Monday, March 2, 2009

Preparing for Paul

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain.

My character’s name in Magnolia is Paul Steele.

Paul is a member of the Beat Generation.
He writes poetry, plays guitar, has a beard.
He participates in Freedom Rides and is active in the Civil Rights Movement.

He’s a great gift of a character.
So many things for me to research and learn and study.
A great part of this whole “being an actor” thing is the preparation.
It gives me a chance to study things that I won’t read about in RedEye.

It’s also a great way to get out of doing the laundry.
“Honey, I’m not just watching a DVD. I’m doing research. I’m working.”

In no particular order or measure of importance, here are some fun things I did—slash—got to do while preparing for the role of Paul:

1. I started growing a beard on November 1, 2008. The day after my wedding.

2. I downloaded two of Bob Dylan’s early albums, The Times They are a-Changin’ and The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan. And I will admit: They’re the first Bob Dylan albums I’ve ever owned.

3. I busked (played guitar and sang) for a bit at the North/Clybourn stop on the Red Line and made $1.50. It was one of the scariest and most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I swear, when that dirty, crumpled dollar bill came my way (yeah, some dude threw an entire dollar bill in my guitar case) I just about exploded. (My wife is not sure how she feels about my having busked. “What if our friends saw?” My answer? I simply hold up the dollar bill and say, “How would they feel about this?”)

Did You Know?
4. To obtain a permit for playing guitar in the Chicago subway it will cost you about $100. I learned that by talking to a professional busker at the Red Line Lake Station. I figured Paul would find that crazy, so I didn’t get one. That’s right. I broke the law for the sake of theater. It’s a good thing, too, because had I paid for the permit I would have been down $98.50.

5. I read Howl by Allen Ginsberg for the first time. That thing is intense.

6. I watched a documentary on Martin Luther King Jr. that featured the entire “I Have a Dream” speech. Maybe you’ve heard of it. One tends to hear of things that change the world.

7. I IMBD’d and Googled all the fancy people in my cast. That’s right, I admit it. I pay for this Internet thing; I might as well use it. Let’s see. There’s an Oscar Nominee, a Tony Nominee, a Jeff Award winner, a woman who opened for Richard Pryor and a bunch of other equally amazing rock stars.

Upon typing that, I now feel a bit intimidated.
These people are the real deal.

Who am I to be writing this blog and listing these...things.
I mean, who am I kidding?
My claim to fame is being voted Best Dancer at New Haven Elementary School.

Will all this external preparation even matter?
Have I done enough of the real preparation?
Have I asked enough questions about who my character is inside?
Have I done the homework of his heart?

Because I’m damn sure my cast mates have done theirs.
Just look at them.
All award-winning and stuff.

Now the intimidation I feel is starting to turn to panicbutwaitjustasecond.
Oh yes.
I almost forgot.
There it is. In my guitar case. Reaching out to me.
My own little award.

I pause from typing for a moment and hold it in my hands.
A beautiful, dirty, crumpled dollar bill.
Gosh, it’s heavier than I expected.

I take a moment to compose myself.
I look out to the hushed crowd that is in reality only my wife making coffee.
And I say to her triumphantly,

“Are you intimidated by this?”

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