Freudian Slips: March 2007

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

March 28, 2007

Sons of Italy

His heavy Italian accent barked orders over the corded telephone that I clutched in my sweaty conforming hand. My instructions were to meet him curbside on the corner of Broad and Chestnut in downtown Philadelphia the following Saturday afternoon at 2pm sharp. He promised to be in position early to wait for my arrival. Between the two of us, he was the only one who stood a chance of recognizing the other. He would look for my car, a vehicle he forced me to describe in nauseating detail. He would look for me in the clothes I signed on to wear that day without a single fiber of deviation. Before the receiver went dead, he cajoled me into promising not to be late. He did not want me to make him foolishly wait when I waited eighteen years. A few minutes leeway should not be a source of contention for an Italian immigrant who advertised all the Old School flexibility of Gumby set in concrete.
The meeting day came with much apprehension on my part. Bright sunshine and the clear visibility of blue sky stretched for miles. Traveling down Broad street by car, I could not get anywhere near my destination. With the area cordoned off with barricades and rope, I had to park several city blocks away from our rendezvous point. Frenzied people crowded the sidewalk to celebrate something other than my blessed reunion. The pedestrian traffic distracted my walk for everybody seemed to be heading in my direction. A clown, balloonist, and a big guy walking on stilts stirred my sense of irony. The gathering throng prevented me from even seeing the designated corner. My mind searched for other people’s description of him. I anxiously paced the street corner named desire. Minutes passed as I alternated pawing at my watch and panning the crowd.
From out of nowhere, a stocky man who looked and smelled foreign bear hugged me like a long lost relative. After obligatory contact, I awkwardly squirmed from his long embrace. Tears rolled down his cheeks while I paradoxically introduced myself. It is unfathomable a task locating the father you never met in a parade amidst a canvass of humanity. Informative years, puberty, adulthood, and emancipation should never pass before you meet your biological father. In a faceless crowd anywhere, he could have been anybody or nobody at all. That is precisely the point. Even a child knows that.


March 27, 2007

Beating Anorexia

This past weekend, I read a newspaper story of how insurance companies are shortchanging anorexia nervosa sufferers of needed treatment. The guy on the left advertises to have beaten the eating disorder on his own. If that be the case, this mustard shirt must have been his bedspread before embroidery.


March 25, 2007

It's a Jungle Out There

“Joseph, this is Angela from XYZ casting agency in New York City. Your headshot and resume were forwarded to me from the show The Sopranos. You have the look we have been seeking for a part in another show. I would like to cast you for a scene in the new NBC pilot Lipstick Jungle. If you get back to me, I have you down for a 5am call time tomorrow on location in Brooklyn, New York. You are playing the part of a fashion show photographer filming Brooke Shields coming down a runway. You need to call me back right away then pay special attention to the shoot information provided in a forthcoming email.”
As irony would have it, I missed this call to my cell phone. By the time I retrieved this voice message from my inbox the following day, Lipstick Jungle hired another grateful photographer to paparazzi Brooke Shield. And to think I had the look they wanted…Eye bugging, mouth watering, tongue wagging, trigger happy photographer wearing a shit-eating grin. Around a modeling Brooke Shields, Entourage’s Johnny Drama would have had nothing on me. As for landing acting gigs….well it’s a jungle out there.


March 23, 2007

Rounding into Shape

After three weeks of not being well enough to workout at the gym, I returned today in sluggish fashion. My supple stomach felt like this on the situp bench.


