The Beginning, Middle and the End

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.

Current equation:

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.

Equation:  

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.)

Budap(ever)est

Jo Reggalt!

We made it!   We are in the country of Hungary on the continent of Europe!  It was a twenty hour travel day, but the journey to this point has been well over a decade if you count the years of commercials, industrials, day players, and supporting roles it took Matt to be prepared to actually inhabit the role of Stevie Taggart, a reformed, murderous, street thug in the 1800’s with a New York accent.

It wouldn’t be a proper blog post without details of some of our mishaps so here are a few!   At the Atlanta airport where we arrived buried under six suitcases,  carry-on bags, and our passports, the check in lady asked us where our Visa’s were.  Record scratch!!!!! (Millennials, google it).  A Visa!!?   I explained that I didn’t think we needed a Visa as no one from production had ever made a single mention of needing one and they are on top of things like this, but she insisted. After some more back and forth she disappeared behind the curtain to speak with Oz.   Matt and I looked at one another uneasily and I said a quick prayer that went something like, “God!  Budapest!  Fix it!”

Then just like God inhabits Octavia Spencer in The Shack, He chose to inhabit another British Airways employee, who happened to walk up to the desk to ask what our hold up was.   We explained,  he pressed a few magical buttons on the keyboard and said that we did not, in fact, need a Visa at all.  Just a passport.  Despite the original lady’s protests,  he calmly tagged our bags and walked away.   As we gathered our remaining carry on bags, original desk lady said to fellow desk lady (sotto) “What was he even doing out here?”, which means that normally he would not have crossed our path!   Divine intervention for the win!

Our next snafu came at boarding time.  If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past, you know of the inviolable Lintz “right hand” ritual (for more on this, see “Sepulvatory”).   However, on international flights they require you to show your passport one more time as you enter the actual plane.   So my right hand was otherwise occupied as I boarded.  In order to complete the ritual, I would have had to shift everything to my left hand, and take an additional few seconds before boarding while everyone behind me wondered what the heck I was doing, WHICH I ABSOLUTELY DID DO, but in an abbreviated way.   My usually well thought out prayer of “God, please do not let this plane crash into the Atlantic because that would really suck,” turned into more of a “SHMFRMOEF!!!”, while Matt was only able to blurt out a mental, “Please G…..!!”   Fortunately, God understands strong non-verbal sentiment….because here we are.

This next incident is painful.   Without me knowing, and somehow clearing Atlanta security, Matt had packed his BRAND NEW Rodan and Fields Unblemish Skin Care regimen in his carry on bag, and the vigilant security workers at Heathrow in London confiscated it.   This regimen costs well into the $200 range so you can imagine the heated mother/son dialogue that took place where once again it was determined that even though it was Matt who had packed liquids over 3 ounces in a CARRY ON BAG (how many planes have you taken, son?), it was still somehow all my fault. (can I get an amen from mom’s everywhere?)  In a fit of extreme irritation, I leapt up onto the metal bag examining table and shouted for an audience of hundreds, “THIS IS THE DUMBEST RULE EVER!  WHY CAN I NOT TAKE LIQUIDS GREATER THAN 3 OZ. ON YOUR DANG AIRLINE!?  WHAT AM I GOING TO DO!?  HIJACK THE PLANE WITH TONER?  DEATH BY EXFOLIATION!?”   The woman thwarting us matched my ire, holding aloft a long staff that she borrowed from Gandalf and screamed, “YOU SHALL NOOOOOOOT PASSSSSSSSSSS!”

Mother of God.***

FINALLY, 20 hours later, we arrived in Budapest.   It’s been…..………daunting, not gonna lie.    The cast and crew are lovely, so no worries there.   Matt will have a ball on this project.  The people of Hungary are friendly, kind, and accommodating.     But living in a foreign country where we do not speak the language is overwhelming on a good day.  Everything is so different, which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just uncomfortable.   The following issues have already made me yearn for my motherland.

Everything is small:  Like for small people.   When Matt and I tried to fit into an elevator at our hotel with our 6 suitcases, the elevator barely fit the cart itself, let alone Matt and I.   I was squished behind it flat as a pancake (thank GOD I’ve been using Plexus) and Matt was basically suctioned to the ceiling like Spiderman.  In our suite, the stair case is so narrow that I had to turn the suitcases side ways to fit.  We have Anne Frank’s staircase.    And there is no actual room in the bedroom to FIT said suitcases.  They are in the hallway.   I mean, what is the DEAL Europe?  Could you be a little more roomy maybe?   I honestly think this is why Christopher Columbus went to America.  He was like “Good lord, I cannot MOVE here.  All the big boned people, come with me!”

