The Planetary Society
Visions Artists Engineers & Astronauts Scientists Systems
Gary Graham  –  actor and writer
Click for larger image " When I approach a play or film, a new role, a new scene, I think about how I can bring up the juice, inject more extreme stakes –– sort of up the ante. "
How were you motivated to become an actor and writer?
  When I was a kid all I ever wanted to do was play. I was the one on the block who was always organizing the neighborhood kids into these epic productions of make–believe. It was always based on whatever the current movie I had seen that week with my family. One week it was BEN HUR –– I would get the kids into making wooden swords, trash can lids for shields, and cardboard and rusty wagons for chariots.

The next week we'd see THE LONGEST DAY –– and now my legion was transformed into a platoon, with army helmets, plastic machine guns, and rubber hand grenades. The re–enactments were heavy on dirt clods, brave frontal assaults, and heroic and glorious death tumbles down a sand hill. Stealthy night maneuvers were carried out after dinner and aided with signals from Oscar Mayer Wiener Whistles and flashlight blasts, and they usually ended up with a hapless neighbor's mailbox lid getting blown off by a sap–charge cherry bomb.

But when I became a young man, I put away childish things. Sort of. I grew up with the normal interests of sports, girls, science, and rock and roll, not necessarily in that order. When it came time to select a career I chose doctor. My dad was a doctor and I was fascinated by medical science so once in college, I ensconced myself in premed. I was a better than average student, but somewhere along the University line I lost my focus and my passion for medicine. Oddly, what I did discover was the drama department. And whereas taking drama was originally meant to supplement my grade point average, I found that I was much more comfortable on a stage than in a chem lab.

I don't begin to fathom why that is, or was, due to the fact that I always considered myself a bit shy. Maybe it was a therapy of sorts, being in front of people, on stage, to sort of bring myself out, make contact. And if I'm to be honest with myself, I must say my interest in girls had no small part in it. On more than one occasion a pretty young thing would approach me post–production and say, "Nice work in that play. I didn't know you were so "sensitive." "Thank you," I'd mumble humbly. "Would you care to go out for coffee and talk about me – I mean – talk about the play?"

But I think it was more hiding than anything else. One could get lost in a character, in the safe little enclave of a play. And something else, something scary, when I think about it: it was a great way to avoid responsibility. It's the character, it wasn't me. I didn't do those things, say those things, have that fit like that, it was the play, it was the character. What great license I had found! Ah the delicious debauchery of behavior it sanctioned. To be an actor. Virtually anything was permissible because it was all ultimately done in the name of art. I feel rather like a magician committing the ultimate taboo and breaking the code by revealing all the closely guarded trade secrets, but hey, I'm sorry – it goes with it.

To be an actor is to give yourself all the excuses you've ever dreamed of to misbehave. Ask Jack Nicholson, ask Robert Downey Jr. ask any of them, and if they're honest with themselves they'll agree with me. We get away with an awful lot in the nebulous name of 'ART'. Ah, drat – I've broken the actor's code! NEVER TELL THEM WE'RE HAVING A BALL!! They might not pay us as much as they do. Not that acting is easy. NOOOOOO, in fact it's rather difficult. It may look easy to the untrained eye, but to do it and do it well, to make it appear effortless, that requires tremendous amounts of skill, patience, and stamina. Because what you are asked to do as an actor is so nonsensical and illogical and antithetical to every human instinct, especially, the instinct to protect.

As an actor you are required to open, to reveal, to make yourself vulnerable. And here is clearly an irony: those of us who pursued this craft in an effort to hide from ourselves, are ultimately obligated to explore and reveal ourselves. And beyond that, and even more essentially, we are compelled to create. We are required to create an oxymoron: imaginary reality – which in and of itself demands copious amounts of concentration and relaxation – all while large numbers of strangers stand around and wait for you to tear your guts out, nail the scene, do it and do it right so we can break for lunch already. And that's just the doing of it, executing under the pressure to NOT BLOW IT as the slate comes in and you hear "Action!" That's pressure enough, but on top of that you have to remember –– each performance your career is basically on the line.