March 18, 2007

Inside the Actor's Studio

-Kenneth McGregor on the set of The Greek American with the prop drink I poured.
I decided that the worst thing that could happen to me would be discovering I could not pretend to be somebody other than who I am. In reality, the actor’s workshop I just completed helped me discover who I am. Accomplished veteran Hollywood actor Kenneth McGregor taught the invitation-only actor’s workshop. With both of us coming off the movie set of The Greek American, a cold call to my cell phone later McGregor invited me with open arms into his lair. The 44-hour workshop encompassed three weeks and it infringed on nearly every waking moment off-stage studying lines, gathering props, and identifying wardrobe. Kenneth McGregor’s sharpened ice pick chipped away at my unprepared soul, a clean slate awaiting trampling by genius in the company of more gifted actors.
I fear that my words here might not accurately describe my incredible journey of body and soul. From the moment Kenneth John McGregor opened his mouth to teach acting, a huge learning curve arced before me. He might still be dramatically talking on that small Bohemian decorated stage in center city Philadelphia, if his audience did not leave his charismatic company. He possesses such an actor’s suitcase of information to share that he never once stopped for lunch. Inside the Actor’s Studio, maestro McGregor lectured technically about script analysis, character development, scene arc, the moment before, film techniques, improvisation, and the teacup theory. While Kenneth McGregor loves his craft, he is no cup of tea. His intensity brews and pours straight from his mouth all over you. He is a constant gardener willing to share his tools of the trade rain or shine. He is a genius of both human nature and storytelling, a master of his five senses if he has only that many.
For the first morning of the first workshop, actors were told to come prepared to deliver our best monologue. I performed a four-minute comedic chop monologue in front of thirteen professional actors, a director, a talent agent, and McGregor. I started my material in a Southern redneck accent. Before being granted permission to leave the stage, McGregor made me finish it in Standard English language. As the only actor who performed original material and comedy, serious-faced McGregor made me pay dearly for his unfamiliarity with my shtick involving my friend’s questionable relationship with a wild rooster. The joke was on me.
Kenneth McGregor teaches that acting starts from the inside out. He describes acting as the ability to transform private life in public forum. He maintains a philosophy that skilled actors get in touch with their emotions and access them at will. This caliber of an actor never mimics actorly ways or finds refuge in pretending. He commanded actors to inhabit our characters. His energy and brutal honesty never wavered nor sugarcoated anything. He made actors bounce in and out of characters nearly as quickly as he patently fired us from mock auditions. After the first day, I wanted my private life back. I would have emptied my bank account to go back to being just a background extra in movies.
A grueling aspect of the workshop Kenneth McGregor velvety disguised as group relaxation. Prior to taking the stage, he deeply relaxed our bodies then taught us how to achieve that same state of grace. He taught us to speak to our souls. He led us through a visual imagery minefield that unlocked extreme emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, and exaltation. He made us sob profusely at our most private moments then channel that emotion onto public stage. He made us scream acting affirmations then brought us out of this suggestive state to practice what we preached on the live stage. Like an out of body experience, I found myself mouthing repressed emotions to strangers that I have never felt comfortable sharing privately with either of my wives. Kenneth McGregor took me where actors dare, hidden tucked away places my psyche has never been before.
With a director’s swagger, Kenneth McGregor canvassed the floor like a pied piper rattling the jailor’s keys to our shaken souls. In the same breath, he loved and cursed us. He praised us with firm handshakes and affable hugs. He scolded us with finger pointing and parental toned anger. He taunted us to be better actors but uncannily knew when to back off. He expected and demanded growth. Those who respected his authority and trusted his expertise were rewarded with jewels.
As my newfound tears careened down my cheeks, I cleaned myself out of blithering slobber. “Don’t wipe those tears, Joe.” scolded Kenneth McGregor. “You big oaf, those tears are jewels for the rolling camera.”
His workshops proved so emotionally draining that I retired straight to bed after every class. I had nothing left by the end of the day and hoped to only wake-up stronger, if not a better actor. When his voice kept etching in my mind, I knew Kenneth McGregor had strangely inhabited me! I cried myself to sleep one night because I could not shake a buried emotion he captured in class. Conquering repressed emotions can take their toll on class size, however. He reminded his dwindling audience of the dedication it takes to be a believable actor. I found his class journal open where next to some rostered names, he wrote the summation “quitter.” I summoned all of my strength and did all in my power to prevent invisible ink from rising to the top next to my name.
