From The Vehicle (and Dressing Room!) of. . . James Eckhouse

by Sara Israel

James Eckhouse!!!

Okay.  Thank you for allowing me to get a little bit of that out of my system.  Because I am just so excited.  Not only that I know this guy, but that I know him well enough (and he seemingly likes me well enough!) that he’s agreed to play along with us this week.

I met James because his (equally talented) wife, Keliher Walsh, starred in a staged reading of one of my plays.  After the reading, when Keliher introduced us, it was really one of those moments where I had to beg myself to be cool:  Beyond playing the ultimate father on “Beverly Hills 90210,” James was also a recurring guest star on and directed episodes of “Once & Again,” one of my favorite t.v. shows of all time.  I tried to be cool.  I really did.  I don’t know if I succeeded.  (I probably did not.)

Back when James and I met in that theater lobby, I was just learning how many terrific screen actors have varied and thorough stage histories.  James is one of those consummate theater professionals, and I have since had the privilege of directing him myself.   He also just (brilliantly-brilliantly) starred in “The Escort” at the Geffen Playhouse.

James Eckhouse!!  I adore him.  Have I mentioned that?

Me:  Your car has lots of stuff in it, but it all seems very well placed back there—not “scattershot” at all.  How conscious/unconscious is that?

James:  Are you nuts? It’s like a hornet’s nest!   I think the photo makes it look a lot nicer than it is.  We tend to throw things in there like we’re on the streets at Mardi Gras.

Me:  Okay then, so on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you clean up/organize/prepare before taking your photo of the trunk for me?

James:  Well, everything in the picture has been in the car at one time in the recent past.  I’d say a 2, because I repositioned the palm and the dolly.

Me:  The other question I’ve been asking actors—particularly because I think it’s reflective of our move to digitized life/work—is:  Do you keep headshots in your car to have “on hand?”  Meaning, do you use hard copies of your headshot/resume?  I’m particularly curious what your experience is with this, because you’ve been working so visibly for quite some time.

James:  I sometimes need headshots when I go on commercial auditions.  Once or twice per Ice Age. . . I’m pretty bad about having them with me these days—it’s all so online—the agents shoot over a picture long before I show up, I think.  I know, I know, I need new pictures.  But I want to lose weight first!  I’m working on it, I really am!

Me:  Well you seem “disciplined” about it to me!  Because I don’t see any “food stuff” in your car.  I know our view is from your trunk, so maybe that’s part of it, but it’s notable to me—no food itself, no wrappers, no water bottles, no coffee cups.  Do you not eat/drink in the car, or is there another explanation?

James:  Ahhh. . . I didn’t show you the front!  Water—yes.  Cupcakes—often.  Coffee—spilled. . . continually.  I don’t do fast food, but sandwiches from Ralph’s on occasion.  I spend most of my time in the car fumbling with CDs.  I’m insane about having on music I want to hear at whatever particular moment.  It’s where my “anal” comes out.  Did you know that about me?

Me:  James, you know I can’t answer that.  If I do, I’ll reveal too much about our working relationship, and/or get one or more of your family members in trouble!  But speaking of your lovely family—what we’re seeing in your trunk is your family’s “life stuff.”  So, when you’re heading off to the theater, or for a day on the set, or to teach your acting workshop, where do you put your “actor stuff?”  And how come that actor stuff—or at least some of it—doesn’t live in the car the way, say, the “moldy chairs” do?

James:  Very good question!  When I took that photo, all of my “actor stuff” was living in my dressing room at The Geffen… So I took the liberty of taking a picture of my dressing room too, completely “as is.”  It’s a “1” on your scale of 1 to 10.  Apparently previous occupants of my dressing room include Annette Benning, Stockard Channing and Carol Channing—the famous Channing sisters.  I don’t think they would approve of the current décor.

Me:  That dressing room photo is great!  Thank you for adding it to our mix!  And about the “The Escort”—this actually has nothing to do with your car, but everything to do with both food and your work as an actor:  That cheesecake your character ate at every performance—was that really cheesecake?  It looked so, so good, and made me really, really want cheesecake, which I typically don’t even like!

James:  Yes, this has been the slight problem with “losing the weight!”  Instead of a salary, which is pretty minimal anyway, I agreed to do the show if they gave me real cheesecake every night.  The agents weren’t too happy, but the Geffen administration—ecstatic!!  Actors and food—we all know what that means. . . The tragedy is, I only got to take a few bites in the scene and then I had to toss it (inside of its protective plastic serving tray) in a little canister tucked under the desk before the next scene with Maggie.  And what’s scary is, I was known to reach into the can and take the uneaten cheesecake—don’t worry, still inside its little tray—and snarf it down when the desk slides off stage and I was desperate for more sugar rush going into Act II.  It is damn good cheesecake by the way.  They took it out of the freezer in time for it to soften up.  A few times they were late on that and I was having to attack the cheesecake on stage just to dig out a bite—but we needed to be ready for any contingency in this production!

Me:  I think this cheesecake is a good metaphor for an actor’s life!  Be ready for any contingency, and always be ready to attack with a fork.

Sara Israel is a writer and director living in Los Angeles.
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