The public is fickle, and so is the industry. They may forgive a turkey or two, but then they can turn on you. Hollywood doesn't offer many second chances, so I learned early on that when you are in front of the camera, make it count. Don't chew up the scenery, less is usually more, but if the scene requires emotional blood, give them quarts. It takes courage to make strong decisions and choices under professional conditions, and if there is one attribute an actor should wear proudly, it is courage.

  Click for larger image
What can you share about your creative process?
    Well, it's always changing for me. Which doesn't bother me, in that my life is always changing, as is my approach to the 'business.' I emphasize different aspects of myself now than I used to; I have different goals, hold somewhat different values. Career used to be the top dog with me, but that has slipped behind family, friends, God. But I believe the rearranging, the house cleaning I've done in the past five years has only enhanced my creative process, because it's enhanced my life. Given me more to draw from, more to express. Because that's your canvas as an actor, yourself and your life experiences.

When I approach a play or film, and new role, a new scene, I think about how I can bring up the juice, inject more extreme stakes –– sort of up the ante. If I want something, I REALLY want it. If I love someone, I REALLY love them. (This approach, of course, can become a problem on a personal level, especially with one's wife, hence the cardinal rule – always leave the work at the office. Never let the character come home with you. He may be a rude son–of–a–bitch.)

In acting, I've always thought it a good thing to K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid. And to Practice Stillness. Less is usually more (except for those times when more is more). In addition, one mentor early on said something that has stuck with me: "Each day look for at least five things that are beautiful. Reflect on these, digest them, bury them deep within. Then when you act – draw upon them. Beauty can be found in the most simple and obvious of places. Always when you act, look for the beauty."

If fear of flying is really fear of smacking into the ground, then fear of acting, or stage fright, is really the fear of being embarrassed. It's the fear of falling on your face in front of crowd. I've always felt acting works best when you're not afraid to make a complete ass of yourself. My friends tell me I've succeeded on that front splendidly.

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  Dress warmly and drink plenty of water. Seriously though. I would imagine the greatest obstacle facing the colonist, after the immediate problems of breathable air and atmosphere, water, food, warmth, etc. were settled, in I assume secure dome–type city pods – would be one of cosmic cabin fever. It's one thing to be snowed in, where one cannot take a long walk because the snow drifts are too high. It's quite another to be domed in, where if you talk a long walk, it had better be in a pressurized suit or you explode. Or your skin starts to bubble from the solar radiation. Or your lungs bleed from the mercury–iridum in the toxic atmosphere (I made that up).

Plus – I know folks on the west coast who get so homesick being away from their east coast relatives for a few months – imagine those same people who are separated by a span of hundreds of thousands of miles. Yes, the Russian cosmonauts have been space–bound for years at a stretch, but these are trained and disciplined soldiers. The common man may not fare as well. Psychological counseling services for Mars Colony would be my choice for stock market investing in the new millennium. Also, recreational distractions such as Mars–Gravity Golf and Upper Atmosphere Jet–Skiing would certainly come into fashion, as the locals would soon tire of the overdone Mars Dune Buggy excursions.

I would love to see total free–market entrepreneurialship on the Mars colony. National lines of demarcation would be/should be a moot point. I imagine, rather the American sector, or Russian sector, or Chinese sector – hey, I like the notion of the Disney sector, or the Universal tours sector or the Six Flags sector. Rather than yet another piece of real estate Earth countries battle over – I say, whoever gets there first gets to put up their hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks. And I give Disney high odds at being first – they've always been the quickest to recognize profit potential. Who better to serve as international, interplanetary ambassador for peace and prosperity in the twenty–first century than Mickey Mouse? Mickey on Mars. It's about time.

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