After handing out script sides, Kenneth McGregor’s theatre voice resonated on the stage. “Joe. Every fiber of your next scene partner reeks that of an actress from as far away as a city block. I just hope she doesn’t make you look too bad.”
Scene after scene, I memorized lines like nobody’s business. I learned that previously unused parts of my brain could take snapshots of the script. Blurry at first, my picture taking eventually produced the entire lucid page in my mind as if it were present in front of me. I performed. I learned. I failed. I hurt. I healed. I grew. McGregor tore the actors down for the sole purpose of building improved authentic models. When the going got toughest, I focused on Kenneth McGregor’s acting experience. He has been on 1,000 auditions, taught under two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters, worked for director Martin Scorcese, and had riveting scenes with Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington.
A workshop not for the thin skinned or faint of heart, Kenneth McGregor asked me if I was having fun. “Fun?” I scoffed. “To walk on stage and be someone else…ah, there is such personal freedom in that. But by the time I get to the other side, it feels like a bridge too frigging far.” As irony would have it, Kenneth McGregor called me on my cell phone after this same class. As my car inched across the steel girders of the Walt Whitman bridge in rush hour traffic, his hearty voice lobbied thought provoking aftercare instructions. On a bridge too frigging far, Kenneth McGregor literally helped me cross it.
By the second week, I accepted my lot in an epiphany. I craved the spotlight and could not wait to unleash my next performance. Never to be confused with a lead actor, my body mechanics nevertheless synchronized with the emotion of my words. I shifted into overdrive and trusted my preparedness. I acted outside my skin and it started to feel strangely comfortable. Many actors started leaving our inhibitions on the red carpet. Actors pared down to various stages of undress on the stage without a hitch. We kissed, clutched, and comforted one another in scenes. Actors argued, cursed, and exchanged physical altercation. For many of us, McGregor reduced that bridge too far to a short crosswalk. Yet, there remained so much to learn through his objectivity.
“Joe, your body weighs entirely too much for your words to get caught in your throat. Own your voice. I don’t care if you are standing there looking like a slob in your underwear; speak from the depths of your diaphragm.”
He kept a mental and written file on each actor. He critiqued the written coursework we turned in. From his director’s perch just off stage, he dissected scenes to atoms. He judged talent and the lack thereof like nobody’s business. As soon as he discovered a particular strength in an actor, he shuffled scenes to exploit weaknesses. He quickly removed me from comedy and over to drama, pushing my acting envelope until I could embrace a sultry William Hurt and Kathleen Turner scene from the movie Body Heat. I Hurt some more.
One four-minute scene from the movie Grand Canyon took me over two hours to act out. My partner and I danced that scene so many times from so many emotional states of being, I nearly fainted. Kenneth McGregor can keep you on the stage flipping character instructions until you get the part right, reach the point of physical exhaustion, or surrender to emotional breakdown. Then and only then will he relent. There is nobody quite like Kenneth McGregor’s doggedness for character perfection and scene realism. Where my eyes saw only flat copy before, I inhabited for the first time my character in three dimensions. My body became a crowded temple with McGregor, my character, and me inside each of us competing for a credited role.
In the end, I survived the entire workshop. I was present and accounted for during the final curtain call. I could not swallow the workshop whole but I never stopped chewing on it in piece meal either. Thirteen actors started the course, only six people finished. Numbers, however, only partly tell this story of survival.
I have roamed this planet for forty-four years before meeting anyone who could match my tenacity. This all changed when I met Kenneth McGregor and I am that much better for it. My teacher deserves his props. First thing is first. I need to get my car repaired from the automobile accident I got into while reciting lines. I must pay my city parking violations because he kept me on stage in character too long for a meter maid to understand my theatrics. I must recover from the bronchitis I caught due to a weakened immune system from emotionally charged scenes. I must wait for my wife to resume talking to me from doing dicey scenes with women. There is a price to pay for everything in this life. Literally, Kenneth McGregor nearly killed me turning me into a better actor. After reading this review, if anyone thinks professional acting looks easy, go see Kenneth John McGregor. Tell him Joseph Tornatore sent you. He knows me well. For it is he who knows me like no other person ever took the time.


