Toe-to-Toe with Patrick Warburton

My saga begins in Chicago’s O’Hare airport in 2008. Mom and I were on our way to London to see her favorite opera star, Bryn Terfel (pictured below), in “Tosca” at Covent Garden. We were slated to meet a group of people from the fan club, the Terfeliads, a group of ladies who caravan around the world to see this dashing Welsh super star fill their hearts with bass baritone splendor. They are, as I like to say, the Dead Heads of the opera world and we fit right in.

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Icy weather had delayed us out of Dallas so we knew we would have a miniscule window in which to make our connecting flight to the UK. So here we come, down the wide, cavernous, echoing main promenade at O’Hare, running as fast as our non-sensible shoes with spindly, ankle-breaking heels could take us to our gate. We show up staggering and sweaty, hair flying in every direction (except for mom’s), dragging our over-packed bags behind us like body bags.

And then we see it – the plane slowly pulling away from the gate.

“Aaaah!” we both say, and look at each other with utter despair, dropping our bags with overly dramatic flair and flinging our hands in the air, saying, “We were sooooo close!” (I don’t know why I say “we.” I was the only one doing this. Mom was her usual elegant, dignified self.)

With crestfallen hearts, we start wringing our hands and worrying about what we might do next. How would we make it to see Bryn?

As we are doing this, I notice a man to our left. He, too, had missed the connecting flight and was less than enthused. He mentioned he had hoofed it all the way from his gate, a flight from LA. Only thing was he didn’t look disheveled or rattled in any way. No hairs out of place. No sweat around his collar. No, he was hip and cool in his dark leather jacket, toting a black carry-on and interestingly, a giant film reel the size of a dinner plate charger (but thicker) on a small trolley.

He looked familiar, but not immediately so. He was definitely Captain Hunk – tall with dark, distinct eyes and perfectly arched brows. He had an elfish, mischievous grin. And killer dimples. His voice slayed me. Very deep, resonant voice like an FM radio announcer. I knew he was “somebody”, but I didn’t know just who.

We struck up a conversation with this friendly, handsome man. He was out of ideas, too, about how we were going to get to London. We talked to him for a few minutes, sharing our mutual irritations about the plight of air travel while we all droned on, frowning and fretting with disappointment.

In a few minutes, an American Airlines gate attendant in her red and blue scarfed, official self appeared and told us we’d be on the next flight. Not to worry. It would depart about midnight and it would be taking off a few gates away.

Soon more people who had missed their connection arrived then we all waddle en masse with our bags like little ducklings down to the new gate.

Mom and I decided to get some sandwiches for our long flight so off I went to fetch our nourishment.

When I returned with full bags from Which Wich and sodas, a conversation between my mom aka The Red Headed Bombshell and this mystery man with the film reel was in full swing.

“Lisa, this is Patrick Warburton. He’s on ‘Seinfeld, SEINFELD‘ “, she said in an elevated tone. “He was Puddy, Elaine’s boyfriend,” she said. “He’s been in lots of TV shows and movies.”

I chimed in and said, of course I recognized him.

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“I thought I recognized you,” I said, “I knew you were somebody…just didn’t know WHICH body of the SOME you were.”

He smiled and gave me what sounded like a courtesy laugh. I asked about his film reel. Turns out he was taking it to the Irish Film Festival in Dublin – and he was one of the main stars, Mack. I think the film was “Made for Each Other.” Here’s the IMDB plot summary:

The best part of any marriage is consummating it. However, after 3 months of a sexless marriage, Dan finds himself in the throes of casual sex with another woman. Dan decides the only way to morally rectify this is, of course, to get his wife to cheat on him and thus he sets out to find the right man to even the score.

“My daughter, Lisa, she did a film, too,” mom said, proudly, beaming with pride.

“Yes, your mother was filling me in on your documentary,” Patrick said with a glimmer in his eye, as he popped open his Coke can.

