Kathleen Rose Perkins (Tell Me You Love Me, NCIS: LA) plays a network exec in the Hollywood satire Episodes, which begins its second season this Sunday on Showtime. The show is about two writers whose lives — and fledgling TV series — become hilariously complicated by Matt LeBlanc (played by Matt LeBlanc, of course). Getting into character? Well, for Perkins, that had its own complications, as she explains in an exclusive guest blog post:
Television executives used to scare the crap out of me. If I was lucky enough to get a job on a TV show, I would assume everyone I met who was wearing a suit was an executive, and, by definition, held my job in the palm of their powerful hands. I’d tremble at the very sight of them, smile awkwardly, and try desperately to make them like me. In other words, not fire me.
You may think that this was paranoid behavior. But you have to understand, I had seen so many actors fired from so many projects over the years. Heck, I was fired not once, but twice, from two different TV shows in the same year! (Needless to say, that was a rough year.) So, no matter what, they were “them”. They were the ones I could never understand. They were the ones that did things like not hire a girl because they didn’t like her bangs. At least, that’s what they told her agent.
So, imagine my surprise when I auditioned to play a television executive by the name of “Carol Rance” on a show called Episodes in February of 2010, and I actually got the job. Well, at first, it wasn’t so much surprise as it was absolute, huge, and emphatic joy. I got a job! On a great show!! That was already picked up and set to air!!! That shot in freakin’ London!!!!
When the smoke cleared, the confetti settled and the clowns got back in their clown car (to drive to the house of the next actress who got a job), I then felt the surprise; along with a healthy dose of pressure as I realized that I would now have to portray someone I had always thought to be the villain. To be more specific: an automaton with no feelings, no regard for their fellow man, no nice-ness in their bones. (Remember, I had been fired twice in the same year. Also, admittedly, I’m a bit dramatic).
And so began the overwhelming task of finding sympathy for and attempting to relate to these people with whom I had nothing in common. I read some books (most notably Desperate Networks by Bill Carter, a fantastic and eye-opening read). I spoke to some casting executives (I found them the most relatable to actors). I tried to figure out what type of person would take such a job.
Most executives have studied business or law. Most of them are not writers or actors or even storytellers, but they are great consumers of entertainment. They like watching TV and movies. They appreciate the art form and, furthermore, love the idea of selling it. Turning art into a profitable business is a challenge they’ve accepted by entering into this field. All the while, most have never written or acted in anything. It’s like selling a car when you’ve never held a wrench, been to the factory or know all the intricacies of how it works. They have the impossible task of mixing art’s oil with business’s water. Add to that the expectation of trying to predict what stories the American public will want to watch every night of the week for years on end.
It occurred to me that a television executive’s job is terrifying! The turnover within their ranks is phenomenal. They deal with the looming pressure that if they don’t produce a “hit” every year for their network, at least one, they could suddenly find themselves on the chopping block. That fact alone must instill so much fear into their daily lives. There’s so much guesswork that goes into their job. Sure, they have research and testing and all sorts of things to try and calculate how a show will be received by the general public, but when it all boils down, the choice of what to pick up, air, and really champion is ultimately a huge leap of faith. No matter how much you might prepare, there’s no crystal ball. No knowing the future. No telling how America will warm to a story about, I dunno, a guy who moves in with two girls … and just happens to be an alien … and is gay … set in Toledo, Ohio … in 1963 … starring Justin Long.
And then it hit me: they were just like me. They attempt to produce excellent results in high-pressure situations knowing their job is always on the line. They tremble at the very sight of their superior, smile awkwardly, and try desperately, in this unpredictable and fickle industry, to prove their worth. In other words, not get fired.
They were me, and I was them.
I breathed a sigh of relief, started memorizing my lines, and felt justifiably qualified to embody this character I finally felt I understood. Then I went to London and we all sat around reading the seven scripts these fantastic writers had produced, all under the watchful eyes of television executives, whom I could finally relate to.
The next day, two actors were replaced.
Within the next year, three executives were replaced.
And the world just keeps turning.