Saturday, October 23, 2010

You Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee

Once when I was a young actor in New York, a casting director recommended me to an agent. I was very excited. The agent was well established and had a nice office. I felt sure that if I could convince her to represent me, I’d be well on my way to stardom. I was maybe 22 years old at the time and had very little experience with the “business” side of show business. At that tender age, I didn’t know how to recognize the first signs of trouble. Like for instance when I was kept waiting for 40 minutes in a waiting area directly across from the agent’s office. Her door was open and I could clearly see she was cleaning out her purse and occasionally staring out the window for a few minutes at a time. Every time her assistant alerted her that she had an incoming call, the agent would simply say “Take a message.” A couple of times the assistant glanced at me with a look that, in hindsight, was probably her way of trying to warn me that if I valued my dignity, I should leave now. Finally, I was summoned in.

The agent glanced over my resume. “You were in ‘The Rimers of Eldritch?’” she asked. “Yes!” I replied enthusiastically. She frowned. “I don’t remember you.” “Oh,” I said, a little hurt. “Actually, I was one of the leads.” “Uh huh,” she replied sullenly. Her eyes returned to my resume where she could find nothing that interested her. Finally, she looked up at me with a resentful glare. “Look, “she said bitterly, “I go to the theatre six nights a week and I only represent people that I have a very special feeling about. And frankly, I don’t have that feeling about you.” I was stunned by her frankness. “Oh, okay,” I said awkwardly and started to stand. “Well, thanks for seeing me…” “Wait!” she bellowed, clearly irritated by my thoughtless interruption. “Have you got a monologue? Close the door and do it for me.”

Being young and desperate for an agent, I closed the door and performed my monologue for her. When I finished, she stared silently at me with glassy eyes. Thirty seconds passed. Finally, I cleared my throat. “I’m done,” I said cautiously. “So, you’re good,” she said in a voice as flat as paper. “Does that mean I should represent you?” Slowly, I began backing toward the door. “It’s okay. Really! You don’t have to represent me.” “Sit down!” she commanded. I sat down. “I could if I wanted to…” she said. “You could what?” I asked. “I could represent you, without having that ‘special feeling’…” This time, my innate human instinct for survival kicked in and I managed to escape, all the while thanking her repeatedly for her time and swearing on my grandmother’s grave that I would “be in touch.”

The following week, an ambulance was called by her coworkers and the agent was removed from her office and taken to the local psyche ward where she spent the next few weeks. This was my first experience with "show business crazy."

Nobody truly knows whether show business attracts crazy people or simply takes fairly normal people and makes them crazy. I know that crazy happens in every profession, but the difference is that in my business it often goes unaddressed for years at a time. If the crazy person is a star who is making heaps of money, you can bet that there will be at least one person (if not many) whose job it is to clean up the messes and spin the nutty behavior as boring run-of-the-mill eccentricity. But once your client is found hiding in the bushes without their teeth or hurling racial slurs on YouTube, crazy gets a little hard to sell. Sadly, there are sometimes drug or alcohol problems involved. If not addressed, truly nutty behavior eventually overwhelms any and all goodwill the celebrity may have amassed over their careers. Just this week, MegaMess Mel Gibson (who never met a minority group he didn’t loathe) was yanked from a tiny cameo role in “Hangover 3” because cast and crew members refused to work with him.

But Hollywood Crazy reared its head in an even more spectacular way on Friday when it was announced that veteran character actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi are now seeking refugee status in Canada. The Quaids were arrested Thursday in Vancouver after police responded to an "incident" on a street corner. Given the couple's long and loony history, one can only guess what went down. Mr. Quaid, brother of the wonderfully-sane Dennis Quaid and a once-terrific actor in his own right, has a resume that includes many notable films like “The Last Picture Show,” “Paper Moon,” “The Last Detail,” “Midnight Express,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Brokeback Mountain” and the cult favorite “Kingpin.” He also holds the almost-unheard-of distinction of being one of the few actors ever thrown out of the stage actors union, Actors Equity for disruptive and violent behavior toward his fellow cast members in 2007.

And what were the Quaids doing in Canada? It might have something to do with the fact that they are currently wanted on $500,000 bench warrants for allegedly squatting in their former home in California back in September (and doing $5,000 worth of damage to the property). This follows walking out on a $10,000 bill at a luxury hotel in Santa Barbara, resisting arrest and ducking their subsequent court dates. When they finally did appear before the judge, Randy, for reasons no one could quite explain, brought the Golden Globe Award he won for playing former President Lyndon Johnson with him.

When asked by Canadian authorities why they were seeking asylum, the Quaids replied that they feared that a group of “Star Whackers,” (a shadowy group of assassins the Quaids claim are responsible for the “murders” of Heath Ledger and David Carradine), were now after them. Evi Quaid told the CBC that "Randy has known eight close friends murdered in odd, strange manners ... We feel that we're next.”

I suspect that what’s next for the Quaids is a very, very long stretch of unemployment. This recent string on insanity is nothing new for Mr. and Mrs. Quaid. 15 years ago, I knew a couple of people involved in a film project the Quaids managed to sell to a major Hollywood producer. The pitch (called “The Debtors”) was about a group of people who checked into luxury hotels and used credit cards to purchase shit they couldn’t pay for. Sound familiar? Gradually, Evi took over the writing of the script and eventually assumed the duties of the director as well; occasionally directing in the nude. When a group of extras filled a suit, claiming that their personal clothing was ruined in a scene where fake semen was sprayed on the crowd, the film’s investors removed the Quaids from the project. This, however, didn’t stop the couple from stealing the original prints and taking them to Canada where they re-edited the film, ignored the American “cease and desist” orders and managed to show the film in the Toronto Film Festival under a different name. God bless them. The Quaids have enjoyed a long run as one of Hollywood’s scarier running jokes, but I think that ride is over now. Never fear. This is show business. Someone will soon arrive to take their place.

Several years after the incident with the agent that I referred to earlier, I saw her at a party. I valiantly tried to avoid her, but she eventually cornered me at the bar. “I know you from somewhere,” she said. I had no ax to grind with this woman so I chose my words carefully, saying we had “met once” when she was at her former agency. I saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes, but she didn’t flinch. She apologized. She looked great, having lost easily 20 pounds and she no longer had the look of a haggard slaughterhouse employee. She was again working in the industry, but not as an agent. “It wasn’t for me,” she said. I congratulated her. It was (is) nice to be reminded that show business is filled with human beings; all of us a little nuts; but most of us capable of bouncing back with a little care and reevaluation. Good luck, Randy and Evi. And goodluck, Canada.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at

1 comment:

Helene Taylor said...

David! I was so entertained by this entry. I have always followed the Quaids and was surprised when they landed in my hometown of Vancouver (I have since moved to New York).

I thought you'd be amused by my own experience with a crazy manager....couldn't fit it all here but if you are interested you can link to an old blog of mine! I look forward to reading more of your insights. Helene.