BWW Interviews: Mark Gessner Talks SUBMISSIONS ONLY, THE RESIDUALS, Laying Down Tracks w/ 50 Cent
If you are a BroadwayWorld regular, you will recognize Mark Gessner as Eric Mousse, the quite, crossword playing cast member of JEREMY'S FORT on SUBMISSIONS ONLY. Also, if you have watched TV in the last decade, chance are good that you've seen him in some very popular commercials and TV shows (check out his demo reel). Recently, Mark has been a member of the first season of the hit webseries THE RESIDUALS.
Last week, Mark spoke to BWW about his experiences on two popular webseries, why SUBMISSIONS ONLY star and writer Kate Weatherhead is like Derrick Jeter, and his role on the upcoming Starz series POWER alongside 50 Cent.
You met Michael (Paul Smith, THE RESIDUALS co-creator and director) in college, and he says that you were instrumental in giving him feedback on the early treatments of the show. When did you get involved in the process?
Well, I don't know at what stage I became involved, because he is a very cerebral dude, and he very well may have been planning this for a decade. In that case, very late in the process I suppose, but he's a very prolific writer; he's not afraid to work hard on something. A lot of people have a difficult time starting and a very difficult time finishing, he has no trouble with either one of those. So, he showed me like 80 pages of things he'd written, and I thought it was great, because he writes dialogue in a way I believe.
I feel like that is the downfall of a lot of web-based content; if you believe the dialogue, you can forgive a lot of production values in my opinion. In this case, that was a non-issue because it was very good and funny and I enjoyed it. So, I called him and told him I liked it, and I told him that in my opinion, whoever was going to play his roommate was going to be the key to casting the entire thing, and you can see how that worked out; it's perfect (the part went to Nick Costa)! That's what happens when your mine your friends.
For someone like me who has never been to a commercial audition, it is hard for me to imagine that the craziness that happens in this show is believable. How realistic would you say that the insanity on the show is?
Shockingly! Shockingly realistic, to the point where you almost don't believe it, but some of these people are so bonkers. I really feel like the people who thrive in this business, and it's not an easy business, you really have to just put your head down and work, and be okay with the not knowing.
If you're a good lawyer, you go to law firm, you get worked into the ground, and then 10 years later you make partner. That's kind of the way it goes. As an actor you could go on one audition and book a commercial that runs for years, or you could book a series that changes your whole life, or you could spend the same 10 years auditioning and never booking anything. That's the kind of craziness that will weed out the people who are in the business for the wrong reasons.
You always hear that to be an actor you have to be willing to get rejected. How do you condition yourself to be told no, or when you do book something, and it doesn't meet the expectations you have for it?
Well, expectation is a terrible, terrible idea if you want to be an actor. I would suggest that you avoid expectations if you want to be an actor that doesn't go out of his freaking mind. Basically my answer to you is the moment you understand that any rejection you receive you can't see as personal. It couldn't be less personal. They don't care about you personally at all. They have an idea, and if you don't fit their idea, then that's it. They've moved on, and the best thing to do as an actor is to move on just as quickly.
You just have to be what they want at the right time. So if you show up enough times, ready to work, prepared for the opportunities you have, eventually the Law of Averages does even out in my experience. You just have to be prepared to keep showing up and be prepared when you do, so that you are not ever ever guilty of wasting other people's time.
You've done so much TV and commercials, what was it like shooting THE RESIDUALS?
It was so much fun that you almost feel like you are shoplifting. I feel like the experience was fantastic, is the short answer. It's fun to work with people that you already know and you already like, and you already trust, and you've already vetted professionally and personally. To be on set with a bunch of people (that you already know) it also brings a certain amount of energy, not that you'd ever drag your feet on some big Hollywood movie set, but I knew this was Mike and Gillian (Pensavalle, the show's co-creator)'s hard earned money paying for the space and the equipment. So it motivates everybody to really crush it as quickly as they can, so they can move on and we're not bleeding cash.
