The Unswung Bat

Monday, March 29, 2004
 
Christopher Walken

He's a nice enough guy. He knocks twice every morning and if I don't answer he goes away. I don't even set my alarm any more, it's nice to be awoken by a couple of dull wooden raps followed by conscientious silence. I can hear his feet scraping the concrete balcony if I don't open up and he walks away. But today I feel like some company, and maybe like getting out of bed before it's too late in the day, so I hoist myself up and throw on a bathrobe.

He's waiting with perfect salesmanlike demeanor when I look through the eyehole. Standing in his smoothed-down brown suit with his hands hanging down, clasped, looking to one side politely, with the sun glaring at his right temple. I open the door and get the same picture life-size.

"Morning, sir, walk your dog?" he asks, regular as a machine.

"Yeah, sure, why don't you come inside for breakfast," I'm feeling sociable enough to offer, and Mr Walken's far too much a gentleman to say no. While he comes in and looks around I go open the bathroom door and out bursts Peluche in a tumbling blur of white fur like an ancient Shaolin monk on the attack. Yipping and pawing, she ambushes Christopher's leg with a flurry of pats and scratches. He crouches down to pet her and tolerates her licking around his nose and ears while he unties his shoes. 'A habit I picked up in Canada,' he told me once, 'wonderful place.'

While he's busy with that I set a few things on the little round table by the window. It came with the room, made with the same ageless look of wood as everything else. A snap to clean, matches everything, small enough to fit in the closet when you don't need it. I've got some cheese and triscuits cut up as a snack and a bottle of orange juice in the fridge, as good a breakfast as anyone can give you.

We pull up our chairs with Peluche sniffing excitedly at our feet. Mr Walken keeps his socks on. He always has a story to start a conversation. "Getting an early start today," he observes, looking around the room. It's filled with toasty light. "That's good. I knew a guy once, second unit director of one of my films, had a hell of a time getting himself up in the morning. He had his bed pushed up against a wall, and he would just lie there half rolled-over staring at the edge the wall made with his cieling," he indicates the walls of my own room with a triscuit in hand as he talks. "Problem was, he'd lie there staring, and he felt like all his best ideas, anything that was really, you know, good and worth repeating, would come to him in bed and fall apart as soon as he got up to do anything about it."

I nod and go to get the cream cheese, and he keeps talking, watching me go between the table and the mini-fridge.

"And I went in there a few mornings just to hear him, not to get him out of bed or anything, 'cause you know I'm not the star or the director, just a supporting actor with an established career so I don't feel like I've got anything on the line. And he's got the producer in there who's just sitting on a chair off to one side not talking, just leaning back and having a drink of water out of a plastic cup, with his cellphone on the dresser next to him, waiting for this second unit director to get his shit together and get out of bed. Because that's what this is a question of, it's a case of him needing to get his shit together and why the producer puts up with it I don't know. But there's a few other people in there, a boom operator, one of the girls from lighting I recognize, and a boy who works with the caterers but I'm pretty sure he writes on the side."

I nod and notice that he hasn't poured himself any orange juice and proffer the opened bottle. A quiet sort of grin spreads across his unnaturally flat face, sinking into his eyes as he removes his cup from the plastic wrapper and pushes it towards me. "Yes thank you, here I am wrapped up in my little story and I forgot all about breakfast," he says and puts the triscuit he's been holding into his mouth. He continues after a sip of orange juice and a grateful smile.

"So I walk into this director's hotel room and here he is, this guy who isn't that high on the food chain of this picture but still he's lying in bed with the producer waiting for him with his cellphone out so he can tell the crew to get started once the guy's up, but the director's lying there talking with a couple of the crew that're hanging around. And he's telling them these fantastic things, these . . . visions of the hearts of the characters and beautiful, tiny stories that start with the movie we're working on and fly away up to somewhere completely different.

Like he'll tell us 'all Jim wants to do is take a cab home,' and suddenly that's how it seems, never mind Desert Storm. What he needs to be happy is that a human cabbie in an ordinary cab will pull up and take him away from dying and hell and having to call his wife from the desert, and charge him a by-the-block fare, and take him home, maybe talk some bullshit on the way. 'Just the ordinary, nothing magical, and not a metaphor,' he tells everybody, 'just the ordinary from the desert home.' And that's how he tells the story and so it seems true. And since it can't happen it's more of a way of saying the Jim won't be happy."

He puts down his cup of orange juice and teases the curtains a little. The light going through the flimsy little cup casts an orange shadow.

"This guy had a little fish he kept in this tiny aquarium by the windowsill, and I remember this 'cause I would sit next to this fishbowl while he was talking and watch the little guy swim around. The thing was about the size of my thumb, a little rounder, and silver, and it was shedding. I didn't ever know fish could do that, I never saw a goldfish shed its winter coat. But this thing was losing its little silver scales, every time it moved tiny flocks of them drifted off and they filled up the tank with these miniscule specks of floating light. Underneath them it was growing scales of a different color, but I couldn't tell what 'cause it changed depending on the light. I asked him if the fish was healthy and he told me it was okay, that it had done that before and he'd never bothered to look it up.

