Thursday, November 30, 2006

I've Been Tagged


Zonk tagged me with and blamed Dawno for this atrocity: List five little-known facts about me. The hardest part of the meme is that I have to tagged five bloggers with this -- where am I going to find five friends?

OK, here you go. Five little-known facts about me:

1. I actually need glasses but I don't wear any. It's only a very low prescription and I can function just fine without glasses. I tried wearing glasses but that just didn't work out.

2. I sang for Queen Elizabeth II when I was a little boy.

3. I have 1/8 (or 1/16 - not sure) Vietnamese blood -- my father told me one of my grandmothers was part-Vietnamese

4. I have flown over 800 times (or over 600000 miles) in the past 10 years.

5. I made my first TV appearance at age 4 -- I went on a "birthday" show and was one of the ten birthday children.

I am tagging Joanne, Jill, Matt, Mark, and Matt D.

Monday, November 20, 2006

On Rejection (Again)

Some people have commented to me, at workshops or online or in person, that how cool I appeared to be with regard to rejections. That I was able to look at the big picture and keep my eyes on the end goal.

The truth is, it isn't always that way. Yes, through experience, I have gained some understanding of what rejections mean and how to handle them, because as an actor, I've been through many rejections. I've had my fair share of rejections as a writer, but in comparison, I've had much better success with my writing than with my acting, especially as I started out.

I used to take rejections rather harshly.

It came with expectations. The more I expect to get something, the more crushed I became. As an actor, I know my limitation and where my talent is. I must be totally delussional if I thought I would be the next Lawrence Olivier or Chow Yun-Fat. So I wouldn't be crushed if I lost a juicy part -- I didn't have enough passion to accept that challenge anyway, had I won it. However, I do have a certain look and certain special skills and when I am up for a part that seems perfect for me, naturally my hopes and expectations go up. And that's when a rejection hits the hardest.

I had it easy. Really. They say for every 25 auditions, you may get a job. I got my first real (paying) acting gig almost immediately, playing Henry in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of South Pacific, directed by Rob Marshall. I was star-struck, and I felt lucky. At the same time, I felt like maybe I could do this. I didn't quite realize I wasn't the best person for the job, but fate led me to the role, and I was the only person available at that time -- they needed an Asian actor in my age range who could speak some French. I happened upon the right opportunity at the right time, and I took it. It's not to say I didn't work hard on it; I worked very hard. I spent three weeks learning French, and I delivered those lines perfectly. Even my co-stars told me I spoke wonderfully, like a real Frenchman would. I was proud.

But this pride also jaded me. I didn't realize much of what I had accomplished had more to do with my looks and ethnicity than my actual talent. I was no actor.

The problem is, I got my second break almost immediately after the CLO show. I got cast in the movie, Roommates, playing a Chinese graduate school student. That must have been my fourth audition to date, and I got the part. What's all the talk about this being difficult? I became cocky.

Until I got a rejection. Then the next one. Then the next. Then the next. I started to realize I wasn't a very good actor. It hit me hard, to know that I had been cruising on my looks and I had been lucky. I got these roles because I was one of the few Asian actors in town -- there was always a 50/50 chance I would get the role. But as more and more Asian actors came, with real talent, I needed more than just luck.

The hardest rejection came when I auditioned for the role of Lun Tha in The King and I. I really thought I nailed it. I sang beautifully and the casting director was impressed. I had two callbacks and was asked to sing to the director. But I became cocky. I thought I had the role for sure, and I didn't give it my best at the final callback. I started to think, "Oh, maybe I could do it this way and show them my range." So instead of using my normal voice, I sang like a pop star -- because I thought that was what they would like to hear. I goofed. I ended up not showing my best voice, and the casting director later asked me why. I shrugged and couldn't answer.

I still thought I had a chance though, because I thought I was simply perfect for the role. I was cute. I was young. And by God I could sing. What's not to love, even if I goofed at the callback?

Weeks went by and I didn't hear anything, and I got upset. I called the production company and heard that they had cast the role, and they gave it to an Indian actor from a local college. I fumed. I wrote a scathing letter to the director and asked him why, because he made it sound like I was the sure thing. Days later he wrote back, apologizing for not letting me know, but also telling me something that humbled me...

He said, "Ray, you're a great singer and I love your voice. And if I had a choice I would have cast you, and I would like to cast you in my next production of Auntie Mame, but you know what? You have to work hard. You have to hone your skills, and you have to believe in yourself and do your best everytime you put yourself out there. It doesn't matter if it's a rehearsal or an audition or a performance. Every time, it's real. You have to give it all and believe in what you're doing. You have to know your abilities and your limitations, who you are and who you are not. And don't expect people to give you anything back."

To some people, acting is their life. They breathe it; they live it. They'd die before they give up their craft, and they don't expect someone to give them a break just because. They know they have to earn it and even if nothing happens, they will still do it until they die. That's the kind of passion that drives people either to success or insanity, but that's the kind of passion I lack when it comes to acting. And people with such passion and talent will beat me every time at auditions.

