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Justin Campbell Justin Campbell
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Daniel Morgan [10]


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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

May 24, 1996


The day after Daniel’s thirty-eighth birthday was the fourth day of the big family vacation to southern California, particularly in Los Angeles, and the kids were already up and running as he woke that morning. Lauren was still asleep next to him, but she would be waking soon as well.


       They’d come down to California to see Leonard, all of them – Daniel’s wife and three kids, his parents Evan and Marie, Beatrice and her husband – and Nick, with his young son Sam. Leonard, after hardly getting anywhere and facing constant rejection, enrolled at Los Angeles City College in 1992 to get an educational background; the result was better connections, and by 1994, he’d had a few small independent films written and made. 1996 was his big year, though, as one of his older scripts finally got the green light in development and the approval of executives from Warner Bros. in 1995. The result was The Testimonial, which was to hit theatres in July of this year. It was a drama film with a young director so in Leonard’s words “it’ll do okay or it’ll flop” but he wasn’t done with his confidence yet. With the funds earned from the prior two films and the substantial check he’d made with The Testimonial, he was now living in a modest apartment in Culver City with his live-in partner Ally, and they were planning on buying a nicer house together.


       “You have no interest in marrying this girl?” Marie had asked him on their first night in L.A.


       “Why should I have to marry her? Is marriage the only way to love someone? We’re happy as we are.”


       “It’s a sign of commitment,” Marie explained. “And it puts your affairs between each other in order.”


       “I don’t think it’s commitment,” Leonard disagreed. Marie’s eyes narrowed. “No, really, look at it – people run around and get married all the time, and what happens? Divorce. Sometimes affairs. How is it commitment when no one stays together anymore? Really. It’s just an expensive ceremony and rings.”


       “Well, I beg to differ,” Marie said. “In my day it meant more than that.”


       Leonard shrugged. “I’m sorry. It’s not your day anymore, I guess. This is the 90s. Every night you hear about celebrities on TV getting divorces and cheating on each other. But, hey, look. If Ally and I really think we want to, we’ll get married. Some day. Just not right now.”


       In the years after Marie’s father Edwin died, Evan and Marie had retired, in the late 80s, with a full pension for Evan and a three-quarters one for Marie as she’d only worked part-time infrequently over the years. Evan still had all his hair, though, and his grandchildren – Colin, Edwin, and Brooke (Daniel’s third child) – loved him for his stories of their father when he was a kid like them. There was the memorable Christmas of ‘95 where Evan dressed up as Santa Clause and paid Daniel’s family a visit late Christmas Eve, just to deliver their presents before they’d gone to sleep, a real treat.


       Beatrice was there, too, though she had no children, just her husband, Adam. Not letting her teaching get in the way of a trip to California, she had a substitute working for her at the school, and she was due to be on maternity leave anyway (she didn’t have children but one was on the way). She’d been married to Adam, a civil servant like her father was, since 1993.


       Of everyone staying at Leonard’s place and the hotel, Daniel was the only one who was also working; in 1992, he got an agent who proceeded to get him commentating radio commercials, sometimes at the same studio where Nick used to work. From that came more work, leading up to him acting in a couple of television advertisements. Acting wasn’t something he’d considered doing or venturing into, but he found that when he got into it, he enjoyed it and let his bounciness in front of the camera take control sometimes. In 1994, Leonard called and asked him a favour involving one of his independent film projects, and on the advice of his agent and wife, he flew to L.A. for the first time and ended up in a secondary role in the film (the desired actor his younger brother had originally had cast had dropped out at the last second). This, combined with some of his commercial work, narrations, and CJOH segments, opened him up to other opportunities of exposure, culminating in this year’s projects that included cameo appearances on sitcoms such as NewsRadio, Frasier and even, to everyone’s amazement, the hit show Friends. He was doing a couple of publicity interviews in L.A., so the combination of Leonard’s offer and time and Daniel’s little publicity work made the whole family trip entirely plausible.


       “It’s not something I struggled to do or had a real drive in, originally,” Daniel had said to the interviewer three days ago. “I studied to be a television journalist, to work behind the scenes in the news room, and somehow that led to me being an extra on Friends. I don’t always get how these things work out or happen, but they somehow do, and while acting isn’t my passion exactly, I do enjoy narrating and I like to draw on my background in journalism.”


