I heard a very loud CLICK! The kind of click that a hotel door makes when it shuts – heavy, loud and very forceful. “Crap!” I thought. It was morning already, and I’d forgotten to put the “do not disturb” sign on my door; housekeeping was there to try and make some semblance of the hotel room that I had spent the previous two days turning into a damn disaster area. I opened my eyes and… was completely flummoxed. I wasn’t looking at a stuccoed ceiling, badly painted landscapes or even a television still playing the extremely overpriced yet decidedly underwhelming pornography I vaguely remember paying for the night before. Nope. I was looking at a hotel hallway.
Which was… odd. I don’t make a habit of sleeping in hotel hallways – not that I was laying down, mind you. I was standing in the middle of what was hopefully my hotel’s hallway, and…
I WAS BUCK ASS NAKED. Totally, completely, ball-shrinkingly nude.
I must be dreaming, I thought. Or… something… because WHY THE FUCK WAS I NAKED IN A HOTEL HALLWAY!? Surprisingly, I still had my watch on.
I peered through bleary eyes to find it was 6:15 a.m. My booze-soaked synapses were misfiring and I couldn’t put together what was going on. I stood there, ‘Little Jimmy’ swinging in the breeze, for a good two minutes (which seemed like hours), trying to figure out what was going on.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to be.
This was not where I saw myself just a short year or so earlier when I attended my first con – The Almighty San Diego Comic Con in 2002. Long story short someone at some point in time said, “Hey, you should do, like, those Star Trek conventions or something,” and I may have asked James Marsters about it and bada-boom bada-bing – I had a table in the Celebrity Autograph area of the Comic Con of all Comic Cons.
I remember being so nervous. I had a hastily printed banner that I “designed” myself using Microsoft Word 2000, a box full of my headshots, and a god awful picture of me in makeup taken with too much flash on a crap digital camera. I was sure I wouldn’t sign a single autograph. That no one would know who I was… or worse… that they would know and NO ONE WOULD CARE. That, once again, I would be that shy kid everyone ignored. The kid who would hole up in his bedroom with X-Men comics and dreams about playing Obi-Wan Kenobi when George Lucas finally made the much rumored “Star Wars” prequels (I still dream of this because, as far as I am concerned, those three movies never happened). But, I swallowed the fear, set my stuff up, got out my gold paint pens, and sat down, looking out over the sea of people letting their nerd flags fly, and held my breath. And sure enough… people started to come up to the table.
They’d see my banner, do a double take, look from me, to my Clem picture, then back at me. “You’re Clem? I LOVED you last season!” And they wanted an autograph, and to pose for a picture with me, and for me to sign their DVD or poster or whatnot. It was like standing on stage at the end of a play as the audience claps — the same buzz, only, I didn’t have to do the play. I thought, man, I could get used to this, this is awesome. And in true addict fashion, if a little is good, well then, a lot must be FUCKING GREAT! I ended up booking 14 cons in 12 months. Which brings us back to…
‘Little Jimmy’ dangling in the wee hours of the morning in a hotel hallway (Sacramento? Pittsburg?).
Finally, my flight-or-fight response kicked in and my self-preservation lizard brain screamed at me “GET BACK IN YOUR ROOM YOU IDIOT!” I turned around and yanked on the door handle so hard I nearly fell over. But it was too late – that loud click I heard was my own hotel room door closing behind me. And seeing how my key-card was sitting on the dresser inside and not tucked in my butt crack (I checked), the door did not open.
I’m pretty sure this was when I started to hyperventilate. I turned back around, mind spinning, and tried to think of a way out of this. Because my thought wasn’t, “Hey man, you might want to ease off the booze and bad behavior,” it was, “Shit, I’m going to get caught and not be able to do this anymore… oh, and my life will probably be ruined. But mostly, I won’t be able to do this anymore.” And by “this” I meant – come to cons, get totally and completely drunk on free booze and adulation; act like a spoiled, self-centered, self-involved, jerk who cared only about his own needs and not those of anyone else around him or those back at home.
I HAD to figure out a way back into my room.
People were going to start waking up soon and heading down to get coffee or breakfast – running into a disheveled naked dude who reeked of Jameson and Miller Light in the hallway or elevator would probably be frowned upon. I darted into the stairwell – figuring I’d be safe there for a little bit, just to buy myself time to think.
When you find yourself in a situation like this, butt naked, hungover, in a stairwell, there is really only one question that buzzes around in your cloudy, alcohol befuddled brain…
HOW IN THE ROYAL FUCK DID I GET HERE?!
As I mentioned at the end of Part 1 – I’ve wanted to be an actor for as long as I could remember.
