Before the fame

Before the fame

Before the fame
It was a spectacular fall morning in Manhattan when I walked into an agent’s office for the first time. Getting there, to New York and to professional acting, was eight years in the making. Those years were marked by a fairly predictable pattern: see the challenge. Meet the challenge. Actually, see the challenge. Run like a water lizard away from the challenge. Accidentally grow. Let me explain.

I spent most of my formative years in rural Oregon. After my father passed away, in 1989, I fell pretty hard for theatre as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon. Before he died, he planted the seed that maybe I should look into performing. In his words: “I really think you should have a talk show.” Living out in the woods of Oregon, he might as well have said: “I really think you should have another arm.”

I took a leap of faith. A leap of his faith in me, really. And it turned out that theatre was the only thing I had ever had a knack for, aside from sports, and in theatre, I didn’t get hit in the face with things (much). But when fear got the best of me, I chose to move back home and enrol at a smaller school, Southern Oregon University, where I could “focus on theatre.” There, from 1992 to 1994, I found an even more rigorous training programme and even higher stakes — the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in Ashland.
Love for theatre

I graduated from Southern Oregon and was promptly greeted by an offer to be given a leg up in Los Angeles by a casting director who was a friend of the family. To which I nervously replied, “No thank you, I’m much more interested in really digging into this as an art form and seeing how many layers I can pull back on myself, you know?”

So off to grad school I went. I spent three incredible years at Penn State, working very, very hard and accidentally doing what I’d said I was doing it for in the first place, which was convenient. I did actually dig very deeply into theatre and very deeply into acting. After graduation, I discovered, to my horror, that I had no more options to put off the real world. “Really? There’s no PhD in acting? No acting think tank?”

With no vaguely legitimate excuses for avoiding the day-to-day terror of auditioning for one’s sustenance, I promptly lost myself in another person and moved to New York to be near her. One day, she mentioned that she could get me a meeting with her agent. I was stuck between a rock and an aneurysm. If I’d said no, she would have lost respect for me. If I’d said yes, I’d have to take the meeting. Cycling through every possible excuse in my brain and, coming up with none, I went.
The moment of truth

On that spectacular fall morning, I walked into the agency’s office, just off Times Square, with a bounce in my step reserved for people pretending to be relaxed. It wasn’t Creative Artists Agency, but it wasn’t Broadway Danny Rose, either. It was a legitimate agency, and I was intimidated. My friend’s agent sat me down and offered me a bottle of water. Now, I had heard the legend of this “bottled water” offered in industry meetings, but to have it in my sweaty hands was a different thing altogether. Taking swift swigs to cover my tremors, I laughed at whatever was coming out of his mouth. Then, after what was either an anecdote or a series of numbers and honks, I felt the mood shift. He was going to tell me something important. I leaned in, smiling.

“Ty,” he started.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“Ty, I think your features are too big to get work in television or film. Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Um, no, they haven’t,” I said, still smiling.

“You could maybe get work in theatre, but you’re going to need to shave your arms.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re going to need to shave your arms. They’re pretty hairy.”

I smiled bigger. “OK!” I said.

“Why don’t you shave your arms and get new head shots, and we’ll talk after that, sound good?”

“Sounds great!” I said.

“Thanks for coming by,” he said.

“No, Thank YOU.” I shook his hand, walked out into Times Square and soiled myself.

I stood there for a surprisingly long time before I realised what had happened. My ears were ringing from the shock of the meeting. Yet I didn’t move. I watched all the people of the world cross back and forth in front of me. Strangely, I felt the energy of the city as if for the first time. I had been running from this moment for years — a deeply personal rejection from the one thing I loved and could do — knowing we were going to meet down the road. I spotted the golden arches across Times Square the way I imagine immigrants spotted the Statue of Liberty.

There I threw my underwear in the garbage. I now had no underwear and, bizarrely, none of the anxiety I had felt mere moments before. It was as if I had taken the worst of the business, swallowed it, digested it, discharged it and thrown it away. I walked out of the bathroom, past the huddled masses at the tables, into Times Square and the new world.
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