When should I join the union (SAG-AFTRA, Actor’s Equity, AGVA). These are questions I get all the time and in my case, they all happened to me.
Many years ago a tennis patron, Ron Gorton Jr., at the club in Connecticut where I worked as a tennis professional, asked me to be in his movie. I was not an actor. I had never trained as an actor, nor did I know anything about the theatre, let alone plays. We had a long chat one night after the last of the tennis players left and he told me about his crime drama and that I would be perfect as the right-hand man of this crime boss. He told me that I looked like the character of “Octavio.” I had no idea what to say, except for the fact that I might ruin his movie because, as much as I loved movies, I was not an actor. He asked me about my life. I told him that I studied music in school and that I was a musician in the early 80s playing some of the local clubs in L.A. He listened politely and asked me about my days as a player. I told him I had a very short career, but that I loved giving the audience a show. I would make trick shots at the most improbable times and I would hesitate just enough, running after a ball so I could dive onto the court and make the shot. Once again he listened intently and, around the time dessert came around, he announced to me that I was an actor and the clubs and tennis stadiums were my stages and movie sets. I couldn’t argue with that logic and I agreed to be in his movie.
Three weeks later I arrive at a casting call held at a high-end fitness center and, after meeting Ron and his producers, I was officially offered the role two weeks later.
October 6, 1989 marked the first time I was ever on set. It was a night shoot and the scene was my character and the crime boss, along with two heavies, exiting a large black car and entering a strip club. The words, call time, 2nd AD, makeup, wardrobe, marks, key light, action and cut were part of a magical language that these dream makers would utter welcoming me to my new found bliss, a home away from home, a world where I never knew I belonged. It wouldn’t be until after the holidays in early January 1990 when I would set foot on that set again. This time we would be filming inside the strip club and have a shoot-out in the basement of the club.
This time the call-time was 5:30 am in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I walked in and saw lights, cameras, grips and men with headphones and a long stick with a microphone attached. We were on location in an actual working strip club. For my first job to spend 16 paid hours in a strip club in the company of strippers (exotic dancers), near a craft services table with any food you could think of wearing a shiny suit preparing for my first gun fight with squibs (explosive bullet hits). It was magical and exhausting. By the fourteenth hour, the crew and cast were exhausted and I was warned by the wardrobe mistress that they did not have a spare shirt, so I couldn’t mess up my part in the gunfight. I was squibbed with four packets of blood hooked up to a car battery. The crime boss, along with me and the two other gangsters sat at a table facing our adversaries. There would be a discussion, an argument, and finally, a gunfight fight. The stunt coordinator was very kind and encouraging. He laid a mattress behind my chair, so when I fell, I wouldn't hurt myself on the concrete floor of the basement. On action, I was supposed to listen for my cue, I would say my lines, then an actor sitting across from me pulls put a gun, but I am supposed to draw mine first and only pull the trigger after the initial shot. I get hit with four shots and fall backwards unto the mattress. I had only one take to do it right. We all had one take to do it right. ACTION, is what I heard and in a flash, I listened for my cue, I spoke my lines, I waited for the first shot and then fell backwards. I did all this and lay motionless until I heard the word CUT. I also felt an incredible pain in my chest and the smell of burning flesh. I thought I had actually been shot and I was dying on the set of my first and presumably last movie I would ever be in. After a long silence, I heard the crew roar with excitement and cheers. We had got it in one take. The stunt coordinator came over to me and said that I was great and that I looked like I was really shot. That’s when he saw the smoke emanating from my bloodied shirt. I got second degree burns because someone forgot to place a pad under the squibs. I didn’t care. It was such an amazing experience and now I was part of film history. It was just the beginning. I had to join SAG the next morning and I had an agent a week later. There are no rules in this profession called show business, just work and the absence of work. I’ll always be thank to Ron Gorton Jr. for giving me my first role and for seeing in me the actor that lived inside. The film, “A Walk With Death” was released in 1993.