Last night I was fortunate enough to see a production of an adaptation of John Fowles’ novel, The Collector at the Ruskin Theater Group in Santa Monica, CA. (In the interest of full disclosure I should note that the director, Edward Edwards and I have been friends for over thirty-five years.)
The two young actors in the show, Jaimi Page and Dane Zinter do wonderful things conveying the horrifying experience a beautiful young woman endures after being kidnapped by a deranged lottery winner who is obsessed with her.
As I said to Eddie afterwards, “Even though I’ve been acting for forty years I have to ask myself how those two did what they did. It was amazing.”
Ms. Paige conveys all the terror and desperation of her ordeal while maintaining her dignity and deploying intellectual superiority over her captor for minimal gains in her basement prison.
Mr. Zinter’s deluded butterfly collector is both disturbing and oddly endearing. While abhorring his actions one feels a kind of pity for him not unlike that of his victim, who professes a desire to defend him should she escape and he stand trial.
At a small reception afterward I did my best to convey to each of them how impressed I was by their work and how I hoped they both found success in “the business,” as we call it.
Upon deeper reflection this morning over coffee I wondered whether I should have also told them that even breaking into show business and garnering roles worthy of their talent might still leave them in need of a day job to make ends meet.
The unfortunate truth for young actors is that they are entering a world where fees are diminishing as the marketplace offers fewer venues for fiction on film. The break down of what we called, “the quote system” in show business, a dollar amount an actor could reasonably demand for his time, the reduction of “top of show” fees for a guest actor on a series by over fifty percent in most cases, and the amount of competition they will face are daunting elements for aspiring actors. Fees for actors in independent film are always quite low and Internet shows are rarely providing that much, if anything at all.
On a personal note let me put it to you this way. I landed a role opposite George Clooney in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton. It was the fifth largest role in the film. Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and Sydney Pollack had the leading roles. I was paid scale and hired as a local actor, which meant that even though I was living in Los Angeles at the time I would have to find my own bed and board while in NY. In another era, one in the not so distant past, I would have been paid a high five-figure perhaps even six-figure salary, given a hotel room, and a per diem. Those days are gone.
Unless young actors break in as stars, or land series regular roles on the dwindling TV series market, they will have to make serious choices about lifestyle, family and planning for retirement. My fear is that the smart ones, like Ms. Paige and Mr. Zinter, will take a look around and wonder why they should bother at all. And I couldn’t blame them. It’s easy enough to blame producers, studios and networks for this. But in fairness to them they are catering to the tastes of the market place and keeping an eye on the bottom line. So, who’s to blame? No easy answer there. This is just who we are and how we treat ourselves in show business.
Ms. Paige and Mr. Zinter will have to find that out for themselves. With a bit of luck they may rise above the fray. I certainly hope they do.
Despite the blistering frustration I sometimes feel after forty years as an actor I still believe in the power of theater, film and TV to convey the poetry and elegance of artistic realization to a large audience. If only those of us who could would spread the wealth around just a bit more artists might sustain themselves and realize their potential.