and offered to help me out with this pickle I got myself into when the car was towed. I woke up still a bit upset and demotivated, but was very quickly galvanised into yoga and seizing the day. Throughout my morning I was talking with friends old and new online, and at the time of writing more than half of the ridiculous fee for the tow has come back through a gradual drip of kindness. Considering the context, that I’m an idiot with the luxury of a car and a roof who made a stupid mistake, I feel extremely fortunate. 

The morning was spent with a woman who deals with a Buzzfeed channel covering issues in the Native American community. She is also an actor. She was at RADA so we have a lot of friends in common. We had a remarkable conversation that overlapped Shakespeare with the DAPL, London with Trump. One of the things that we touched on was the sheer size of America. I think about this a great deal after my experience travelling the country two years ago with Much Ado. It’s remarkable that a place this big and this diverse has a single government. And taking into account the Native American history in this land, the people running the show now are short term visitors. We know so little about the stories of the land before it was colonised. I spoke of my confusion on this, about how little the culture of the original inhabitants of this country is shared or celebrated in a way that can be accessed by a visitor. I wish the stories of coyote and deer and so forth were more widely told over here. They are the myths of this land, born from the colours and shapes and stars of their areas, and myths are always more relevant in the place where they were born. But if you kill the storyteller you kill the story.

 

In an oral tradition every teller has their own embellishment, and those details are lost if the teller dies without passing them on. Also a true story with a true teller can change every night, and will do depending on the circle where it’s told. The written versions we have of oral tradition stories come from one single telling that was recorded. They are only definitive in that they are all we have. There are times in the recorded Homer version we have where it feels the story could branch and the bard chooses tonight’s version based on his crowd. Whoever recorded the homeric bard gave a great gift to the world, as did Plato recording Socrates. But it’s just one version. Like Armin and Kempe the Shakespeare fools, who likely improvised and then had one version of their improv recorded in the folio. There must have been some great details of Native American myths, and indeed whole sagas that have been utterly lost over here. I’ve always wanted to travel this country and Canada, immersing myself in what remaining reserves there are here, collecting and learning what remaining stories I can, celebrating this series of ravaged and contained cultures that have had it practically demonstrated to them recently with DAPL that their concerns are of no importance.

 

Walking away I found myself thinking about a project I was asked to collaborate on about a year ago. It’s a one man show and it deals quite closely with Native American myths juxtaposed with English Society in the seventeenth century, through the prism of a real life story of immense hardship and resilience. It was first pitched to me by a friend and director, Alice, who I met about five years ago filming a short. The View from the Window. We picked up some plaudits and festival screenings and all that nonsense. Working with her again on a piece of theatre sounded interesting, but at the time I felt swamped and not in a place where I could commit to making it the show it should be. It’s a very big story and I couldn’t think of how it could be keyed in to what’s happening now. Thinking about it again a year or so later it feels far closer to the right project. Standing Rock has provided the answer to the all important question “why this project now?” And I think I have a better notion of the journey through it. So I want to pick it up again. Not to put too many irons in the fire. But being out of context for this length of time has given me perspective on how I can better husband my hours when I’m back in town and again surrounded by all the little day jobs and concerns of London. And also I have better perspective on what’s important to me. Like my friends. I’m really beginning to miss my friends. Don’t forget, jet lag party all day on the 19th March. Whoop whoop.

Towed of towed hall

Day 46. Driving a car is an expensive habit. Particularly as an actor. I made the mistake of telling one insurer I did this ridiculous thing for a living once, and now they all offer me fantastically high premiums. I can rarely if ever afford a car for a whole year. Their given reasons for these premiums vary depending on who you ask “You might be driving Jordan and her boobs are insured for x million”. But I suspect it is just that there’s still this notion that actors are constantly getting messed up on substances, jack-knifing off cliffs into buses full of tourists and generally blowing things up for giggles. Maybe I’m missing a trick by mostly trying to use my cars as vehicles rather than physics experiments.

I was a month out here before I splashed out on renting my geriatric Chevy. It makes things considerably more accessible, allows me to zoom around and meet people, but comes with a price. Like in London, drivers are targeted for revenue generation here. The tow truck industry is huge. In my area, different random streets have to be cleared of parked cars on different weekday mornings for street cleaning. The cleaner comes through once, flanked by an army of tow trucks, and then for the rest of the morning, even though the work is evidently done and it makes no sense to continue to keep it clear, the carnappers continue to drive around the damp streets hoping to entrap people who are employing logic over caution, or just not paying attention to the small print on the signs. Shop parking lots have varied and detailed restrictions and timings, all geared towards maximising removals. You have to be very very careful indeed where you put the car.

 

I wasn’t. They towed me. On an oversight. And obviously I’m an idiot for it. And even though the car was in the pound for less than an hour I was still charged storage and out of hours fee as well as basic towing. For a single incident, an admittedly stupid mistake, but one that impacted nobody’s ability to park, obstructed no traffic and served no logical purpose other than to generate money, they stung me for $340. That’s my entire budget for the rest of the time I’m here. And to add insult to injury the hairy old guy in the pound was a jerk. He looked like the guy who assaults you with a broken bottle in the parking lot of a bar in some cheap 1980’s flick. I kind of wanted Patrick Swayze to come and kick him in the nadgers. Ok, fine I was in the car pound, not Disneyland. They aren’t supposed to be fun. Nobody ever said “Daddy daddy can we go to the car pound?” or if they did they grew up to be Satan. But when someone cuts your legs off they should at least say thank you for standing still. I could fly to Paris for $340.


