Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A single supplementary celebrity sighting story and I’ll stop.

My office building is home to several talent agencies and management companies. So sometimes their clients stop by, and we catch a glimpse of these somewhat famous people.

I say “somewhat” because it’s rarely A-level stars; usually I spot character actors, the kind of performers you recognize from a show, but often don’t know their name. “Hey, it’s that woman who played Janice, Chandler’s girlfriend on ‘Friends’” or “That police captain from ‘The Shield’ took my damn parking space.”

Once I rode the elevator with a pretty woman who looked familiar, but she left before I figured who she was. Which is good, ‘cause if I tried to say something it woulda come out like, “Hey, you’re on that HBO show I never watch, but, it’s got four women in New York whining about their love life and, well, you’re easily the cutest one. Wanna grab a drink?”

Too bad, ‘cause there aren’t many attractive women at my job. Well, there was one, Maria, but she was married; she’s since left to be a full-time mom with her first baby. When she was at work, there was a harmless flirty thing between us, and I think part of the allure for me was that Maria had a slight Mexican accent. She encouraged me to speak Spanish, and taught me slang so I could be an honorary Chicano. She would call me “Miguelito” or “Mini-Mijo”; I called her “Smiley”.

Smiley was a character from the movie Training Day. That’s the role that got Denzel Washington the Best Actor Oscar because he chewed up the scenery more than usual. Even Ethan friggin’ Hawke got a nomination. He was okay, I guess, but that guy’s been bugging me for nearly a decade. He played a pretentious, condescending slacker fuckwad in Reality Bites and then seemed to try to emulate that character in real life. My dislike of the dude was solidified when he impregnated Uma Thurman.

But I digress. Back to Smiley.

The best scene of Training Day was when Ethan Hawke gets set up by Denzel to be slowly then surely terrorized by a trio of cholos--Latino gangsters. These guys were fun to watch -- each one distinct. The first was a little pitbull with nothing but muscles, tattoos, and intensity. The second was the wise-ass of the group with a shaved head and goatee, who was always egging on Ethan Hawke: “Show me your cohete--your gun, homes. Come on, ése, I ain't gonna shoot nobody.” And the leader of the group, Smiley, was a badass vato. I assume his character’s name was ironic since this mustached gangleader never smiled; he was consistently stoic. Smiley had a presence that made him intriguing yet eerie.

Maria and I talked about that scene, and how the amazing part was that the actor who played Smiley wasn’t Mexican-American. He wasn’t even American.

His name is Cliff Curtis, from New Zealand. He’s part Maori, and played one in Whale Rider, but his “ethnic” look and chameleon-like acting ability helped him get cast as a Latino in Training Day and Blow, and as an Arab in Three Kings.

I admire those versatile actors from the UK or former British commonwealths who can play Americans -- even regional accents -- so perfectly you don’t even know they’re from another country. The ones who can just blend into a role without any notice.

I’m slightly less impressed with the eye-candy ones. They may be good actors, too, but their notoriety seems to be more about their looks and their high-profile starring roles than their performances. Hugh Jackman / Collin Farrell… I know one’s Australian, the other Irish, but since they’re both pretty-boys portraying American protagonists, to me they’re interchangeable and less interesting as Yanks.

Maria and I were discussing the character actors from abroad we both liked: Tim Roth, Toni Collette, Gary Oldman (though he dated Uma Thurman, too, dammit, back when she was still superhot). Yeah, Maria was cool.

But she was also the assistant to the office manager. While I wouldn’t say the office manager is mean-spirited, out to get us or anything, we lowly paper-pushers do bear the brunt of some bureaucracy… and passive-aggressiveness. Poor Maria sometimes had her allegiance caught between the warden and the inmates.

One day I came back from lunch and there was a note on my desk: “See me right away. – Maria.” Shit. I had probably wised off one time too many. I had asked for a no-foam latte, and I was gonna be given a pink slip.

I went to see her, expecting a reprimand about something… and she couldn’t wait to tell me: “I saw Smiley!”

You’re Smiley,” I said.

“No, the Smiley!”

The Smiley?”

“Yeah, in the elevator!”

“You mean Cliff Curtis?”

“Yes! Right, that’s his name! I couldn’t remember. I wish I did before I said something.”

“What’d you say?”

“I was like, ‘You’re that guy!’ And he just grinned and said, ‘Well, yes, I suppose I am.’ And I was like, ‘From that movie,’ and he nodded, and I was gonna say something about how he was so cool as the cholo with the shotgun to Ethan Hawke’s head in the bathtub, but then he got off on his floor, so I didn’t get a chance.”

I think she was embarrassed at being so tongue-tied, but as you can imagine, I could relate. I quoted Smiley’s line from Training Day:

“Life's a trip, qué no?”


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