       “Do you enjoy the exposure, though?” the interviewer had asked.


       “A little, but it’s just career moves, you know? I mean, I don’t want to be popular or struggle for fame. Coming home to my family means the most to me, really, I have three children at home. And I think appearing on a show like NewsRadio kind of suited me since it does take place in a radio station and I got to work alongside Dave Foley, a fellow Canadian, and Phil Hartman.”


       “What about your brother Leonard, what’s he doing?”


       “He’s doing very well. I hope his efforts are paying off because unlike me, he has struggled to get anywhere here and I sometimes feel I’m usurping everything he’s aiming for without much effort at all.”


       After that interview Daniel had gone on to a few meetings with his agent before returning to the hotel to have a nap while his wife and children were out sight-seeing with Beatrice and Adam; it had been an exhausting day. His birthday was good though – they’d spent the entire day, all of them, lying on the beach and playing in the huge waves of the Pacific Ocean.


       Today, as he got up and went into the bathroom, he studied himself in the mirror for a second. It had been several years since he’d seen his first white hair, and now his head had sprinkles of them. Despite that, he still had a boyish look to him that was probably so appealing to those casting agents who sought him out. It was almost worrying; he still lived in that small house in Parkwood Hills in Ottawa, but his career was starting to pull him away, and he didn’t want to go too far. Before he knew it more people would be pressuring him to permanently move to America, either New York or L.A., and he didn’t want that – the little house on the quiet street was all he really wanted.


       “You can always have a second home,” Nelson, his agent of the past four years, had recommended. “Get a place in L.A., it can be a summer place for the wife and family, they’ll love it here.”


       That was going too far in Daniel’s eyes. What was he going to do, immigrate to America and prance about under their watchful eyes on primetime television like a guinea pig? He didn’t want fame. He wanted quiet. He wanted a laid-back lifestyle. He wanted his family around him. He wanted solidarity and roots, not moving around and uncertain prospects, shuffling his kids back and forth between countries and schools and friends and lifestyles. That was too much strain. His family did not depend on him to make his career soar; his family depended on him to be there, to love them, to ensure they made the right decisions and grow up happily, with a level-headed approach to life. He had almost missed Brooke’s birth in January of 1993, and unlike Colin and Edwin, it had been a difficult labor for Lauren. The girl was still only three years old, and as parents they’d noticed some peculiarities about her in the way she behaved sometimes.


       Meanwhile, Colin was turning seven this year and Edwin five. Both were in elementary school, and Colin had spent the last year struggling with arithmetic in grade two. Math homework had been a lot of painful frustration and tantrums for the boy, as he just did not grasp it.


      Nick, meanwhile, had been in and out throughout the entire vacation, taking his son Sam with him each time. They often went to tourist spots together, driving down Sunset Boulevard and taking studio tours. Often Colin and Edwin would go with him, but not all the time. Daniel was happy to see Nick make the effort with his son. He’d gone to Toronto the year Sam was born, but he’d come back and visit very frequently, often to check in on the woman, Sandra, that he’d had the child with. They even did a DNA test to ensure Sam was actually Nick’s son, and it had been positive. From Daniel’s point of view, Nick had had a mixed reaction of joy and submissiveness, as if he felt he was leaving better circumstances behind, plus some remorse for arguing that the child wasn’t his. Nick and Sandra were not in any relationship by any means; he paid child support and often returned to Ottawa to visit and see his son, especially on birthdays and other special affairs, and he and Sandra maintained a tense but polite affair with each other. She never really forgave him for leaving out of nowhere like that, leaving her with full custody, but he was definitely allowed and encouraged to be as part of Sam’s life as much as possible, and this trip was definitely a good effort on his part.


       Daniel returned to the bedroom to find Lauren sitting up on the bed, yawning. He was so happy to see here there. She looked pretty and vulnerable and quite alluring, something he’d always loved about her.


       “Good morning,” he said happily.


       “Morning. Where’s the kids?”


       “I think they’re in the other room, watching TV.”


       “Okay, well why don’t you order some breakfast while I get in the shower?”


       “Sure thing.”
--
       At 4pm that afternoon, Daniel sat with his agent, Nelson, in a coffee place called Starbucks.


