Sunday, March 30, 2008

Twenty-second Sunday Salon: ADMIT ONE and an interview with Emmett James

This week I much enjoyed reading ADMIT ONE by Emmett James, which is a memoir of how he came to be an actor in Hollywood (Emmett kindly sent me a copy after I had commented on Debra's review on her blog a month or so ago). He has also very kindly agreed to an interview. I have reviewed this highly entertaining book further down the page.

Emmett James spent his childhood in Croydon, South London and finished his schooling in Cambridge, England. Studying acting at Strasberg Actors Studio in London he began working in theatre, eventually moving to Los Angeles in the early nineties to pursue his acting career in film. For over a decade he has worked extensively as a professional actor, winning a prestigious ADA as well as appearing in Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG and Academy Award winning work. In addition to acting he has produced, taught and directed film, stage and television productions in Hollywood. From a family of authors including J.B. Priestley, he continues to live and work in Hollywood, to this day.


About the book
CD: Is it true?
EJ: Yes, absolutely. People’s reaction to my book always starts with “You’ve lead a strange life”, or “Is it really true?” It’s not been a strange life to me it’s just been life. I vividly remember sitting watching the opening scene of Oliver Stone’s The Doors in a cinema in London. As the lights dimmed a voice was heard from the darkness “Did you have a good life when you died? Enough to base a movie on?” That quote really resonated with me and became a mantra. I promised myself I couldn’t lead an ordinary life. I would do everything in my power to make it extraordinary.

CD: Have any of your relatives or early friends read the book? What did they think? Have any of them become involved in the movie industry?
E.J: I had to put aside the fears about my family reading it as that could have been creatively crippling. Of course no matter how strained relationships may be with family members it was never my intention to publicly humiliate anyone. There was a nagging fear that my brother might be destroyed by what I had to say but in actual fact he has probably bought more copies than anyone! He loves the notoriety it seems to have brought him.

CD: Were you at all worried about confessing to the revelations in this book?
E.J: I worried only for legal reasons and ramifications, but wanted to show myself in a true light so I absolutely had to do it —-shady warts and all. Having said that, if any lawyers are reading this…anything you are thinking of suing me over is OBVIOUSLY a complete fabrication!…allegedly.

CD: From your resume you have also been an actor on the stage in Hollywood, and your performances have received a lot of praise – is that what you mean by being an 'actor' at the end of your book? What do you prefer?
E.J: My dream was to be a successful working actor. The medium in which I achieved this was always secondary. As someone who felt he didn’t have much of a voice as a child and what little I had to say wasn’t important, there is no greater feeling in the world then to step on stage. The moment of hushed silence as people wait with anticipation for the first syllables to leave your mouth is a moment I relish every time. I know people that won’t even get out of bed for three quarters of a million. I will still get out of bed to act for a cup of tea. I’m happy living my life that way. It’s healthy. People seem to look down upon those struggling to get by trying to live as an actor which has always seemed strange to me. It’s actually very noble, being a storyteller is a worthy way of spending ones life. Art is fundamentally important in the world. In the Greek court the King would have a soldier, a philosopher, an astrologer, a doctor and an actor. As actors we are storytellers, and that’s worthy.

CD: I know this is a bit of a cliché - but I do really think this book would make an excellent film - that must have crossed your mind. Has there ever been any interest?
E.J: Funny you should say that because Working Title Pictures (Bridget Jones, High Fidelity, Four Weddings & A Funeral) has just enquired about the book but nothing is signed as of yet. I think they could make an excellent film out of the piece. I really would love to place it with an English film company if possible, but if the Americans would love to throw some money at me I have VERY big hands to catch with! I would love to think Jude Law would play me as a cheeky chappy in the film…but in reality it would probably be Ricky Gervais as the flabby chappy. I did actually for a moment consider calling the book ‘Carry On Croydon’ maybe Barbara Windsor would still consider playing my mother?

