Twins Against Evil


I have been cast in my first television acting job exactly the way I never imagined.

“Can you go to Atlanta this June?” my twin sister Barbara asked. “Dana wants to put us in his show.”

Dana is Dana Gould – comedian, actor, long-time writer for The Simpsons, and my sister’s beau. The show is his creation, Stan Against Evil, a horror-dramedy series on IFC where demons frequently explode. “Can you go to Atlanta this June?” suggests the possibility I’d turn this down for anything else – a day job, childcare responsibilities, any one of my zero other acting commitments.

Although I’ve never claimed acting as my profession, I’ve served my time on the audition circuit. In Los Angeles, it’s considered civic duty. Paragraph five in the charter states: “All citizens must complete no fewer than six months attempting to work in the field of Performing Arts (television, film, commercial, theater), with a minimum of two (2) auditions per week at the expense of five (5) hours per audition in total time preparing / driving / waiting / acting / accepting rejection. Each citizen must have on hand the following looks: upscale casual, business casual, rural, clown, goth, priest, lab coat, 1950s, mom / dad, authority, workout, bathroom, PJs. But no costumes (too desperate).”

Only once did I book a job via audition. Barbara and I were to be extras in a soda commercial; specifically, club kids at a “foam party.” The pay was one hundred and fifty dollars, nearly three times the normal rate. If that didn’t set off alarm bells, the requirements of “No open-toed shoes” and “Bring a change of clothing” should have. Several hours of dancing-around-in-toxic-foam later, we snuck out of the basement set.

“We haven’t wrapped yet,” a coordinator warned us.

“Asthma attack,” I wheezed.

Believe it or not, one’s ability to act one’s way out of a paper bag is, like, the fifth reason you’re accepted or rejected. Too tall, too thin, looks like director’s ex-boyfriend, already had an Asian actor this season. Barbara and I were once called back for a twin role where we seamlessly finished each other’s sentences. Certain we’d nail round two, we delivered a performance even sweeter than the first, only to learn the executives had already cast a man and a woman. They’d just wanted to see what we’d done in person, so their actors could copy it.

Likewise, my comedian husband Blaine Capatch once caught wind of an audition for a “Blaine Capatch-type.” Blaine Capatch was not hired.

Our auditions were set up by Tarragon Talent, an agency that specialized in “alternative” performers. Tattoos, weird hair, weird faces, too many piercings. Burlesque dancers, nerds, hipsters. White dudes with afros and ironic porn ‘staches. Girls with micro-bangs and thick glasses. The genetically identical. We got the in from our comedic actress friend who stood three-foot-ten. A hundred years ago Tarragon would have scouted for Barnum and Bailey, which I’m pretty sure was also non-union.

Their office was located in the penthouse of a theater building on Wilshire Boulevard. It’s a gorgeous if crumbly relic of 1930s Art Deco Los Angeles, dwarfed by the cylindrical phallus that is Hustler Magazine’s nearby HQ. The first and last time we met with co-owner Mrs. Tarragon was our initial interview, where we donned matching dresses and proudly showed off our homemade portfolios. After that we interacted solely with Mattie, the receptionist/assistant. She was a little younger than we, and had clearly grown up in the San Fernando Valley.

“Tuh-AIR-agon,” she answered each call, pausing briefly, I imagine, to remove her gagging spoon, “this is Mmmm-AT-aaaaay.”

It was Mattie’s job to match the actors and models with various casting calls. Several times a month, week, or even day, she’d leave us a message: type of job, where to go, what to wear.

Because Barbara and I were non-union, all of the auditions save those for “twins” were cattle calls. That means a room full of people who sort of fit a general description. It’s the auditioning equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall, and a painful process for actor and casting agent alike. Think public service announcements, music videos, low-budget local advertisements. Whereas a union commercial could net tens of thousands of dollars, a non-union commercial was more like tens of tens of dollars. And the actor is valued accordingly. Could I wait forty-five minutes to mime peeking over a bathroom stall? Could I film stuff for a director’s reel and get paid in experience? Could I be the most convincing at chasing an imaginary pig? And more importantly, was the pig’s management looking for new talent?

