I wanted to strangle Felicia Day.
Now, let me say, I adore Felicia. She is one of the most sincere, funny, intelligent and driven people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and work with. But at that particular moment, sitting on a crowded airplane, sweating profusely, and desperately needing sleep, I wanted to throttle the life from her… in a good way.
I had been up for roughly 36 hours – and drinking for probably 24 of those hours. I had spent a two-and-a-half-hour van ride attempting to catch ‘a little sleep’ as a Stella Artois hangover slowly crept into my skull like some kind of sneaky, Belgian asshole animal. I had dealt with the madness that is Heathrow Airport and I was now 45 minutes into a roughly 10-hour flight home to Los Angeles. Oh, and I was massively dehydrated.
Felicia? She was being, well, Felicia: friendly, cheery and talkative.
See, unlike yours truly (and two female Buffy actors who shall remain nameless), Felicia had gone to bed at a perfectly reasonable hour the night before after the closing ceremonies of a rather large convention in Blackpool, England. She did not close the hotel bar, hang out in the lobby after hours drinking until 4 in the morning. She did not, in brilliant drunk fashion, decide to say “Hey, fuck it, our van leaves in 4 hours – LET’S JUST STAY UP!” She also, did not, make a pact with same ‘said nameless female actors’ to go to each other’s rooms to help each other pack so no one would fall asleep.
No. Felicia didn’t do any of that, therefore, Felicia felt fine and was in a perfectly good mood. And that was why I wanted to strangle her as I attempted to “dry out” on the flight and somehow get some of the “snack” that had just been served in Virgin’s Business Class.
You’ve probably gotten a good feel over the last two (Part 1 & Part 2) installments that American conventions are a bit crazy. That they can take an actor who played a small recurring character on eight episodes of a TV show and turn him into a George Clooney party animal celebrity for three days. Well, British conventions can take an actor who played a small recurring character on eight episodes of a TV show and turn him into…
ROBERT GOD-DAMN “I AM A GOLDEN GOD” PLANT!
My first UK con was in the summer of 2003. I’d only been doing conventions for about a year at that point, and I was really excited to go overseas (I’d never been). Plus, I was getting an honest-to-goodness appearance fee! I was being paid just to show up, with a business-class ticket (they served wine and beer — for FREE!); put up in a posh (to use the local lingo) London hotel. While there we saw Clay Aiken, that’s how posh.
I knew I was in for something different when we were all introduced at the opening ceremonies. I walked out onto stage and a room full of roughly 2,500 people went bonkers. It was a roar like I had never heard in my life. There was screaming, hollering, yelling — I even saw a few people crying. For me. Not James Marsters (I was used to seeing that), but… for me. It’s the closest I think I’ve ever come to knowing how a rock star feels. It was awesome. I met more actors from the show, hung out with old friends and pretty much had a great time…
…Until the last day when the promoter absconded with a ton of money and didn’t pay our rather exorbitant hotel bills. It made for a very tense 12 hours, which I used to get properly shit-faced drinking scotch with the ever-affable and amazing Robin Sachs (I think at one point, I actually said the words, “I love you, man. You get me.”) My wife (now ex-wife… shocking. I know) was none too happy when I passed out in our hotel room with the only room key while she was still out in the hall (apparently, hotel room doors are my arch nemesis).
Anyway, this, as it turns out, was the flip side to foreign conventions — the scam factor. No less than one week later several of the same actors and I were supposed to attend a convention in Paris… until all of our checks bounced. That particular adventure ended with a 6 a.m. phone call from our convention booking manager saying, “They didn’t pay the hotel — get out now!”
We all packed as fast as we could (as most of us were on the hook for a very pricey London High Street hotel bill) and we also didn’t want to pay for an even pricier Champs-Élysées hotel. So we staged our luggage on the second-floor landing because the elevators weren’t big enough for two people and one bag! Ah, Paris.
There we were, Danny Strong, Tom Lenk, Bailey Chase, Robia La Morte and myself (and significant others), hands full of luggage, making a beeline through the hotel lobby, out into the street where we threw said bags into a waiting Citroen (driven by the friend of our booking manager) and made our way as fast as possible to the nearest Underground station. Once we were in the clear and the adrenaline started to wear off Danny turned to us, and in typical Danny fashion said, “Huh, weird, a Jew fleeing Paris… bet that never happened before.” And we all cracked up laughing at the utter ridiculousness of the situation.
