I remember it was in 1987. I was about 22 years old (I am now almost 36). I was an actor who had been struggling since the age of 11 to become successful. I started with Will Geer's Shakespeare Theater called "The Theatricum Botanicum", in a small but close-knit town called Topanga Canyon in Southern California. Will and his daughter Ellen taught me much. In fact, I was so obsessed with Will and this beautiful Garden Theatre that I rode there 5 miles on my bicycle every chance I had to be a part of it. From improvisation to dramatic theater, I became part in a world I didn't wish to leave any time soon. Later, Will Geer passed and Ellen recommended me for some AFI film versions of these plays and another part outside in the play "Our Town" with Eddie Albert, directed by Gower Champion. After a few AFI films I decided I was ready for more.
My mother was a singer and actress as a young woman. Later she became a casting director, talent agent and then manager. She helped me find training for my interest in acting, from commercial to television and later on film. We agreed later on that she would become my manager. It seemed to work well, since she always "managed" to find a good agent for me and by the time I was 19, I was going to an average of 5 auditions per week. The gas money was scarce, so as many others in the industry did, by the time I turned 21, I became a bartender at nights. It wasn't fun, but it was a way to pay for auditions and rent.
I got a call from my manager (well, my mom) one morning for a part in a German production. There was no title to the film; I was just told that it was for a leading role, an actor's greatest opportunity every time they see it in front of them. I was to go to Marina Del Rey the next morning. That's when I met Roland Emmerich, his sister Ute, the Production Assistant and Roland's Assistant Director, Oliver Eberle. Wow, it's wild recounting these names. I'm starting to remember 1987 like it was yesterday.
This day would turn out to be the best day in my career, but I didn't know it yet.
In previous years, I had interviewed with directors who had names such as Robert Blake and Oliver Stone. This was the first time in my acting life I wasn't nervous after arriving for the meeting. I was met with a warm welcome and friendly atmosphere. I was actually comfortable with these people. This would be the only time in my life my palms didn't sweat until I made it halfway back home.
After some small talk, quite a lengthy amount of small talk actually, Roland asked me to read for him in front of a video camera. This was my first taped audition, but he made me feel so comfortable that I didn't really think twice about proceeding. It wasn't until afterwards that someone mentioned to me that over 100 actors were being interviewed for this part. I never even thought about it, for even a moment.
Well, a few days later, it happened. I was invited to spend 3 months in Sindelfingen, (West) Germany, near Stuttgart to play a leading role in a new production. I was ecstatic. Roland said it was "just something about me" that seemed to work in getting the part. Wow. Just something about me.
I got to Sindelfingen a week or two early, so I could tour a little. So I toured a little. I couldn't stop thinking about the film, so I toured very little. As soon as I got a rough draft of the script I began studying.
Soon, I met up with Jason Lively and Jill Whitlow, the co-stars. This was my first major role, so I tried to fit in as a lead actor the best I could. It proved to work out fine later on. Jill and Jason made it easy for me to do my job. Roland's sister, Ute helped me get settled in and set me up with my basic needs. I met up with Roland shortly thereafter.
How would I describe Roland? First of all, it's easy for me to recall the fact that he had a boyish appearance, which won me over right away. He was extremely kind and caring, but in a sheepish way. Roland had his priorities in order every step of the way. He was always very well organized, direct and to the point. He knew what he wanted, and he always let us know in a cool, non-judgmental manner. I felt like I had a friend as soon as we started talking together. "Cool" and "Very cool" are the words that come to mind when I think of Roland. I hope to see him again some day.
Roland explained that he was working with a one million-dollar budget granted to him by the German Film School. He had already completed a couple of previous projects with some success. With this budget, he could choose the actors, crew, etc. and basically have control over the creation of his project. He told me a little about himself and his family and then welcomed me to the warehouse in which we would shoot most of the scenes, and gave me a tour around town. He showed me the Daimler-Mercedes plant and told me stories of the culture and politics of the region. I had never left America before, so I was much like a little boy seeing Disneyland for the first time. I was in awe. What a beautiful country!
I met the rest of the crew a day or so later. Everyone was as nice as they could be. I never met such a large group of smiling faces all at the same time in my life! I became friendly with everyone on the set. It was a dream come true. Even the doctor assigned to the film was a joy to be around. I never really thought of a doctor as "a joy to be around" before.
A few days later, we had our first meeting to go over the script and discuss a title for the movie. It started off with Hollywood Monster for the title. Let's just say Roland and Oliver came up with a new title eventually. At the time, I didn't really care for my character name, "Fred", but I couldn't come up with a better suggestion, so we went with it. Hey, I was in the movie. Who cared about trivial matters like that? Certainly not me!
The first day of filming soon came. The day before, I met the make up artist, Susanne and the hair stylist, Sascha. Susanne and I went shopping for my wardrobe. On the day of filming, after getting make up on and having my hair styled, I vomited. Yes, I did. I knew I would. The pressure built up hard on me, even though I felt so welcome. After 20 minutes or so, I got over it.
The first scene was filmed. Suddenly, the rest came as second nature to me. I was having fun!
The cinematographer, Walter, reminded me of a WWII pilot from a movie. He had the blue eyes, blond hair and stunning goods looks to go with it. Like everyone else, he smiled constantly.
As the weeks passed, I went on to meet the other actors. I think my favorite had to be Ian MacNaughton, the main inspiration for the Monty Python TV shows and movies. He was a true Scotsman in every way. He and I had drinks together once or twice, and I was amazed at all the stories he told to me about his days writing and producing the shows. He told me of the antics and pranks they would play on each other too. I was a big fan of the Monty Python troupe since childhood, so yet another dream had come true, albeit unexpected. I laughed so hard while Ian filmed his scenes, as did everyone else on the set. I miss him greatly.
On days off, Jason and I would drive around and hang out together. We got along well. Jill was always there with a smile, so I never had much to get me down, on or off the set.
After the weeks of filming in Germany ended, we went "on location" to Hollywood for the outdoor shots. That was weird, since "on location" is where I thought I was while I was across the ocean with my passport. We went on a publicity tour and saw Berlin and a few more cities, where we did TV and radio interviews. Autograph sessions were strange. After signing a hundred or so posters, people were soon lined up with what appeared to be "index cards" in hand. I would sign them, sometimes 4 cards for the same person and then notice the person, who sometimes thanked me, back in a corner putting the cards into small index card boxes. I asked what this was all about and was told that people trade autographs. Man, they were trading right in front of me! I hope I was traded for someone worthwhile!
After the publicity tour was over, the voice dubbing, special effects and music editing was completed, we had our world premiere. I was one of the guests of honor, but the honor was mine, most assuredly. The movie was playing on televisions all around this beautiful club, and people greeted me all night long.
I really thought I was dreaming at times. The truth is… it really was a dream... come true.
Thanks Roland for the chance of a lifetime. God Bless you and everyone on the team.