March 16, 2007

Ides of March

Upon further introspection, this may be the worst month of March on record in my life. I cannot even talk about it yet. I am neither well enough nor strong enough to blog at the moment. I offer these statements as only a pardon for the lack of blogging on the empty spaces of Freudian Slips. I expect more out of myself by next week.


March 13, 2007

When Life Was Before Me

At thirteen years old, I was a big drop of water.


March 11, 2007

Picture Perfect

Playing the role of Gus, the bartender, Joseph Tornatore hams an outtake during the movie, The Greek American. It doesn't get much better than cameras, lighting, and the essence of my personality in one still frame.


March 08, 2007

Crocodile Rock

-Is this an untouched photo or a crock? I'm telling you. It eats at me?


March 06, 2007

The Big Easy

Vacationing without your children can be a semi-sweet experience. I took a mini vacation to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1998. I wound up marrying my traveling companion the following year but let me assure readers for the record that it had nothing to do with the Big Easy. In retrospect, I am glad we saw the lively city before Hurricane Katrina devastated it.
The airline lost our luggage so we spent the first two days of the four-day getaway throwing vanity to the wind. We wore the same tired clothing in the sweltering heat. We shared the spittle from a single toothbrush that fortuitously wound up in a carry-on bag.
New Orleans natives can spot a vacationer a mile away. I must have looked lost roaming around the French Quarter trying to find a post office to mail a postcard back home to my children in New Jersey. I hope that when they rebuilt the city they made the post office more prominent and centrally located.
But in 1998, I had great difficulty finding a depository to mail my postcard. Frustrated in my quest, I began to solicit the help of locals. Intentional or otherwise, they sent me on wild goose chases for the better part of one hour. I walked up and down the same streets. A male transvestite on Bourbon Street sent me to jibip. At unpopulated uncivilized jibip, a homeless person grumbled for me to go a few blocks north where an art gallery storeowner gave me equally bad directions to an establishment of ill repute.
I wondered if they were all communicating by walkie-talkies and laughing themselves silly. All I needed was an outpost that sold stamps with the ability to mail my postcard of few words. My trek continued. A clean cut streetwalker pointed to an unadorned building down the street. We passed the male transvestite in our crisscrossed cross-town travels. My fiancé and I bum rushed a little hole in the wall. I charged into the building of no signage and little more than a long empty counter.
A non-uniformed non-commission man sauntered to the high counter. By this time, my patience wore thin.
“There is a vicious rumor floating around the city that this is a post office.” I said for starters. “Can you confirm or deny?”
The man replied in a charming Cajun accent. “Whatta ya need?”
I told him like it is. “I have been walking around here for an hour trying to find a place to mail this postcard.”
He didn’t blink or move a muscle but offered his assistance nonetheless. “I can take care of it.”
“Now we are getting somewhere.” I slid him the postcard on the counter but persisted in my complaining. The hustle and bustle of the Northeast clashed with the slower paced Deep South. I solicited his opinion but distastefully badmouthed the residents of the city. “Every time I asked a local for directions here, I got sent on a wild goose chase. Up the street, down the street, dead ends to nowhere, bad sections of town, etc.”
“Sir, you’re too uptight for us.” the clerk commented. “You’re in the right place now and you’re on vacation, are you not? May I remind you that this is Naw Arlans, The Big Easy. It is called The Big Easy for a particular reason. You got to calm down and take it…easy.”
What could I say? I said too much already and my intensity upset people up and down the French Quarter. And with barely the found clothes back on my back, I beat that postcard home four days later.


March 04, 2007

Bench Warmers

As I stepped over a homeless man sleeping atop a heat vent on Walnut street in center city Philadelphia this morning, I realized more than myself longed for an early spring. I want to sit on a park bench and feel the warmth of sunshine beaming down on my face. I never checked with the man but I think the homeless feel the same way.


March 01, 2007

All That It Is Crocked Up to Be

This basic Italian recipe is dedicated to the single mom at work who I have been encouraging to find the kitchen. I have been trying to convince her that with the right ingredients made available, cooking does not have to be that hard. I have shared discussions and opened my cookbook to her to no avail. This recipe makes wonderful red gravy from a crockpot.

by Joe Tornatore

1 6oz can of tomato paste
1 28oz can of tomato puree
½ can of water from puree can
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
4 tsps. of table sugar
1 tsp. of parsley flakes
1 tsp. of Italian seasoning
1 tsp. of minced garlic
½ tsp. of crushed red pepper
Preparations: Combine all ingredients stovetop or in a crock-pot. Stir together. Cook in crock-pot on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6 hours. Gravy should always be made with a meat base like meatballs, sausage, shredded chicken, a leftover pork chop, etc. Add your favorite meat to the crockpot.


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