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What's My Line?

Aug. 02, 2004
Aug. 02, 2004

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Aug. 2, 2004

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What's My Line?

I've happily surrendered my age, weight and Social Security
number to Hollywood casting director Felicia Fasano. But I draw
the line when she asks me, point blank, if I've ever had any
"sag-related" experiences. That, surely, is privileged
information, a private matter between a man and his urologist.

This is an article from the Aug. 2, 2004 issue Original Layout

But when I learn that SAG is an acronym for the Screen Actors
Guild, I confess--with relief and some embarrassment--that I have
no experience whatsoever with SAG. Indeed, I have never acted in
my life. And yet, for reasons that I cannot fathom, I've been
cast in a prime-time, hourlong CBS baseball drama called
Clubhouse, a coproduction of Aaron Spelling and Mel Gibson, whom
I will come to know, collectively, as Spell & Mel.

Spell & Mel meet Air & Space on Oct. 5, when I'll appear on
Clubhouse as a bald sportswriter covering the 26-time world
champion New York Empires, whose star third baseman, Conrad Dean,
is played by ex-Princeton defensive back Dean Cain. When I tell
Cain at rehearsal that mine seems destined to be the most wooden
performance since Pinocchio's, he suggests that I find the humor
in public humiliation. As a rookie with the Buffalo Bills, says
the 38-year-old Cain, who suffered a career-ending knee injury
before playing a regular season game, "I had to stand in the
dining hall with my left hand on my nuts and my right hand on my
heart and sing my school song. If I had to do that again, I'd
have fun with it."

This puts me at ease. In fact, after 10 minutes on the clubhouse
set of Clubhouse, holding my nuts proves irresistible. "When you
make a Western, everybody working on it starts walking like a
cowboy," says executive producer Ken Topolsky. "When you make a
baseball show, you'll notice everyone--cast, crew,
everyone--instinctively starts grabbing themselves."

It helps that the set in Van Nuys, Calif.--from the filthy phone
on a clubhouse wall to the sunflower-seed-dappled dugout--looks
alarmingly authentic. "Christopher Lloyd is the perfect equipment
manager," says Tony Scruggs, a Clubhouse extra and former Texas
Rangers outfielder, while cocking a glance at the Taxi alumnus.
"Seems like every equipment manager I ever had was this
blue-collar, shamanistic wise man who could inspire you one
minute and rip you a new butt hole the next."

Nobody knows that better than Matt McGough, whose forthcoming
memoir of his years as a Yankees batboy while a high school
junior and senior inspired Clubhouse. Now 29, McGough is
vicariously reliving his life under legendary Yankees equipment
manager Nick Priore. "Don Mattingly really did tell me to find
him a bat stretcher on my first day on the job," says McGough,
referring to a scene in Clubhouse that is scheduled to air on
Sept. 28. "David Cone would call guys to the bullpen and ask for
a bucket of steam from the shower." McGough can testify to many
ballplayer kindnesses--Mattingly and Jim Abbott mailed money to
his brother, Damien, a Yankees batboy himself, during the strike
of 1994--and a great many excesses. "One player," he says, "and
he shall remain nameless, would bring his laundry from home for
us to wash in the clubhouse."

At the heart of Clubhouse is a batboy played by Jeremy Sumpter,
an enormously likable 16-year-old who never stoops to
"Creekspeak." (That's writer and executive producer Daniel
Cerone's coinage for the kind of irony-drenched, 15-going-on-50
dialogue that Dawson's Creek loosed on a generation.) Rest
assured, should Clubhouse find a wide audience, Sumpter--whose
credits include the title role in the 2003 film version of Peter
Pan--will leverage his fame for the same worthy ends that you or
I would. "I'm going to throw out the first pitch at a Giants
game," says the San Francisco Giants fanatic. "I might golf in
the AT&T. I'm a Lakers fan: It would be cool to sit next to Jack
Nicholson...."

It would be. And so on Friday afternoon in my trailer I spend
four final hours reciting my 34 words of dialogue. When the cast
is summoned to rehearse at 6:30 p.m., my cue comes up, but my
first lines--"You looked good at the plate tonight. How's that
shoulder holding up?"--abandon me. Instead, I am a Trevi Fountain
of flop sweat, finally blurting, "I've completely frozen up!" For
a moment there is no other sound but the soft flapping of Spell &
Mel's money taking flight. And then Cain, convulsing with
laughter, puts a hand on my shoulder and says, "I love it! I love
that you just did that!"

The actual shooting of the scenes is enormously complicated,
involving a Steadicam snaking its way past two dozen clubhouse
characters. Says Fred Keller, the director of this episode, "Not
since the statehouse scene in A Night at the Opera have so many
people appeared in one shot."

And so we shoot and reshoot for the next nine hours. In that
time, inexplicably, I don't blow a single line. Indeed, when I
wrap, 30 takes later at 3 a.m., the director praises my portrayal
of ... me. "Your first day on a set is the most exciting day of
your life," Keller says. As members of the crew stifle yawns, he
adds, "Your second day on a set is the most boring day of your
life." But of course, all I've really heard is "second day,"
suggesting that I could, conceivably, work again.

Spell? Mel? Call me.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

I have never acted in my life, and yet I've been cast in a
prime-time, hourlong CBS baseball drama.