An Actor’s Friends

Mark Mushakian, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Anniston, Lisa Kudrow Friends

Over the years, you’ve heard me mention various friends of mine on here: Nick, Danny, Scott, Joe, Korkie… among various others.  I have another list of friends, though, that you may or may not be familiar with.  I rarely talk about them, and that’s quite ironic, because I’m closer with these guys than anyone else in the world:

Max,
Paul,
Ares,
Mr. Willisbury,
Mike,
Brahms,
Barry,
Pesky von Bloch,
and even this one fella who I only know, mysteriously, as "The Guy".

Now, just who are these blokes, and why are we so gosh darned close?  Well… they’re me.  At least, they’re a PART of me.  You see, each of those guys above are movie roles that I have played, in varying degrees of completion (some just in concept, others in more than one movie), and that formed relationship is a very close one – and very odd.

Most of these characters are ones that will stay with me my entire life, in one way or another.  They’re inside me.. a part of my life, as a friend.  Just like any relationship, once it reaches a certain depth, the two parties involved are forever linked with each other.  Even if very close friends are split by thousands of miles in distance or by a bitter feud, they will always have that past and connection with one another.  It’s the same for me and these guys.  Some of those characters have been with me for almost ten years, and yet the bond never waters down, because once they’re in your life – they stay.  Of course, not every character has this type of lasting effect.

In general, this acting profession is a very strange thing, but once you start talking about "living with characters" it begins to sound downright schizophrenic.  Nick and I were just talking about Writer’s Block last night, a short movie we did a number of months ago, so I’ll use that as an example.  It was a quickly put together movie, and it was a comedy.  I didn’t prepare my character for months, and the role never required any serious level of acting.  As Nick said, I was just "phoning it in" – I knew what Nick wanted from the character, it was tailored specifically to my wackier strengths, so it was just a drop-in-the-pan performance.  I didn’t wear any particular costume, I didn’t change my appearance in any way… I just showed up, shot my parts, and called it a day.  That character is of a variety that just fades away after the movie is done.  He has no long-lasting place in my life, we didn’t form any kind of bond.  He’s forgettable.  While I did what I needed to do for it, and while the movie is entertaining, as far as acting goes – I didn’t really do any.  Let me counter that with another example, a character who is also from a comedy – Max.

Haha, oh Max.  If you’ve ever seen Nick’s movies Speak of the Devil or Once Upon a Time in Suburbia, you’ll know that Max is not exactly a dramatic role in what is not exactly a dramatic series.  regardless, I love him to pieces.  His fits of frustrated rage, his love of women (and himself), he’s just a hilarious and endearing character.  I sit back now and just enjoy watching my performance, because when I’m actually in it, acting, I’m not paying attention.  It’s very strange, but when I have enough of a connection with a character, no matter what the genre, that bond gives them the strength they need to be alive in their own way without me being completely aware of it.  Haha, I’m not trying to get all meta-physical, here, but in a very peculiar way, these characters really do take on a life of their own – and so I am able to later watch my own performances almost as if they were done by another person.  The difference between Max and my character in Writer’s Block is exactly this; in one I simply see myself entertaining friends, in another I see acting.

Why am I acting in one and not the other, though?  They’re both comedies, aren’t they?  Well, I’m obviously acting in both, but I put much more into Max than the other.  Beyond what’s on the page, a big part of that is the fact that Max is so far from myself.  We share similarities, but he does not dress like I do, he has a mustache (at a time when I had none)… he allowed me to escape for a little while, and while the Mark that you know disappeared, Max was able to come in and fill my shoes for a spell.  That’s how the bond is formed.  I find a character that I am willing and interested in letting "inhabit" me for a time, and once they have.. they leave a little bit of themselves with me.  Certainly, I inject a large part of myself into them (or subtract a large part, depending on the character), but this is why they stay with me… because we’ve shared something together that just isn’t physically possible in any other relationship – we’ve shared the same body.

What do I mean, exactly, by saying that these characters stay with me, though?  As I’ve mentioned, with the friendship comparison, it’s very simply that they have a place in my heart.  It’s a connection that I am fairly certain I can never match with any other person, even if/when I have kids someday.  When your best friend is hurting, does that not also hurt you?  It’s the same for performing as another character, and having them fill your life for a certain chunk of time.  One of my absolute favorite episodes of one of my absolute favorite shows, Inside the Actor’s Studio, is with Dustin Hoffman.  He briefly talks about the bond that I’m talking about in the first few minutes of this clip:

Even after all of these years away from that character he played, it’s still with him – even to such an emotional point as to bring about tears.  Whether or not the movie is finished (or even started), it doesn’t matter – that character is inside of me, bouncing around for the rest of my life.  Of course, if the character isn’t allowed the satisfaction of completing their story (by way of an incomplete movie), they bounce a little differently.

Get Back was one of the greatest and most invaluable creative experiences I’ve yet had.  As a writer, producer, friend, collaborator, and actor… I learned a mountain of things from that unfinished movie’s production.  My character, Paul, however, never had his day.  Obviously, for both Nick and I, there were personal disappointments in not being able finish that movie, but we met great people and had a good learning experience.  For the character that I had created inside of me, though, he never had his chance to really come out.  Paul’s situation is compounded by the fact that his story was one of redemption – so he’s stuck in a limbo of knowing what his conclusion was without having ever reached it.  I’d never prepared with a character as long as I did with Paul, nor ever for a character quite like him, either, so that guy is ingrained on my freaking bones, I know him so well.  I can’t hear select Beatles’ songs, without feeling him rustle around inside of me.  It’s a very strange feeling to have an incomplete person banging around inside of you… especially when that person knows that they’ll never see the light of day.

Acting is a very interesting beast.  As I finally begin this journey down the professional road, I just wanted to write a bit about what it’s like to ingest and live with these characters as I have, and will continue to, for years.  They are, after all, my closest friends :).

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About Mark Mushakian

Just a man who loves God, women, kids, dogs, movies, and every other lovely thing in life :)
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