       “Listen,” Nelson explained. “I know you don’t want too much work out here. But I’ve got a new proposition.”


       “What is it? Is it a long-term thing?”


       “Kind of. But it’s not what you’d expect.”


       “I’m not moving out here.”


       Nelson kept going. “A few producers heard some of your commercials and looked you up in Good Day, Jumbo.” That was the title of the first of Leonard’s independent films.


       “What producers?”


       “Well, there’s this project that’s been going on at Disney. They’ve been developing an animated film called Daredevils, and they’ve called me to suggest that you audition.”


       “Audition for an entire film? That’s crazy! I don’t understand all of this.”


       “It’s not a live-action thing, you aren’t acting. It’s a voice role.”


       “Still! Nelson, I appreciate your help and guidance, but I don’t think I deserve all of this.”


       “Why not? It would pay $25,000. American.”


       “I don’t care about the money. I care about the pressure it puts on me. I’m a journalist, not an actor. Yet here I am, getting interviews in L.A. and guest-starring on sitcoms like Friends.”


       “You didn’t guest-star. You were an extra.”


       “What’s the difference?”


       “You weren’t hired as a guest-star. You were hired as an extra. It pays less. Which took a lot of my effort to get for you.”


       “I didn’t ask for it, though. I don’t want to be on Friends or Frasier. You should be working for my brother; he’s the one struggling to get his work out there. Look, I’m happy to give the news back home in Ottawa, and put things together and help people out. Acting, sure, now and then I think it’s fun to be expressive and act. But be a full-fledged actor in films? That’s ridiculous. I’m not a star. I couldn’t be. I was bullied almost every day in high school for being nerdy. I even sank low to a point and did some light drugs. And every day, I strive to live as a testament to my maternal grandfather, who was the biggest role model in my life, to help me guide my family, which is number one to me. I’m sorry, I don’t like this coffee.” He pushed it away from him.


       “Just think about it. Let it percolate.” Nelson took a swig of his own coffee, and almost spit it out. “Ugh, you’re right.”


       “You know, if I were here strictly for vacation, I’d be really having fun right now. But L.A. as a business trip isn’t doing it for me.”


       “I’d be jumping at these opportunities if I were you,” Nelson said. “Because you know, you’re right. You’re a behind-the-scenes journalist, not a movie star. You don’t want fame, and you didn’t do very much to get it. You just got noticed. Your voice, your face…”


       “My face is ordinary like everyone else’s.”


       “Regardless, there’s something about it that gives you an expression that says to people you’re like an everyman, and a personage that would be suited to some kind of role or other because it meshes with your onscreen persona. Casting directors see a charisma in you that you evidently don’t, and I see it too.”


       “I don’t really know what you’re talking about. That could apply to anyone.”


       “Maybe. But all I know is that you’re one of those people that have certain things in life come really easy to…and this is one of them. Whether you like it or not. You’ve got a charismatic voice and an expressive face; maybe most people do. But you’ve marketed it really well, and if you keep going and try, you can get somewhere with it. Maybe take acting lessons.”


       “I don’t think I’d do that. I’m not an actor. My passion is to make things easy for people to digest, to put information together and deliver it easily.”


       “Something you could do as an actor just as well. Listen, man, I think you need to resolve some issues. Come to better terms with yourself. Realize some of your potentials and stop denying what you’re good at or what you can do, or what you deserve or don’t deserve.”


       “You getting all philosophical on me, Nelson?”


       “All I’m saying is, think about it. Think about it. The voice role. The way your career is going. What you think you deserve, or whatever.”


       “Uh-huh. Well, okay.”


       “Whatever makes you happy, eh? That’s the bottom line.”


       “Yes, it is. Okay, thanks Nelson.”


       “No prob. Let’s get out of this place.”
--


      Late that afternoon, Daniel, Nick, Lauren, Leonard, Evan, Marie, Beatrice and Adam sat around the backyard table after dinner while the children ran about, playing tag inside the apartment as well as in the yard.


       “It’s not necessarily about the story’s plot as often as you’d might think it is,” Leonard was saying. “One thing quite a few young screenwriters put too much emphasis on is the plotline.”