My last audition via Tarragon began pleasantly enough. I ran into my friend Dave, there for the other campaign the room was hosting. And so I had an audience when I discovered, through the process of elimination, that I was not there to try out for Hipster Dad, but for the coveted role of Ugly Girl.

Ugly Girl is on a cruise, a dream vacation for which she’s no doubt saved many years while working as a church bell ringer, paper bag model, or radio personality. It’s a singles cruise (naturally), and in a fit of hubris, she believes an eligible gentleman is waving to her. When she discovers her mistake, she mercifully tosses herself overboard like so much unsightly garbage.

“Neptune Society,” I imagine a calm yet authoritative Allison Janney assuring us over a final shot of idyllic waves. “You’re never too young to join.”

To give the actors a sense of space, they’d constructed a small set with a plank deck and a railing. Just kidding, we were in a nearly-bare office – just me and three casting people in plastic chairs. There were no lines, and no other actor to work off of. The only props were hope and desperation. I was simply to pantomime the entire interaction, including the leap. A better actor would have relished the challenge, and I nodded enthusiastically as the head casting lady kindly explained what was expected of me. And yet my mind kept drifting back to one thing: Ugly Girl?

Not Awkward Girl, nor Shy Girl? Not Not-Conventionally-Attractive Girl?

Consider the decisions that led up to this moment. A lowly copywriter pitching the concept. A team of ad execs high-fiving its approval. Who was the new millennium’s answer to Don Draper? Some bro with an open collar and Dockers, a Bluetooth flashing like a douche-beacon? Surely at some point, he’d made the connection between the abstract concept and the real-life, feelings-having woman who’d come to embody her. Acting and thick skin go hand-in-hand, what with the unrelenting judgment inherent to the job. But in what other industry would this kind of description be acceptable?

“Now what do you think qualifies you for Smelly Pharmacist?”

“I have five years exper— I’m sorry, did you say smelly pharmacist?”


“Oh. I thought this was just a regular pharmacist job. Like, based on my pharmacizing skills. Do you think maybe we could just leave the ‘smelly’ part off?”

“No can do.”

“Or change it to Disheveled Pharmacist? My kids…”

“You want this job or not?”

“Okay. The thing is, I don’t think I’m actually – you know – smelly.”

“Thank you for your time.”

(Lowers voice) “Would it help if I farted?”

Then there was Mattie, perusing the day’s casting calls, her eyes alighting on this one. Wracking her brain for an appropriate candidate. Dialing my number.

She’d had the balls to send me here. I’d show her who could fart up an interview. Take after take I gurned unattractively, waved to no one, self-jettisoning over an invisible railing.

“Great,” the lady said. “Let’s try one where you’re nearly in tears.”

Way ahead of you.

And wouldn’t you know it – I landed the part. Just kidding, I lost it like all the others. We only got one call from Tarragon after that, this time from Mr. Tarragon. A celebrity client was looking for women to lie naked in an art gallery for a number of hours. Immediately he thought of us.

The last time I’d been nude near Barbara, we were bathing in the kitchen sink. “Maybe we could keep our eyes closed?” I asked her weakly. I’d taken the call at a training session for our Mexican wrestling matches, the costumes for which we vigorously reinforced with Velcro, snaps, hooks, and laces. Not flashing the audience was kind of our thing.

Barbara’s response skewed more towards “fuck never.” We rejected the coveted roles of Naked Floor Girls, and with it, my pursuit of television acting. Until now.

We are ten days out from the shoot. Thus far, I’ve been treating it like any truly exciting event – not thinking about it so that it can’t disappoint me. This works wonders for parties and concerts and trips to Disneyland, but less so for a job that requires the exact recitation of many, many words.