When I was 5 or 6, my mother, uncle and one of my uncle’s friends took me to see a little movie called Star Wars. It was probably the 1979 re-release, but it’s the first memory I have of seeing a movie in the theater. We went at night (which I thought was awesome) and I fell asleep before the end. I remember sitting in the dark theater, with the smell of buttered popcorn in the air and the sweet taste of Coca-Cola on my tongue, watching that Imperial Star Destroyer chase the Rebel Cruiser across, what seemed like, an endless expanse of space. And I was ENTHRALLED.
I was transported in a way that I had never known possible. That moment of awe and wonder and excitement would shape my life for the next 30 years. It would instill a love of movies and, specifically, going to the movies. For a little kid whose life was turned topsy-turvy a few times with divorce, moves, remarriages and severe geographic relocations, it was the one place I would always go to travel to a different time and place and live an adventure.
The second time I experienced that strong a feeling was a few years later, when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was 8 going on 9, and it hit on a different level — still full of awe and wonder, but this time, there was a dose of mayhem and mischief. A fire began to light way down in my gut — a slow burn that spread warmth up to my heart. It was joy and pain and excitement and fear as an idea — a crazy, insane, never-happen-in-a-million-years idea — took hold.
I was going to be an actor. I had no idea how, but dammit if I wasn’t going to try.
Then came middle school. Three hellacious years filled with teasing, bullying, insecurity and an almost overwhelming desire to be anyone but me on any given day. Like the day of the eighth-grade church dance.
It was my first dance. My mother purchased a brand-new outfit from TJ Maxx, and I was super excited. It was through church and not school, so none of these kids knew me as dorky “Jimmy” Leary, the kid with last year’s fashions and a bad feathered haircut who was terrible at football. I went in with dreams of slow dancing to “Why Can’t This Be Love” by Van Halen with some acid-wash-jeans clad, crimped-haired, 10 Swatch-Watch wearing cutie.
In reality? I couldn’t get a single girl to dance with me. Not one. I sat in a corner, dejected, until one of the moms came over to see what was wrong. Stupidly, I told her. She then marched over to a group of 13-year-old girls; and although I couldn’t hear what she was saying I knew she was talking about me, given that she pointed right at me. The girls turned, looked and started laughing. Just typing it brings a flush of red-hot embarrassment to my cheeks. I made a decision in that moment that if I was going to be laughed at, I was going to be the one in charge of it. It was going to be on my terms.
I started doing voices. I memorized all of Robin Williams’ “Live at the Met.” I fell in love with Monty Python, Jack Tripper and Steve Martin. Lo and behold, it worked. I found out I could make people laugh. If they were laughing, they couldn’t beat me up. If they were laughing, they couldn’t make fun of me, because I beat them to the punch (line). If they were laughing with me, they weren’t laughing at me.
In high school, I discovered theater. I finally found something I was good at, that I really liked doing. I found friends. A place to belong. It didn’t hurt so much when the “cool” kids called me a “Theater Nerd” or “Drama Fag” because I stopped taking those as insults – now they were a badge of belonging. My road to Hollywood wasn’t forged immediately – I had lots of trial and error, giving up theater in college to get a real degree, until I finally pursued my dreams and was living life as a working actor.
Until the year in which I wasn’t.
In 2002, I went from having the best year of my career (at that point) to not booking a single job for nearly a year. Not one.
I had done a highly acclaimed Spanish-language sitcom (we were nominated for two GLAAD awards but lost both years to Will & Grace – award hogs!), a major Coors Light campaign (directed by David Dobkin of Wedding Crashers fame), and six episodes of a very popular TV show about a stake-wielding high school student. Shoot, I even worked during the Great Commercial Strike of 2000 – doing an industrial film for Toyota (same one that I would later do the live stage for and “hang” with Billy Joel) that co-starred Greg Kinnear. Kinnear, by the way, was none too pleased about it. “Well, boys,” he said “Ain’t this the golden cup?” A direct line from him during our shoot. It also featured Cheri Oteri, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey (one of the funniest, nicest, and most manic people I have ever met), and Jack ‘motherfucking’ Palance. Once when the director asked him to do another take – “but this time, smile,” Palance replied with a steely, gravelly whisper: “I am smiling.”
Now I couldn’t book work. Nothing. Nada. Zero.
It took a toll – on my ego, my wallet, my relationship at home and, mostly, on my love for the job. It was the first time since I’d started my journey that I didn’t like what I was doing. Sure, there were lots of doubts and insecurities, but until that year, I had still loved the work. That year was something different, however. To go from making the most money I’d ever made as an adult – much less, as an actor – to not working for more than a year was devastating.
