For these New Mexico actors, it’s not what you say, but how you say it
Paul Blott wasn’t crazy about being dragged into the air by a harness after being blown away by Bryan Brown. Robyn Reede got a little tired letting out a scream of horror for the 50th time. And the last thing Todd Anderson needed was actor James Woods telling him how to say one paltry line of dialogue in a movie about vampires.
But this trio of local film actors – just three of some 300 New Mexico actors who belong to the Screen Actors Guild – love movie work, whether is consists of a line or two of dialogue or a featured role. And although they’re not likely to become household names, all three actors are dedicated to their craft.
Blott, a native of Seattle, WA who has lived in New Mexico since 1990, stumbled into film-making. In 1993, he was cast as a hit man hired to do away with Bryan Brown in the made-for-television film The Last Hit, which was shot in the Las Vegas, NM area.
Blott’s audition simply consisted of pouring himself a cup of coffee and saying a few lines of dialogue, but director Jan Egleson liked his style and hired him on the spot.
Blott’s big scene came when he stuffed Brown in the trunk of a car in preparation for a one-way ride.
“Acting sometimes has very little to do with it,” Blott says in recalling the repetitive nature of rehearsing such a scene. “You rehearse an action scene like that repeatedly. It gets very technical, with by-the-numbers direction: one, two, three, open the trunk and shoot him. It’s not really acting.”
Stunt work did play a role, for Blott wanted to do his own fall when Brown fired back. Blott signed a release form, rehearsed with a real (but unloaded) 9-millimeter pistol, and then waited for the harness to pull him back as Brown filled him full of holes. Blott flew up and fell back, letting the gun fly out of camera range, and then threw his feet as if performing in a vaudeville sketch. His death provoked guffaws rather than applause, and he had to do it again.
Blott must be a glutton for gunplay. He performed a similar stunt while Tom Selleck blew him to pieces in the TNT Western Last Stand at Saber River, also shot in the Las Vegas area.
“It teaches you a healthy respect for the stuntmen,” Blott says with a laugh. The stage-trained actor likes film work, even though it’s sporadic and often consists of playing bad hombres in Westerns. But he’s racked up an impressive array of New Mexico film credits, ranging from principal roles in Paul Hogan’s Lightning Jack and the low-budget drama Maniacs, to day-player work in television series such as America’s Most Wanted and Lazarus Man. He recently tied for the award for “Best Actor in the Flicks” on 66 Film Festival, held in Albuquerque, for the short film Ride, which featured Blott as one of a pair of cowpokes bemoaning the demise of their way of life. (His co-star, Steven Schwartz, tied for the award).
Blott isn’t in the film business for the money, though he appreciates the royalty checks he gets, even when they’re for 65 cents. He and his wife run an herbal supply business to help pay the rent.
Likewise, Reede, an Albuquerque native who was weaned on the stage (she once played opposite Henry Fonda and Martha Scott in a production of Our Town), enjoys the easy give and take of film acting, even though the work isn’t steady. She’s had the opportunity to work with people like Terrence Hill, Jeff Fahey and Oliver Stone.
Actually, working with Stone on Natural Born Killers wasn’t the best experience, she recalls. The wardrobe woman, who had fitted Reede as a cop for a scene where she escorts killer Woody Harrelson through a crowd, introduced the actress to the esteemed director.
“She doesn’t look like a f—- cop!” Stone screamed at the top of his lungs by way of introduction. “Make her look like a cop!” And all this for one line: “No cameras, no cameras, please.” Reede didn’t mind. She loves to act, and says having a home in Santa Fe allows her to be less of a small fish in a big pond.
She first did extra work in the offbeat comedy Late for Dinner, shot in Santa Fe in the early 1990’s. She did similar duty on Terrence Hill’s Lonesome Luke series. The extra work wasn’t fun.
“Frankly, they generally don’t treat you well as an extra,” she says. “Terrence Hill was the exception to that rule – he was very nice. But the protocol in eating on the set sums it all up. The crew eats first. The actors eat second. And then, if there’s anything left over, the extras eat.”