Barbara and I have further complicated matters with two ambitious upgrades to our characters. Firstly, we’ve decided that all our lines should be accompanied by coordinated hand gestures. “Bibi” and “Fifi,” as they are aptly named, are inspired by Japan’s 1961 Mothra film, wherein a giant moth is summoned to battle Godzilla by two tiny fairies. These are we.

Originally, they were portrayed by the rock duo The Peanuts, identical twins named Emi and Yumi Ito. More than singing together, the two moved together, overlapping their arms and clenching their fists in perfect synchronicity. The difficulty of this was underlined in the sequel Godzilla vs. Mothra, when the Itos were replaced by non-twins, AKA filthy singletons. Apparently, lacking a lifetime of togetherness, it’s not so easy to do the exact same thing at the exact same time without looking at one another. Weird.

The second complication is Barbara’s genuinely brilliant idea. In keeping with the original inspiration, we will be recording two entirely separate sets of lines. The dialogue as written will be looped – or recorded at a later date – over different lines that we’ll perform on set. The end result will make us appear poorly dubbed.

The problem is, the new lines still have to convey the proper intent, so that our acting – and that of the actors we’re acting at – will make sense. Seven days before the shoot, we hole up in my bedroom and begin the process of rewriting everything in what we’ve come to call Twinglish.

We’re frequently asked if we had our own special twin talk as children. The answer is no; we developed ours as adults. Twinglish is a highly specialized dialect, evolving from unsettlingly high-pitched baby talk to a full-on language. Sentences might be peppered with our own childhood vocabulary (“becept” “fing” “ganks”), with common typos (“smae”), abbreviations (“I need coff.”) or randomly butchered (“Did you go to a?”) Structure often borrows from our study of French, Italian, and Russian (“I very like cigarettes.”) or the small children in our lives (“Peas is my hatest food!” “I love you all the day.”)

Portmanteaux are essential. Did your stomach problems go away? That’s “Bye-arrhea.” Are you answering a question in the affirmative? Try a “Yes-soeur” or an “Ocake.”

Nouns are verbed, and vice versa. Sloppy homonyms rule (“Shall I leaf now?” “Yes, combover!”). Articles a/an/the are used in “a” excess – or not at all. “Traffics” and “happies” are quantifiable. And that fart I mentioned? It’s a “squeaky air poo.”

So then, “You’re upsetting him!” becomes “You do a upsets on him!”

“But it is not Kenny who was supposed to possess the relic,” becomes “For a actually a rel owner dude should be it that guy.”

“We don’t make the rules,” becomes “Pfffft.”

In other words, perfectly simple sentences become ridiculously nonsensical. And those are the ones we’re memorizing.

This panics me mildly. “Good thing they’re dubbing us,” I say. “If we forget our lines, we can just repeat ‘four score and seven years ago’.”

“We won’t forget them,” Barbara says, full stop. She’d spent several years taking acting classes, auditioning, performing in showcases. She’d done a number of true crime dramas that had aired on actual television sets. Whereas I… hadn’t.

“You’re right,” I say, so convincingly I believe it.

I am on my way to acting.

Six days before shooting, I figure it might be a good idea to watch the show. Owing to my lack of cable television, I haven’t kept up past the premiere. A huge viewing party at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery screened the first couple episodes against a wall. Hundreds of people attended. Blaine was working late, so I brought my son Oliver, then three. I’d packed up a picnic basket and carried him past headstones and mausoleums, hugging him tightly against the chilly October air. So what if I saw no other toddlers in tow? I was Cool Mom. Two decades prior, my gothed-out boyfriend and I were posing for glamour shots in front of these tombstones. Besides, Stan was comedy. There’d be spookiness, but nothing a quick hand across the eyes couldn’t fix.

“Is that goat a bad guy?” Ollie asked, a half-hour in. The animal was trotting jauntily across screen, a man’s decapitated head swinging between his lips.

