This week’s “quote” is actually a short essay/story by Chris Tsakis. It appears in the book O.K. You Mugs: Writers on Movie Actors (Vintage Books, 1999). It’s in the form of an interior monologue that might have gone on in Timothy’s head during the filming of Paths of Glory (1957). It doesn’t sound at all like the Timothy I’ve come to know, but hey – creative license and all. There’s some salty language herein, so look out.
My head is too fucking large. My eyes. . . Jesus. The lids droop. I look sleepy all the time. My nose is okay, a little big but not all that out of proportion. I can’t breathe with it too well so my mouth hangs open most of the time. Gives me the look of an idiot or a criminal. Or an idiot criminal.
When I smile my thin lips pull taut against my gums and I end up grimacing. I always end up grimacing. Like a creep.
I don’t like looking at myself too much but this beard and mustache is a new thing for me. I can’t decide if I like it or not. I think I’ll shave it as soon as this fucking picture is wrapped. If it’s ever wrapped.
I like my hair alright. It’s thick and seems to be staying where it belongs. I ain’t going bald, anyway. I got my grandfather’s hair and it pisses my old man off something fierce. Fuck him, too.
Even with the full head of hair this is not what you’d call an attractive face. Mean. Bony. Like a horse’s. Not a leading man’s face. I’ll never be a leading man. Not the romantic hero, the best friend, the standup guy. If they want a scumbag, they call me. I can give them the best fucking scumbag you ever saw.
Need a bouncer to chase James Dean away from the bordello where his mother works? Call me. Need a nasty biker? Call me. Need a guy to shoot a horse? Need a coward? Call me.
That’s enough of this staring at myself shit. Fuck, I can’t stand vain men. Guys who study themselves in the mirror, guys who worry about every damn wrinkle. Guys in this business.
Kirk is almost like that. He’s almost too concerned with his appearance. The tyranny of the face is known only to the leading man. And Kirk is a leading man if ever there was one. He’s not as bad as some I’ve known. Brando – now there was a prima donna – couldn’t walk past a mirror without admiring himself. Worse than Dean. Half a fag, if you ask me. Marvin wanted to actually kick the shit out of him, not just pretend for the camera. He comes to me one day with a bottle of bourbon, still in his Chino getup, and says, “Howsabout when the cameras start rolling I actually clean Marlon’s fucking clock?” I said, “Go ahead, Lee – they’ll throw you off the picture and I’ll angle for your part.” That shut him up pretty fast.
Christ, I have to call Marvin. We’re supposed to get together and play some poker one of these nights. But he’s a hell of a lot busier than I am these days. Even if he’s almost as ugly as me. We were bitching to each other about the parts we get because of our faces. I was much more pissed off about it than he was. “I ain’t ugly . . .” he said, in that booming voice, “. . . I got character.” We laughed. I laughed harder. I’ve adopted that line for myself. “I ain’t ugly . . .”
Fucking yes I am.
And Hollywood knows it. A bunch of one-dimensional shits. Every movie is a silent movie, a fucking cartoon. Guy on the screen supposed to be capable, good-hearted, and virtuous? Get some tall pretty boy with a strong chin. Guy supposed to be a thief, a louse, a filthy piece of shit? Call Carey!
They cast me when they want the ugliness to show through, the ugliness they think I have in my heart. They don’t know what’s in my heart. They don’t give a shit. “Get that ugly fuck Carey!” they probably shout. “We got a stupid scumbag we want him to play.”
In my experience – stupid scumbag that I am – most beautiful people have the ugliest souls. They never have to do anything but stand around being admired, catered to, ass-kissed. As long as their looks hold they’ll always have work, always have someone telling ’em just how great they are.
But I’m not beautiful. I’m a “character” actor. Which is a polite term for an ugly guy or gal who’s gonna die or kill someone or otherwise provide some “color.”
Like on this film. I’m a prisoner. A coward. A pawn. I’m going up in front of a firing squad for being yellow. But this movie’s not about me, even though I get shot through the fucking heart. It’s about Kirk, about Colonel Dax and his moral goddamn dilemma. You can tell he’s good – just look at his face! Meanwhile, me and two other guys are being put to death ’cause we’re ugly bastards. Because we look like cowards, mostly.
Fucking hot in here. Even sitting in front of the fan it’s hot. Up at six this morning, on the set at seven and now it’s ten and I still haven’t done a fucking thing. Just sitting around smoking cigarettes. Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait.
I hate this costume they got me in – it itches like hell. Where’s my cigarettes? There’s no pockets in this goddamn thing. I wish they’d hurry up and get this damn shot set up. I can’t stand the goddamn waiting while Kubrick makes everything just so. The man is a motherfucking perfectionist. I’ve been in plenty of fucking movies and no one works like this guy. He takes hours just to set lights, for Christ’s sake. What’s the big deal? Just some ugly guys getting shot.
Christ, I have to fart. Fart proudly, Benjamin Franklin said. Me too. A fart never killed anyone, unless you keep it in. Just let it go. Even so, I don’t want to fart in front of Kubrick. He doesn’t seem like a guy who appreciates a good fart. I bet he goes into his trailer when he has to break wind. So proper. Weird fucking guy.
He hasn’t said much to me. Just told me that this guy I’m playing is a little slow, maybe a coward, maybe not. When we were shooting The Killing he sat down with me and told me the guy I was going to play was – guess what? – a coward. “He’ll do anything to get by,” he said. Well, not anything. The guy wouldn’t work a legitimate job. He’d steal, he’d murder . . . cut whatever corners he has to. Why? Just look at his face. Ugly fuck.
I was so ugly I had to call that poor parking lot attendant a nigger when all the kid wanted to do is be friends. I didn’t want to call him a nigger, but I had to get rid of the kid before that horse came into the open. I was supposed to shoot the horse from my car – shit, you’ve seen the picture – as a diversion from the robbery and the kid won’t leave me alone so I snap at him and call him “nigger.” I got such shit for that part. I got a guy who wanted to punch my lights out ’cause he confused me with the guy in the movie. And the guy in the movie got shot. Shot dead.
What am I doing in this business? Feeding the fucking stereotype, I suppose.
I stuck my ugly, stereotypical face in front of Stanley’s just this morning. I said, “Stanley, they got me dying quietly in this script. I want to make some noise, for Christ’s sake. I don’t want to die quietly.” He said he’d think about it. What the hell is there to think about? Put me in front of a firing squad on a trumped-up charge and I’d have plenty to say about it, ugly face or no ugly face.
Christ, I’m bored. I’m bored to tears. And my head is pounding. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be shot to death and all I can muster is this damn headache. My neck is completely stiff, too. I wish we could get this thing over with already. I want to be shot now.
Just got the call to the set. This is it. Final makeup adjustment, final costume adjustment, Stanley comes over, tells me to react however I’d like when it’s time for the close-up. How would I react if there were a bunch of guys with guns pointed at me, ready to fire? I wouldn’t stand there with my big ugly mouth shut. I would plead for my life. I would blubber. I would break down.
I like life too much to have it taken away like this. I’ll go kicking and screaming. They’ll see the fear in my eyes, the terror on my face, they’ll know they’re doing the wrong thing. I’ll make them know. It’ll be all over my face – my ugly face.
Oh yeah. I ain’t ugly – I got character.
Now to die.
May 11, 1994 – Timothy Carey, 65, a heavy-eyed character actor who often played villains and whose films ranged from Paths of Glory and One-Eyed Jacks to 1960s beach movies, died today at a hospital in Los Angeles after a stroke.