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Mark Twain once said that house guests are like fish - they start to smell after three days.
Given that I've appeared as a guest star on two series in the last month, I thought I'd muse on being a guest on TV...and hopefully not stinking.
Other than showering and leaving my old runners at home, what are the implications?
I had spent five years on Chuck before doing these gigs and, though I was not one of the lead characters, the set was my home, and when new actors/athletes/circus animals came to make an appearance, they were visiting a place that had become native to me. In a way, this meant that I never had to think twice about obsessing in my trailer, instead of chatting over lunch. It meant that my character was baked into the fabric of the show, so I had a kind of "authority" on how he would behave. I could make a mistake without freaking out about it; there was some distance between me and the moment of being hired. So, relaxation won by time-spent.
As 2012 wound down and 2013 fired up, I decided to open my options up to guest-starring, and the shoe was on the other foot. I was the new kid on the block. Auditioning and then starting to shoot within the same week. It was a bit like the first day of school. Which has a special kind of nerves. Will I make friends? Is my book bag cool enough? Does curry lunch...smell?
Add to that, guest roles often carry a hefty chunk of the narrative/conflict for the episode. So not only are you in foreign territory, but you've got to hit the ground running. The pressure is on right away. Generally when I work, I stay very concentrated and solo for the duration. If heavy emotion is required, I try to keep it pretty close to the surface and avoid small talk, anything that might dissipate my preparation.
But when you are visiting other actors' sets, you can't really disappear that way. There is a social element. To connect with your fellow actors, there's some investment required. All of this to say, I was somewhat out of my comfort zone. And here's what I have to say about being out of your comfort zone.
First up was Bones: I played an eco funeral director whose business partner and former lover turns up dead. Classic whodunnit. And Akshay, my character, is one of the suspects. 'Bones' strikes an interesting kind of gallows humor that I'm sure people in this grisly business actually do develop. Buried body parts, murder, death? Meet it all with wit, a one liner, a quip. So there is a sprightly, lightheartedness on the set that was very welcoming. BUT! I had to maintain my focus while partaking, without shutting myself away. I had to have my heart open to receive the news of the death of someone I loved and fall into the required emotional depth. I was worried, to be honest. But I think I found an intersection where I managed to carry my burden and belong, for the moment.
NCIS was next, where my character, a hacker working for a terrorist, is taken into custody. Isolated and barraged with manipulative, aggressive interrogation tactics. This show, now in its tenth year, is a FAMILY. You get that right away. I could use the feelings of being an outsider at the beginning of the shoot, but as time went on, these folks were SO supportive, so kind, that my job got harder! I had to fight the cozy. Because, honestly, I could have hung out with them for days NOT working. The ironic part of this job was that, though I was locked in a cell, strapped into a plane, grilled...by the end of it I actually did feel like part of the family. So I really had to dig to find the emotional terror that prompted my character’s confession. Again, my typical approach of immersion had to be blended with the energy of the company, of the ensemble. It was refreshing. I learned something about flexibility.
The bending was energizing, and a new kind of test. We are gypsies in this acting game. In the world of the guest star more than any other. And now I'm back on the road, my thumb out, my bags packed, bound for...God knows where.
But grateful for the ride(s) as they come.
Vik can be seen in the comedy An Awkward Sexual Adventure in select theatres and VOD in April in the US and in movie theatres all across Canada by April 19. His horror flick WER is awaiting a theatrical release date this spring. Visit Vik Sahay’s Facebook fanpage at facebook.com/viksahay to stay up to date on news.