Reede has been lucky in the range and quality of work she’s done, but not so lucky when it comes to promotion and distribution. She’s had small parts in big movies that didn’t catch on with the public, and big parts in small movies that haven’t been seen at all.
Typical of this “almost famous” work was a national commercial for Charmin toilet paper that she just shot in Albuquerque. “They canned it because they decided to bring Mr. Whipple back,” she says. “I could just kill him.” She played a sheriff’s prim daughter in the Euro-Asian production of East Meets West, did a dream sequence with Robert Urick in Lazurus Man, portrayed a jackpot-winning housewife in a San Felipe Casino Hollywood commercial, and essayed a loony therapist in the dark comedy Maniacs (starring Fahey). That’s when she had to scream 50 times just so the director made sure they had the right close up of her mouth. She also did 20 takes of a scene in which she faints and gets carried off on a stretcher.
“That was a bumpy afternoon,” she says. Reede, a woman who exudes a Martha Raye-like comedic talent during an interview, has an agent in Sheila Freed of South of Santa Fe. Reede has garnered a reputation for being dependable, which helps her find film work, even though she’s aware she’ll probably never be a household name. “There’s no overnight story of rising fame for me,” she says. “I’ve been at it since I was 16, and I intend to stay at it. I’m always optimistic. But the challenge is that film companies cast most of the principals in Los Angeles. They won’t give credence to the fact that you can be a serious actress even if you live in Santa Fe. But I’ve done the L.A. thing, and it’s not for me. I have family here and besides, I hate earthquakes.”
Todd Anderson tried the “L.A. thing” for a while as well. He figures he read for 100 commercials and never got a single one. He got tired of having to strip to his BVDs in auditions when he was up against guys who had “obviously stepped out of the pages of GQ Magazine.” So Anderson came east to Santa Fe in the mid -1990s, when the film scene looked really hot. Wyatt Earp was shooting in the region and two television productions – Lazarus Man and Earth Two – were housed in Santa Fe. But that film heat cooled down considerably over the next few years, he notes. Despite the waiting around that goes hand in hand with film work, Anderson likes the sense of excitement on the set. “I just like the art form of cinema,” he says. “Most people involved do it out of passion. And if it’s a union film, everyone’s making money, and everyone’s happy.” Anderson studied theater and dance at the University of California, but none of his classes prepared him for film, especially when he had to give life to one line in John Carpenter’s horror film Vampires, starring James Wood. Anderson’s dialogue: “We found him.” “I figured it was just one line, so I could just hit my mark, say it, and go home,” Anderson recalls. “After one take James Woods came up to me and says, “Hey, come on, we want to make even the small moments stand out. Do some pushups and prepare for this scene. Remember, you just found a guy with his head bit off.” “So I figured, Okay, why not?” I went back, psyched myself up and did it again. When I finished the entire crew applauded. I was amazed.” He’s amused that a spot on a New Mexico-licensed Unsolved Mysteries still brings him residual checks. “It’s like Christmas time in the mailbox,” he says. Anderson is king of New Mexico-based independent leading roles in Paradise, New Mexico, in which he plays a bank robber whose plans go awry, and Free Wheeling, in which he’s an aging roller rink loser who engages in a skate-off with his arch rival. These low-budget independents give actors more opportunity to flex their acting muscles and take creative chances, he says. “These are projects of love,” he says. “You don’t get paid for doing them, but you want to do them. And generally you get more of a chance to work with the director and flesh out your character.” Like Blott, Reede and Anderson hold down full-time day jobs in order to pay the rent. They all see film work as creative (and financial) icing on the cake. But all three actors bemoan the dearth of moviemaking in the state and the fact that most of the principal actors are cast elsewhere. “The business of being an actor is something you have to stay on top of all the time,” says Anderson, a full-time member of the Santa Fe theater group Theatre Grottesco. “And you can’t rely on the film work in New Mexico to help you with that. There’s just not much being filmed here these days. You always hear rumors about some production company coming through, but more often than not, it doesn’t happen. But when it does happen, I love doing it.”
Robert Nott is a staff writer for Pasatiempo, the arts and entertainment magazine of the Santa Fe New Mexican.