Ok, as promised, here is my full debrief on the “Kelly and Matt spend six months in Budapest for The Alienist” experience. I’d planned a heartfelt look at the perseverance, grit and determination it takes to win a series regular role on network television, because it’s considerable. This would have been so inspiring, and compel you to “keep at it” and “never give up” and all that stuff. But, when I started writing, this came out instead. I’m sorry. I don’t control these things.
The Beginning (months 1 and 2):
Moods are bright and anticipation is high. This will be so fun! We finally GOT the coveted job we’ve persevered for months and years to obtain. We will be working with revered actors, directors and producers and become best friends with them all and get invited to their weddings. Our performance will be the quintessential marriage between years of training and the perfect showcase of character and material. It will more than likely be lauded by the Hollywood Foreign Press. The paparazzi will lift their heads in our direction like wraiths in Lord of the Rings.
Not only that, in our downtime we will accomplish those tasks we’ve always wanted to accomplish, but never have had time for, like say, writing a book. We will have loads of days off in which to slay our self imposed daily word count in the shadow of St. Stephen’s Basilica, while our cherubic child actor does his three hours of required school work. What an opportunity for him to study abroad, we think! What a fabulous writers retreat for ourselves.
We will go to the market every Saturday morning and buy the fresh fruits and vegetables in the open air. We will visit all the landmarks and become encyclopaedias of Hungarian history. We will both Hop On AND Hop Off. Not only that, the rest of Europe is merely a train ride away. We will see ALL OF IT. Every last inch. We are sure.
We decide to actually learn Hungarian. This is necessary and a sign of respect, we solemnly agree. The first twenty minutes of school time is devoted to HungarianPod101.com We practice on the crew members and local vendors, and they smile benevolently at our terrible accent and limited vocabulary! This is not even hard. By the end of the summer, we promise, we will have a full on conversation with them in their native tongue! Immersion is a fabulous teacher.
This whole thing will be both a phenomenal work and travel situation. Life could not have offered us a greater plum. How will this NOT be everything we hoped for?
This phase can be summed up with the following algebraic equation:
The Middle: (Months 3-5)
We are in a pleasant mood. Steady plodding occurs. This is definitely an experience. An experience to remember. A longer experience to remember than we realized. We’ve gotten to go home once in three months and wow, do we remember how much we like it there, but our attitudes are still grateful as we board the plane back to Europe for leg two. We have not yet obtained BFF status with our fellow co-workers yet, but these things take time. The A-List can’t let EVERYONE IN. They would die of exhaustion. We get this. We need our space too! For the most part, we feel we’ve done exactly what we’ve wanted to do with our job situation. Of course there are times when we feel the direction we want to head with the character we’ve been given is thwarted by the notes of far off executives who are not at all actors or even on set which is somewhat discouraging, but it’s all part of it! Our job is to convey THEIR vision and tone, not ours!! Right?
We are making steady progress on our word count. Writing a book is definitely not the easiest thing we’ve ever undertaken, but we are doing this anyway even though we are a bit weary of staring at the same computer screen in the same street cafe day after day. We realize that even writers need a break. Sometimes binging Game of Thrones on Netflix is a productive undertaking. The brain needs to recharge and revitalise before further creativity can be inspired. This seems a wise course of action.
And, oh, we’ve traveled! We have seen some things we would not ordinarily see. Yes, our exuberance at these sights was tempered somewhat by the fact that we are also traveling with a teenager who would prefer to slay zombies on a flat screen, not look at paintings in the palaces of dead people. But we make sure he knows that this was SO GOOD for him. He will remember all of this and thank us later, without question. We are parenting so well.
While our daily tourism is not quite as active, we still give our neighbourhood Hop On/Hop Off Bus guy a very friendly smile as we pass by on the way to the local grocery. Speaking of which, we DID go to the famous market that one time, but we have settled on shopping more locally because the market is, in fact, one subway change and four stops away. No one can be expected to keep that up indefinitely. Speaking of which, we HAVE also backed off learning Hungarian, but it’s only because we found out it’s generally thought of as the hardest language on the planet, which we did not know when we first undertook the task. Learning a language that is only spoken in one country would just not be good time management. We still do speak in Hungarian for basic pleasantries which we feel is very gracious of us.
