A Bad Day on Set

Andrew McCarthy and Lindsay Price in Lipstick Jungle

Dec. 10, 2007—I find that in acting, one out of every 10 days is a breeze, a joy. Everything feels easy, carefree. I am in a zone where I don’t really have to do too much, I’m relaxed and aware, and every choice seems inspired, and everything falls into place, and happy accidents occur left and right.

The next eight days are simply work: I have a trade, I was trained in it, I have experience to draw upon, and I know, more or less, what to do. I have the wherewithal to accomplish my tasks with a reasonable degree of proficiency. It’s my job, and I like it.

And then there is the one day in 10 when nothing feels right. It’s all a struggle, I have no rhythm, I strain to remember lines I know, and everything seems to be working against me. My body mic keeps cutting out, and the sound man has to keep shoving his clammy hand up my shirt to adjust the wire. I’m too pale under the lights, so the makeup lady must relentlessly bounce a puff at my nose, and the wardrobe man keeps plucking invisible lint off my shoulders (“It’s very dusty in here”). It is on days like this that I tell myself it’s high time I did something else for a living.

It’s important at such moments not to point anxiety where it doesn’t belong. When I am suddenly annoyed by the way my hair is falling, or in desperate need of insoles in shoes I have worn happily for weeks, or constantly complaining of noise after a botched take (“Are we directly under the LaGuardia flight path or what!”), I know, on some level, that it’s really all about the amount of difficulty I am having with a particular scene. I can remember yesterday’s ease and playful camaraderie, when I joked with the soundman about his cold hands, and I gladly thrust my chin out to be dusted and laughed about flying dust motes. But it seems like long ago. On days like this, it’s all a grind. And today is such a day.

Someone has foolishly allowed the film company into their home to shoot, and so 60 crew members, plus seven or eight of us actors, are all cramped together in what would under other circumstances be a lovely Upper East Side apartment. We’re here to shoot a dinner party in which Victory (Lindsay) introduces Joe (me) to her friends Wendy (Brooke) and Nico (Kim). It’s a scene in which I am strongly featured, so I have chosen a bad day to be off form.

But one of the things you try to learn along the way is to operate on top of the discomfort and not let it influence the work too much, even though the little voice inside the head is shouting all those negative things you usually keep at bay.

And so today, I just settle for intermittent moments of authenticity scattered over several takes and hope the editor can see the difference. Some days it’s just brick laying, I tell myself. And it is important to realize that’s often just as effective—but let’s face it, when there’s a spark, it makes all the difference.

At one point in the scene, I am walking across the room talking with Brooke, and I jokingly ask one of the grips for an apple box to stand on (Brooke is 6 feet tall, plus she’s in heels, and I top out at 5-feet-9) and then I add, “or if we could dig Brooke a trench.” She replies, “You have no idea how many movies I have done entirely from a trench.” She smiles wanly, and I can see she is not joking. And it occurs to me—it’s always something.

And then, between clunky takes of what should be a quick, witty exchange of lines with Kim, the wardrobe man slips up: He whispers that I won’t be wearing boxer shorts in the bedroom scene I’m shooting with Lindsay tomorrow.

Let’s hope the rhythm’s back.