My mind raced about what else my mom had told him about me while I away getting our food. Did she tell him I was a spinster who used to write ads in New York but was currently unemployed? Did she tell him I was not a real blonde? Did she tell him I wore corrective shoes as a child? That I hid behind the door when I was a toddler when I had a dirty diaper?

“Yes, I did a film about a homeless guy, Bob, and the tagline is ‘The story of a spiritual savant who survives his own personal holocaust.’ ” He smiled and made some witty remark and I returned with something that was less than witty, I’m sure. Nevertheless, the volley was on.

Mom told Patrick all about Bryn, and gave him Bryn’s operatic CV, i.e. where we had gone to see him (New York, Chicago, Houston, etc.), who was in the fan club and more. He looked genuinely interested.

It came time for us to board so we continued a bit of conversation as we trudged on and found our seats.

As it turned out, Patrick was sitting right behind me. Not to the left. Not to the right. But directly behind me.

After we had gotten settled and the flight took off, we resumed our volley. He talked about the cast on “Seinfeld,”  “The Tick” (pictured below), as well as “Family Guy” and the many other voices he had done in the cartoon world.

 

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I told him I had written a TV spot for JC Penney in which we cast Bryan Cranston, Elaine’s other boyfriend, the dentist re-gifter, on “Seinfeld.”

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“He was your competition,” I said.

“No contest,” he said, indicating that Bryan was clearly the better, more suave of the two.

He then told me all about his wife and kids. He pulled out his wallet and showed me photos of his kids – quite a few, he had four. They had his DNA and were all handsome and gorgeous.

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“You are prolific,” I said. I think he blushed.

He told me how hard it was to have a family and be an actor. Was he flirting? Certainly not, I thought. I was a Pleb. He was Hollywood soon-to-be Royalty – a Patrician. But I did try to empathize with him, telling him that when I was on the road doing TV commercials, I could not have pets or plants.

“My plants died. Even my cactus. And I had to give away my lab, my sweet Simon,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows a bit, giving me a mumbled, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

I’m not sure the parallel was really the same. I was, though, trying.

I shared more about the woes of being a part-time filmmaker, but said we did have a track by Tom Waits – who he said he loved. I dubbed this a personal victory.

Over the course of the six-hour flight, it was a verbal joust. We talked on and off about films, TV, books, music and more. When I thought of something to say or ask him, I would pop up over the seat and talk to him. He would do the same to me. We were like little Whack-a-Moles jutting up from each side of our seats. Mom even joined in on our conversation, piping up about movies she liked, even musical groups.

“Even though my first love is Bryn, I really like the Bee Gees,” mom said.

“They are some snappy dressers, those guys. Their white platform shoes alone should be feared,” Patrick said. Mom giggled and he winked at her.

Near the end of the flight, we both decided we needed to sleep.

As we started our descent, the flight attendant came on and said we’d be landing in about an hour and that we needed to wake up, make sure we did our customs forms, and other blah blah things we needed to do to enter the country.

Suddenly, I felt it….on my socked-footed toes – Patrick’s toes! He was tall enough that he could stick his feet under my seat…and tickle MY toes with HIS!

At this point, you can imagine my surprise. I jumped up, making a big scene, bursting into laughter, and looked up to see him laughing, too.

“Just had to wake you up, make sure we didn’t lose you during sleepy time,” Patrick said.

After we landed and were gathering our belongings, he said to my mom, “This is for you. I want you to have this.” It was a jar of orange hard candies with an orange ribbon on the top. I have no idea where he got these, but he was insistent about parting with them.

Mom was gushing, absolutely delighted.

“You keep an eye on her, ” Patrick said to me, nodding his head in the direction of my mom. “You never know what the Red-Headed Bombshell is going to do next.”

When we deplaned, we said our goodbyes. We wished him well at the Irish Film Festival – and with his connecting flight to Dublin.

“You better hurry,” mom said.

“Oh yes, m’aam, I better skedaddle,” Patrick said.

