With a little prodding, you can get my friend John Hicks to talk about the time he got to act in the Coen brothers’ classic movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” After John saw their first movie he was hooked, so when he learned they were shooting a movie practically in his backyard, he rushed to apply as an extra. About a week later, he got a call from the casting director who had noticed John had listed one of his talents as being a musician.
“Oh, the boys love musicians because they’re already comfortable being on stage,” she said. “Can you come in for an audition?”
When John auditioned, both of the Coen brothers were on hand, watching him intently. They requested that he read for three parts: Sheriff Cooley, Record Store Clerk, and the guy in the back of the room who enthusiastically voiced his recognition of The Soggy Bottom Boys.
He won the latter part and was told that if they shot his scene, they would shoot it on the third and final day of location shooting. John waited anxiously and then finally toward the end of the final day, he heard his name being paged over the sound system. He rushed into position, action was called, and the scene was shot. Then they shot it again. And then again. After each shot, Joel Coen shouted his direction to John. “Bigger! It has to be bigger!”
After five takes late in the day, John was sure all of the other actors and extras were losing their patience. After the fifth take, Joel Coen walked up to John, stood directly in front of him, looked him square in the eye, and said, “You need to understand this is your most favorite band in the world. This is the biggest, most exciting thing that has ever happened to you in your entire life. Got it?”
So John decided that on the next take, he would overact. If Joel Coen wanted him to play his line big, then fine. John would deliver it ridiculously big. Jim Carrey big. Joel called action again and John swung for the fences. After the take everyone was silent and then Joel announced that the take was good! Everyone in the room broke into applause and cheered.
One of John’s principle memories of the experience was the heat. The political rally scene in which John had his part was shot at the beautiful Southern Heritage Foundation Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi. At the time, the building didn’t have air conditioning, which wouldn’t have mattered much except that they were shooting in the Deep South in the middle of July. All of the actors and extras were dressed in period costume made chiefly of wool, and the room was packed with people and hot lights.
At one point, Charles Durning (playing Pappy O’Daniel) sat in a chair mid-stage, facing the audience while getting his hair restyled between takes. Unbeknownst to Durning, George Clooney tip-toed up behind him, motioning for the audience not to laugh and give him away. Clooney stealthily took the comb and scissors from the stylist and proceeded to pantomime styling Durning’s hair. The entire audience and crew erupted in laughter while Clooney pretended to be Durning’s stylist. Eventually, Clooney let Durning in on the gag and Durning joined in the laughter.
John said that behavior was typical of Clooney during the three-day shoot. He showed up for the gig without an entourage, posed for pictures and signed autographs when asked, and otherwise acted like a regular guy. He always had a cheerful word for cast and crew alike and did his part in keeping everyone’s spirits elevated during the hot, grueling shoot.
You always find out what you’re made of when the heat is turned up, don’t you? All of us can play nice when the weather is fair and there are cool breezes blowing. But how do you act when things get hard? When everyone is working in less-than-ideal circumstances? When you’re being asked to do things differently than normal? When the people you deal with are rude? When everyone around you is melting in a wave of fear, distrust, and anger, how do you respond?
The past several months dealing with a struggling economy haven’t been pleasant for anyone, and nobody knows what the rest of the year looks like. But I can tell you this. People are watching you to see how you behave when the heat is on.
The stage is set. The actors are in place. Will you set the tone for your team, or will you lose your cool?
© 2020 Charles Marshall. Charles Marshall is a nationally known humorous motivational speaker and author. Visit his Web site www.CharlesMarshallSpeaker.com or contact him via e-mail at Charles@CharlesMarshallSpeaker.com
These days John is an excellent amateur photographer and musician. If you want to see some of his work and let him know you enjoyed seeing him in the movie, visit John’s Instagram page at: https://www.instagram.com/chetscowboylounge.