Excerpt: 'There and Back Again'

Everything about my experience in Vermont was pleasant, if ultimately forgettable. But let's be honest here: the movie is a piece of sh--. Sorry, Dave. Sorry, Peter. But you know it's a piece of sh--, too. By that, I mean, it isn't socially edifying, and it doesn't aspire to be artistic or even particularly clever. It's just mindless, harmless entertainment. (Check out the movie's promotional poster, featuring yours truly with a pair of ski goggles perched on his forehead, a revolver in his hand, and a look on his face that fairly screams, "Mess with me, and I'll kick your a--!") But we all got along well and had a pleasant enough time, and while we were there we took our work as seriously as possible.

For me for all of us, really-it was a smart business decision to do Icebreaker. These guys figured out a formula: how to package and presell the movie, how to raise the money, how to film the thing, and how to have fun doing it. So more power to them. And, frankly, I needed the work and the cash that came with it. Little did I know that two years later I'd be on location in New Zealand, working on one of the most ambitious projects in the history of movies, a $270 million version of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and that I'd be standing face to-face with Peter Jackson, one of the rising stars of the business. Peter, it turns out, is not just a filmmaker, but a fan of films, all films, with a massive private collection that keeps his garage screening room humming day and night, and a penchant for channel surfing in the wee hours that makes it virtually impossible to hide anything from him.

Including Icebreaker.

"Very nice," Peter said, and left it at that, because nothing else needed to be said. It wasn't an insult, nor was it meant to embarrass me (well, maybe a little). It was just an acknowledgment of where I'd been and where I was. Most actors (and most directors, too) have such things on their resumes, and part of the obligation of the fraternity is to remind you of that every once in a while. It's healthy for the ego, if you know what I mean. But in this setting no one else had any idea what Peter was talking about. The cast and crew seemed unfamiliar with Icebreaker, but they understood that the director was gently busting the balls of one of his actors, and that was sufficient, especially since that actor was a bit of an outsider.

You see, on the set of "The Lord of the Rings" I think I was sometimes perceived as the Hollywood guy (which is not necessarily the same as a movie star). The director and the vast majority of his crew were native Kiwis, and most of the actors were from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Even more so than Elijah Wood, who as Frodo was ostensibly the film's star, I got the sense that I was the American actor. I was the kid who had grown up in Hollywood. I had been raised by a pair of pop culture icons, Patty Duke and John Astin. On a production that had been quite vocal and public in its reluctance to hire American actors (not out of any overt jingoism, but merely as a way to demonstrate faithfulness to Tolkien's vision), I was the most visible exception to the rule. I was Rudy, for God's sake. You don't get any more American than that. Rudy was the underdog. And I guess, in a way, so was I.

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