“No! He and the head are friends!” I whispered back.

“They are?”

“I mean, the head has no legs, right? He’s helping him get around?”

Ollie burrowed farther into my neck.

The premise of the series is as follows. In 1692, the constable of Willard’s Mill burned a hundred and seventy-two witches, thus cursing their souls to demon-hood. They’ve killed every authority figure since — except for Sheriff Stan Miller. Why? His wife secretly protected him. Unfortunately, a demon has killed her. Stan makes a scene at her funeral and is ousted from his post. Enter new sheriff Evie Barret. Together they fight the demons. Demons that frequently explode.

Or as Dana sums it up, “What if my dad was Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” And who isn’t familiar with that weapon-wielding cheerleader? Simply swap her with an elderly New Englander who pronounces “queer” with two syllables and you’ve got the idea.

With all this in mind, I sit down and watch the first two seasons. I note not just the storylines but the style of acting, the timing of delivery, the lighting, the costumes, the visual cues. I dissect the show down to its elements. Stan’s squinted his eyes. Evie’s upside-down smile. Do the giant fork and spoon on the kitchen wall get even gianter? Are everyone’s teeth perfect, and do I need to fix mine?

I text a friend who just fixed her teeth. Her dentist can’t see me for two weeks. Shooting is only four days off now, so I vow to do the next best thing: learn my lines.

The last time I’ve memorized anything important was probably in college. So ripping a page from that overpriced textbook, I commit the dialogue to flash cards. One side holds the line before ours, the other our gibberish. I get maybe half of them under control before I plateau.

“They need context,” Barbara explains the morning of our flight to Atlanta, two days from filming. Actual actors use the actual script, reading themselves in with the previous lines while covering their own. She’s right. Even the visual helps jog the memory.

We set out for our Fly-A-Way bus to Los Angeles International Airport, dragging suitcases and carry-ons. As usual, I’ve overpacked. All Dana had requested we bring were our black bob wigs. The dresses and hats have been hand made by the costume department, beautiful and eerie replicas of Mothra originals. So replicated, in fact, that I fight sending an anxious email to Dana about possible copyright infringement. I picture the episode about to air when Legal steps in.

“Nice try,” they chuckle, “but we’re not risking a lawsuit.”

“Isn’t there anything we can do to save the episode?” the producers beg.

“Well, you could cut out every last frame of those twins, Barbara Ann and Vera Duffy…”

Little do I know that the week I’m fretting over lines and teeth, they’ve been filming a different episode about a red-headed paranormal investigator and her trench-coated male partner. Also, it’s called “The Hex Files.” So if a hit television show is fair game for parody, a Japanese monster movie from the 1960s practically cries for it.

I vow to keep studying my lines on the plane but opt instead for a Bloody Mary and some HBO. I notice the older bodybuilder-type seated next to Barbara is traveling with an avocado, which I desperately hope he’ll peel and eat off the pit. Instead he produces a plastic knife and gets to meal prepping on his tray table. This requires more room than his personal space allows, so he sticks some of his garbage into Barbara’s seat-back pocket. She hands it right back.

I admire my twin for literally taking no crap. Or in Twinglish, “doing a avocad-no.”

Dana meets us at the airport. I politely look elsewhere as he and Barbara have kissy time. They’ve been separated for two weeks, with three more to follow. Such is the downside of producing television in Atlanta. The tax breaks make it preferable to Los Angeles, but non-natives pretty much have to uproot for the duration. I play it cool until he asks how I am.

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done,” I gush.

We drop our stuff at our rented condo, then head out to dinner. Despite the late hour and nearly-closed restaurant, the waiter recognizes and addresses Dana as “Mr. Gould.”

Well that’s some Southern charm, I think, basking in his reflected fame.

