Bring back the parents!

Marketplace Staff Nov 20, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The holiday movie season is in full swing. Bond is back. Mel Gibson’s got a new one: Apocalypto. Something with Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito called “Deck the Halls.” Loads of others. In this edition of the Loh Down, Sandra Tsing Loh says she’s all in favor of a good holiday movie. But there’s one she might find too painful to watch: The one she was in.

SANDRA TSING LOH: A woman’s age and her acting career? You don’t need to be Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard to know that’s a tricky subject.

And while I don’t wear a turban — yet — I too have known slings and arrows. Doing the Aspen Comedy Festival at 34, I was told by my now ex-manager, “Say you’re 31.” Getting a sitcom deal based on my life at 38, it was understood I was much too old to play a 30-something person, hence I would just write it, for another actress to star in. One who was 22.

So imagine how stunned I was, at the advanced age of 44, to get a call from Paul Feig, co-creator of “Freaks and Geeks.” He was directing a movie called “Unaccompanied Minors,” about children of divorced parents whose custody-sharing holiday plans require them to fly all over the country. Until planes get snowed in, flights are delayed, and these lost children are hurriedly stowed in the limbo of a windowless, underground bunker, with nothing to entertain them but sugary snacks, cartoons, and two — count ’em two — flight attendants. With one line of dialogue apiece.

So there I stood, in my bun and flight uniform. Paul Feig yelled “Action!” and instantly 200 child extras began pelting me and the other actor with junk food. There was a thump at my back and I felt myself go down. A dozen Lilliputians had done a full-body tackle and, gleefully howling, were now dog piling on top of me, smooshing Oreos, Nutter Butters and Little Debbies into my hair.

The metaphor of age and experience being literally crushed by youth and, well, Nutter Butters was almost overwhelming. But then I remembered as an already-too-old performance artist in my 20s, being inspired by Jerzy Gratowski’s Living Theatre in New York. Whereupon arriving, the audience realized that the actors were the Greeks, the audience Trojans, and the two were at war.

These children were short, after all, and I could see, vulnerable in the belly. And so I fought back — hard. You’ve heard people say “There are no small parts, only small actors?” After my day on the set, as to those small actors, there are now a few less of them.

And yes I am ready for my close-up . . .

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