And off he went, with his film on the trolley that clacked and clacked on the marble floor until the sound was just a whisper.

Mom still has the jar of orange candies. I am sure they’re rancid by now. But she and I won’t give them up, or eat them. And every time she sees them, or sees him in his commercial for National Car Rental, she tells the story.

“Do you remember the time was saw Patrick Warburton on the way to London? You know he gave me some candies..”

If I ever saw him again, I am doubtful he’d remember me. But at least, I’ll always have that moment when I went toe-to-toe with Patrick Warburton.

 

 

 

 

 

Cranston Christmas

When you work on ads for a retail company, your seasons are always all mixed up. Like crazy mixed up. During the Spring we were writing ads for Fall. During the Summer we were creating campaigns for Christmas. Everywhere,  everything was freakin’ Christmas – fluffy green plastic trees decked with festive shiny balls, frosty snowflakes on the walls, fleecy white tree skirts hugging the tree bases, red and green bows on large boxes that adorned the room – even some scary elves. These sinister miniatures with pointy hats were positioned in nooks in store shelving we had created, next to the classically unsightly patterned sweaters – patterns that were akin to a tornado or at the very least, pizza upchuck.

We endured all of this prep and production in record heat. Some days got up to 108. So in Cali where we did all of our work, it wasn’t just hot. It was Africa hot. I recall one shoot that was especially insufferable. We were in the desert handling sweaters and courdoroy jumpers for a Back-to-School sale. We got so sweaty and haggared that we looked like we had all been out changing a flat tire on our scouting van.

Finally, we decided that we’d had enough of near heat strokes, sweaty pits and smeared mascara running down our (female) collective cheeks. We decided to shoot in the store. This meant that we would have to shoot inside an actual JC Penney store – but after business hours. So we’d start shooting at 9 p.m. and break at dawn.

Prior to our LA shoot, during the “concepting” phase at the agency, we usually all got together to write the script in a cluster – and we all had positions. There was Mr. Beginning. Mr. Middle and Mr. Ending. (This was the classic structure of a :30 spot.) I didn’t care if I was called a mister. In this group, being a “mister” was an honor.

As was per usual, we all gathered in one of our very brown, dull conference rooms, cranked out a script quickly then spent even more time trying to figure out where we’d go for lunch.

We then took it to the client, presented it, and bing, bang boom it was approved.

We shot all of our spots in LA. In fact, we had to go to LA, as our big boss (head honcho guy) saw something that we had shot locally, was horrified because the film was so sub-par, and demanded that we not do this again. We didn’t.

So off we jetted to Hollywood to prep.

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We hired a very hip, very glittery Hollywoody couple, who were married, and who had names that went well together, kind of like Sam and Libby, but not Sam and Libby. I think it was like they had one name that was a mash up of their names like Nancy Michael. Something that rolled off the tongue and a name I’m sure our client (God love him) could drop when he was picking up girls at Champs.

The Man Director had a shock of black curly hair and a goatee, way before it was The Thing to Grow. The Woman Director was slim, brunette and sexy. She was interesting. Not a Barbie Doll.

A few days before the shoot in LA we usually did our casting. We needed someone funny. We would have loved to get a famous comedian. At the time, Seinfeld was IT. THE guy to hire. Could we get Jerry Seinfeld? Uh no. I don’t think any of us really thought Jerry Seinfeld would hawk any JC Penny sansabelt slacks. But we could dream.

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What about Carrot Top, someone asked?

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No. Too frightening. We would get slammed with customer letters for sure. Plus, my art director had a fear of red-heads, you know, ginger people. They were from the devil.

And then we hit upon an idea: if we can’t get Jerry Seinfeld, what about someone who was ON Seinfeld?

Enter Bryan Cranston, Elaine’s re-gifting dentist boyfriend.

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We had hit the jackpot.

The day of the shoot arrived and for some reason, I was the only writer on the set along with my brilliant boss.

