Johnny Walker is a ruddy, white-haired former military officer with brilliant blue eyes and a square jaw. He’d make a great poster if the Army were recruiting senior citizens, and he’s probably pretty good at selling real estate in Birmingham, Alabama, where he lives.
We met on the porch of a Cracker Barrel in Pell City, 30 minutes east of Birmingham, as part of a large cast shooting a commercial. Being on the set of a commercial – especially a big-budget affair such as this – is like being in an airport when all the flights have been postponed.
Actors, made up and costumed, lounge about reading, doing crossword puzzles, knitting, dozing and, more than anything, comparing notes about the business. They talk about agents, jobs they’ve done, jobs they didn’t get, jobs they wished they’d gotten, etc.
At lunch the first day day, an actor from Birmingham named Danny Vinson said he learned to cry on cue by visualizing a sad scene from his own own life. "Works every time," he said. "I can’t stop."
The most common topic, especially when actors meet for the first time, is "What else do you do?" Very few make a living at films and commercials, and in a business with so much rejection and uncertainty, curiosity is almost pathological. Scarcity is powerful motivation.