       “What should the emphasis rely on then?” Adam asked.


       “Wouldn’t it come back to the theme of the film?” Nick suggested. “Comedies rely on humor, dramas rely on emotions.”


       “That’s one part of it, but you can’t be chained to one exact genre or the other,” Leonard explained. “No, it’s character development.”


       “What, everything to do about the lead?”


       “Not just the lead, all the main characters, and often the secondary or even tertiary ones too.”


       “Really?” Adam asked.


       “Some of the best thrillers out there are character studies, or developments.”


       “What comes to mind when you say that?”


       “Well, Citizen Kane would be my first example there,” Leonard said.


       “Ah.”


       “Leonard,” Daniel asked, “Since you’ve finished The Testimonial, have you gotten any offers or advances to work on other projects?”


       “Not yet,” Leonard said. “But I’m hopeful and I’ve got a few other things on the back burner.”


       “Your mind doesn’t stop working, eh?” Evan said.


       “Nope. I’m like that.”


       “Oh, yes, we know,” Marie said. “I still have some of your old stories from high school somewhere at home.”


       At that moment, the sliding door opened and out stepped Ally, Leonard’s live-in girlfriend. “Hey everyone, sorry I missed dinner, had to work late.”


       “That’s all right, Ally, we’re just sitting around.” She was a tall brunette with very straight hair and a roundish face. Leonard had met her in 1994 while still at the City College and they’d worked together on one of his independent films. She’d opened up to the family right away, helping Leonard make arrangements for his parents to stay in the extra bedroom and for Nick and Sam to stay in the den; Daniel’s family and Beatrice and her husband stayed in a hotel located nearby.


       “Dan’s been busy,” Lauren said as she found a seat between Leonard and Nick. “It’s quite convenient that he’s able to work at the same time as have us come down.”


       “How?” Daniel asked dryly. “How’s working on your vacation fun?”


       “Oh, stop it, it’s good for your career.”


       Daniel blushed. “Life isn’t about my career, Lauren.”


       “Well, no, but didn’t you get a radio interview the other day?”


       Daniel shook his head. “It wasn’t like I was interviewed at KROQ FM. It was a tiny little regional news station.”


       Evan chuckled. “You’re probably the only person I know who’s getting some minor fame and complaining as a result.”


       “Well said,” Nick agreed. “Come on, Dan, let loose a little. You were on Frasier last month.”


       “Not to mention Friends,” Beatrice added.


       “Oh, come on!” Daniel exclaimed, annoyed. “So what? I was an extra!” He turned to Leonard. “You deserve this kind of thing, not me.”


       “Why don’t you deserve this?” Leonard asked, mystified.


       “Because all I have to do it grin at a camera and say a couple of lines, and suddenly, whoa, the whole world is on its knees, and I must go on Friends, while meanwhile you’re toiling away, making the effort! For years! I wasn’t put on this earth to do this kind of thing.”


       “That’s ridiculous,” Lauren said, surprised at her husband’s outburst. “This is all good things, Danny.”


       “Well, in my mind you have to work at something to get what you want, and I didn’t work at this.”


       Evan turned to Marie. “I think we did our job pretty well.” He looked at Daniel. “I think you’re right.”


       “Of course I am.” Daniel gave Lauren a hard look that was meant to convey meaningfulness. “I just want to be there. With you. With our kids. With everyone here.”


       She looked back at him with the same look. “And how are you not here already?”


       Daniel surveyed the table. “I had a meeting with Nelson today.”


       “Who’s Nelson?” Adam asked.


       “My agent,” Daniel answered before Beatrice or anyone else could answer for him. “He said I should try and audition for a part in an upcoming Disney project. A voice over part for an animation.”


       Lauren was the first to react. “That’s wonderful!”


       “Now that’s cool,” Nick said.


       “I propose a toast,” Beatrice said before Daniel could object. “To Daniel’s new gig. And to Leonard for inviting us all down here.”


       “Here, here,” Evan said. Meanwhile, Daniel’s mind raced with crazy thoughts – he hadn’t auditioned – he hadn’t decided to – why was everyone virtually crowning him like this – they were deluding themselves to his success – he couldn’t take this much longer…


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Justin Campbell's website: http://justincottawa.blogspot.ca/

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