In Wry Memoir, a Screen Bad Guy Pulls Some Punches


Bet on it: You've seen Marco Perella in the movies--though, as the title of this memoir suggests, you may not remember his name. The Austin, Texas-based actor has appeared in half a dozen features, including "JFK," "Lone Star," "Varsity Blues" and "Keys to Tulsa," plus 20-odd made-for-TV films, usually in supporting roles as "evil minions," with his hair slicked back and a snarl on his lips.

"Normally, I'm a fairly pleasant-looking person in a curly-headed, Mediterranean sort of way," Perella reports, "but when I slick my hair back I can manage to look like a psychotic mole rat. This comes in handy" for the bad-guy roles that, more by accident than by design, have become his specialty.

All sorts of accidents, Perella says, can bounce an actor into the particular pinball slots that make up a career. Take that name. It barred Perella from Western roles, he says, because casting directors assumed all Italians were from New York--though Perella, a native Texan, actually punched cows in his youth, which also featured extended duty as a California hippie and New Mexico firefighter.

Another accident is that Perella happens to be sane. Oh, he's just as obsessed and ambitious as the next actor--willing to drive to auditions in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in one marathon day before speeding back to Austin for an evening stage production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," in which everything went hilariously wrong--but he's also a happy family man, unwilling to move to Hollywood or the Big Apple.

"People tend to assume that fame and stardom is the ultimate goal of any actor," Perella claims, "but all I ever wanted to do was make my living doing what I loved and I was already doing that in Texas."

Well, it's a good thing Perella loves show business, because it hasn't always loved him back. Never mind the usual complaints about egomaniacal directors, cliched plots, loopholed contracts and on-set pecking orders. When Perella's around, matters get downright grim, in a goofy sort of way.

In "Fandango," for example (in which he was hired to teach Kevin Costner how to dance), Perella and other actors were supposed to float down the Guadalupe River under a bridge where Judd Nelson's character was sleeping. They were to represent Jungian archetypes in the character's dreams--Perella wore a jester suit. At acute risk of freezing or drowning, they floundered in the swift, icy water for two days. The footage was never used.

In "Keys to Tulsa," starring Mary Tyler Moore and James Coburn, Perella was pelted by real debris in an artificial tornado; then, on the shaky promise of a $300 stunt fee, he agreed to stand in a room and jump out of the way of a car as it crashed through a picture window. The stunt was ineptly planned and could have maimed several actors, Perella says, but "God loves idiots, drunks and stuntmen." The tornado sequence was scrapped when a bigger movie with a similar theme, "Twister," was released first.

These are wry, funny stories, and Perella, who has also written for Rolling Stone, tells them well. But what do they establish, other than that he's a dude we'd enjoy hanging with? "Adventures of a No Name Actor" promises to give us the lowdown on movies from an unglamorous vantage point. At least, we think, it will explain how Perella manages to stay sane while surviving--even embracing--such a crazy way of life.

But what we get is strictly entertainment. Perella, as is usual in this kind of book--he wants to continue working, after all--pulls his punches. The nasty, pretentious people he encounters are unidentified, and none of them are actors. Perella has immense respect for his colleagues--whether they're other obscure Texans or the likes of Brian Keith, Clint Eastwood, Renee Zellweger, Charlie Sheen, Valerie Bertinelli, Drew Barrymore and Helena Bonham Carter--and you won't hear anything critical, or even very interesting, about them here.

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