Importunate

by Michael Kimber

It's record-breaking cold in Toronto.

The crew for the murder mystery web series Typo is outside facing the type of chill that makes your skin burn.

Alex Pirie-Hay is inside holding a puppy in his hands, calmly stroking its head to keep it from yapping and conceivably ruining some very important takes. 

Alex is an expert audio technician and not a dog wrangler. In fact, Alex is allergic to dogs and is too polite to mention this. It should also be said that you can tell the animal is falling in love, licking his palm, lolling like a contented baby.

A contented baby that is most likely making Alex have an allergic reaction.

I'm watching him because there is something you see when you get to know Alex. He is sweet in a way that kind of breaks your heart. Like he is a person who gives everything away and doesn't get enough back. And he is a trained sound technician petting this fucking dog to keep it quiet so it doesn't ruin our takes. 

There are a lot of places you could start with this story. I could mention the first time I worked with Alex the October before on a short film and how we stole shots on the subway as he recorded the sound, rocking his head frantically back and forth pretending to be a punk rocker just in case someone was watching. 

We could start with us walking from set on the first day of Just Cuddle as he explained that for his birthday he asked his parents for a memory of his grandparents. 

I start on that cold day in February because it was that picture I couldn't get out of my head. A person who was infinitely more than he appeared, who was at a point in his life where he was settling to be less than he was. When Elias and I were breaking the story of Just Cuddle Episode 3 "Film School", Elias said he wanted Alex to play the part of Harold, a character that bore a striking resemblance to Alex - someone who was so much more than he appeared to be. When we filmed Episode 2, Alex was the sound technician. For Episode 3, we wanted him to be the star. But we aren't quite there yet.

****

For Alex, doing film is a way of breaking out of his shell. He likes people but he hates meeting them. He's paralyzed by a lifelong pathological shyness that he needs to shed on set. He's forced to talk to actors and get them to put their mikes on properly; he has to tell the director if the sound on a take has been spoiled; he needs to write emails to the producer to make sure he has all the appropriate equipment. But he feeds off of this energy where he gets to be a part of something. 

We are sitting down after shooting Episode 2. Elias and I ask Alex to join us. 

"So we want you to be the star of the third episode." 

Alex looks confused. It's clear he feels as if he has misheard us. He assumes we aren't stupid so he must have misheard us.

"What?"

Elias presses on. "We have a script that we're really excited about. We think you'd be really great in it. As the lead. We'd love it if you read it..." 

"You're making a mistake. I'm sure I'll love it because you guys make great things  but I'll ruin it... I promise I'll ruin it." 

"Can you read it? Just see if you might want to do it." 

Three days later, we get his reply:

"I agonized over this. I fucking love it and want to so hard. Lovely, lovely stuff. If you're in a pinch and can't find anyone, count me in but in a perfect world I'd recommend someone else. I'm pulling a Harold. Maybe in five years.

P.S I relate to Harold like a horse. This guy - pooped on and pooped out. Sincerely wonderful stuff. 

P.S.S I can't drive. err. yeah. I know, wtf get a license, on it on it, but that's a factor too.

So we acted politely and looked for other actors. 

The other actors didn't quite get it. There is a dignity to Alex that we needed for Harold. We needed to believe this guy wasn't a loser. This was just a person who had never won before. And someone who was about to find out that the world didn't see him the way he thought they did. 

The next part involves booze. Maybe a lot of it. 

Elias and Alex were at a friend's barbecue on a patio drinking beer.

"So we auditioned people and there was no one who really stood out for us. They were sort of approximations but not quite what we were looking for." 

(Side note: Elias does in fact use words like approximations. He is a person who perpetually has the perfect word in his mouth.)

"Hmm.... I see." 

Alex doesn't have that gift. His words often get lost in his mouth like he believes his contribution shouldn't be heard. 

"Would you consider coming to a no-pressure callback where you read with some of the actors we're interested in for the part of Alison? Just see how it feels?" says Elias. "If it feels comfortable, know that the success of the episode doesn't rest on you. If it doesn't work, it's my fault. But trust that I'll do everything I can to get you where you need to be to make this work." 

Alex nods, takes a sip of his beer and assumes it will end with one audition.

****

What we don't know is that Alex had in fact acted before. His first experience with acting involved Hamlet and being yelled at. Being yelled at a lot.

The director of this particular rendition of the play didn't like the way Alex pronounced his lines. Alex pronounced them this way because he had no fucking clue what they meant. The director didn't bother explaining the meaning. Instead he shouted:

"Do it again!"

"She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted." 

He was made to say it over and over again until the director gave up trying.

"She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted." 

"No."

"She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted." 

Gradually he saw the director die inside.

He assumed this experience would be very much the same. We would give him lines, he would say them and our eyes would glaze over and we would wish we were dead. 

****

Hannah Whitmore came in for her callback. Immediately there was this wonderful chemistry between Alex and her. She could see the great thing that inspired such devotion in Alex's friends. And when she was doing her lines, he could feel that thing in himself. 

In Alex's words: "When the readings were happening, I was reading with two or three people. It was with the forest walk scene. And I remember this was the most scary part, initial time working with professional actors. I figured they'd see it. You know that I suck. That I'm a big fake and I can't act. When Hannah started her lines this thing happened. Right away she got into character. Oh shit Jesus she's in character and I was like I'm Alex awkward. Recommended that Hannah brought the fire whoever she ends up acting with it will go really well. 

I remember receiving the text from Elias while I was on vacation. Alex would be Harold. I remember pumping my fist and swearing. I knew if Alex was involved we would have something special. 

My faith wasn't shared by Alex. 

Alex agonized over disappointing us. He lived the days before the shoot in a sheer terror. He was going to ruin it. 

"She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted." 

****

And on set, magic happened.

Alex explained his secret to playing Harold: "The guy is nervous in his own skin. That played well because that's what I am. It played well on camera because it was a fact. I was shitting bricks until halfway through the last day. Somehow people thought I was good and you know I think I sort of believed them. For the first couple days afterwards I was riding high. I did this impossible thing and I didn't fuck it up too badly." 

Alex moves cities to break out of his shell. A few weeks after we finished shooting his episode, he relocated to Vancouver. 

There was a job in an art department on a series where he says the work is intense but never boring. 

When I called him for this interview he was on a bus on the way to see a friend.

I pictured him on that bus. Wide eyed, taking in a new city. Ready to break out of his shell again.

I hope that people in Vancouver know what they have.

Because every single person on the set of Just Cuddle knew what happened when he got in front of the camera. And know what he is like as a friend. 

Pure fucking magic. 

See you soon, Alex.

We all miss you.

Sincerely,

The Just Cuddle Team