CD: At the end of the book you seem happy with the way things have turned out - but are there any things (that you could have controlled) that you would have done differently?
E.J: I have never regretted any choice I have made in my life, some may not have been thoroughly thought out but all have molded me into who I am today. At a certain point you have to except people’s perception of you––right or wrong. For a while after the release of The Wizard Of Oz, Margaret Hamilton tried to fight against people only seeing her as the Wicked Witch of the West. By the time she died she stopped signing her real name when autographing and was only signing WWW in green pen. That’s commitment. You have to commit to the choices you make in life. Having said that I’m still bugged by The Wizard of Oz. When they all went to this wonderful land of OZ the Tin Man got polished up…helpful, the scarecrow’s gut’s get re-stuffed…makes sense. Dorothy gets a massage to relieve the stress of travel. But the Lion goes there for a dose of manly courage and winds up getting his hair put in curlers with a ribbon? What’s that all about? How wise could that Wizard of Oz really have been?

CD: At the end of the book you are eloquent about the importance of the movie - in your life and in the life of people in general. Could you recommend movies, like RUNNING ON EMPTY (that you mention in your book, and I am now dying to see) that you think deserve more recognition?
E.J: Going to the cinema is one of my earliest memories and is still something I happily want to do as a middle aged man. Cinema transcends age. It truly is a rare medium. My film recommendations…That is a very loaded question…I recently discovered Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday an amazingly good film. Charlie Chaplin (a fellow South London native) in Modern Times and Leonardo DiCaprio who gives a performance which still gives me chills in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He will always be associated with his performance in Titanic but this is the role that shows him as one of the finest actors of our generation.

General Questions
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
E.J: I always associate snails with hard core drugs after years of watching Brian the snail from the Magic Roundabout growing up. Never trust snails or any spring-loaded creature that marks his arrival with a “boing”

CD: What is your proudest moment?
E.J: Stepping onto the set of Titanic and getting the chance to play around with an Academy Award winning actress.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
E.J: Seeing Star Wars with my dad in 1977

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
E.J: Steven Seagal

CD: What is happiness?
E.J: Being able to throw your rubbish on a cinema floor without guilt. In fact it’s expected!

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
E.J: Make a cup of tea for me and the missus.

ADMIT ONE is about the realisation of a dream. It reminded me in some regards of Martin Amis's MONEY; but whereas Amis's character John Self is a fiction, Emmett James's book is a memoir. James was, and is, an Englishman obsessed with the movies. Appropriately then, he uses the neat ploy of taking a series of twenty-two favourite films as the context for various episodes in his life - from his early introduction to the cinema when he was too young to stay awake (THE JUNGLE BOOK) to the fulfillment of his ambition to become an actor in Hollywood (IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE). According to James, film is capable of many things; it transforms his mother from her usual incarnation as witch (WIZARD OF OZ) to dancer in the aisle (GREASE), it encourages a foray into petty crime (THE KARATE KID) and of course it forms the backdrop of his first adolescent fumblings (GHOST BUSTERS). I particularly liked this description of his secret signal to his friend who lived a couple of doors away in Croydon (a town just south of London):
Our signal was an odd sort of high-pitched cockerel crowing noise that abruptly became obsolete when puberty came knocking. Then it evolved into more of a battered-fog-horn-on-its-last-legs kind of sound. But it was still our secret sign, something unique to us. The sweet sound of a desperate cockerel being strangled would come, seemingly from the heavens; an invite for me to come over and participate in some tom-foolery (as of course, I always did).

Intent on a career in the movies James allows nothing to stop him; he pursues famous producers and casting directors until he finds himself in Hollywood - and then his adventures begin in earnest. They are outrageous, funny and yet totally believable. Although the book contains a little too much swearing for my taste, his writing is fluent and witty, and his life has been both unusual and inspiring. At the end I felt I had come to 'know' Hollywood for what it really is for the majority of people. The book ends retrospectively with thoughtfulness and depth; and, as in Amis's MONEY, James acknowledges that the idea of success , at least in Hollywood, is not quite what the rest of us think it might be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent interview and review, Clare and Emmett! I particularly liked your comment, Emmett, about committing to the choices one's makes in life. (Do I do this? Eh, I don't know.)

Funny: I don't think I noticed the swearing, Clare....

A further question, Emmett, if you're there: one thing that surprised me was how often you seemed to have no idea what kind of an acting job you were showing up for when you'd get these bit parts. Is that standard? I had no idea things would work like that.

