By Dan Steadman
Originally published on Advocate.com November 21 2012 5:00 AM ET
I wasted too many of my pretty years working as a personal assistant, and at the age of 28, I was ready to finally grab the reins of my career. I was set to make my show business dreams come true, so I moved to Los Angeles to really kick-start my professional life.
That year Jim Carrey seemed to feel the same way about his career. Granted, he was already a movie star. But he wanted respect. He wanted an Oscar. He appeared to feel snubbed by the Academy when The Truman Show received nominations for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay, but no nomination for him as Best Actor. Like most comedians, Carrey wanted to be taken seriously for his dramatic chops. The Majestic was his bid for respect from Hollywood. Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), this was a potential cinematic masterpiece.
For seven seconds I was Jim Carrey’s costar. I had been hired, along with 200 other nobodies, to be background extras in the film. It was an exciting overnight shoot at the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, complete with full hair and makeup and 1950s wardrobe. Carrey was very serious on set. He never cracked a joke. The Mask and Ace Ventura were things of the past.
The opening sequence involved a long Steadicam shot that followed him from the back of the theater, holding popcorn and sodas, as he walked down the aisle toward a seat in the front. I really wanted to be seen in this epic motion picture. My boyfriend would be so proud of me, and it would make an excellent gift for his birthday in December, when it was to be released. I hit the jackpot when an assistant director placed me in the aisle where the camera would brush right past my shoulder and catch a corner of my face as I followed my lady friend to our seats. I’m sure I was supposed to be her date, but in my mind I was playing her closeted gay best friend who always refused her advances because he was “saving himself for another dame.” That was the backstory I created for my character.
On the first take I started to follow my beard to her seat. But as the camera swooshed by, I took a step back to avoid stepping on her billowing poodle skirt. In that moment of retreat, I could feel my shoulder bumping someone else’s body in the crew — maybe a boom operator or a camera assistant.
“Do you know what you just did?” a production assistant snapped at me through clenched teeth. “You bumped into Mr. Carrey! The fucking star of the film! If you can’t handle this, I will send you home and find someone who can!” I profusely apologized and promised I could handle it.
Ten minutes later, Jim Carrey walked up to me, laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “Hey.”
“Hi,” I replied, terrified. The rule for extras is that you are never, ever supposed to speak to the talent. I was so afraid of getting fired I could only bring myself to mutter that one word. He smiled at me and nodded, took his hand off my shoulder and walked away. A few extras saw the exchange and they were dying to know why Jim Carrey had spoken to me. I said I had no idea. I figured he was walking up to fire me for bumping into him.
But it turns out the movie star loved my little action of stepping into his frame and causing him to spill some soda. It was one of life’s happy accidents that became the highlight of my background talent career, and forevermore, I can be seen in a two-shot with Jim Carrey for seven seconds of cinematic history. Unfortunately, however, the movie didn’t turn out to be the epic story everyone wanted it to be. The New Yorker called it “a fiasco.”
The Majestic became an apt metaphor for the last decade of my life. I had hoped my career would be epic, but it really didn’t turn out that way. As I approach my 39th birthday this week, I’m starting to realize I wasn’t destined for such things. My 10 years in Los Angeles were exciting, to be sure. I came close to selling a screenplay for a film with a producer who had done half a billion dollars in box office. I shot a number of TV pilots, one with Kathy Griffin, Wanda Sykes, and Jennifer Coolidge, but those projects came to a screeching halt when the Writers Guild strike happened. I produced a very funny movie called Jesus People with Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids) and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help). It did well at film festivals but never even made it as far as Netflix.
Maybe my life wasn’t supposed to be an epic tale worthy of the big screen. Perhaps some of us are destined to something closer to an ’80s sitcom. In the past year I have moved three times. In January, I was living in Billings, Mont., ready to shoot my gay-themed Christmas movie Red Lodge. I didn’t have money to complete the film, so I delivered pizzas for $7.25 an hour to pay for the remainder of it. This was my It’s A Living episode of life, minus the off-the-shoulder Ann Jillian outfit.
In March, I moved back to L.A. to finish the film. Once again out of cash, I applied to every business claiming to be hiring — including Taco Bell and Wendy’s. No one called me back, so I ended up working at a dildo factory in the Valley. For the next two months, I manufactured silicone dildos, ball stretchers, cock rings, and piss plugs. I couldn’t afford to live in an apartment, so I rented an office with a Russian I met on the street and illegally slept in that office for a few months. This was clearly my Perfect Strangers phase. If only we had shared the homoerotic tension Balki had with Cousin Larry. That would have been an upside to the ugly turn my life had taken.
In July, I drove across the country to Tampa, Fla., where I agreed to help my sister raise her children, ala Charles in Charge. Since I wasn’t born with a Silver Spoon in my mouth, I will have to accept the Growing Pains life has to offer. My life isn’t an epic, life-changing, Academy Award-winning film and it never will be. That’s one of those simple Facts of Life. Once I learn to accept it, then and only then will I finally begin to Blossom.
DAN STEADMAN is the writer/director of the gay Christmas film Red Lodge, available now on Amazon and at Circa87.com.