Thankfully, there were conventions. They were a salve for everything I was feeling – a cooked-up, super-charged main-line spike of love, acceptance and attention. I was on top again when I was at conventions. I wasn’t rejected. I was the life of the party. The nice guy. The approachable guy. The funny guy. Up until…
I was the drunk guy standing in a hotel stairwell at 6 in the morning in Cleveland (Or Memphis? … or maybe Tampa? Whatever…) completely naked.
Adrenaline and last night’s cocktails were battling it out for who got to control my logic center which basically made me useless. I think I stood in that stairwell, cupping my junk in one hand and rubbing my quickly aching head with the other for a good 10 minutes. I went up a floor and peeked out – saw a USA Today in front of a room and darted out of the stairwell to grab it to use as some form of meager covering. I was starting to hear people move about, doors slamming, talking; I wouldn’t be able to hide much longer.
When I went back to my floor I noticed (Oh, thank you Jesus!) an open linen closet and no housekeeper in sight. I ran to it, grabbed a sheet and wrapped it around my body like some low rent chorus member in a Greek Tragedy. And… that was where my brain just ran out. I stood in the hall half way between my room and the elevator, draped in a clean white sheet, just… waiting. For what? I have no clue, but my brain was done. It had left the building. Thankfully, it was just at that time that some people I actually knew walked by. The conversation was awkward. And weird. And cringe-worthy. But they were able to go down to the front desk and actually get me a key to my room. I made them promise not to tell anyone (I’m pretty sure they promptly told everyone – thank god this was before the days of social media), got into my room, showered, chugged some double brewed coffee, and got dressed for my photo ops. My nude adventure had gone mostly unnoticed. I didn’t get “caught,” and I continued to act like an idiot at conventions for many more years to come.
I’d like to say that was the last time I ended up locked out of my room, standing in a hallway, in some form of undress… I’d like to say that. But I can’t. ‘Cause it wasn’t.
Now, you’re probably saying to yourself “Jesus Christ dude, really? What the fuck? Get your shit together!” And, you’d be right. But try as I might, I just couldn’t do it. Something about the attention lured me in every time, like a neglected and needy child. Because back home – I couldn’t get fucking arrested (well, back then anyway – metaphorically. Years later I’d have no problem getting arrested in a Chili’s parking lot at 4 in the afternoon).
The one thing I loved doing more than anything else, acting, was now the one thing that caused me the most stress and heartache. Every audition took on epic proportions. Instead of it being “man this commercial would be fun to do” it was “HOLY HELL I HAVE TO GET THIS HEMORRHOID CREAM COMMERCIAL OR MY LIFE IS OVER!” And, I never really recovered from that.
By the time I left LA some 8 years later I was bitter, battered, broken (boozed) and pretty much done with Hollywood, acting, and just giving a crap in general. For the first time since I could remember I had no dream. No aspirations. No spark. I tried to pull my shit together so many times I lost count, and the only thing that seemed to offer any comfort whatsoever lay at the bottom of an empty bottle. And then that turned on me too.
Now, I’m not trying to throw some huge pity party because the reality was (and is) I was the manufacturer of 99.9% of my own misery, it just took a while for me to actually own up to that.
In the summer of 2012 I took a little 33 day vacation in beautiful Buda, Texas; otherwise known as rehab. While there a man came to talk to us about his journey in recovery. This guy had done Improv in Chicago, had lived in LA, knew a ton of the same people I knew, and just happened to run a local Improv theater here in Austin. Well, it took a few more tries, I still had some drinking left in me after getting out apparently, but in 2013 I took a refresher Improv class at that same theater. In January of 2014 I performed on stage for the first time in 9 years, and last year I co-created and starred in a sold out, award nominated Improv show.
Now I act and do improv because I WANT to. Not because I have something to prove, or to live out some lonely 8 year old’s fantasy, but because I LOVE it. It’s who I am. Same thing with cons. I do them now for the love of doing them. I wake up in the bed, with a clear head and knowing exactly where my pants are.
Which, as it turns out, it pretty nice.
Click on to read Part 3 - ‘He’s Got Nathan Fillion’s Eyes’
Latest posts by James Leary (see all)
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- Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 6 – Big Empty - December 9, 2015
- Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 5 — ‘Rick James Was Right’ - November 9, 2015
- Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 4 – ‘I Am No Brad Pitt’ - October 26, 2015
- Confessions of a G-list Celebrity: Part 3 – ‘He’s Got Nathan Fillion’s Eyes’ - October 12, 2015