Sun Mar 30, 02:55:00 pm  
Blogger miss_m said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sun Mar 30, 04:36:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Debra - yes, I thought Emmett was really inspiring about life choices.

I count the word f word as swearing - which shows exactly what an old prude I really am!

Sun Mar 30, 04:54:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Snails remind you of hardcore drugs? That's a ******* new one... anyway can't wait to reread the book with the added perspective of the interview. Nice picture, too.

Sun Mar 30, 04:55:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comments have been censored by the Old Prude administrator.

Sun Mar 30, 04:59:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emmett,me ol' china! I'm very excited to read your tales of Hollyweird and shall be tirelessly trying to spot myself hastily disguised in every character! You truly are a testament to the old adage,"still waters run deep".A fine accomplishment,pal.Full marks.Dominic Keating

Sun Mar 30, 05:42:00 pm  
Blogger litlove said...

I don't think I've ever read a memoir by an actor before - don't know why, and no reason why not! This sounds full of intriguing anecdotes and insider analysis.

Sun Mar 30, 06:54:00 pm  
Blogger Megan said...

This book sounds wonderful! Great interview. I love memoirs and I have read one by an actor before. I have read Alec Guiness's book, maybe Emmett would appreciate that, considering his life changing event. Another amazing memoir I have read is Rewrites by Neil Simon. Not an actor but you know, worth mentioning.

Sun Mar 30, 07:38:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the book would make such
a fun film. I really hope someone
dicides to make it into a film.

Sun Mar 30, 10:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dominic Keating! I am honoured. Your character was the best thing about ENTERPRISE as far as I was concerned. I always had the feeling you were about to reveal a terribly tragic secret about yourself (just in case you return - but I expect you are in another galaxy by now).

No, I don't think I have either, LitLove - I certainly learnt a lot.

Megan: That's twice I've heard Alec Guiness's book mentioned today - must be good.

Yup - it's just asking for it - I think Emmett should play himself.

Sun Mar 30, 10:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really was moved by this book! He's an interesting guy... i love a true story that encourages me to lead an extra ordinary life.

Sun Mar 30, 10:56:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Debra, to answer your question when you start off in Hollywood it is quite standard to be sent on jobs that you have very little knowledge of. To be honest most people are happy to have any kind of job at this stage! When you become more established you begin to have a little more say, and a better clue of what your REALLY getting yourself into.

Thanks to all that have been so supportive of the books release so far. If any other bloggers would like the chance to review it for their site, please do contact me and I will mail you a copy. Cheers and enjoy the book! Emmett James

Mon Mar 31, 01:10:00 am  
Blogger Literary Feline said...

Thank you for posting the interview. It added an extra dimension to your review of Emmett's book. I'm ready to run out and buy it! Or at least add it to my wish list. I have to be good for the next few months.

Mon Mar 31, 01:24:00 am  
Blogger GeekGirl said...

what a great interview! thanks, clare, for taking the time to really create a multi-faceted view of a book and its author-it really helps to contextualize and round out the experience.

i have read the book, a few times, actually, and each time i read it i discover new things and new ways of looking at emmett's experiences and how they come together to form a very funny, self deprecating narrative who's real life proves that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. i agree with Lora's comment above that this book is movie-making-material, no pun intended. ok, pun intended, but still, it will make a GREAT film.


Mon Mar 31, 05:30:00 am  
Blogger Kay Cooke said...

Great interview Clare - there in the midst!!!

Mon Mar 31, 06:56:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great funny book! Emmett is a wonderful writer!

Mon Mar 31, 06:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comments - very gratifying to see a book getting the appreciation it deserves.

Tue Apr 01, 08:05:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview and review!
Sure to entice a lot of new readers. So glad to hear that there's interest in turning it into a film. Can't wait to see it! Bravo!

Tue Apr 01, 07:06:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book is amazing! I couldn't help but laugh out loud at some of the preposterous things the author was not only a part of, but actually willing to share with readers. The intimacy of these details gave me renewed hope that there are in fact real people in film. If you're into no-holds barred truth, this is a must read.

I can't do anything but agree with all those that have commented on turning this book into a movie.


Mon Apr 07, 09:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's got to be read !

Ross King

Tue Apr 15, 04:38:00 am  

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