How often do we see people, recognizing faces on the street or at the store, and realize we should know them but can’t remember how?
I’m guessing it’s weekly for most of us, if not daily. We have our friends and co-workers who we know, but those people on the fringe make up a large portion of our day. And yet we know little about them. It’s the same with 16 great actors in the 2012 documentary, “That Guy ... Who Was In That Thing.”
It’s a brilliant film shot primarily in the homes of the actors where they are a little more relaxed and candid. They know they aren’t A-list stars. They’re never going to be Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks and probably won’t be in the lead supporting role opposite either of them. Few are.
In fact, the film states that the Screen Actors Guild represents about 240,000 actors, and their average annual income from acting is less than $5,000. Fewer than half of 1 percent make a decent to high living wage. And even then, they don’t know how long they’ll be out of work before the next project. (Remember John Travolta before “Pulp Fiction”?)
But these men are great actors. Many have appeared in 50 or 100 films, some even more. They have recurring roles in television series, but you still don’t know their names. You might know Ted Danson from “CSI,” but one of the actors featured in the documentary is Paul Guilfoyle, who plays Captain Brass on the show. He’s been an actor in 97 different works, yet he’s still just “that guy.”
It’s amazing, the factors that determine whether or not actors like this get work. Some say it’s 50-50 luck and skill. Some say your first job is luck, the second is probably skill but it definitely is skill after that. If you don’t have your chops by the third piece of work, the casting director knows it. Another says, “You might get a job because you remind the director of his wife’s brother.” You also might not get it for the same reason.
They’d all love to be more successful, but that doesn’t mean they aim to be stars. They just want what most of us want: to live better than paycheck to paycheck. They’ve taken turns as contractors, limo drivers and landscapers during their down time, which is humbling. But they say it made them stronger.
The key point I learned from this film is that everyone wants to be recognized in some way. Take the time to learn the name of the person you get coffee from five days a week or your kid’s playground teacher or those you come in contact with the most. You may not know the name of every actor in a film. But, with a little effort, you’ll at least know those who matter in your life. And inside, they’ll thank you for it.
• Ryan Messer has worked for years in local television and theater. He has contributed movie trivia to the On magazine Facebook page and displays a knowledge of cinema arcana that is just short of disturbing.