The Adventures of . . . Who?
By Mark Henricks
Molly Ivins’ introduction is not the funniest thing in Austin actor Marco Perella’s first book. Considering that Ivins is often described as America’s funniest political columnist, that is strong talk. But Ivins’ introduction, in which she describes her long friendship with Perella and how she encouraged him to become “An Arthur,” will not cause you to shake with suppressed giggles, to laugh out loud or to use your sleeve to wipe away tears. But Marco Perella is that funny.
The hilarious, revealing, heartwarming stories in “Adventures of a No Name Actor” are constructed around a simple frame: Perella tells tales of his experiences as a co-star in feature films, made-for-TV movies, commercials, industrial films, small theater productions and appearances as a costumed character at corporate parties. Nearly all the episodes take place in Texas, where Perella, a third-generation native, works almost exclusively.
One recurrent theme is the conflict between Perella’s acting ambition and the fact that dramatic opportunities in Texas are limited. He acknowledges that and refers occasionally to fellow Texans who have left the regional acting scene to make it big on the coasts, but brushes aside the question of why he doesn’t do the same. His family and wife are here, so he works here.
And he works more than you might think, in movies including “JFK” and “Varsity Blues,” in TV series like “Wishbone” and “Walker, Texas Ranger,” and with some of the industry’s biggest stars and directors. Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Drew Barrymore, Oliver Stone and many other Hollywood luminaries populate these pages. In a neat trick, Perella’s recountings of encounters with the stars always seem to reveal the big shots’ basic human frailties, without being insulting, condescending or envious. The straight man and butt of most jokes is Perella, who opens the book dressed as a jester, all but drowning in the Guadalupe River in a scene eventually cut from “Fandango.”
The book depicts neurotic starlets, egomaniac action heroes, near-insane directors and borderline sadistic stunt directors galore. Perella has many adventures, in particular, with stunts. Mirrors explode, showering him with razor-sharp shards. Cars careen, missing his unprotected body by inches. Wind machines howl, the icy Guadalupe River threatens to submerge him for good.
His face-offs with stunt directors over the miserly added stipend for risking his body offer only slightly less action.
Through it all, incredibly, Perella maintains an earnest focus on the acting craft. He is deadly serious as he describes how he works himself up to cry over the ostensibly frozen, ostensibly dead body of a co-star who plays his bad-guy buddy in “Black Snow,” a never-released thriller shot in Houston.
But only Texans can truly appreciate some of the situations. Who among us, for example, would even consider driving to sequential auditions in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — in one day — and making it back to Austin for an 8 p.m. curtain at Center Stage? Instructions for accomplishing this feat are in the book, along with many good heart-and-belly laughs.
Perella reportedly honed these anecdotes for years in letters and e-mails distributed to his circle of friends, including Ivins. One hopes he has another batch circulating now. It would be a shame if, now that a no-name actor is about to become a name humorist, the chronicles of his adventures were not continued.
Mark Henricks is an Austin writer.