I’m not a hunter, so it was probably morbid curiosity rather than legitimate research that lead me to a YouTube video of a man shooting a wild boar (Is “wild” redundant? Are there domesticated boars?)
The boar was picked off from pretty far away, making the video pretty uninteresting. But it continued, to the hunter closing the distance to his porcine prey, through a very muddy patch of wilderness somewhere in, I wanna say, Kentucky.
It was a long and difficult hike, but finally, the unfortunate boar was reached, and the subject of the video shifted from how exhilarating it is to hunt a boar to how exhaustingly wretched it is to drag a 120 pound dead boar back to your truck.
If there had been any spark of interest in the sport of hunting created by the display of marksmanship, it was totally extinguished by its aftermath.
I haven’t gone on to become a hunter of wild animals, but I have continued to work as an actor, and after this week I recognize some similarities.
Let me explain.
I noticed long ago that the most exciting and rewarding times in my acting career have been at that precise moment when my agent called to say, “You booked it!”
It’s a high point. It’s like that moment of the boar hunt when one’s aim, persistence and perceptions are rewarded by a shrill squeal of success.
From that moment, in acting or in hunting, the emotional high begins to dwindle; to contradict Sinatra, the best is not yet to come.
This is all fresh in my mind today after a particular incident that had me evaluating my whole career.
Come with me on my latest boar hunt…
I auditioned for a TV series that I really wanted to work on. The casting people told my agent that they were only accepting “local hires” for the role, which essentially meant that if I booked it, I would have to pay for my own airfare and lodging in New York City.
Since it is a great show with people I admire, I felt no qualms about biting the bullet and merely “breaking even” on the job.
These days it is very common to be asked to do a “self-tape”, an audition one shoots on their iPhone. So I dove into doing a really great audition, which, since there was no script provided, I wrote myself, based on the character description.
This was the start of the hunt.
I had to rehearse, light and shoot my audition and I even put some attention on making sure the sound was something special. This took me a couple of hours to do.
The stalking continued.
Finally, I fired the audition video off, a slow-moving bullet, bearing a load of what I hoped would be lethal quantities of talent.
Days later, the good news- I had struck the target! The beast had fallen, and I would be going to New York to collect the carcass!
From that moment, complexity ensued: I had a minor disaster getting my hotel and plane reservations, because the great “bundled” hotel and airfare deal suddenly became hopelessly lost after I had shelled out for the room, costing me a few hundred dollars. Ouch.
But the real hard slogging through the mud towards my prey happened unexpectedly, as I’m sure it does often in actual boar hunts, when the beast is discovered not to be dead, but merely wounded and very pissed off.
By the night before the shoot, although I had arrived two days early for wardrobe fittings, I still had not received my actual lines.
You can audition without lines, but you cannot rehearse a monologue you don’t have.
Finally, after dinner, I received my lines, plus the news that my call time would be the next day at 6:30 am.
I had a little less than 12 hours to prepare, most of which time should optimally be spent sleeping.
Since it was a monologue, I wouldn’t be able to lean on another actor in the scene, in other words. I’d be carrying the boar back to camp all by my lonesome.
I rehearsed as much as I could, satisfied that I understood the broad strokes, and and went to bed, rehearsing the lines in my sleep, and at various times in the night, on my way to the bathroom in the dark.
When I got to the set, I discovered more debris thrown on the path: This particular production wants the script done as written.
A word perfect rendition. Yikes.
Luckily, my monologue was off camera most of that first day, and when my lines were needed, the leading actors were on camera, and I could simply read my part from a script.
That evening, I resolved to memorize the entire speech to flawlessness.
In hunting, if the boar you are tracking has dragged his wounded body into a cave, you need to follow the blood smeared spoor wherever it leads, if you want to eventually claim your boar burger.
If you are an actor given a challenging part to perform with little time to prepare, you have to resort to any and all means.
So, I did all the drills that I’ve learned at The Acting Center. I looked up words I wasn’t sure of the precise meaning of. I wrote the speech down over and over again, like a rebellious grade school student writing “I will not call Miss Carlisle a whore” 100 times on the chalkboard.
