As a devoted method actor, I’ll do anything to inhabit a character, whatever it takes.
I gained a hundred and seventy-five pounds to play William Howard Taft, in The Taft Chronicles, and then turned around and lost twice that amount to play Shirley Temple, in The Temple Diaries. I also curled my hair for that part, which was a huge challenge, because my hair is naturally straight.
When I played a police officer in my first film, Duty Calls, I participated in a number of ride-alongs with actual police officers. I was even ticketed, repeatedly, for riding along too close. For my role in the sequel, Desk Duty Calls, I had my whole body encased in wood for an entire year, because I played a desk in that one.
To play Tom Hanks in Hanksy Panks: The Life and Times of Tom Hanks, I won back-to-back Oscars for Best Actor in 1993 and 1994. I needed to know what it felt like to win two Oscars, back-to-back, to fully understand the essence of that character. It felt pretty good, I guess. Fortunately, I did not have to hire a hit man to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, because Hanksy Panks was filmed a few years before Tom Hanks was accused of committing that particular crime. Who knows if he actually did it, though. He denies it—but wouldn’t anybody?
Aside from Shirley Temple and Tom Hanks, I haven’t played any other actors on screen—except for the silent film legends Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, and Gloria Swanson. I stopped speaking for several years to play those parts—and to this day, I often go hours on end without saying anything at all. I suppose that’s what happens when you spend so much time in another person’s skin. I mean that figuratively, of course. All the skin I wore in those films was prosthetic, since the costume departments couldn’t get their hands on the real stuff. Literally, I mean. By the time they got to it, it had all turned to dust.
Oh—I nearly forgot that I voice-acted the part of Renee Zellweger, in Grasping Garland: An Animated Documentary About the Time Renee Zellweger Played Judy Garland in Judy, a Biopic About Legendary Performer Judy Garland, Starring Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. The dialogue in the documentary was as wordy as the title, so I spoke all the time for that role. I even hired a voice coach, who was very, very expensive, because I wanted to get Zellweger’s voice (and Zellweger’s voice as Garland) exactly right. Did I mention the voice coach was expensive? Who knew voice coaching was such a lucrative profession?
If you happened to see a picture called The Scotsman, you’ll likely know I played the lead role of Bad Billy Connery, the notorious mafia hit man who claimed to have been the guy behind Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance. I went to great lengths to get to the “heart” of Bad Billy, even going so far as to take the life of a certain very greedy and persistent voice coach—allegedly. Connery, I figured, would’ve done the same. Did it help? Well, I played the bagpipes out of that role, so you be the judge.
Judge Reinhold, however, was not impressed. He sentenced me to 30 years in prison for my research into the part of Bad Billy Connery, which is kind of a blessing in disguise. See, I’m considering playing Martha Stewart in this upcoming project, The Stewart Identity, and as everyone knows, she spent a few nights in the old Grey Bar Hotel, too. By the time I get out, I’ll be the perfect age to play her. I’ve been pumping iron, constantly, to acquire her physique.
But 30 years is a long time. Too long, perhaps. As luck would have it, my agent recently showed me a script about one Erik Weisz—who later became one Harry Houdini—and it seems this Houdini fellow had a real knack for escaping all manner of cuffs, locks, chains, bars, and the like. I haven’t read the full script yet, but I’ve already decided—I’ll get that Houdini part if it kills me. That’s how committed I am.
Jim Schneider is a writer and teacher whose writing has also appeared in Creative Nonfiction and Weekly Humorist. He is from America and currently lives in Shanghai, China.