There I was, all self-important and smiling about the script. All our witticisms, turns of phrases, and so on that we had birthed.

In walked Bryan. He was handsome. Cute handsome. Cute boyish handsome with dimples that grabbed my heart and yanked it out of my chest.

I think he even sparkled.

He examined the script, read it to himself, musing (I thought) over our clever monologue he was to deliver.

In the spot, we had a series of things that Bryan was to “interact” with as he made his way through the store ostensibly Christmas shopping: old man jeans, jewelry (teeny tiny chip diamond stuff), perfume, stuffed animals puppety things called Pillow Pets, and finally, roller luggage.

See this work of art here.

For the last scene, he had to deliver a line that went, “I got in, I got out. Nobody got hurt.”

Bryan gave us oodles of takes. All good, all different…but they just weren’t what I had in MY mind.

I stood back and let the directors do their work ….but not without yammering in Glenn’s ear (my boss, best one ever) about this one last take. He who was accustomed to (God bless him) putting up with my crapola calmly told me to hang tight, that “we’d get it.” But I could see he was irritated.

I finally walked up to the directors and gave them a line reading.

“You know, it needs to be more…more…off-handed…casual…no, I mean, it needs to be more…proud…” On I went. What I wanted to say was that it needed to sound like ME. But how would I tell them this?

The Woman of the Man-Woman team gave him the line reading…and my skin started to crawl. It was so NOT the way I had said it. It needed to be FUNNY.

She was not funny.

But since they were being paid thousands each for their day rate, I clinched my hands and smiled a Charlie Brown smile.

So again, Bryan delivered the line, “I got in, I got out, nobody got hurt.”

By this time, I wanted to hurt someone.

The Man of the Man-Woman team looked at me. He turned from his director’s chair and gave me a thumbs up, as in, “Do we have it?”

I inched closer to the directors’ chairs and asked that he try it again.

I could see that Bryan was growing weary. So again, nice guy that he was, he did it again.

Still…it was not exactly what I had in mind.

I got a look from the frustrated directors and heard, “Lisa, why don’t you give him a line reading?”

I was already overstepping my bounds and awkwardly lodged between their two spindly-legged canvas chairs. So when I heard this, I made a beeline for Bryan, jostling them each a bit when I busted through with my child-bearing hips.

Trying to be coy and flirty, tense as I was because the clock was ticking (and I could see the crew giving me a lot of rolled eyes and frowny faces), I gave him the line reading.

I inched close to his face and said, over articulating, “I got in, I got out, nobody got hurt.” He looked at me. I looked at him. We connected.

Then the heavens parted.

He did the line. It was perfect.

And prince of a guy that he was, he kept on repeating the line a few more times just the way I liked it…just for grins.

The directors called “cut” and it was a wrap. I had gotten my way-too-important line reading.

The truth is that he made each scenario in our TV spot LEAGUES funnier than it had originally been scripted, just by being himself.

After the shoot, he and I got a Polaroid of us together. I cherish it, as it shows my younger, thinner self and him with more hair.

Here it is:

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Cut to many years later.

I knew Bryan had landed the dad role in “Malcolm in the Middle,” which tickled me.

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But when he became Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” I was elated.

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Unlike his comedic role on Seinfeld and in our TV spot, what emerged in Walter was this genius actor who revealed his true talents to the world. I hung on every episode and stayed up until the wee hours watching, unable to tear myself away from each gripping, cliff-hanging story.

I was an addict.

These days, his career has exploded and he has arrived. I feel really lucky to have worked with him.

Looking back, of course, I am embarrassed of my hubris – me, the average Jane copywriter giving the lauded Bryan Cranston a line reading. When I think back on his humility, good humor and humoring of me being so self-important, I just have to smile.

Every time I see him on TV, I experience a fondness for him and gratitude for his giving me this ridiculous memory of myself during his rise to the top.

And I must admit, to twist his iconic phrase, I am Breaking Happy each and every time.