Monday, December 20, 2010

Of Little People, Actors and Elves

Little people have been on my mind lately. Why? No, it's not a pre-version or fetish. It's because this time of year, the unemployment rate for little actors plummets. Tis the season to humiliate short people by forcing them to play elves in sitcoms, movies, and at the mall. Imagine that you're responsible for casting a commercial that features a hip, rapping elf. Sound ridiculous? It is. But that sure as hell doesn't mean it's not happening. Rapping elves move merchandise, apparently.

So, as a casting agent you pick through your "central casting" files and find a list of unemployed little people. Like Shindler's List, except it's with midgets and has nothing to do with the Holocaust. So, yeah, it's not like Shindler's List, not at all.

Anyway, you pick up the phone and start calling them, or you'd quit before doing that to another human being. I'd quit. But then, I'm a quitter.

It reminds me of a carnival I went to at the age of 12 (what doesn't?). Even at that young age, I'd already started to question the wisdom of climbing onto a hastily assembled contraption, maintained by carnies. Not good. No rides for me. So I did other carnival-type things, like embracing existential nihilism, eating heinous food, getting depressed, and looking down on a person who would get excited about a Lee Greenwood t-shirt. Or a poster featuring a bald eagle perched on a lightning bolt with an American flag waving in the background. Another carnival activity, naturally enough, is getting heckled by the aforementioned carnies and being conned into accepting an impossible challenge in the hopes of winning a stuffed monkey. Beyond that, there is only one thing left to do, and that is to check out the "freak show."

This particular carnival didn't have much in the way of "freaks," beyond the patrons, anyway. The only one I remember was, "Lobster Boy." A banner over a very large tent screamed that, whatever was inside, it would be the most amazing thing I ever set my peepers on. A boy-lobster hybrid. There was even a warning about getting too close. A pissed-off lobster boy could rip your face off.

So I payed a buck, strolled on in, and witnessed one of the most depressing spectacles ever. Ever. In the middle of that tent was a small fellow with a deformed arm, a hay bale to sit on, and a bottle of Jack Daniels. He was twenty feet away from the crowd milling in a circle, once around and out the way we came in. I almost threw up. The man's dignity had been crushed like a stale Pall Mall long ago. He was about as dangerous as a goose down pillow. The world, however, had clearly had his way with him.

That brings me back to the use of little people as Christmas elves. Tony Cox, an actor who appeared in Bad Santa and Me, Myself and Irene, is currently appearing in at least two commercials, as a hip, black elf working for Santa. Oh, the humanity.

As far as I can tell, Cox is a fine actor. One could imagine him as "Othello," although the final scene would be awkward. Desdemona is a young woman, and Tony would have a hard time making it believable that he could smother her with a pillow. You could hire a ravishing little actress to play her, though, that would work. Unfortunately, more than one little person per play would be gimmicky.

Then there is Danny Woodburn, who played "Mickey Abbot" on Seinfeld. Compared to most little people parts, it was a good gig. He was somewhat fleshed out as a character, and is memorable for reasons not midget-related. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were also wise enough not to ignore his smallness. It was simply no more noteworthy than Newman's weight, George's baldness, or Kramer's tall hipster doofus.

The Robert DeNiro of little actors, however, is Peter Dinklage, who played the lead in the 2003 film "The Station Agent." Dinklage, who suffers from achondroplasia, plays an intelligent, slightly bitter man who is constantly being mocked by strangers. At best, he is treated as a curiosity. His plight makes you hate people. He is so used to people behaving like asses that he just puts it right out of his mind. The audience, however, is compelled to understand just how difficult it is to be different. It's a hard world on the little things, and little people.

Dinklage, who has a degree in drama from Bennington College in Vermont, is also an animal lover and vegetarian who once said, "I like animals, all animals. I wouldn't hurt a cat or a dog - or a chicken or a cow. And I wouldn't ask someone else to hurt them for me. That's why I'm a vegetarian."

If he ends up being forced to play an elf to pay the rent, it will be very upsetting.

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