Journal No. 25: Too cool for school
Editor's Note -- Paul Shirley is working on a pilot for a TV series based loosely on his life and basketball experiences.
After a week or so of training, Dan Fogelman (original partner in this TV show -- now writer and executive producer) and the other powers-that-be wanted an update of my progress. Dan had very little faith that I would be able to act beyond the level of embarrassing-to-myself-and-everyone-in-the-room and, thankfully, wanted to protect me from any potential humiliation.
To this end, Eva (my acting coach) and I readied a few scenes; they're called "sides" -- actors are given these fragments of scripts for auditions. I learned how to better memorize and got to the point that I knew the lines so well that I had forgotten them. They were somewhere in my brain but were more of a guide than a script to be followed by rote. It was a strange feeling. The lines were up there, but I didn't really think about them until I needed them. That Eva Charney is one hell of a teacher, huh?
My first real audition would be held in front of Dan and two of the people in charge of casting for the studio. I reported to the office of one of these women and sat down opposite Eva, who would read with me ("read with" means she would quasi-act out the part of whomever appeared in the scene with my character.)
Even though I had an audience of only three, I would admit to being a little frightened if ever called to testify on the matter. When it was over, I had no idea what had happened. I felt like I do after some basketball games -- I vaguely recalled moments along the way but the scope of the thing was lost on me. Eva told me that an actor (name escapes me, I'm never good at remembering these things) once compared the process to sex: We remember something about it but would be hard-pressed to write a narrative of it.
After my "performance," I waited in the hall for an analysis. I re-entered the office, sat down and got to hear about everything I had done wrong. As I listened to my many faults, it became apparent that I was not a very good actor.
I was told that I had not shown enough emotional range, reaction or expression in general. I had been too "cool" -- that is, too much like a basketball player and not enough like a human. (Yikes.) I had not looked like I was actually listening and had anticipated what Eva was going to say. Other than that, I had been great. (Anyway, this was how I processed what they told me. Let's be honest, there's no telling what they actually said.)
As I listened, they pointed out how I was listening and said, "See? Like that. See how you are all laid-back as you listen to what we say? It's too much like a basketball player."
I think it is time for a discussion of just how bizarre this situation -- the entire acting thing -- is. The player in our show is based almost completely on me, so anything I do is basically what the character would do. Since I helped create this character based on me, I had a vision from the outset of how he would react to any possible situation. That vision was basically how I would react to any possible situation.
So, it is difficult to absorb criticism of the way I play a character that is, in essence, myself because that criticism is easily construed by the nonactor mind (like mine) as criticism of the actual "me," since I am the character. It is all very existential and confusing.
Of course, that being said, "acting" as a character based on myself is different from being myself. In life, I never know what is coming next in a day, so I rarely rehearse lines. (This does bring to mind a time when I was about 16. I had to call a girl and was deathly nervous, so I jotted down something resembling a script for myself. Oddly, it didn't work very well. I promptly scrapped that plan just as the girl was scrapping any remaining hope that I was date-worthy.) It is much easier to react naturally when one is actually doing that than when one is acting like he is.
I think I may have written myself into a never-ending loop here.
Now, remember that this was my first audition ever. I was hardly equipped to hear so much of what I perceived to be criticism at such a rapid clip. I was a little shell-shocked when I left the room. Dan noticed immediately. He asked me if I was sure I wanted to continue; he had actually thought I had done pretty well and was surprised at the barrage of criticism I had absorbed. (This was actually pretty encouraging. Dan would have been the first to tell me if it had been an absolute bomb. It would only make his life more difficult to have an inexperienced actor playing the lead.)
As the sentence before that interruption implied, I had been told to keep working. The casting types had seen something encouraging, it seemed.
I was reminded of something my high school baseball coach once said. He noted that we should all be much less worried about the times when someone was yelling at us because that showed that at least one person cared about our baseball progress. We should worry, he said, when no one was yelling. So, even though I was poorly equipped to understand what my audience was telling me, I later realized that if I had been truly dreadful, they would have said, "Nice try," and moved on.
First test passed. I guess.Paul Shirley has played for 12 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. His journal appears regularly at ESPN.com. To e-mail Paul, click here.
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PAUL SHIRLEY: MY SO-CALLED CAREER
When not writing this journal, searching for original music, being mistaken for a Heisman winner, playing hoops in the U.S. and Europe, working on his sitcom, finishing his book, getting to know the women of the world, or just pondering his fate, Paul Shirley has been trying to get back into the NBA.
Here's his journey:
56. Taking that shot
55. Do I still want to keep my jersey?
54. Mustache men and buzzer beaters
53. Pain with no gain
52. I'm so happy when team wins without me
51. What bugs me when I'm trying to sleep
50. How I spent summer camp
49. Surprise surgery in Spain
48. Hello, Spanish beauties
47. Game of pain in Spain
46. The dirtiest player ever
45. The thrill of victory
44. Back in the game in Spain
43. I had a bawl
42. My agent's new book
41. My Spanish misadventure
40. "My So-Called Career" on hold
SUMMER LEAGUE 2006
39. Time of the sign
38. Vegas soul searching
37. Injury risk, reward
36. My four-point stance
35. I'm the least-cool camper
34. Summer ball in Vegas
33. Show got the business
32. My show gets rejected
31. Hoops humor
30. TV and life are funny
29. My show's not "Alf"
28. I'm not Matt Leinart
27. The new Paul Shirley is ...
26. Who's trying to play me?
25. I'm too cool to act
24. Acting like an 8-year-old
23. Taking acting lessons
22. Step into my office
21. Our show's a go
20. Hatching a TV show idea
19. I'm not easy to love
18. My shot of "Glory"
MY DAYS IN THE ABA
17. Take this job and...
16. Playing Master P
15. Tacoma aroma
14. Bounced by 8th graders
13. Getting in the game
12. I'm going coastal
GETTING READY FOR ACTION
11. Tim Floyd, my old coach
10. Working out hard
9. Vladivostok? Why not?
8. Freedom of expression
7. Holiday hoops stink
6. Ode to Mark Pope
5. As the Bird soars
4. Height of absurdity
3. A higher hand-check
2. Half a mil? Sign me!
1. A diarist is born
Answering the mail
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