Have you heard of Boy 4? Of course you have. We were massive in the early 2000s. Or, at least, that’s what the script led us to believe.
When I was in my late teens, I belatedly decided to give acting a bash. I signed up with an agency, got some pretty photos taken and decided that I was going to earn a bit of money getting my handsome young face on TV. My mug shots were sent around to various casting agencies and I signed up with a local amateur theater company to, you know, learn how to act. The scene was set, both literally and metaphorically.
After a few weeks, I got a call for my first job. I was to be on ‘Neighbours’, an Australian TV soap, which has the unlikely distinction of being extremely popular among Brits. It has launched the careers of Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and a handful of other notable Australian actors. I, however, was in the slightly less illustrious post-Minogue era (see below).
As I saw it, though, this was my chance to follow in Russell Crowe’s footsteps. And I would do it by being part of the world famous boy band, ‘Boy 4’. Oooh, this was exciting! My inability to dance, pout or look particularly cool did cause some hesitation, but when I thought to myself, “What would Russell Crowe do?”, I just knew what needed to be done. So I punched someone. Then, I accepted the job.
I turned up at Global Television Studios in Nunawading in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I was a little nervous. After all, this was the suburban home of Australian television. It was home to not only ‘Neighbours’ but other classics such as ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ and ummm… ‘The News’.
We (Boy 4) got in our costumes, had our hair and make-up done, then confidently strode into the green room, where half the cast of ‘Neighbours’ were sitting around, chatting. I couldn’t help but be struck by how mundane the whole thing was. It was like a tea room at Safeway or any other workplace. The actors were fart-arsing around, giving each other shit about this and that, while chatting about the footy or their big night out on Friday. This isn’t what it’s supposed to be like, thought I. These guys are celebrities, in a way. Yet there’s Harold Bishop telling a dirty joke, while Libby Kennedy is swearing and going out for a fag.
I became a semi-regular extra on ‘Neighbours’. One day, I’d be in Lou’s pub holding up the bar, the next I would be in the coffee shop trying to make the other extra laugh during takes. (My favourite trick was to recite Tom Cruise’s ‘I love you… you complete me’ speech in its entirety in an effort to make the female extra opposite either laugh or fall in love with me.)
Other jobs came and went – TV commercials, telemovies, sitcoms – but I was never more than a face in the background. I went along to auditions but my lack of self-belief (and acting ability) ensured that I never made the big time. I didn’t mind, though. I was just in it for a laugh. I was moving to Japan soon, so it didn’t matter if nothing came through. “I’m just doing it for fun,” I said repeatedly.
My ex-girlfriend’s sister said something to me one day that has stuck with me. I was about to go to an audition and she asked if I was prepared. “Yeah, fairly prepared, I suppose,” I said. “There’s not much chance of getting it, but there’s no harm in going.”
“That’s a cop-out, Nick.” she calmly replied, and then left the room. Damn, she was right.
She wasn’t just right about the acting, either. As usual, I had jumped into it wholeheartedly, even accepting a spot as Frog Number 4 in a local pantomime alongside kids 5 years younger than me, which involved wearing green tights and doing a frog dance for kindergarten children. I had been prepared to put myself out there and embarrass myself, but I had not been prepared to really risk anything. I dipped a toe in the entertainment industry waters, but always had one foot very firmly planted in reality.
The more I think about this, the more I realise that I have been the same in other areas of my life, too. In many ways, I have lived a ‘sort of’ life. I sort of write articles, but I don’t make the effort to try to get anything published. I sort of do stand-up comedy, but it’s just a bit of fun – nothing serious. I sort of have a quest to be moral, moderate and generous, when I’m not stuffing my face and ignoring beggars.
I refuse to commit to anything because it’s impossible to stay detached and give your whole self to something at the same time. If I were to absolutely and unequivocally put my heart into something without any safety net or ready-made excuse, imagine the tragedy if it failed. Imagine the risk. It brings to mind a quote I came across recently (probably at Pacific Coffee – that shining, caffeinated beacon of wisdom). It read:
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.
So while living a detached life punctuated by smirking irony may be fun, it is a breeding ground for mediocrity. I realise that if I am to create anything worthwhile, it will take a lot more than a couple of slapdash phrases and a half-assed attempt at wit.
Art requires risk, and without it, your life and dreams have no chance of staining the white radiance of eternity. Without risk, you will always be a face in the background.