I wasn’t on the schedule that day, but there was an emotionally pivotal scene being shot, and I wanted to be there to watch Bryan and Claire work. It was one of those soul-crushing moments we actors salivate over. Claire had her work cut out, but I knew she was up for it; we’d worked together on another film a couple years earlier, and her presence and vulnerability had impressed me.
Action was called, and I sat back in video village watching the monitor. In rehearsal, the camera had begun in a two-shot, then moved in for an extreme close-up on Claire as she finished her monologue.
On both the first and second takes, she crushed it. But it wasn’t Claire that was grabbing my attention. It was Bryan. He was sitting there listening to her: no dialogue, just sitting there and listening. Listening like no one I’d ever seen before. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed. I saw the director motion over the DP and the camera op and whisper something to them.
The third take began the same way, but as the camera pushed in, it panned to Bryan. Hanging on him. The deep, hidden emotions leaking out on the monitor in front of me. A chill walked down my spine.
After he wrapped for the day, I caught up with him on his way back to his trailer.
“Hey man, that was incredible.”
“Thanks,” he said, “Claire is super easy to work off.”
“Dude…” I paused, not sure how to ask, or even if I should, “where the hell were you during that scene? I mean, it was a heavy moment, yeah, but you just… I don’t know… you elevated somehow.”
I realized I might have overstepped, “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s cool—“
He laughed me off, “Nah man, it’s okay. Most of the time, I’m not all ‘super secretive’ about my process.”
“So can you tell me what you were thinking about? Or whom? Or whatever? I just wanna try to wrap my head around it. I’ve never seen someone listen like that before.”
He opened the door to his trailer, “You wanna come in for a minute? I’ve got some whiskey. I’m gonna need it if I’m gonna talk about this.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when you’re offered a whiskey, you say yes. Always.
Bryan pulled a bottle from the cabinet, and poured a couple fingers into a pair of Solo cups.
“Cheers. I like to drink classy.”
“Cheers to classy drinking then,” I saluted him, and we clicked cups.
“I’ve never told this story before,“ he took a sip and rolled the whiskey around in his mouth, “not for any reason in particular… just never have.” He shrugged, looking out the window.
“Let me guess, it starts with a girl?” I asked.
“How’d you know?”
“Doesn’t it always?”
He smiled, “Yeah… yeah, I guess it does. This girl and I had known each other for like, I don’t know… two or three years. Same circle of friends, you know how it goes. Never dated or anything, but we got along really well whenever we happened to hang out. Well, one night I got this text from her… her sister had killed herself.”
“Yeah. I didn’t know the whole dynamic, but apparently there had been some relational distance there… but I mean, family is family, you know? So I drove over to her house, and when I got there a few other friends were there too. I didn’t really know what to do other than just hang out and be there. I’ve been around death enough to know saying stuff never really helps.”
“I know,” I said. “Way better to just sit there and be with them.”
“Right,” he said, “so that’s what I did. The group of us just hung out, drank a few bottles of wine, played music. A few people ended up leaving, but a couple of us stayed. I don’t really remember how and when I fell asleep, but I woke up the next morning on the floor under this pile of blankets, and she was lying beside me, just kinda huddled up against me. I had a meeting I had to be at that afternoon, so I got her up and got her to bed, made sure she was okay, then I left.”
He looked in his cup, “You want some more?”
He got up and poured refills, then sank back into his seat.
“So later that night, I get this text from her saying thanks for coming over, and I was just like of course, if you ever need anything, call me and then she texts that she’s out with a few girlfriends and asks me to come hang out with them. Well, it was late, so I asked you sure? and she says please, I’d like you to come. So I went. She was already a few tequilas deep by the time I got there, and when she was saw me, she ran over and hugged me. Hard.”
He took a sip, “It’s crazy how when you share a moment like that—the night before—it can change the way you relate to each other. It’s like it can jump a relationship way further down the line. Anyways, a few of us went back to her place again that night, but this time I was the only one who stayed. It was late, and we both passed dead out. But the next morning we wake up together and…” he trailed off.
“You ever have one of those moments: you’re with someone you know, and you’re in a situation you never would have dreamed up in a million years, but it’s like everything came together in that moment for a reason, like you were supposed to end up there?”
I shrugged, “Can’t think of one personally, but I feel where you’re coming from, sure.”
“And I promise this is all coming around to answer your question from earlier,” he said.
“Hey man, no rush. Take your time.”
“Okay, well we’re both lying there, and we look at each other, and we’re both like are we doing this? ’cause when you cross that bridge for the first time with someone you’ve been close to, it can go a million different ways after. And it was like we both took that split-second, and… you know, honestly, I think there had always been an attraction between us, but it was so subtle… it was almost subconscious.”
He paused, started to say something, stopped. “Anyways, that started off several months of us spending nights together, and it was always really natural, like if we didn’t hear from each other for several days, we didn’t think much of it, but if we had time then we’d meet up.
“So, one night—and I’m finally getting to your question—we were up late. We were on the couch. I was holding her; we were sitting there in the dark drinking whiskey.” His voice got quieter. “And she tells me she wrote this song about her sister. And then she asked if I wanted to hear it.”
He looked out through the window, and I knew he was back there: back in that dark living room, sitting on a different couch, drinking a different glass of whiskey. I realized I was holding my breath.
“I said yes. And so she picks up her guitar, and she’s sitting there in her underwear wearing my t-shirt, and she’s just so open, so… vulnerable. And she plays this song, and her voice… singing those words… it was so raw, there was just so much hurt. And, I felt like something inside me came undone. Like I had just gotten to see inside another human in a way I had never, ever experienced. I sat there, and I cried, because it was real—one of those moments that two people share at the deepest level.
“So every once in a while, I get a moment as a character where I’ve got to listen to someone tell me something hard. And sometimes—not always—I’ll find myself back there. And that feeling just washes over me again.”
I sat there looking at him, waiting for something more. But he was quiet. I didn’t know what to say.
“What happened to her?” I finally asked.
“Uh, I’m not real sure,” he sighed, then took a long drink. “The nights we spent together just gradually got farther and farther apart. But last I checked, she was doing good.”
He shrugged, and I saw a touch of sadness—but it was a peaceful sadness—move across his face. “I haven’t seen her in years… you know, I think that once in a while, when you’re in a broken time, you cross paths with certain people. And in that moment, you fit together perfectly. But as you heal, you just don’t fit together in the same way anymore. Sometimes you might get months with someone. Sometimes maybe only days. But for that time that we had…” he smiled, “it was right.”
Maybe we weren’t meant for each other
But only for those nights.
You scarred my heart
With your guitar
And covered me in light.