We are joined by Ken Daly, who has just wrapped “The Hex Files” episode. He’s been acting since childhood, a career spanning four decades. You might recognize him from an 80s McDonald’s Shamrock Shake commercial, or as the Hungarian translator in “The Usual Suspects.” These days he’s the full-time assistant to a comedienne who’d nearly lost her livelihood posting a photo with Trump’s severed head. Here’s something I didn’t know: death threats can be robocalled.

And yet acting’s on the back burner?

“Auditions aren’t like they used to be,” Ken tells me. “I can’t take the cattle calls.”

Our waiter serves the main course and tells Mr. Gould he’ll see him Tuesday. It’s then we realize he’s also a sound intern on Stan.

Dana asks him how he likes it.

“People can’t believe how much we get done in a day,” he replies. “And the hours aren’t even that long!”

Dana modestly chalks this up to a tight budget. Also, filming on location as opposed to on a sound stage, Stan is at the mercy of the South’s fickle weather. That, I’ll shortly discover firsthand.

Dana, Barbara, and I spend a lazy Sunday brunching, getting massages, and strolling through the Nature Conservancy.

“Ooh, tomorrow we should ride bikes!” Barbara muses dreamily. I’m not sure I can, having brought mostly dresses, but Dana has other ideas.

Like filming the show.

Our plan to rehearse in front of Dana has already fizzled. He doesn’t seem concerned, and I guess it rubs off. My biggest worry now is getting up the next day. A 1st Assistant Director had called the week prior to confirm our 5:48am pick-up. He just said it like it was nothing. No “Look, I’ve got some bad news,” or “I’m going to need you to sit down.” And that is leaving-for-set time – not rolling-out-of-bed time. For a life-long insomniac who’s only recently discovered sleep-inducing edibles, this is torture, especially as I could not bring my sleep-inducing edibles across state lines. And so I set my alarm for 4:45am and hope for the best.

At 12:30am, I’m jolted awake when my friend with the fixed teeth texts that her tooth has re-broken. At 1am she texts a photo of the tooth under a water glass, and at 1:15am, a photo of the glass under a bowl.

It’s three hours earlier in Los Angeles, I tell myself. She doesn’t know I’m in Atlanta. Trying to get sleep. For my first on-camera acting job.

Then again, what’s a couple more broken teeth?

By 6:30am we’ve arrived at Lithia Springs, a tiny town some twenty miles west of Atlanta. We are dropped in a maze of trailers in a church parking lot, surrounded by trees. The wardrobe department descends first, sending us off to try on the costumes. There’s barely a moment to admire the star on my door when Hair and Make-up beckons. A friendly gent named Lance has a special system for applying wigs, involving an altered stocking cap, a bucket of gel, and approximately ninety bobby pins. That wig’s not going anywhere – today, and possibly all this week. The make-up lady is a Georgia native who’s done the Los Angeles hustle and is happy to be home. When she’s finished spackling on a coat of humidity-defying foundation and 60s-rific black eyeliner, she sets my marabou-trimmed hat on my head.

And there she is: Fifi. That character from Stan Against Evil. Aside from the fact I’m whiter than a polar bear drinking milk in a snowstorm, I feel strongly the Ito twins would approve.

Back in our trailers, I gaze wistfully at my union-mandated breakfast but instead choose to glue on sparkly fake fingernails and rehearse with Barbara. My stomach is in knots anyhow. I pull up some screenshots of Emi and Yumi on my phone and we work out some of their hand gestures. Then we drill lines. We gesture and drill and gesture some more, stopping when we’re sure “we’ve got it.” Then we do it again.

It is 8:30am when we’re shuttled over to set. Except it’s not a set. It’s an actual house. For the past three summers the residents have rented it out to production. Every last molecule of furnishing has been cleared to make way for its painstaking transformation into the Miller residence. No detail is spared, from the family portraits lining the stairway, to Stan’s dilapidated arm chair, to the blood spatter on the foyer wall that will never quite wipe clean. The house is roomy, charming, a hundred and six years old, and I wish I owned one just like it in Los Angeles, where it would fetch a million dollars as a tear-down.

