The Austin Chronicle Books: Marco Perella Reviewed
BY ROBERT FAIRES
“Movie actor Marco Perella has at least one doozy of a story for every picture he’s made, and in his Adventures of a No Name Actor, he makes each one so light and salty and tasty, you just want to keep tossing ’em back, like popcorn.”
Actors are a notoriously masochistic lot. How else to explain the humiliations to which they routinely subject themselves—auditions, directorial imperialism, published criticism of their work, exposing their innermost private feelings for public entertainment, Sunday matinees, for heaven’s sake!—all for the paltry recompense of a little applause and, typically, way-below-minimum wages? People who pound nails into concrete slabs with their foreheads inflict less needless suffering on themselves.
As if further proof was needed that actors are sovereigns of self-abuse, along comes Marco Perella with Adventures of a No Name Actor, an autobiographical catalogue of miseries and punishments he has endured in the pursuit of his career as a thespian.
There is the floating-in-the-freezing-Guadalupe-River-in-a-jester-costume episode for a scene in Fandango that never even made it into the final print. There is the exploding-mirror-in-the-face-while-trying-to-kill-Jean-Smart moment during the making of one of those true-life lust ‘n’ murder TV movies that all have Evidence, Seduction, or Killing in the title. There is the Cannonball-Run-maniacal-drive-across-Texas affair, with him and a pal trying to hit auditions in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio all in one day and still get back to Austin for an 8pm curtain of a production of A Streetcar Named Desire they were in.
There is the slammed-into-a-tree-and-pelted-with-sticks-and-clods-and-wet-leaves- at-lord-knows-how-many-miles-per-hour-by-the-wind-from-a-mammoth-wind-machine incident while shooting the would-be film noir Keys to Tulsa. There is the walking-around-a-frigid-Austin-Convention-Center-dressed-like-a-Greek-Philosopher-King- and-being-mistaken-for-Moses while providing atmosphere for a mythologically themed Dell Computer holiday party. And so on. These are not the sort of occasional random mishaps that any human experiences in the course of a lifetime. They are, as they say, all in a day’s work for this masochistic SOB.
If this litany of personal debasements were rattled off with an air of self-pity—you know, that whiny pout of an ar-teeste who feels he’s been unjustly maligned—Perella’s tome would be just another candidate for the Circular File. (To put it in the language of the no name actor’s show-biz superiors: “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”) To our good fortune, however—moreover, to our immense pleasure—Perella reels off these degrading debacles with a lacerating wit that spares no one from mockery, least of all himself.
In tight, punchy sentences that you can just hear in your head, as if they were being spouted over a beer at a party, Perella spears Hollywood excess, the artistic pretension of ambitious directors, the quirky behavior of self-proclaimed stars, celebrity adulation, and his own actorliness: desperately seeking “the job,” trying to impress agents and directors, showboating when he gets to improvise dialogue, applying the Method when he acts. He knows he’s doing crazy stuff in a crazy business, but there’s something about it that’s irresistible to him. Even when he’s playing one more, twitchy, drooling, inbred Evil Minion in an instantly forgettable network movie, the work is . . . satisfying. He has fun.
And in the telling of his travails on and off camera, Perella makes it fun for us. He serves it up in all its detail, every smack in the head from a tree branch in a 70 mph artificial wind, every sweat-soaked moment of a no-account audition, every twirl and turn of his two-step with Helena Bonham Carter, every wiggle of Lesley Ann Warren’s keister in his face. He has at least one doozy of a story for every picture he’s made, and he makes each one so light and salty and tasty, you just want to keep tossing ’em back, like popcorn. How fitting for a memoir of a life in celluloid— even if that life is a no name one.
There may be no explaining why actors revel so in the maltreatment and calamity of their profession, but by god if Marco Perella doesn’t convince us that there’s some glorious pleasure in all that pain.