Monday, May 12, 2014

Playing dead

My cousin Matt went to a local casting call on a random lark and got chosen to play an extra in that Civil War movie Steven Spielberg made. For several hot months Matt drove to the set and put on bloody period garb and played dead on a battlefield. One time Spielberg himself walked through the scene, correcting the placement of the extras’ limbs and fallen rifles, rearranging their bodies, and he moved Matt’s arm into a different position. Matt told this story to everyone he knew.

We started calling him “Mr. Hollywood.” His once-estranged brothers came around to joke about how they wanted to be part of his entourage. Matt was a bad seed who beat up his younger brothers, told lies, drunk-drove cars into fences, dropped out of school, got high, always seemed to end up back home with his long-suffering parents. We were all relieved he’d found something to do with his life, something to be proud of. He talked about other casting calls, other movies. Maybe his buddy Spielberg would hook him up.

When filming was over there was a special local premiere for the cast and crew, plus the extras and their guests. Matt went to the premiere with some friends. He sat in the theater and got ready to see himself up on the big screen. His friends would laugh and give him high-fives. They would celebrate with booze afterward. This was his night.

He never saw himself up there. His scene got cut. No one had told him this would happen – he simply didn’t appear once throughout the entire movie.

Why was he surprised by this? Hadn’t the rest of his sorry life prepared him for it? Or had it set him up instead – had the delinquent trajectory of all he had done wrong or failed to do led him to believe, Hollywood-style, that he would have his triumph, the rowdy underdog, that he would one day make his debut in a world that was better than he was? 

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