Barbara asks if I’ve met the director, Rob Cohen. “The character design for Milhouse from The Simpsons was based on him. You’ll see.” I look for a yellow child with blue hair but reality is far more shocking. Coke-bottle glasses, neatly parted coiffure, and perfectly rounded nose comprise a six-foot Milhouse, all grown up and cool. Not, like, Rihanna cool. Life-long-nerd-who-embraced-his-nerdiness-and-is-now-directs-a-show-about-exploding-demons cool.

Do I understand he’s not actually Milhouse? Eighty percent. Do I care? I’m enchanted.

Milhouse and crew are ready for us at 10am, when we’re summoned to the front door. Here I meet Stan himself, John C. McGinley. He is gruff but polite, all sideburns and professionalism. Also in this scene is Deborah Baker Jr., who expertly embodies his woman-child of a daughter Denise. She seems to delight in our freakish twinness and introduces us to our uncredited co-star, the train that runs at all hours just beyond the front yard. Nothing like the ker-CHUNK ker-CHUNK of a twenty-car locomotive to unexpectedly spice up the audio track.

Our first shot will be John opening his front door to find us, two life-sized fairies. It’s filmed over his shoulder, angled at our faces. The living room, hallway, and dining room are jammed with people and gear. Outside is just twins. We rehearse a few times, then the door is shut.

It is so peaceful out there, alone on the porch, that I experience a kind of weightlessness. Like I’m floating in the cosmos, waiting to be shot back to civilization. The days leading to this moment drift away in the bright summer ether. Everything is on the other side of that door.

I do not look at Barbara. I don’t have to. We bring our hands up, listening for the faraway call of “Action.”

The door opens.

“A Stan is where?” we ask, spreading our arms.

“What the hell is this?” John barks. “Everyone knows twins aren’t real!”

Hands reset. More forcefully: “A Stan is where?”

“I’m Stan!”

“Then where the hell the rel?”

We push past John and Deborah, scampering past the camera and trying not to make too much noise or knock into crew.

“Cut!” calls Milhouse.

Et voila – I am a television actress.

The next location is Denise’s bedroom. Though clearly in her thirties, the character’s tastes glided to a halt somewhere in late elementary school. Toys occupy every crevice: musty, outdated, distressing. Plush monsters on her dresser grimace with human teeth. A single lavender roller blade sits mid-floor, all the more peculiar for being covered by webbing. It – and everything else in the room – is engulfed in caterpillar silk effects, a combination of sickly yellow plastic and a filigree of hot glue.

This includes another guest actor, Dave Koechner. Playing Evie’s ex-husband Kenny, he is tucked in Denise’s bed in his underwear. Well, Wardrobe’s underwear. Kenny has been cursed by our ancient relic intended for Stan and is now transforming into a “Kennypiller.”

At “Action,” we scurry in. Koechner jolts awake and says, “Anyone know what’s going on here?” Or, rather, he’s supposed to. While everyone awaits his triumphant first line, a gentle snore emanates from the bed. He is fast asleep.

Koechner shared our ungodly call time. He’s in the middle of a multi-city comedy tour. He’s in his knickers in a literal cocoon. And I have a new goal for confidence on set: unconsciousness. Milhouse softly wakes him and we go again. This time he’s sentient, and hilarious. Even when he doesn’t hit a line, his ad libs are frustratingly golden.

Goal #2: if I can’t memorize, say stuff that’s even funnier.

We break for lunch, a buffet arranged in the yard next door. The sun blazes so relentlessly I worry for my bare shoulders. And yet before the hour ends, it’s sprinkling. Adding to my discomfort is my headache-inducing wig, the scratchy mic pack Velcroed to my thigh, my long, uncooperative nails. And we’re only half-way through the day. But the adrenaline is still pumping. It keeps me restless, wandering the house while I try to stay unobtrusive. I’m afraid to bother John in the dining room as he studies his lines through perched reading glasses. I’d prefer to wander the woods, choked with kudzu vines like Mother Nature’s The Blob, but some primal fear stops me. I later learn its name is Lyme Disease.

