In 1990 my talent agent called saying “We’ve got a big one, Jerry.” She gave me the details and indeed it was a “big one”. Within the week I was on my way to New Orleans to try out for Oliver Stone’s “JFK”. In my previous post I spoke of my late friend Harold Herthem’s role in JFK. In this post I will take you on another JFK journey.This epic production required a huge cast. The New Orleans casting director, Tracy Kilpatrick, asked that I prepare to read for the role of Clay Shaw. If you are aware of the events following the Kennedy assassination, then the name Clay Shaw should ring a bell. He was prosecuted by District Attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) for his part in a conspiracy that Garrison genuinely believed existed, but was unable to prove.
I dedicated my efforts to mastering the sides for this role and, with a hopeful spirit, travelled to New Orleans on the appointed day. I read for the man himself, Oliver Stone. I must say it was hard to believe all the controversies in which he’d been embroiled. He could not have been nicer to me. He was very giving and encouraging. I truly felt that I was going to be “Clay Shaw”. I went home that day feeling very upbeat. Two days later my agent called and said that Stone wanted to see me again. Wow! Was I uplifted! I refreshed my lines and went in again to meet with Stone. Again he was very cordial, but very apologetic for having to ask me to make another trip. He never called me “Jerry”. He referred to me only as “Mr. Leggio”, rekindling memories of my lengthy interview years earlier with director Otto Preminger who also addressed me as “Mr. Leggio.”
Stone (or “Mr. Stone”) said he was having trouble deciding between me and one other actor. I read again for him and he rubbed his chin while studying my head sheet/resume. This pause was becoming uncomfortable, so I decided to ask him if he would have a problem divulging who my competition was. He then held out his hands, palms up, oscillating them up and down like a balance scale, then saying, with his left hand up: “I’m trying to decide between you …”, then with his right hand up: “.. and Tommy Lee Jones”. My heart sank. I was speechless. I gulped and said “Well no doubt I’ve got some stiff competition.” He said “I’ve no doubt that you can do the role. I just need to meditate on it a little more. We’ll be in touch.” In other words “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” To 'meditate on it a little more ' was code for "... further negotiations with Jones."
My drive home was mixed with gloom and considerably less optimism. Of course Jones got the part. And I kicked myself for not offering to accept a lesser role. The great irony of being part of a world of giant egos is that it is a fragile world often laced with ego- deflating rejection. I am aware that this is NOT really rejection per se, but more often just a more appropriate casting match. But hell, let’s face it, when you set your heart on a part, you do really feel rejected.
But I got over it. I also adopted a new audition standard .... don’t harbor any expectations (optimism or pessimism) …. Just “read and run.” If you get the part, great! If not, then you’re not going to be disappointed since you savored no expectations. This standard really works. It takes some discipline, but, believe me, it works. I’ve been applying this rule ever since this JFK disappointment.