I am the unintentional method actor. What started as not much more than an egocentric lark – a cameo appearance in the pilot episode of “Bosch,” the hoped for series based on my books about LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, turned into a deeply shaded performance that has me thinking about a second career and realizing just how difficult the thespian’s craft can sometimes be.
To be sure, I am no stranger to the screen. I earned my SAG card with three startlingly nuanced turns as a crime novel writing poker player named Michael Connelly on the hit show Castle. To say I stole every scene I was in would be unfair. But I like to say that I was dealt the winning hands. And put it this way, no one will ever be able to play a crime novel writing poker player named Michael Connelly without comparison to these seminal performances.
But the challenges with a role on Bosch were more substantial. First even getting on the show was difficult and a testament to the undying perseverance of the actor’s heart. Actually, check that, what I really did was write myself in. It always helps if you write the book the show is based on and then have a hand in the screenplay. When I wrote a scene in the script in which Bosch meets his potential love interest Julia Brasher (the couple played wonderfully by Titus Welliver and Annie Wersching) at the bar at Musso and Frank Grill I cleverly dropped in this line of background description: At the end of the bar sits a man who looks just like Michael Connelly.
This move cleverly allowed me to circumvent the casting process. I mean, who else could they get to play a man who looks just like Michael Connelly? The people at Castle knew the answer to that.
And so I was in. But then things started to change. Typical Hollywood for you. Henrik Bastin, the project’s executive producer, had an idea. The script called for a drunk Santa Claus to be handcuffed to a custody bench in the Hollywood police station. Henrik had seen me play poker on Castle. He knew my talent and thought I might be up to the challenge of playing Santa.
I said I would think about it. It’s a tough thing to play a character so many viewers would be familiar with. Welliver had it easy. I mean Harry Bosch is popular but he can’t touch Santa. Every eyeball that we drew to this pilot would know Santa. The challenge would be daunting.
I consulted those I am closest to and made a decision after a long weekend of battling self doubt. I decided I would put myself out there and meet the challenge. I was all in.
I immediately started the diet. I had heard McConaughey had lost 40 pounds for Dallas Buyers Club. I would do him one better. I would gain 40 pounds to play Santa.
I started carbo-loading immediately. Milkshakes at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Right before nap time and at the bedtime snack, too.
Two weeks into this arduous prep time I got the word from George Little, the show’s costume designer. The Santa suit came with the extra pounds in padding. No need to carbo load. What? Yes, believe it or not, from Miracle on 34th Street to Elf, it’s padding that makes the Santa. Believe me, it was a glimpse behind the magic curtain I wish I could forget. I reluctantly put down the shakes – at bedtime at least.
Soon enough it was time for the shoot – (TV talk for filming the scene). I spent an hour in costuming and then another thirty minutes in makeup. Then I was walked across the parking lot and into Hollywood Station where I was cuffed to the custody bench between a tatted up gangbanger and a transvestite hooker – (TV talk for transvestite hooker).
Then came the final touch and the something extra that defines all great performances. Mushroom soup. Yes, this is where method acting comes in. The role called for drunk Santa to have vomited – on himself. Hands cuffed to the bench I was spoon fed Campbell’s cream of mushroom with a ladle-sized spoon. The soup was cold and gloppy, disgusting. Then I spit it out and we began the process again, creating an ongoing flow of vomit on my white Santa whiskers. The show’s director, Jim McKay, added the final touch by crumbling crackers into the mess to give it that rich, chunky look.
I spent six hours in costume for the shoot, four of them with mushroom vomit on my face and beard. There were multiple takes from multiple angles. Then I had to remain locked on the bench for background shots as well.
I have now watched the finished pilot several times and each time it seems I am on screen less and less. All that prep work and training plus six hours in costume and dripping with Hollywood vomit. All for two seconds of screen time. An actor’s life, I guess. I may not get an Emmy nod for it. But I do know this: I’ll never eat mushroom soup again.
– Michael Connelly