So after a while of lying down and talking like this, the second unit director would usually make a face and then pull himself out of bed, and then things would get started. A couple days he never got himself together, and just stayed in bed the whole time, talking and watching that seam between his cieling and his wall. And then the producer would get up after a while and talk about firing him and walk away. And the next day this second unit director would haul his ass out on time and shoot three days' worth of movie by lunch. Now normally the business doesn't tolerate eccentricities like that from anyone but a major player, the stars of course, a hot director, someone who's got a kind of magic with the public that offsets these games he plays on the set. And if this guy had just worked two or three times as hard to make up for his jerking around he still would've been cut off at the ass and thrown out of the production, but to get a whole week of the picture shot in nine solid hours of prime filmmaking, that was a kind of genius the production could live with, just barely. The unit wasn't real happy, and this director wasn't gonna get anything more for his talent than the team's tolerance of his bullshit personal habits, but the business end was happy with a guy who'd effectively get things done twice as fast and save them a lot of money."

Peluche was starting to get antsy by now, tugging at the covers that were sloughing off my bed and yapping at Christopher Walken's knee. I threw her a piece of cheese to distract her and she took it to a far corner to eat.

"I guess I should wrap this up fast to suit your star over there," he said, indicating the dog. I usually liked to have a long, rambling talk with him when we sat down, but today he seemed to have the right impression. Peluche was impatient. "It's alright," he said, "there're actors I've worked with who've been more demanding than her." I don't know whether that qualifies Peluche's prissiness as moderate or just means I've-seen-worse, but she's curled up for the moment attempting to chew the block of cheese with her tiny mouth and Christopher Walken leans back in his chair and lets the sunlight play across his face.

"I guess it's not that bad, really. I knew a guy who was the opposite way. He only had any ideas when he was alone, late at night. And he would wander the streets from dusk 'till it was almost dawn, without a clear thought in his head about where he was going until he got so tired he had to go home and sleep through the day. But he would think up these things in his mind that were sort of like being alive for weeks at a time, and it kept him going when he should've crashed. So he wandered out more and more and hardly ever saw the light of day, and one morning he just wasn't there. I don't know what he did or what happened to him. They sold his house and everything in it after a while, and put the money in escrow in case he came back.

This second unit director, he had his ideas in bed when he laid there waiting out bad days, and after he got up and they came undone for him and everyone who'd been listening, he spent the rest of his waking time trying to put them back together. That's what all his great work came from, even though it was subordinate to the head director's bigger picture. I don't know where the important difference between him and the other guy is, exactly, but it's in there somewhere and it's real as hell, 'cause here we are, both with our lives, careers and property intact. So, Peluche ready to go out?"

She heard her name and perked up, abandoning her corner to come bark at the door with her tail fidgeting. I finished off my orange juice and rose reluctantly and Christopher did likewise, brushing a few crumbs from his suit.

"Right," I said, picking up the plate of tricuits and cheese and taking it to the cabinet I use as a pantry. "You know I get room service here, the kid brings me food from the truck and I talk to him about his scripts," I tell Christopher, "I'm never short of those little sandwich triangles."

"That's when you know you've made it," he says back, and gathers Peluche, shaking with canid anticipation, up into his arms. Before he's one step out the door he leans back in and says "you've got company coming."

"Tell them I'll be out in a second."

As soon as he steps out I can hear Ralph braying. "Is he up? Already? My god, what a privilege! Okay, get that dog and yourself down to makeup, I'll warm everybody up."

He knocks on the door, speaks in a normal voice that sounds like a yell.

"You coming?"

"Yep."

"I'll see you on-set then," and with a scrape he pivots and is gone.

I fold the bathrobe over my bed and throw on a shirt and jeans, stop to feed the fish, and then I'm out.


-


A story I wrote today.

Now I know some people out there, people whose blogs don't have permalinks rather like to bandy about talk of lesbian filmography and pornographic fixations these days, and the List of 100 Movies that Deserve More Love brought this topic to my mind with the following capsule review of Kissing Jessica Stein:
What’s better than a sexy lesbian tinged comedy written and starring two hot heterosexual ladies? World peace. MAYBE.

So you can chew on that, if you like. I don't know what writing about this will do to the content-sensitive ad banner, I guess it can chew on that, too.

The list also had some stuff about other fantastic-sounding movies, but I've forgotten all about them after hours of story-writing. Tell me what you think of this one, if you like. That Christopher Walken's the man sometimes. I never got the chance to tell him how great it was to see him cut loose in the Weapon of Choice video. 'Cause that video was mighty fine watchin'.

Oh, and everybody go to www.style.org. Like right now.



original site + text contents ©2004 twenty oh four by me called it

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