Since I knew a bunch of the people in it, you also pretty quickly get a sense of what they do that is funny and good and you are able to work with that, and it makes it really fun. There's no suffering on that set.
From a viewer's standpoint, the show does have a certain air of naturalism that speaks to the level of talent in the cast.
Also, this is the sh*t that we deal with on a daily basis, so it's not really a stretch to be like, "Oh look, a difficult casting director," that's something that we've all experienced.
Or, "Oh look, an actor that is destroying your audition for you," that's just the kind of stuff that you've got to let roll off your back or you will go clinically bonkers.
As I was preparing to talk to you, I didn't realize just how often I had seen you on TV and in commercials before, and I'm sure you get that a lot. But, the first time that I really became aware of you was on SUBMISSIONS ONLY. Then when I saw you on THE RESIDUALS your characters on the two shows are so monumentally different. How much fun is it to play those two extremes?
When you start doing this, people are like, "What are your goals as an actor?" that's a common question, and a lot of times the answer will be, "Well, I want to work a lot so that eventually I can do stuff that really matters to me," and that is cool, and I get that, but I feel like I am already there.
I feel like a lot of people don't seem to realize that if they pay attention, they are already doing the stuff they say they want to do. Only they are too busy, in many cases, complaining that it hasn't happened to them yet.
But it's like, "You are doing it, open your eyes man. You're doing fun stuff, but you're missing it, because you're bitching too much." It drives me crazy, but the idea of getting to play this tyrant, this irrational, insane person, I mean who doesn't want to do that? It was like my id was showing up on set and just ruining everything and then I would leave and I wouldn't remember what happened.
When I was yelling at that poor innocent girl (laughing), I tried a take and Mike was like, "That's really good man, that was really good. But really go for it on this next one."
And I was like "Oh my God, I thought I had. This poor child." I had to check in with her and be like, "You know everything I say right now is not real, right?" and she was like, "Yeah."
So I said, "Ok, cool, buckle in because this is gonna get ugly!"
And then to be on SUBMISSIONS ONLY is something that I could not have possibly lucked into more. Both THE RESIDUALS and SUBMISSIONS ONLY are absolutely stuffed full of bonafide heavy-hitting New York theatre and TV talent. And I would not put myself in that group, ever, mentally, because they are all so accomplished. They're all talking about stuff, particularly SUBMISSIONS ONLY, they're all like, "Blah blah, when the curtain this, and blah blah Equity that."
And I'm like, "I have no idea what any of you people are talking about." I did a day on THE BIG C...
I saw that clip online, with Kate Weatherhead, and I wondered if that's where you guys met.
That's it. We met in the van on the way to Stamford, Connecticut and we chatted and had a blast the entire day. And then she called me months and months later and said, "Hey, we wrote a part for you in this, if you'd be willing to do it."
And I was like, "Oh my God, in a second." And I was the only one that wasn't on Broadway in that whole room. It was insane.
Did you know the show before she called and offered you the part?
Oh, of course.
Did you know it before you met her in that van?
I did not know about it before I met her. The thing is, Kate Weatherhead is probably the most humble... there is not a braggy bone in that girl's body. She is as humble as they come, and she just said, "Oh, I do a webseries."
Then I looked it up, and I was like, "'I do a webseries?' Are you kidding me?" That's like Derrick Jeter saying, "Oh, I play baseball on the weekends...and during the week...for millions of dollars."
It's like, "Come on. This is not just doing a webseries." This is like making ground-breaking television, in my opinion, that just happens to be on the internet and not TV...for the moment.
I feel like SUBMISSIONS ONLY is doing for theatre what SMASH wanted to do.
I think that's a really keen observation. I think the difference is that Kate Weatherhead and Andrew (Keenan-Bolger) worked very hard on Season 1. They built a great fanbase, they were able to raise a substantial amount of money for a crowd-sourced production, as well as some angel folks. So, they had the money to make it as glitzy as they wanted to. Instead of focusing on being cute, they focused on being really real and funny, and they managed to work in some silly stuff too so people knew they were just kidding about some things, but really they focused on character. And I think if you do that, production value becomes less of an issue. And I think that's pretty cool, and a pretty gutsy way to go. I was glad to be a part of it.
