12 March 2008

My Triple Play, or, The Time Bobby Knight Coached Me on Chair-Throwing

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to call a friend of mine and recall one of his fondest baseball memories. He was at Fenway Park and saw a record that will likely never be broken. "Weren't you there at a game in which two triple plays were pulled off?" I asked.


"Cool. ...I just booked two national commercials in one day."

That was how the week ended. Let me back up and dish the details of how it began. With that other booking.

It happened as fast as any commercial I've been a part of: about three days from audition to wrap, and one of them was a Sunday. Auditioned on Friday for a VW ad with All-Time NCAA Men's Basketball wins leader, Bobby Knight, and casting asked that we familiarize ourselves with this clip:

As if I hadn't seen it a hundred times already. But really, not every actor cares about college basketball, so I did have a leg up on some of the competition. I probably knew who he was when I was 12. I feel no guilt for perfectly fine afternoons spent watching ACC games, or for buying a mini-TV to put in the car while messengering during the early rounds of March Madness last year. It's not the first time my sports geekdom has gotten me work. (See the ESPN clip in the sidebar, if you're killing time.) It is, however, the first time my deeply-hidden secret short fuse got me a job. (But not the last, I'm totally gonna play John McCain one day!)

So for a guy who grew up in college basketball's Mecca, Chapel Hill, I couldn't have been more stoked booking it the next day. Without a callback. It was shooting Monday, I clearly knew how to throw chair with anyone and be a dork without trying, so who needs the hassle of a Sunday callback? Head-spinning had begun.

Monday morning, I'm on set at 8am. I met Coach Knight and his wife in their trailer, and he talked with the agency folks about the spot. A few minutes later, we walked on set wearing in matching blue V-neck sweaters and brown slacks. 'Holy crap, I'm Bob Knight's doppleganger.' I could see the crew chuckling already.

I don't want to give too much of it away, because however it turns out, it's going to be a damn funny spot. It's exactly the joke you'd want to hear after Coach Knight's retirement if you're familiar with his career. But the "Are you dadgum kiddin' me, is this really happening" moment came after the first rehearsal. My task? Throw chair. And Bob Knight turns and looks down to me and starts coaching me on proper chair-throwing mechanics. A handful of crew guys get this goofy look on their faces that must have mirrored the one I was wearing. He started talking about some golf coach who uses the chair-throwing clip as an example of a good golf stroke. "Get both of your hands back, and as you're following through, you transfer your weight from the back foot to the front," he said as he demonstrated with the chair.

He offered up a lot of suggestions, clearly concerned with his image in reality remaining consistent in the script, sometimes offering his own improvisations. He was pretty good, honestly. You gave him a mark, he hit it. In the scene, he's being interviewed on a talk show. The host makes a comment that earns him the death stare from Coach Knight. When he asked if he could react in a way that was more natural for him, the director (some Coppola fella) asked what'd he normally say.

"Well, fuck you!" After the laughter subsided, it was suggested that while that was certainly his most earnest and effective response, it probably wouldn't fly with the client. Woulda been a fun take, though!

We did about 25 takes with me, and two without, the latter being nowhere nearly as funny as the first 25. :) It was all over in a couple of hours, and afterwards Coach Knight signed his biography for me, "Thanks for letting me work with you!" he wrote. I finally found a copy of the call sheet which was a surreal extension of the day. In the talent section, the list went "**** (the top secret voice of the VW), Bobby Knight, me, Heidi Klum, Rick Searfoss." (Searfoss is an astronaut. And no, I didn't meet Heidi. Somehow, she will deal with that missed opportunity.) Bob Knight's ESPN gig starts tonight, and I will wait in eager anticipation for our ad during March Madness.

And at least three more! Sprint and Capital One, which both booked Friday, will shoot in the next week. Advil sponsors NCAA bball, too! Yes, it has been a career month. Despite a strike, January and February were both my busiest months ever. If that's not enough to be thankful for, the jobs I'm getting are as rewarding and funny as any I could have imagined when I got into this business.

Really f$#&ing rewarding.