Tuesday, 29 January 2008

When I was an 'actor'...

So, yes, I was a games reviewer in one ep of a show, then I appeared as an extra in a soap almost daily... but my longest in-front-of-camera gig was as a regular recurring character in the comedy-soap-factual show I made for Sky.

I've mentioned it before but I didn't go into the ins and outs of being on tv. My character - I must admit to stifling a giggle as I type that, it sounds too luvvie for words, "ooh yes, dearie, my charact-orrrr had such a complex backstory... it was soooo difficult playing him I had to submerge myself in his every word for hours beforehand to get him just right..."


I turned up, put a wig on, a T-shirt with the show's logo on it (that had NEVER been washed, over 26 episodes filmed over 26 weeks - lovely...). I then had a black beard drawn on my face for no apparent reason. Well, there was one. I had a goatee beard for a while, in one of those fashion errors that everyone goes through, before I realised it made me look like an idiot. So I shaved it off during my summer break - sadly, we'd filmed the pilot episode of the show (which went out as episode 4 as we couldn't afford a proper pilot, even though we changed things after it)

The director insisted the beard was drawn back on as it made me look "authorative" - yeah right, more like it made me look even stupider. As the boss, standing there in a hot hippy wig, smelly T-shirt and stupid drawn-on beard, most of my staff laughed at me. But at least I didn't get recognised in the street or anything, a boon if ever there was one.

So I played a researcher for a fictional TV show about games, in the actual show about games I produced and wrote. It was already too post-modern for words, and this was 1994. One of the other researchers played a newsreader (fake tash, no trousers, suit jacket) and got coaching from Sue Cook off of Crimewatch to make him more proper. He was very posh and took it all far too seriously. I simply made him Mr News to his desk with no trousers on in most episodes. It looked stupid and made me laugh.

The two other researchers played, er, researchers. Me and them would appear twice in each show and review games. It was filmed in this chaotic games room in batches of 5-6 episodes, a high camera with me and my researcher researcher standing looking up at it, the other researcher researcher sitting at the back.

Here's the character part. I was called Spike and I moaned a lot. Researcher researcher one was called Freebie and he believed all the PR crap about games - ie was enthusiastic. So enthusiastic he went to work in games' PR when the show ended. And researcher researcher two was called Saddo, wore a woolly hat and gave all the geeky info on games.

I hated doing the reviews. It was filmed live and you had to basically talk in 20-30 second sound bites, all three of us throwing to each other, getting across relevant 'journalistic' points, yet being funny; mentioning anything important and leaving plenty of cut points so we could put footage in or cut the review down if needed.

By the end I was quite skilled at it, looking at camera properly (not that easy, just try it some time), mugging and making faces if people disagreed with me, talking reasonably pithily and that. But eight hours of filming that, especially in summer, was totally exhausting.

We all also appeared in the comedy part of the show, usually at a 'production meeting' at the start, and often in the background of other shots. This was a mixture of boring and stressful, especially if we had to 'act'. As producer I simply cut my lines out so got to do less and less as the series went on, but the occasional one slipped through and my hammy acting, odd accent and sweating form was not something I liked to see.

The best ep I was in I actually got a body double to do me, Jake our props guy. He was a far better Spike than me, even if he had his back to camera all the way through the episode. It was a party ep and Jake/Spike could dance far better than me/Spike ever could.

I was recognised precisely once, in a Chinese takeaway that, oddly, had Sky on in reception. I'd ordered a curry and then up Spike popped on the telly, talking in the same voice. The teenage bloke serving me looked at the screen, then me, then the screen quite puzzled. I said "yeah that's me", in a slightly proud "do you want an autograph?" way.

He looked at the screen, then at me again, then said "nah" and walked off.

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