restricted access 1: Flashback

From: Theo

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

1 Flashback LT IS A FINE DAY IN THE SPRING OF '92. I am arriving at the Pico gate of the 20th Century Fox studio, as I have done many times over the years. Normally the feeling of reporting for work on a new show is one of pleasant anticipation; today, not quite so. Of course, simply driving through the gate at 20th Century Fox is apt to trigger mind games, most often pleasant, occasionally strange, but rarely disturbing . Memories of a time when there was no Century City, when the lot was accessible from Santa Monica Boulevard through gates to the north, west, and south, and all the guards knew you by sight and by name. The memories usually take me back to interesting work with interesting people in feature films and, much later, TV shows. But today my mind is on none of these. The show is L.A. Law, a prestigious job with people I have long admired; by rights the prospect of playing a guest-starring role on this program should bring me nothing but pleasure. It's the role itself that causes strange and disquieting thoughts, thoughts that can't be chased away with "It's just a job." I never take that attitude anyway. There is no such thing as "just a job," not if you have any sense of responsibility toward your craft. No, the reason for my discomfort is that this role cuts awfully close to home. The set presents the usual picture of activity: a mixture of high organization and frantic confusion. Carpenters are hammering away, occasionally stilled by an assistant's call of "Hold it down," there's a toand -fro of cables being pulled, a call for hairdressers and makeup people , and a cluster of actors, extras, and temporarily unbusy crew 2 · THEO around the coffee urn and the tables of munchies. (The quality and quantity of the munchies is in direct ratio to the success and popularity of the show.) There are huddled conferences between the director, the producers, and various departments; there are wardrobe people making sure that the actors' clothes match the right scene numbers; prop people are dressing the set after opening up the usual canvas chairs for the cast; actors are complaining about script changes given to them only this morning-"How am I going to unlearn what I studied last night?" And in the middle of all this here am I, trying to concentrate on the acting task before me, and today on much more besides. Kurt Rubin, the character I am playing, now a very wealthy man in Los Angeles, is a survivor of the Holocaust. His parents were taken to the camps while he was away in the woods climbing trees like any normal eleven-year-old. He came back to an empty house, waited for days in vain for their return, and then became one of the many child fugitives across Europe, hiding in barns and cellars, eventually being smuggled to Switzerland and freedom. Rubin never saw his parents again, and learned of their fate much later, from a fellow prisoner who watched the Nazis butcher them. He is called upon to retell all this on the witness stand, testifying as a plaintiff against a woman researcher who has received a grant from a foundation he administers, and who proposes to use "medical" data gathered by Nazi doctors at Auschwitz. In an interesting twist of the story, Mackenzie Brackman, the resident firm on L.A. Law, does not represent the Holocaust survivor but rather the researcher who is being sued for the return of the grant. Specifically, it is the young black attorney Jonathan Rollins, played by Blair Underwood, who argues the case in her behalf. As Kurt Rubin and others give vivid testimony about the horrors of the camps, Rollins maintains his outward composure but becomes quite uncomfortable as the parallels between one persecution and another are brought home to him. Under cross-examination, Rubin shouts at Rollins, demanding whether he can be certain that the next time it will not be a black man at the receiving end of the murderers' wrath. Kurt Rubin's anger on the witness stand triggered something in me. It also made me fear that as an artist I was in danger of allowing my own feelings to overpower me and drive the character out of my grasp. Of course it's true that an actor must look for feelings and mental associations...


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