And it also turns out that Rocco is one of the most gracious, thoughtful, and inclusive guys I've seen in some time. Here he is in Donnie Brasco in a scene with Pacino and Depp (click to make larger). It's not that I was expecting him to be some kind of snob or something - I remember him as a pretty quiet guy in school - but I was impressed that he even remembered me and shared some personal asides with me during the proceedings. Now you know I couldn't pass it up, so when they were giving his credits and mentioned that he'd been in "Far and Away" with Tom Cruise I simply had to lean over to him on the stage and whisper "I here Tom Cruise still can't fly," to which - in all honesty - he almost lost it there for a second. So, yeah, a cool dude. When I first walked up to him he seemed pretty glad to see me and shook my hand very warmly. But I did tell him who I was just in case first so he wouldn't be embarrassed.
As for the talk I had to give I had two missions given to me by the organizer, who is a teacher there and also someone who was a fellow alum of ours from that era. If I had an anecdote about Rocco, that would be very much sought after. And if I could say something about the effect teachers have on their students that would also be appropriate. So I parsed it into two parts under the idea that "there are 2 things I share with Rocco Sisto." The first was a thing that happened to us when we were in a play together and the second was our theater director/teacher - which led me into the desired "few positive words" for the faculty.
I decided to go without notes because I knew that if I brought anything up with me to the microphone I'd probably just end up reading it and none of it would have worked. This, of course, made my terrors even more pronounced. I didn't sleep well at all the night before, until I took a little killer and for a while that didn't even seem like it was going to work. Just before we went on stage I completely blanked. I had no recollection of what I planned to say. When it started I wanted the people ahead of me to just keep going. Maybe it would never come my way.
But it was not to be avoided. Sooner or later the ball would be passed to me and I'd have to do something. Somehow.
The way I used to handle it was just to get my feet moving and get up there. No matter how I felt, I just moved. That's how I'd always done it and that's how I did it yesterday. Like somebody who never jumped out of a plane straps a parachute on and just says "oh well what the hell" and jumps, trusting the conclusion to God and the forbearance of reptiles. This is how I always did it. Why not do it now?
Once I got to the microphone I was fine. Because I didn't have notes to check I made eye contact with the audience and engaged them at every moment. They laughed when they should have laughed. I even got (I talked to Sligo after it was over and told him the same, and it's true) one belly laugh. My problem, as it has ever been, is that I can't for the life of me remember what I got the score with. I don't remember what, exactly, it was that I said. But there was supposed to be a laugh there so it worked out. I just didn't gauge how loud it was going to be. But, you know, you get chuckles within the first minute and you know they're with you. They did everything they were supposed to do. So it worked out in the end.
I talked to my wife on the phone and she said I'm just silly. In his email Sligo more or less sounded like he knew nothing bad was going to happen. And a couple people came up to me during the reception afterward and gave me some positive feedback as well. So I guess I did have a support system after all. Well I'll be damned.
I had a picture taken with Rocco on my camera but the person taking it didn't frame the picture well at all and we look like we are standing a hundred miles away. So I'm not putting it on here and of course I have no idea when that chance will ever happen again. Oh well.
During his talk he told a very funny and self-deprecating story about the time he was walking his dog in a park (he lives in Manhattan). He's going along and someone comes up and says "excuse me." And, as he told it, he thought - aha, here it is. Someone recognizes me from something and they're going to tell me how much they like me. But then the person said "I'm a casting director," and - as he explained - he immediately thought - aha, here it is, this guy recognized me and is going to give me the role of a lifetime just like they did with Lana Turner. Then he goes "I said to myself, I'm going to be Lana Turner!!" (you see this is my kind of humor already, I know). And then he said "the guy wanted to know if he could take a picture of my dog."
Turns out Rocco's dog has now done several commercials.
That was pretty funny. He was also pretty up front about the realities of the business. He's not a star, he explained, but a working actor for 30 years and pretty proud of that. He explained that at any given moment a large percentage of actors who are members of their union - I think he said something like 90% - have no jobs. No jobs equals no income. So to be in stuff from Matlock and NYPD Blue and Star Trek (I forgot to tell him how much I enjoyed seeing an Italian Vulcan, dammit) was good enough, considering the obstacles.
Turns out he's going to stay in town a few days and actually give a few lab sessions with the high school actors who are putting on a play this very weekend. So, yeah like I said, a cool dude.
Everything worked out A-Ok. Then I went to work and punched in. Then I worked all night and got home an hour ago. Then I wrote you this. Oh and on the subject of working... the shop looked pretty dismal after all that showbiz stuff but I'm still happy to have a regular paycheck, and even Rocco said his advice to people starting out as actors was "don't quit your day job if you don't have to."
So it turns out Rocco is an OK guy who is very realistic about the way things are but also blessed with a lifetime of working at something he loves. And he doesn't need the stardom everyone seeks at the beginning. By the way he has a new movie out called A Bird of the Air, the trailer of which looks kind of interesting (no he's not in the trailer). But it's like an indie flick so you might have to go some to find it. Here's Rocco's blurb from the cast list.
So anyway if you happen to see the guy in a commercial or another supporting role somewhere with some big name over-acting super star, just nudge the person you're with and say "that's Rocco Sisto. And he's a pretty cool guy."