People dream of making it big in "Hollywood"; hobnobbing with stars, making deals with high-powered executives, being directed on a big movie set, but I've already done it. I've been Satan. How could I, a lowly peon in the entertainment world, aspire to a role that has been portrayed by no less than Jack Nicholson, George Burns and Jerry Lewis? It started with an accident.
I was a Production Assistant (or PA) on the set of the cinematic masterpiece Warlock II, starring Julian Sands (Room with a View, Boxing Helena). Being a PA is such a dull, mindless job, a retarded one-pawed dog could handle it. I was paid $100 a week t o carry out the insane directives of a dozen delusional bosses for 12-16 hours a day. After excelling in such duties as guarding trucks from thieves in the middle of the desert, and hurling my body in front of the cars of irate residents about to drive i nto a shot, I was able to secure a scrub position on the more relaxed second unit.
The second unit of a film is usually responsible for shooting pick-ups, special effects shots, and other pieces of film that don't need a crew of seventy to complete. My job mostly involved going to the store and buying things. Very glamorous indeed. Until the day we were supposed to shoot Satan's scenes.
The scene was simple. Satan was going to come out of a misty pit of Hell to wreak vengeance upon mankind. Everything was ready to go except the mist. You got to have mist to accurately depict a pit to hell. Sammy, the effects guy, wheeled a tank of liqu id nitrogen over to the pit. "The nitrogen makes a thick clowwd which'll stay in the pit," he said in his thick Scottish brogue. He forgot to mention that it's also the chemical used to keep 'ole Walt's cryogenically frozen corpse from defrost ing before they find a cure for death.
A stunt actor paid $ 500 a day to play Satan had been dressed in his latex demon suit and lowered into a vat. It didn't take long for the mist-shrouded stunt man to make a minor complaint. "I can't feel my feet," he whispered.
"Let's get this shot off NOW!" yelled the producer. Then the stunt-guy started wheezing loudly. The producer, whose knowledge of chemistry reminded him that although our atmosphere is around 80 percent nitrogen, humans still need oxygen to bre athe, and handed the actor a bottle of oxygen. "Suck on this between shots," he added thoughtfully. Unfortunately the stuntman's overwhelming need to breathe caused him to zealously crank the O2 output to max. While waiting for the next shot to begin, the stuntman collapsed from hyperventilation and was rushed to the emergency room. Sammy mumbled something about dry ice and took the tank back to his truck whistling an ancient battle hymn. The producer's evil eye began to scan the room. He and the wardrobe person began nodding at me. "Matt, you're going to be Satan," he said.
Oh boy. Well, anything is better than guarding a truck.
The outfit, a latex body suit, took about an hour to powder up and squeeze into but I looked super. Something like a rubbery bulimic zombie-goat. "We didn't have time to make this costume look good," the make up effects guy confided in me. & quot;We also didn't have time to put eye-slits in the head so you're not going to be able to see." This was going to be fabulous.
When I got back to the set, they weren't ready for my big scene. Rather than have me sit around doing nothing, my bosses put me to work. They were sure determined to get their $1.16/hour's worth out of me. Besides, who else is going to get them coffee? I strapped a walkie-talkie over my Satan suit and made copies for them, cleaned up, and helped keep some wandering extras from embracing the path of good. About an hour later, sweating profusely from the latex, they were finally ready for me, the star!< P> "Now don't worry, CO2 is a much different animal. We dump dry ice in the water and the resultant steam comes out this nozzle. Just be careful it doesn't burrrn ya legs." Sammy backs away from my wood and foam tomb as they placed the goat-head ed mask on my head. The second unit director came over to guide my performance in the scene.
"Ok, now you're the devil, see, and you've been locked up in Hell for thousands of years, and you're finally free! You're going to stretch and claw your way out of this hole. Now remember, you're going to look twenty feet tall on the screen so you 're going to be lifting several tons, so look like you're straining a little. Now you're half-way out of the hole when these two kids mess up your plans, and there's this big flash of light. Now you've gotta cover your eyes because the light is really p owerful and it makes you sink back into the ground. Ok?" I nodded. "Great!" The CO2 fumes start pouring in. I can't see, I can't hear, and I'm about to make my debut as Destroyer of Worlds, Champion of Chaos. The director yelled "Ac tion!" The cameras whirred.
It was the highlight of my prodigal acting career dating back to High School. My first dramatic role was in a musical adaptation of C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". I had the pivotal role of The Squirrel who had a singular l ine at the end of the play. Utilizing the Method, I delivered the line in my best squeaky voice much to the delight of an admiring audience. Obviously the role of Satan was a juicier part. Even though I had no lines, I still had to convey total evil. Drawing on my extensive acting experience, I tried to clear my mind and think of burning children and how much fun it they can be. I still couldn't get beyond the fact I was blind, choking on unknown fumes, and smelled like a giant condom. Besides, I onl y did that play in High School because there was only one dressing room for the whole cast and I could see girls running around in their underpants each rehearsal. The carbon dioxide was getting to my head as I clawed my way out of Hell onto a Hollywood soundstage. I would Smite the producers for their follies! "Cut," the director yelled out, "let's do it again. Matt, this time don't wave your hands around like that. You look stupid." Did anyone ever say that to Brando?
It took three days to film me coming out of the pit from all the angles they wanted. Some takes went well, while others made the crew wince, like when I banged the goat-skull against the side of the pit and knocked it off my head. Surprise! When the sh ooting was finally finished, the set photographer came over and took promotional shots of me in the costume howling in rage at a virgin world untainted by my evil presence. One of these photos appeared in Cinemafantastique magazine. It was bigger than Ju lian Sand's, the star!
When the Oscar nominations were announced this year, I was floored the Academy overlooked my stellar performance. I had transformed from a movie peon to the Greatest Villain of the Universe. I had plumbed the depths of evil and depravity and emerged uns cathed with my sanity and meager salary intact. The real travesty was that I wasn't credited as playing The Devil. How dare they list my credit only as second unit production assistant! Where are my adulating fans? My big trailer? My huge salary? Th e Devil hath cursed me for portraying him so true. Fie to that demon! And a pox onto Hollywood!
EVERYTHING I EVER NEEDED TO KNOW... I LEARNED IN MY MOTHER'S WOMB
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The Journal of SSubstance, Wit,and Dangerous Masturbatory Habits