His phone calls to me came daily. Jon Stewart, long before his Oval Office meetings with President Barack Obama, doggedly pursued a meeting with a woman most people never heard of but have enjoyed her work internationally.
Working with the formidable and detail diligent casting director Mary Colquhoun on the casting of Picture Perfect starring Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Bacon, and written and directed by Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting, Medium) I was Mary’s gatekeeper for three films. Mary was strictly devoted to her English birth certificate. God save the assistant who didn’t adhere to writing all correspondence and deal memos in the Queen’s English. A generous heart buried in stone Mary brought many of her assistants to tears, including and allegedly Alan Filderman who she berated for tripping and injuring himself in her presence.
Well before The Daily Show, one morning during the casting of Picture Perfect in the mid-1990s Mary asked, “There’s this fellow Jon Stewart. Find him. Set up a meeting.” As I wrote his then unfamiliar name ‘John Stewart’ on a slip of paper Mary commanded, “I believe the ‘h’ is silent.”
Sleuthing successfully to find this then little known actor/comedian came via Screen Actors Guild. I was informed by the SAG membership rep that the ‘h’ in Jon’s name was indeed silent. The phone number SAG provided began with a 201 area code: northern New Jersey. Stewart hadn’t representation.
During our first conversation I was surprised when Jon informed me, “I’ve been waiting for your call Paul.” He was, as he is today, exceedingly proactive in attaining goals. He leveraged his network of fellow actors and comedians to get himself into studio executive offices including Mary’s. Jon wasn’t shy, nor was he obnoxious. As I discovered over a month of phone conversations Jon Stewart was, as he is today, a gentleman. Stewart knew the game of courting gatekeepers and he mastered it well.
Near daily I had to call Jon Stewart to apologize and cancel his scheduled meeting with Mary and Glenn Gordon Caron that I’d just canceled several times and rescheduled each day prior. Caron’s daily calendar changed more often than a chameleon’s skin during India’s Spring Festival of Colors Celebration. Jon never voiced frustration. Snarky? Wonderfully yes. But never disparaging or ill tempered. He displayed then to me privately his humor his audience now enjoys. Jon was also keen with insight.
Jon Stewart knew who else we were seeing for the love interest of Jennifer Aniston’s character. He floored me when he made an inquiry as to how far along was Caron’s interest in Jay Mohr. Stewart showed then what we know now; he’s passionate for being well informed.
Eventually, Stewart didn’t wait for his phone to ring with my cancellations. I remember early morning calls from Stewart with one starting with his asking, “Are we on today Paul? Or is Glenn Gordon Caron doing a steam with Bacon?” Our formal and brief business discussions evolved into lengthy chats. There was never malice or bitterness in his subtext. Jon Stewart knew how to win the game of patience. He played it well. When Mary would next inform me that “A ring needed to be made to Mr. Stewart” to once again cancel I dreaded being the bearer of disappointment. But I knew Jon Stewart would handle the momentary setback with humor and grace, and I partly looked forward to the laughs he would evoke from me.
Jon eventually had his meeting with Mary and Glenn Gordon Caron. Jay Morh won the role.
The eventual success of Jon Stewart’s patience and pro-active perseverance has been on display in the opportunities he’s created and/or encouraged elsewhere. Jon Stewart’s present day success did not come from a sensibility of entitlement. Humility, ambition, humor, diligence and an eagerness to share common respect propelled his desires to the destinations within his heart.
Jon Stewart’s viewers will now be the patient ones. Eager with humor and humility to welcome his charm once more as his schedule takes Stewart on to a new journey and adventure.
I miss our calls Jon. And I’ll miss your visits four nights a week to my living room. But at least we’ll both still have New Jersey.
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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned more than thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Elon and Wright State University. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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