After lunch is our first scene with Janet Varney, who plays Evie. She’s a Lucille Ball-type –- beautiful, effortlessly comedic, able to contort her face like a fistful of plasticine. Evie is confronting the Kennypillar, who is now more ‘pillar than Kenny. There is so much webbing that to get to my mark, I must shimmy gracelessly over ropes of the stuff. Milhouse offers to carry me, princess-style, but I demur. I feel like a sick child visited in the hospital by Ironman or Wonder Woman, and I’m afraid the joy might stop my heart.

Towards the end of the scene, as the Kennypillar reveals the extent of his secret plan, we twins are supposed to get excited. So, we smile and giggle. Between takes, John comes over with some direction: go nuts. Don’t mind if we do. For the next version, we hop, clap, laugh, roll our eyes with delight. I channel my five-year-old. I look ridiculous. I love it.

Before I know it, we’ve arrived at our last scene of the day. Bibi and Fifi are casually hanging in the kitchen, holding coffee cups and discussing insurance policies. Stan and Evie enter and we zip back into character, sheepishly placing our cups to the side.

“Where’s the relic?” Evie asks.

Our response as written is “Kenny ate it.”

The Twinglicized version? “It’s a pre-poop.”

In preparation for this scene, the prop guy asks if we’d prefer to be drinking coffee or tea. “Nothing, thanks,” we tell him. We try to explain we’ll be placing the cups on the counter without looking and are worried we’ll spill on our dresses.

“Okay, but you have to have something. Water?”

“That’s okay.”

“It affects the way you’ll hold the cup— “

“We don’t want it, thank you,” I say with finality. Prop guy goes away. I wonder how many actors have had similarly frustrating conversations with crew before, and whether or not I am now officially “difficult.” The prospect is thrilling.

But a little while later, after wrapping the shot and heading back to the shuttle, Prop Guy tells us we did great. Props from Prop Guy; the perfect end to a perfect day. Apparently, my notorious difficultness is less on his mind than the lightning warning, which has sent the crew scrambling to capture the last scene. Potential hazards include electrocution, burns, fire, and glowing your skeleton through your skin. If lightning is detected within ten miles, protocol requires the immediate and complete shutdown of production. Game over.

As our shuttle pulls away and the rain begins to pummel the roof, we hear cheers from the house. They finished just in time.

Tuesday is a “hold” day while they film other people (yawn), so Barbara and I explore Atlanta. Strong recommendations include Doll’s Head Trail (just how it sounds), the Center for Disease Control Museum, and the Atlanta Prison Farm. Limited by walkability, we choose the Center for Puppetry Arts.

Winding our way to the entrance, we pass lines of school children on field trips. “Did you see all those Olivers and Olivias?” I gush to Barbara, every child a stark reminder I’m far from my own. If that sight doesn’t give me the bittersweet cozies, the “No weapons allowed” sign in the Center’s window certainly does the trick.

First stop is the International wing, where I learn every country on Earth is capable of producing terrifying hand-goblins. The other exhibit is all Muppets, with whom I endure a love/hate relationship. The animal-themed ones like Kermit and Rowlf are cute. But they are grossly overshadowed by such humanoid monstrosities as Beaker and the Swedish Chef. And no, these views are not up for debate. If you feel otherwise, you are mistaken.

Still riding the high of yesterday, I’m willing to overlook the yuckiness. I read every last display of history. I marvel at the canisters of flock. I sit by myself and take in the behind-the-scenes presentational videos. One ends with the closing number from 1979’s The Muppet Movie, a film in which Kermit travels cross-country to become a movie star. His sound stage – and presumably, dreams – have just been destroyed. And yet the newly formed hole in the ceiling bathes him and his pals in rainbow.

