When you’re starting out in your career, looking over the fence to see how your peers are doing is somewhat unavoidable. Who’s doing well? Who is getting the big parts? Who is climbing the ladder fastest?
There’s also a commendable philosophy held by many high-flying actors of the importance of ‘sending the elevator back down‘.
In fact I remember a time from drama school where a group of friends made a pact that whoever should break-through into the mainstream first would throw a rope to the others and help them up the ladder.
In this story from Kevin Costner on the Graham Norton Show he explains a time when he did exactly that for a close, if not irritating, writer friend of his:
We all have friends that you start out with and it’s like ‘who gets there first’ right? And there’s a lot of friends behind us and you try to find a way to help them. I remember one of my friends was a writer and I tried to help him, sent him on a lot of courses, got him into jobs, and the reports coming back were that he just ended up pissing everybody off!
After repeated instances of said friend embarrassing Costner, a heated argument ended in a tussle at Costner’s LA home:
He said one more thing to me that really crossed the line – I mean it’s easy to put Hollywood down – and he crossed the line with a friend of mine and that was it, I like had him up against the wall. A few weeks later after the tension had died down, the friend in question gets back in touch and says ‘Look man, I need a place to stay, can I crash at yours?’ I say sure.
The offer of a few nights stay turned out to be several months, all the while writer-friend was writing and writing and writing, working day and night and trying to get Costner to read it – each time Costner refused. Eventually, with everyone’s patience wearing thin, friend had outstayed his welcome and Costner asked him to leave. As a parting request friend said ‘please read my screenplay’. Costner said no.
In the end he rings me up and he’s in Arizona working in some Chinese restaurant washing dishes. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in a Chinese restaurant washing dishes but there’s a lot of them! He asked for my help again, I sent him sleeping bags, money, still trying to help him out. He says ‘Have you read my screenplay?’ I said no. I said ‘READ IT!’ So I did….and it was Dances With Wolves.
The friend in question was Michael Blake who went on to adapt his novel to a screenplay by the same name winning a Best Writer Oscar, the much prized Best Picture Oscar and earning COSTNER his first and only Best Director Oscar.
SEND THE ELEVATOR BACK DOWN. EVERYBODY WINS.