A Mighty Wind
 
 

When I was a child I had a recurring dream. I was too little to know I was having the actor's nightmare. But that's exactly what it was. I was in the jungle and I was dodging bullets. And land mines. And scuttling through the underbrush on my belly, getting orders to "move faster, soldier," and "fire at will." And then I realized I wasn't in a real war, I was in a movie war. And I was being filmed. I had been given no dialogue, and no direction. I had to make up my entire part, with no idea as to what the movie was about, or what character I was playing. And then I would wake up, and realize it was all a dream. A frightening, but somehow extremely enjoyable, exhilarating dream.

This is not unlike the experience of being in a Christopher Guest movie. Except you don't wake up and find out you were only dreaming. You are given an outline, encouraged to follow your instincts, and set loose in front of a cameraman who doesn't know the meaning of the word "cut." It's the closest thing to a dream I have managed to encounter in my long and somewhat winding career.

About six years ago Christopher called me and asked if I wanted to be in Waiting for Guffman. Six weeks later I embarked on one of the best experiences of my life. Playing catch with pitchers the likes of Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest and the band of merry improvisers he has managed to assemble defies description.

 

It's ego-free, and joyful, and you never want it to stop.

Christopher could probably play "The Flight of the Bumblebee" on a tuba. I know he conducts orchestras. He also ties a wicked fly. If memory serves, he holds a black belt. I'm not kidding. Christopher can do anything. Effortlessly. Or at least that's how it looks. And he makes this endearing and terrifying and empowering assumption that if he can do it, so can you.

It's what makes baby birds take the big leap off the edge of the nest and actors clamor to appear in anything Christopher happens to be doing. It's what makes some directors good, and others great. It's not a technique, and it can't be learned. You are made to feel safe and happy, and capable of things you never dreamed you could do. You are flying without a net, and it never once occurs to you to look down. That's what it's like.

The phone rang a few years later, and I got to be in Best in Show. And then last year's phone call begat A Mighty Wind. When it rings you don't say, "Who am I playing, and what's the movie about, and how big is my part?"

You say, "When do we start?" And prepare to jump into the foxhole.

©2003 Landmark Theatres