“Life’s like a movie,” he begins to sing, “write your own ending.”

“Keep believing, keep pretending,” the others join in.

The camera widens as the voices grow in strength and number —

“We’ve done just what we’ve set out to do!”

— and we see it’s not just the stars of the movie —

“Thanks to the lovers, the dreamers, and you!”

— it’s every Muppet that’s ever existed, and it’s breathtaking.

I am deeply moved by the obvious metaphor. This swarming mass is no monolith; like my life, it’s comprised of the good, the bad, the appallingly hideous. The end result is impressive and uplifting, but for every sweet Big Bird and sassy Miss Piggy, there’s a drug-addled Floyd Pepper, a stark-raving-mad Beaker. Yes, we lost that twin audition to non-twins. But then Dana wrote our first TV roles just for us. And would I have felt so free to cut loose and “go nuts,” as John directed, if I hadn’t known the distaste of faux-suiciding off an invisible cruise ship? Also, how are all those Muppets moving by themselves, there’s not a puppeteer in sight. Are they coming to kill us? Should I warn my family?

In summation, Yin and Yang. Keep believing. Keep pretending.

“I will, you freaky abominations,” I whisper, eyes brimming with joyous tears. “With God and Jim Henson as my witness: I will.”

Wednesday, we film outside at the O’Neal Plaza in Douglasville. The apex of the episode involves a fully metamorphized Kennypillar, an angry birthday party ape, and a four-foot high cardboard replica of Willard’s Mill. Ready at 11am, Barbara and I spend the next six hours lounging in the cooling tent, chatting with other actors, snacking, and milling aimlessly about. We are only needed for the very last scene, a sweeping shot of the (spoiler) decimated diorama with the entire cast smiling and waving. We couldn’t be more Muppety if there were hands in our squeaky air poo-ers.

It is nearly 5:30pm when they’re ready for us. At the same time, the first warning ripples across the square. Lighting approaches. The sky takes a dark turn and from seemingly nowhere bursts a torrent of rain. Cast, crew, and equipment cram under sun tents. The cardboard town begins to sag. It is too wet to film, but we’re losing daylight and the lightning is getting closer. Considering the elaborate set and all the actors, there’s zero chances this can be reshot another day. This time tomorrow we’ll be back in LA.

The rain subsides for just a moment and we fly into action. Dozens of extras gather at the back of the town while the principals line the front. We can’t quite hear Milhouse’s direction over the mild chaos, and the first take immediately goes off the rails. Lightning is nearly within range. We reset as quickly as possible and go again.

And that’s a wrap.

In the shuttle back to the trailers, Janet sums it up best: “Well that’s another five-minute shot I thought would take two hours.”

Barbara and I sign our paperwork, peel off our costumes, and bid our little trailers good-bye. It is pitch black now, and drizzly. We walk the short distance to the parking lot, Dana and Barbara, and Milhouse and I. To our right is an abandoned prison facility. To the left, a straight-up graveyard. It’s romantic, no question, and I’m struck with a deep longing for my faraway family. Milhouse hasn’t seen his wife (Lisa?) or little boy for weeks. This is day four and my heart is breaking.

I hope this is a problem I’ll be lucky enough to have again. There aren’t, to my knowledge, an excess of twin roles out there. I count one set of dead-eyed killers, two swindling skateboarders, and a couple of identical music-store owners, all confined to the works of Vince Gilligan. None of them are ladies, but hey, maybe he just hasn’t found the right ones yet? We don’t have to crazy-talk in Twinglish or scamper like imps. We can act normalishly. You won’t have on you a disappoints!

Not that I’ve seen our work in its final form yet. I am equal parts excited and nervous as I wait for the grand televised premiere. But Dana did show us that last shot. The darkness, the imperfections, the race against time: none of the stuff I worried about is there. It’s nothing like how I imagined and so much better.


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