The shower:   Our shower points straight down from the ceiling.  There is no getting your body wet before your head.  You have to either bend at the waist to keep your head out of the spray until you’re ready to rinse or turn backward and do a sort of sun salutation.  This is not all bad as not only do I get my shower out of the way, but I also experience a complete yoga class at the same time.

Electronics:  Ok, so you know how in America you are always hunting around for your computer or phone charger and cursing about it? (Just me?)   Well, here, you also need an adapter to convert American power to European power.   So not only do you have to keep track of the chargers, but the converters.  This is simply a recipe for disaster in my case, and I’m going to learn to curse in Hungarian so I can express myself when necessary.

(Additional appliance note:  American hair dryers do not work over here.  Apparently, they are powered by NASA and cannot be converted to European electricity without burning down the entire hotel, which might not be a bad idea, to knock a few walls out and make more room.  The ones in our hotel do not have an on/off switch.  They have a button that you have to mash down the entire time you are drying your hair.   When you let it go, it turns off.   This can be quite tiring if you have long, thick hair. If you have arthritis, time to drip dry.   Let me just ask you, Hungary…….why?   Unlike curling irons, no one in the history of the world has ever left a hair dryer on all day long.)

Grocery stores:   I was told that this would be the most challenging aspect of our journey at first, which is absolutely correct.  I walked into the local corner store, and immediately started sweating.  Kroger, it was not!  Nothing was in English, of course, but I thought I would at least be able to recognize certain products.   When I stumbled upon a box that actually said Kellogg’s Cornflakes, I grabbed it like a 13 year old grabs for any member of One Direction.  I don’t even eat corn flakes, but I was so happy to see something I recognized that I bought it anyway.   The only way I knew that the milk was milk was from the cow picture on the front of the carton.   Most things I couldn’t recognize what it actually WAS from the picture on the front, and I couldn’t find any of my usual items anywhere.  I honestly was stumped at what we were going to prepare for ourselves.   I did find Activia yogurt, and Jamie Lee Curtis patted me on the head and said not only won’t you starve, but you’ll be super regular.

Our apartment again:  Doesn’t have an oven.  It has two stove top burners and a microwave.  This may not be a problem as I cannot find anything at the grocery store to cook anyway.

The language:   While many people do speak English, especially those in the hotel and tourist industry, this does not include people that work at the local grocery store.   I could communicate absolutely zero with my check out girl which proved to be a problem when I realized they did not provide bags.   I did not know how to ask for a bag, so I just pointed and said bag in a Hungarian accent (BEG), hoping that would suffice.   It kind of did, in that she gave me one, but ONLY ONE, and then began checking out the next person leaving me to BEG about half of my groceries, and then figure out a way to juggle the rest in my arms for the walk back to my hotel.  I looked completely ridiculous and all of Budapest mocked me.

It is clear to me that Matt and I are going to have to actually learn some of this language to at least appear polite.  We have downloaded a Hungarian language learning program and one of the set P.A.’s is set to give us daily short lessons that won’t make us cry.   Because this language is HARD you guys.  I can’t even pronounce half the stuff they say.  But we are resolutely immersing ourselves.  There is just no other way.

While I am overwhelmed, and a little homesick already, there is much to be grateful for.  So in closing this “initial impression” essay, I do want to list some things that seem awesome about this adventure.

  1. Budapest is beautiful.   Budapest szep!!    Matt’s eyes were agog as we drove past a castle in the middle of the city.  They call Budapest the hidden jewel of Europe and we are looking forward to having the chance to explore it for ourselves.  Not to mention the surrounding countries.  I can get to Rome in 2 hours.  Whaaaaat!?
  2. The food is actually pretty good!  It’s fresh, and tasty!  I haven’t eaten anything yet that makes me gag.
  3. Getting back to this job, to say that we are grateful to be here is an understatement. As a family, we have always wanted to break into the international scene, and this is easily the most international project we’ve ever worked on. There are actors from Germany, Ireland, England, Belgium, and America.  They have built an entire back lot simulating six full blocks of 19th century New York City that took our breath away. TNT is calling this their Game of Thrones.

In the last 18 months, Matt has screen tested nine times and received nine no’s.   Then, when finally he was cast in a movie, it was shut down two weeks into production.  To have him actually be the “chosen one” this time, on what promises to be an enormous period drama is vindication at the end of the rutted road of disappointment and despair we have traversed.   We literally feel like we’ve climbed Mt. Everest.   Or maybe the Alps, where we are standing this very minute, hands on hips, satisfied looks on our face, staring off into the distance.   The difficulties of life in Budapest……I can handle.

I know the Alps are not in Hungary, just go with me.

Sziastok!

***A big thank you to Rodan and Fields and our consultant Marci Smith, for agreeing to send us a free replacement regimen as a one time courtesy.   Matt’s skin is saved.