I Shot an X-Man. On TV
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because while there are harder ways to make an easy living, TV is probably not one of them.
By Tom Mcilwain
People ask me about my illustrious acting career. I’m unsure what most mean by illustrious; I mean that I’ve made enough money to say it’s more than a hobby but not keeping the electricity on. Total disclosure: The guy I shot wasn’t an actual X-Man, though he was a mutant. But, you know, X-Man sounded more impressive.
Anyway, I’m what is known as a day player. Ever watch, say, Law & Order? The cop that says, “The body is over here, Detective”? Yeah, that’s the level I’m on. You’d be shocked how many people would punch their mom dead in the face to book that.
As far as actors at my level go, I’m doing OK. I’ve had a co-starring role in a feature film called Black Water that’s coming out in 2018, multiple indie-film credits and, yes, SS Guard No. 2 on Fox’s The Gifted. When I got cast, it was about a week after the big neo-Nazi thing in North Carolina. I called the wardrobe department and asked if SS meant Nazi. I wasn’t sure I wanted to walk around Atlanta dressed like one. To my relief, SS stood for Sentinel Services.
But here’s the basic system since most people ask the same two questions: How do you get this kind of work, and can you hook me up to get this kind of work? The short answers? Easy and no.
If you have an agent, your agent has access to Breakdown Services and can see upcoming parts. If they think you’re a fit, they submit you. Then, the casting director may ask you to audition for the part. These days, 95 percent of auditions are video that you self-tape. In this particular one, my lines were “You! On the ground! I said, on the ground, now!” Then I fire an imaginary gun.
They also added a scene where I run holding my pistol. And yes, my tactical friends also shit all over that.
Yes, it does feel stupid, but you commit to it. Usually, if you’re in the running, you get a callback. Imagine my surprise when my agent called and said I was booked a week.
I showed up at my 6 a.m. call time, headed to wardrobe, where they shaved off my glorious beard, and then did what usually takes up most of my day: Wait. At catering, in my trailer, in a van. Wait. There are so many moving parts, actors basically sit around most of the day. After hours of this — again, standard — I’m called on to set.
I ended up with three days of filming, and I was in three scenes, two of them with dialogue and most making it to air. That’s actually pretty good. First day and scene was me running up to one of the main characters and nodding, then waving a rifle around and pretending I was firing it. Easy day, but my real-life tactical buddies all texted me after it aired to correct my form.
Day Two was my big scene with dialogue and shooting a principal character. My line is embarrassingly simple, but right before shooting, they asked me to improvise some lines with another actor to set the scene up. He’s telling me to take it seriously, as if they use it, our residuals go up. I’m like, “Dude, they’re not using this. Chill out. I’m trying not to forget my three damned lines.” But damned if it didn’t mostly make air. Which officially makes Jesse O’Neill hella right and me hella wrong. And except for my gun jamming twice, it went smoothly.
Day Three was comical. They basically kept me around “just in case.”
I stood under an umbrella drinking bottled water and being the eyeline for the guy I shot. They also added a scene where I run holding my pistol — and yes, my tactical friends also shit all over that — and yell stop. (FYI: It got cut.) I should also note that this was Day Three of me filming outside in the ATL wearing a full tactical vest and gear, so I’m pretty much dying and completely over the glamour of acting.
All things considered, though, it was a good payday for the effort and I was treated very well by cast and crew. The principal characters were all cordial but also “Not getting attached to you, day player.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t specifically say Coby Bell, Stephen Moyer and Sean Teale were out-of-their-way nice and helpful. Especially considering that I’m pretty much a nobody.
I’ll leave you with this, though, since I’m working on increasing my celebrity ass quotient. But it’s the conversation I’ve had 50 times since the show aired.
“Bro, I saw you on TV. That’s cool AF. How’d you do that?”
“Well, I took acting classes, worked for free in student films to practice and build my résumé, got headshots taken, self-submitted and got agents and a manager, and auditioned for about 50 roles before booking one.”
“Dude, can you just hook me up?”
- Tom Mcilwain, OZY Author Contact Tom Mcilwain