In April, I tested for a series regular role on NBC's "100 Questions." It was a small role with little interaction with the rest of the cast; I worried about getting locked in to something potentially creatively stifling. But the script was hilarious, and I really believed in creator Chris Moynihan and legendary director James Burrows, so I tested. I was told I did well, but they were considering making the role a guest star and casting a name actor. They'd decide after the table read Thursday. Not crazy, I thought. I could see that.
Thursday morning, I was told I got the part and to be at the table read at noon. Stoked! I had a weird feeling I was just a placeholder, but I thought if so, there's nothing I can do. Have fun, do your work, see what happens.
The cast was perfect, the jokes popped, and watching Burrows direct was amazing. Because of my role, I felt disconnected from everyone, but the show was so good, I thought, I'm just happy to be here. Tape night was a smash. Huge laughs. I privately told friends I'd be shocked if we didn't get picked up. And when asked about the cast, I'd say, "They're hilarious." I wasn't being conceited; I just didn't feel like I was talking about me. I thought of everyone else as the cast and me as that other guy.
On May 4, a friend woke me at 8 a.m. He'd read that "100 Questions" had been picked up. Yay! But I hadn't heard from the producers, so to make sure it wasn't just a rumor, I checked out NBC.com. I saw the show, and my name, and I gained confidence. I called the hilarious Liz Ho, who plays Leslie; we congratulated each other, and I asked, "How did you find out?" "Moynihan called me at 6:30." Hmm. Troubling. All that time I felt I wasn't part of the cast; was I literally no longer a part?
I called Moynihan. Left a message. Didn't hear back immediately. I knew what was coming. He called 30 minutes later, apologized for not calling sooner, and dropped the bomb. They were recasting. They felt my character shouldn't be in the same age range as the other cast members. He assured me repeatedly I'd done a great job; it had nothing to do with my talent; he and NBC really loved me; and I was definitely "on their radar." He truly couldn't have been nicer or more generous.
Moynihan's partners also called, expressing the same. One reminded me other great actors have been replaced, like Lisa Kudrow, the original Roz on "Frasier," and Ray Romano, the original Joe on "Newsradio." I replied, "Well, I hope you're the next Frasier, and I'm hope I'm the next Ray Romano."
The thing is, I actually agree with the decision. My biggest laugh in the script was when I was asked, "Do you believe in soul mates?" and I replied, "No. Haha, nooooooooooo." It's funny from me, but there's a different edge when a guy in his 40s or 50s says it. So, while I'm extremely disappointed to not be working with great producers and actors on what I think is going to be a hell of a great show, I get it. As I see it, my winning lottery ticket was actually one number off. Still, I wish "100 Questions" all the best, and I hope people watch, because I think they'll enjoy it.
All in all, I had a very good but very tough pilot season. I came very close on several pilots (nearly all of which got picked up, argh!), but as luck would have it, this wasn't my year. Okay, I'm bouncing back, and I'm looking forward to what comes next.
Amir Talai has been in L.A. since 2002. He can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and at NBC.com in the previews for "100 Questions." Yes, still.