Maggie Van Ostrand
Hollywood and elsewhere, there's plenty of work for unemployed actors
and actresses, if they don't mind playing Yorick and not Hamlet.
The enormous success of television shows featuring bloodied bodies
(Law and Order and its clones, Law and Order: SVU and Law and Order:
Criminal Intent; Crossing Jordan; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and
its clones, CSI: Miami; and CSI New York; Cold Case; Bones; as well
as the many BBC America forensic science dramas), has increased the
demand for actors to play gory corpses. Not much dialogue but plenty
Emmy-winning special makeup effects artist, John Goodwin, has successfully
achieved turning living actors over to the Grim Reaper's icy grip
by varied horrible means, including riddled with maggots (Clark Duke),
flesh charred by fire (Jon Sklaroff), disemboweled (Rachel Shumate),
throats opened by corkscrews (Nancy Yoon), and other delectable deaths.
"When a forensic show comes along that has to be correct in terms
of forensic science then it's important to feature the body up close,"
CSI creator and executive producer Anthony E. Zuiker told the LA Times.
"After all, there's nothing like a good victim to win over the audience."
And, Zuiker added, "it's not just anybody off the street who can act
Tim Kring, executive producer of "Crossing Jordan," said he asks actors
at casting sessions to show him a sample of that which crime writer
Raymond Chandler dubbed The Big Sleep. "Some can't do it. They twitch,
or you can see them breathing," Kring said. "But some are very good.
You can pry their eyelids open for close-ups and get a blank stare."
The trick is total relaxation," CSI's producer-director, Danny Cannon
said. "Holding your breath doesn't work. You get starved for oxygen
and your veins throb. But if you shallow-breathe down in the diaphragm,
then we don't see it."
Playing dead is an art not always achieved. A famous CSI goof occurs
in episode #2.13, "Identity Crisis", when Grissom enters a house and
finds a dead woman sitting at a table with her back to the camera.
The camera pans around the body, and precisely as the camera's focusses
to show her face, she blinks. That didn't happen with actor William
Patrick (Bill) Johnson.
Johnson, who played gambler Tyson Green on CSI episode 1.15, "Table
Stakes," was complimented as a "good breather" by Cannon himself.
"Everyone on the show was wonderful to me," recalls Johnson, "especially
Gary Dourdan who asked me 'Can I get you a blanket?' It was quite
a night, freezing temps and hordes of onlookers because we shot it
outside on the bridge that connects Bally's to the Bellagio. My character
was a gambler who didn't pay his debt and was rubbed out by the mob."
Johnson's character got whacked on an outside elevator which, in real
life, was a public access - handicapped elevator which had to be available
no matter what. So every time a handicapped person wanted to use the
elevator, the production stopped, the person got on the elevator,
looked quizzically at the "dead guy" in the corner, and was told by
the crew, "It's all right. He isn't really hurt."
When the scene could resume shooting, Johnson's character released
squibs (packets of fake blood), and a prosthetic bullet hole was placed
on his forehead. When the "body" was found by Grissom, it had a quarter
coin in the bullet hole, with a note left by the killer, "Call someone
who cares." Even worse than such a cold and uncaring note is the fact
that this murder was never solved by Grissom's CSI crew. Staff members
like Matthew Mungle are far more sensitive.
Mungle, who was in charge of special effects makeup during the first
season of "CSI: Miami," told the LA Times, "The real pictures [of
bodies] sometimes bother me. I can't handle real blood. I faint."
That wasn't a problem for Elizabeth Devine, a real-life crime scene
investigator before becoming co-producer and technical consultant
to CSI. She said her biggest battle is trying to prevent characters
from being shown eating in the lab.
"Nobody would ever eat or drink or do anything in the lab; that's
what offices are for," she said. "I lost a couple battles, particularly
Dr. Robbins eating in autopsy. There's just no way anyone would do
that because it's so disgustingly gross in there and it smells terrible."
One wonders if another problem for her might be the female CSIs who
don't wear head covering. Are those hairs they take to the lab carefully
preserved in plastic bags ever traced back to CSIers Catherine Willows
or Sara Sidle? Food for thought.
Speaking of food, when Halloween revelers with nails through their
heads and fake blood gushing from plastic wounds knock at your door
Monday night, be sure you give them some candy. They may be hungry
actors auditioning for a job.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
30, 2005 column
Ghosts and Halloween