A year later, I would meet quite possibly the most charismatic person in the world: Nathan Fillion (along with some other Firefly people, and maybe even Clare Kramer for the first time, but, whatever… Nathan Fillion). He is one of the few people my then-wife went gaga over (the other being Bailey Chase — the only person I’ve ever seen her get an autograph from). I watched Nathan work a crowd with charm and wit like no other (I stole a bunch of his bits from then on). And later, when we all went out to dinner, he enthralled us with tales of shooting Saving Private Ryan in his sort-of Canadian accent. At one point, I found myself actually sitting with my elbows resting on the table and my chin propped on my hands, like a cheerleader talking to the popular quarterback in some 80’s John Hughes film. And I was totally fine with it. I’m here to tell you, Nathan is really ruggedly handsome. And it was very surreal having him over to dinner months later — he brought my son Spider-Man toys.
Through my misadventures I’ve gotten to meet and hang out with people (like Nathan) and so many others whom I watched in movies and on TV as a kid — people who inspired me to do what I do. The first time I met Lou Ferrigno (I have no clue where — Dragon Con? Fan Expo in Canada?) I was in nerd-boy heaven. As a small child, I made my mother cut up “perfectly good clothes” so that I could run around the house and — in slow motion, of course — tear them from my skinny 6-year-old frame as I grunted and roared like the Incredible Hulk.
Sam Jones was another — I loved Flash Gordon and the short-lived but post-apocalyptically awesome The Highwayman. Sitting in between Yvonne Craig and Laurette Spang at a con in Detroit was my inner 7-year-old’s prepubescent dream.
I guess what I’m trying to get at, in my rambling, all-over-the-map fashion, is that the other actors I met and got to hang out with at cons became sort of this traveling road-show family. A quirky, weird, sometimes dysfunctional, never boring family. And that is something I never would have expected. So when I started doing cons again back in 2013, I was really nervous for a number of reasons:
1. I was newly sober and terrified that I would fall back into old bad habits (thankfully, I was smart enough to bring along a trusted “sober” companion).
2. Would anyone still give a shit that I had been on a show that ended a decade prior?
3. Would people whom I considered friends still want to have anything to do with me?
My last few years of cons before my “semi-retirement” were an absolute mess. In the beginning, I would be able to hold it together to do all my signings, make it to my photo ops on time, and spend at least one day of the con somewhat sober. But starting around 2007? Man, things got bad. I almost threw up during a panel at NYCC in 2007 (there is a reason bars in normal cities close at 2 a.m. – nothing good happens between 2 and 4 a.m.!) — in fact, the second it was over, I bolted from the panel room and barely made it to a trashcan before hurling up the vendor hot dogs that had been hastily purchased at 5 a.m. the evening prior. All in front of about 300 people.
Or there was the last time I was in England — I managed to be over an hour late to my photo ops and was so sick I couldn’t even sit at my table and sign autographs because the room was spinning like a fucking madhouse merry-go-round (I also believe someone, whose name I could not remember at the time, had to return my clothes from the night before. Keepin’ it classy, Leary). So getting back onto the circuit has been a little bit of an uphill battle, and I’ve struggled with guilt, embarrassment and flat-out shame when seeing people who haven’t seen me since I was a whirling dervish of distilled spirits and super-charged ego.
But here is the thing about family – con or otherwise: They are always there for you. The hug I got from Clare Kramer at Comicpalooza in Houston, being able to make amends to a former manager, or chatting with Felicia Day in the back of a van that made several wrong turns on the way to Dragon Con have let me know that the past is the past. And while I can’t forget it, I certainly don’t have to dwell on it – ironic, considering I’m doing a series of articles all about it, right? What can I say, I’m a mercurial man of contradiction. What I do now, in this moment, is what truly matters.
… and Nathan Fillion’s eyes. What I do now – and Nathan Fillion’s eyes – are what truly matter.
Click on to read Part 4 – ‘I Am Not Brad Pitt’
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