Watching RAY DONOVAN last night I kept thinking, as I had the week before, this is too close to home in some ways. A lot of the story lines are contrived, it is fiction, and the set up is a little calculated etc. but the idea of the East Coast Irish wannabe thug or ex-thug or just working-class hard guy persona etc. in Hollywood is not totally unfamiliar.
A lot of friends and acquaintances used to make clear they thought my ego was way out of whack because I would often comment on how some plot point or character in a movie, and sometimes on TV, came from my life. They'd point out that me and my experiences are not that unique, that ideas are "in the air" and more than one person gets the same idea at the same time, or that I was just insanely egocentric.
But in my defense, I lived in "Hollywood" (i.e. near Hollywood in the L.A. area but among people who worked in film and TV) for seventeen years and worked in the film and TV industries for over thirty (and was around those businesses for even more years) and almost daily was at parties or having dinner or lunch or brunch or breakfast or meetings in offices or on sets with producers and writers and stars and agents and managers.
And my mode of conversation is storytelling, like a lot of the Irish and most of my clan. The way I explained myself or engaged with others was to tell a little vignette from my life or someone I knew from my life. And for eight years I ran a weekly poetry series (POETRY IN MOTION) with my partner Eve Brandstein at which I read poems usually based on my life experiences. So when I saw an actor doing a character on screen that I thought was in some ways imitating me, it wasn't that far fetched, especially if the casting director or director himself had videotaped me doing an audition for the same role, or if an aspect of a flick seemed be taken from my life. The audience at those weekly readings in L.A. included many studio execs and producers and writers and actors etc.
After I moved to Jersey and eventually retired from TV and film work, I still saw those things but didn't mention them as often, or at all, because I understood that even if I was right it didn't matter. Ultimately all ideas come from somewhere, and characters are written or played from the creators' perspective on aspects of all kinds of things and people they have seen or heard about or imagined.
Then I started watching RAY DONOVAN and was bugged, as expressed in my post on the show, with the absence of Irish names among the cast and creators (there were one or two but a drop comapared to all the Italian names on say a Scorcese movie even when it's about the Irish! ala THE DEPARTED). I was interested to see what Jon Voight would do with the Whitey Bolger type character—Micky Donovan—he plays on the show and was impressed with his and much of the acting in the first few episodes.
Then on the show last week, I saw aspects of my life again, including specifics I've written extensively about. Like Micky Donovan having kids from a "white" wife but feeling the main love of his life was a "black" woman from his early years and how he goes back to see her after twenty years away (him in prison me in L.A.) still in love with her but her married to another "white" man who isn't like him.
That was a central part of my story that I wrote about often and in particular in a poem I read a lot in my L.A. years and was published in the book that came out of those readings, CANT BE WRONG, and read on my first CD: WHAT YOU FIND THERE. Then in last night's episode Voight as Micky was not only dressed exactly as I always dressed for years in my time in L.A. but was actually making some of the same gestures and even dance moves and so on that I did and still do. So much so that one of my best friends I've made since coming back to Jersey called me this morning and said when he was watching the same episode last night he couldn't stop thinking of me because Voight's moves, especially the dance ones etc. were so like what he's seen me do.
Now all that could just be coincidence, or because Voight and I are around the same age and are East Coast guys, but I've met and talked to him at parties and other events over the years and though we do share more than many others he's not me, and Micky is a character he's playing not his everyday persona. It's not mine either, but it has more in common with mine, especially in the context of my L.A. years, than his from what I know.
The creator of RAY DONOVAN, Ann Biderman, is a terrific woman whom I know, though I haven't seen her in many years, and know was around when I was reading that poem and other writing about aspects of my life that are also part of Micky's character. Maybe my work just reminded her of other guys like me and Micky, or maybe she unconsciously absorbed the stories of my experiences and they melded with her imagination and research and stories from others, or maybe she owns some of my books or CDs and used some of that for her research too, or maybe not.
But, it is eerie to see someone you've already been told by some folks (and critics too) reminds them of you, or vice versa (i.e. Jon Voight), playing a character with your moves and some very specific experiences and tastes and styles of yours, including some rarely if ever seen on TV or in films before. Life goes on, but what a trip.