This is a wonderful, wonderful experience. It really is. We are happy with it so far. We are fairly certain that everyone wishes they were us. Even us.
The End (month 6 and a little bit of 7)
Our steady plod has ground to a complete halt. We no longer can be expected to stay here in the land of “pay to pee” and no Chick Fil A. There is nothing to eat here that we have the wherewithal to make and even if there was, we would have to shop YET AGAIN to prepare it and starving seems not un-pleasant maybe. Our desire to leave our apartment is no. Everything has been seen, done, and found extremely dumb.
When fight the urge to grab our Hop On/Hop Off buddy by his red vest and shriek “HOW DO YOU ABIDE THIS, 10 hours a day, day in and day out when THERE IS AMERICA!?” We are not even exchanging Hungarian pleasantries when we buy a water bottle. These people all know English anyway, as they should, because it is the best.
We have cut off contact with most people we are working with except when we are actually working because we are certain that we all hate one another. Everyone’s character flaws have exposed themselves in bas relief. Especially that one person’s. You don’t want to go to their stupid wedding anyway should someone be dumb enough to saddle themselves to that person for life. The ship is going down and everyone is grabbing for a stray door.
We are also certain that we don’t even know to act at all. Everything was wrong. It was terrible. This will be a disaster. The world is Simon Cowell and is ready to eviscerate us with a smirk and a cutting one liner.
School has started again for the cherubic young one, but no one cares. We don’t mention it and neither do they, because they are as over this whole thing as we are. If they bring it up we will just tell them shhhhhh. We are not actually here anymore. You are not seeing us. The child actor has taken to staying up all night and sleeping all day, a practice we would never tolerate at home, but for some bizarre reason, we find acceptable in this situation. We let it happen without batting one eye. We aren’t speaking to him anyway. Not because we hate him, but because after so much one-on-one time, there is simply nothing left to say to one another.
When not called to set, entire days are spent in bed which is littered with Oreo crumbs despite our usual devotion to health and wellness. There is not a show in any genre that has not been viewed in its entirety. The thought of being productive is anathema. We should probably wait to write about this experience until much later when balance and sanity are restored, which makes us suddenly realize that we have been, all this time, speaking in first person plural when there is only one of us talking. This experience has driven us to the point of talking out loud to ourselves in writing. All excitement at this fabulous opportunity has been systematically reduced to a daily summoning of the will to live.
Forturnately, there is one more stage of this experience and why there are actors who continue to subject themselves to this sort of shenanigan.
The Aftermath (months later)
The weeks after returning home are similar to the weeks after giving birth. We are convalescing. We hobble around in padded underwear and talk quietly. The incision is healing. We are up a lot at night, and while pain meds are necessary, the memory of intense labor is receding further and further away and we look at the newborn with a fond smile. Isn’t he perfect? Wasn’t it so wonderful? Won’t it be a prodigy? Look at it! WE MADE THIS. And while this metaphor is now breaking down into something a bit creepy and Norman Batesy, the fact of the matter IS……..we are totally enamoured with the whole experience. While we were worried that the child might have some special needs, we now see that it was the perfect performance at the perfect time with the perfect actor. The final product will be amazing. The hardships endured were worth it a hundred fold. The story about to be unleashed on the planet was one worth telling and we were so fortunate to have been a part. Final equation:
After this phase, we could almost see themselves doing something like this again and say things like, “Here’s to season 2!”
(Note: we are not at this phase quite yet. It takes time and we’ve only been home for 6 days. I’m just anticipating what WILL happen. Also, please don’t send emails faulting my algebra. The fact that I’m terrible at math is why I play pretend and write things for a living.)