Today has been spent mostly alternating rage with panic. I had a couple of little oases, one where I met with a deeply passionate and connected woman who wanted to help me out here, and one where I went for a swim. But mostly I’ve been a little trembly, repeatedly checking my bank balance, edgy, sweary. It seems so excessive. I wonder how it can even be legal. It must be more than the value of the car. But the car isn’t mine so I couldn’t abandon it. Once bitten, twice shy, I was lucky on Oscar night, karma’s a bitch and other assorted platitudes.

 

There remains the matter of my shot budget. I’ve been thinking about things that I can offer I exchange for mid term loans from anyone. I can’t earn legally in the US and I’m here for another 18 days. I can take writing commissions, offer up childcare or dogcare when I get back to London, accommodate someone in my Chelsea bedroom for a bit while I kip on the sofa, dress up silly and perform Shakespeare speeches of your choice after dinner like I do at The Globe…. I could write a customised Hilaire Belloc style cautionary tale to anyone who might want one. “The lamentable tale of Mister Al, who underestimated human rapacity and was going to have to eat cockroaches until he was rescued by…” PM me . No, seriously, pm me. I’ll gladly write something to commission. Damn. Is it just two days ago I was proudly laughing at people crowdfunding for this sort of purpose? Yes. Yes it was. Humility, you bugger. You always wait for a bit of pride before waving your magical shitty stick. Alakasplat.

 

(Image is not mine. I was in no mind to take a photograph today so I ripped it off the net. It’s actually a memorial procession of tow trucks. Perhaps mourning their loss of KINDNESS. The monsters.)

 

Ps under advisement I’m putting my bank details here but obviously it’s nicer if I can message you all individually and work out what sort of lovely things I can do for you or how when if you can be paid back etc etc

It’s Barclays (of course) Account Number 40551627 Sort code 20-35-93. And my PayPal is alhimself@hotmail.com

Golf

Day 45. It’s interesting/revealing how much my parents come up in this blog. Dad was a big golfer. When we lived in The Isle of Man he was forever down at the Castletown Golf Links, in all weathers. It was a huge source of pleasure and one of the things that he’s still remembered for, in that he bequeathed a trophy for a handicap game that’s still played in the summer in Switzerland. I still hear from people who won it or competed for it.
I was always curious about the sport but it was almost completely forbidden when I was growing up. My mother knew what was good for her. On the rare occasions I went to the golf course with my father to play the rest of the day was ruined. I enjoyed whacking the thing, and I liked having a walk by the sea. But I didn’t care about precision, aim or technique. And dad used to get livid because he wanted me to be immediately brilliant. And when my dad was angry he was able to condense the atmosphere around him until it was roughly the consistency of melted cheese.

 

But now I have his golf clubs. My mother hated it, and I know I’m supposed to be working. But dad often used to tell me that most of his business was done on the golf course. He encouraged me to learn despite knowing I wanted to be an actor. Yeah, this is an investment dammit, I tell myself, coupled with it being the first uncompromisingly beautiful day we have had for three weeks. This weather is what I was led to expect from California. I go digging on Groupon and find a ridiculously beautiful seaside golf course an hour to the south for peanuts, and it doesn’t take much to persuade Lyndon that this is the best use of the day.
We jump in the car. Close to arrival I turn left down a driveway that clearly goes to a golf course, and begin to have misgivings. Down the hill past a huuuge American flag we go, to a huuuuuge colonnaded mansion with a coat of arms blazoned above the portico. “Trump National Golf Club.” Um… We park. The property is beautiful, with this spurious coat of arms built into the walls on the outside all over the place. Inside it’s full of photographs of the man throughout his life, and wide screen televisions playing looped footage of him chatting to golfers. There’s a framed photograph of his star on Hollywood Boulevard. It doesn’t take long for us to establish this is not the right place. The staff are all very lovely and very helpful. Nobody follows me around with a megaphone. This is a flawless shrine to Trump, in a beautiful place. I find myself wondering if the decor was chosen by the man himself, or if it was made up like this to honour him. I know that it would be hard to keep perspective and humanity surrounded by such targeted opulence, if it were about me.
The place we are booked into is a little further down the coast, but thankfully in an equally beautiful place. We get out there. There are not many of us playing. Lyndon and I incompetently hack our balls around the course. We are more interested in the fantastic natural beauty here than in being competitive. Which is just as well considering we’re both pretty crap. The best we get is one bogey each in nine holes. The rest doesn’t even bear reporting. The ghost of my father is likely smashing the place up as we speak, so if a golf course falls into the Pacific overnight, you’ll know why. And to be frank it looked ready to fall. The roads all have scars from slippage round there. That whole edge of coastline is likely going to drop if there’s a big earthquake. But for now it’s a lovely place to bang a ball around, talk about strategy going forward, and perhaps be a little irresponsible.