I feel like they better enjoy their relative anonymity while they can, because it won't be long until they are wearing $10,000 dresses and giving speeches. Not Andrew of course, he'll probably wear a tuxedo, handsome bastard that he is.
Probably a very glitzy one, nonetheless.
(Laughs) Indeed. Probably a certain amount of flair in the tie.
(Laughs) It was so weird... No. Isn't that a surprise? I really thought that he and I were gonna lay down some tracks, because I had some stuff that I really wanted to show him. But he was real busy.
Yea, starring and producing, I get it.
I've been there too, when people want to lay down tracks with me, but I can't because of time constraints.
Understood, well, can you tell us anything about the show?
Sure, first I want to say that the show is going to be magnificent. Also, I think it is wonderful because there are going to be a lot of actors of color who are going to impress people in ways that they have not had a chance to until now. And I think it is beautiful and polished and magnificently urban and really cool. Courtney (Kemp Agboh), the creator, is a talented lady and everybody that works for her is a joy to be around. It was really really fun. Even the PAs on that set were having a really good time. I think that people are going to be really excited when they see that show. I can't wait.
On a completely different topic, I read an article that you wrote about gratitude, and I really enjoyed it, especially now that I've heard you talk about your approach to life as an actor. Can you encapsulate the philosophy of life that you talk about in that article?
(Sigh) If I look back across my life, and granted I'm not some wizened 90-year-old dude, but I can look at chapters of my life that were wonderful, and chapters of my life that were really painful. And the difference was not the events that were taking place, but rather the energy and the emotional and psychic approach that I chose to take.
As I've gotten a little older and become a little bit of an adult, and now that I have children and I'm married to a magnificent and boundlessly patient woman, I have come to realize that, particularly as an actor, the only things that you can control are how prepared you are for the opportunities that you get, and whether or not you quit. That's it. Beyond that, you have no control. And the quicker you get ok with that, the better off you will be emotionally, and from a not-going-crazy standpoint.
I would say that it's important to understand that there is so much work, there is so much money to be made, nobody is taking anything away from you if they book something or become successful. So, if you are able to embrace other people's success as if it were your own, if you are able to accept the moment you are in as though you chose it, then suffering is largely eliminated.
So, my philosophy, if it's in one sentence is, "You suffer precisely as much as the distance between what is and what you wish was." So, if you stop resenting that everything you've ever wanted isn't happening for you right this very second, and instead choose to be patient and choose to be kind, magnificent things can happen for you.
That seems like a lesson a lot of people in any walk of life can afford to learn.
I sure didn't come up with it. It's just a conglomeration of a lot of people much smarter and much more peaceful than I am. I'm just glad they wrote books; otherwise, I'd be in big trouble.
Before we finish up, is there anything else that readers and viewers need to know about THE RESIDUALS?
What I will say is that I hope people watch, and I hope they share it, and I hope they watch it again, and then share it again. I am really excited to see; whether I am a part of it or not, I will remain a fan; I'm really excited to see what they do going forward, because it would be an error to bet against those two (Smith and Pennsavalle), because individually they are incredibly creative and they are incredibly smart and they're both very funny, and they are enormously tenacious, but when you combine them, they become bigger than the sum of their parts, and they make a really really great team. And they're really fun to be around, and they are just genuinely good people, and they are a joy to be around.
To catch up on the first season of THE RESIDUALS visit their website TheResiduals.tv. The sixth episode of SUBMISSIONS ONLY's third season debuts exclusively on BroadwayWorld on Monday morning at midnight ET. You can follow THE RESIDUALS on Twitter @TheResiduals or "Like" it on Facebook. You can also follow SUBMISSIONS ONLY @SubmissionsOnly or "Like" it on Facebook. Finally, you can follow Mark on Twitter @TheGessnerest.