I still act, and have had minor successes. But I now know it's not where my passion lies, and the experiences of all these rejections have taught me a valuable lession: You've gotta love what you do and do what you love without expecting someone to reward you for your effort. Because the only thing you can control is how well you do something, not how someone else will treat you, or whether you have talent at all. But when you do what you love, it may become irrelevant whether someone else loves what you do. Because you will be happy.

The truth is, if you truly love what you do and do what you love, good things will follow you. It's inevitable. It's a tautology. And before someone calls me out and says, "Bullshit, what about all these artists and writers who suffered for their art and died penniless?" I have an answer for that, but I am not sure if it's an answer you'd like to hear.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why Is There a Cactus in My Shoe?

The thing about having cats is that you never know what you will find when you wake up in the morning. I've heard horror stories about half-eaten mice or half-dead birds chirping to their deaths showing up in the most unlikely places. Shoes, for example. The thought of pushing my toes into some mushy, bony, bloody mess has haunted me ever since I became a pussy lover.

So far, the pussies have been kind to me. The worst I ever found was an assortment of hairballs of various shapes and sizes (curiously, they were never the shape of a ball) and vomit of the previous night's $0.35 turkey delight with gravy.

Cats are carnivores. They eat meat. Chicken, fish, mice, cows, dragons, unicorns and assorted moving objects that bleed, such as wiggly toes. The only cats that don't hunt are the morbidly obese. Like the 45-pounder on TV the other day -- the only way that cat could move on its own is by rolling down a hill, but even then, it may only go for two seconds before its tummy stops the motion with a thunk.

So explain it to me why my cats expect a salad once in a while? And not just any salad. No. They want the best. Valentine roses are their favorite, better than chocolate. Better than sex, which by the way they have never experienced (to my best knowledge). So that's the most curious thing. Cats are actually better than little children -- they voluntarily eat their vegetables.

That's fine. Plants are cheap and they grow back, like the hair on my palms.

But it's one thing to wake up one morning, slip on the slippers and feel a wet clump of furry mush at the tips of my toes. It's another to scream bloody murder when my toes turn into tiny pincushions. Those little pricks! Somewhere in a dark corner, a pair of shiny eyes are gazing at me with the utmost affection, thinking that the prickly sensation on her sandpaper tongue must be equally welcome by the large, bumbling nitwit who wakes up three hours too late to bring her the daily sacrificial offering in a tin container. And like magic, the large, bumbling nitwit begins to dance like a wild turkey, a hand holding one foot, then stumbles and knocks down the lamp and falls face down near her just-used toilet. Then slowly she walks toward me, her face that of an angel, and grazes her bushy tail and the associated butthole against my face. She loves me. She really loves me.

After I pull the thistles off my toes, I feed the cats like a devoted mother who asks not what her children can do for her, but what she can do for the children.

The day goes on like nothing ever happened. Life goes on. Toes will heal. And you know damn well the furballs will do it again. Just never know when.

Next time, please, let it be a mouse.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

My, What to Review?

There are weeks when there is nothing new in the theater and I hate to review a known crappy movie just so I can write a scathing review. Besides, I really enjoy movies, and when I sit in that dark theater, I expect to be entertained, at least at some minimal level. Even a stinker such as The Brothers Grimm has at least some redeeming value (okay, in that case, not really...)

There are weeks I simply must grind my teeth, close my eyes, and pick something.

Not so this coming weekend. There are at least half a dozen of movies coming out that I really want to see. It must be Oscar-bait time. Don't get me wrong, I like a good popcorn flick, but I really do prefer solid, well-made dramas and comedies, and maybe a fantasy or two. But "well-made" is the key here: something original, uplifting, entertaining and yet meaningful. Movies are such a great, powerful medium I don't want to settle for less.

Now let's look at the roster for this week and next:

* Babel

Sounds very powerful, gritty, and stars Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchett, and have Oscar written all over it. Worth a look.

* Stranger Than Fiction

As a writer, this has a lot of appeal, plus Will Ferrell is good in a role like this, and Emma Thompson is always a joy to watch

* Copying Beethoven

How can you resist the story of Beethoven starring Ed Harris (with wild hair)?

* Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Two years ago I didn't know who Diane Arbus was. Now I do, after seeing her art in New York, and I loved it. Nicole Kidman sounds perfect playing Arbus.

* A Good Year

Russell Crowe in a coming-of-age Scrooge-type story. Gorgeous cinematography and Ron Howard-esque schmaltz. Is it worth $10?

* Night of the Living Dead 3D


* Casino Royale

A new Bond in a new Bond film. This one sounds interesting

* Bobby

Everyone is talking about this movie. I wasn't even born yet but the Robert Kennedy assassination sure is fascinating

* Happy Feet

Have seen the previews ad nauseum. This'd better be good

* Déjà Vu

A Sci-fi thriller in a season teemed with dramas. Could be interesting, especially with Danzel Washington in the lead. Inside Man was good -- of course, it had Clive Owen in it, too.

* For Your Consideration

Now, this looks like REALLY fun. Christopher Guest is a genius, and he has a great cast

So now you see my problem. Not only do I have to finish the first draft of my novel, I also have all these great movies to see and review. I guess something's gotta give.

Sorry, Jessica.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006