RON SILVER a.k.a. LEO BLOOM
He always played the hard-ass, no nonsense, slick, smart, many times scary guy. He was also scandalously known for being a staunch, outspoken conservative in Hollywood. I used to confuse him with Andy Garcia. But after so many movies and television shows that included one of his last roles in The West Wing, I knew exactly who Ron Silver was when I got to work with him a year before his passing…
In league with people like Kevin Spacey, this guy was one of the finest examples of an actor I have ever had the honor of spending time with.
I was cast in my first movie and listed to co-star opposite huge names only because of my ventriloquism technique and having at least an ounce of acting capability with and without the puppet. I don’t know that I was the best choice, but more likely, the least worst option.
On the third day of shooting, the car picked me up around 7:00 a.m. As we made our way up Manhattan’s east side, I was informed we were making one more stop to pick up another actor. We pulled up to a high rise that was an old hotel turned Condo. But somehow they kept some of the hotel services going including room service and housekeeping! Posh.
Ron Silver casually and happily walked out of the building with his newspaper under his arm and hopped in the back seat. We were introduced, shook hands and started chatting about everything but work. This was a warm, gentle, calm, open, happy man.
He offered me the newspaper he had already read and asked the driver if we could stop at a convenience store so he could pick up a New York Times and a coffee. We stopped, he asked me if he could get me anything, and ran into the store.
I looked down at the mailing label on his paper. It was addressed to “Mr. Leo Bloom.” If you are not a theater buff, this was a character from the Mel Brooks film, turned Broadway musical, turned film remake, The Producers. Clearly, this was a pseudo name for his mail delivery to protect him from the general public. It is also a reference to one of my favorite shows. I felt like I had a guest pass to the inner circle. So show business!
As we continued to drive uptown to the location, Ron pointed out and gave detailed stories and personal anecdotes about the city’s buildings, real estate, and history. I told him if the whole “acting thing” didn’t work out, I could get him a gig with the Big Apple Bus Tours. He guffawed.
In this film, Ron played a big-time, Hollywood agent named Fielding Barnes who represented odd people and made them stars based on their physical shortcomings. I played his assistant, Harlan Swallow, who fulfilled his duties alongside Gary, a dummy sidekick, all perfectly natural to anyone in the office.
I was on set first, working on line delivery, puppet manipulation, and camera angles for the director and crew. Ron entered and watched me for a while, really interested as he took his place behind his desk.
He asked one or two questions about the shots. Then while everyone was chatting and doing final settings, I watched him look down at the desk, take a moment, and then raise his head to reveal his character, Fielding Barnes. I literally saw a transformation right in front of me. Intricate and subtle, I was now seeing the dickhead, egomaniac I’ve seen Ron Silver cast as so many times before, sitting right in front of me.
As I sat opposite him, he burrowed a stare right into my eyes. I realized he was engaging me in an acting exercise to filter everyone else out, feed each other energy, and build our character’s dynamics. I respected him by setting aside any distractions or nervous energy to accept his unspoken offer as well as support him in his needs.
After a take or two, I had a question that was not heard by the director or DP. I got nervous or perhaps shy and decided to let it go and figure it out myself. I shot a glance over at Ron. He was watching me and spoke right up. “Go ahead, ask!”
I’m sure this cameo role wasn’t a deep, difficult dig for him. But he was very focused throughout the work. After many takes and angles he was whisked away for some green screen shots and I stayed for a few pick-ups.
We were taken home separately so I never got to give him a proper goodbye, but I wrote to Mr. Leo Bloom the following week to thank him.
He passed away almost a year later from cancer of the esophagus. It was revealed he had been diagnosed two years earlier. He was sixty-two.
Control. Clarity. Focus. Kindness. Ron Silver. Pretty great.
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