In my sleep, I ran the lines.
When I awoke, I still wasn’t 100%. I was maybe 80%.
I’m sure you can imagine the frustration of not quite being able to recall every single word in a part, particularly when you know that your failure to do so will result in a room full of very nice people becoming very irritated by your incompetence.
The worst part? The lines themselves weren’t difficult. It wasn’t a speech from The Social Media, or one of Denzel’s speeches from Roman J. Israel, Esq.
I was just having trouble learning the monologue word for word, because the language was different from how I myself would express those concepts.
Complicating things further were the usual culprits in any shoot; a very warm set growing warmer as the day went on, too many people jammed into a tiny space, smoke being pumped in to create atmosphere, smoke from fake cigarettes, period costumes made of thick wool, and the hands of costumers, sound techs and makeup people continually grabbing, dabbing and tugging.
Not an easy space to try and drill lines in.
Finally, the moment of truth. The command, “Aaaand… ACTION!”
I would like to report to you that I dragged the boar comfortably back to base camp with grace and aplomb, with no mistakes or flubs. The fact is, although I did manage to get through the speech without totally crashing and burning, I can tell you, it took everything I had to not give in to blind panic.
This has happened to me several times before in my life, and I knew from experience that giving in to terror wasn’t going to help. What was needed was to ADMIRE the problem, and BE the character.
Those were the hind legs of the carcass I clung to. And I did it with the kind of grip Charleton Heston used to say his cold, dead hands would have on his rifle, in case anyone wanted to take it.
On “Action” I did the speech as if I was the character and was totally confident in my abilities. I did it in the wide shot, and then, a couple of hours later, did it again in the close up.
I don’t think I ever achieved a take that was letter perfect, but apparently the people in charge weren’t quite as ruthless about the words as the script supervisor was, otherwise they certainly would have driven me on to incontestable perfection, and I might be there to this day.
But instead I heard the welcome “moving on”, and only then could I relax and smile again at my fellow actors.
Good takes were “in the can”, the boar was now secure in the bed of the pickup, and flies were buzzing contentedly overhead.
So. Here’s what I learned from this particular “hunt”:
Obviously, always get the lines as soon as humanly possible.
When on location, or anytime a role is coming up, prepare to deliver by getting yourself well-rested and fed. Don’t assume anything; the conditions may be more challenging than you can imagine.
If you are having trouble with learning the lines, make sure you fully understand the words, as well as the flow of ideas and why they proceed the way they do.
Above all, STAY CALM.
I recognized too, that part of my problem was that I have rarely worked on such a well-written show before!
In a well-written show, each word is carefully chosen to express something specific to the character, the time period, the style or pace of the series… lines are carefully adjusted to bring off a particular effect; if you don’t honor that, you become a discordant note in the presentation.
I’ve gotten so used to working with poor-to-average dialogue that, rightly or wrongly, I’ve done my best to “finesse” and, hopefully improve on by altering it. I’ve gotten away with it so much that it became a habit, a habit I collided with very solidly and uncomfortably here.
But in the end, it is a boar hunt. The boar will do what it will.
My job, as “hunter”, is to drag the dead boar home over whatever impassable terrain as professionally as possible, in case anyone happens to be recording me on their iPhone hoping to post it on YouTube as “BOAR HUNT FAIL! Hunter Loses It & Cries Like a Little Girl.”
I have to spot it, shoot it, claim it, bring it to completion, and mount it’s grinning head on my wall, so that years from now I can point to it and say, “Oh, that one? Well, that one put up a devil of a fight, I can tell you…”
Not all beasts are worth the trouble. This one was.
So, what is the wild boar in your life and work? Are you willing to do the messy business of bringing it back to camp? Or do you sometimes abandon the carrion in the wilderness for the magpies to pick over?
Or have you perhaps given up entirely on big game and are content with bringing down sparrows with a BB gun?
Have I spoiled your breakfast? I’m sorry. .
Thanks for reading this.