The small walfdorf-esque grade school I went to was heavily into drama. We used to do several plays a year with the whole class. Mostly they were mythological themes: the Norse saga, the Krishna story, the Gilgamesh epic.
I loved it. When our school principal’s daughter opened up an acting school in Royal Oak, I and a bunch of
my schoolmates signed up. That led to a few auditions and a couple of very minor local jobs, mostly commercials, a couple of which even paid dollars, sometimes tens of dollars. We decided to take that money and sink it into a professional “head shot”, a big glossy 8 x 10 photograph, which Mom could use to register me at the two or three talent agencies in Detroit. And so it came to pass that one day I was called to audition for the biggest gig of my career, a TV commercial for Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Lo and behold, I got the job. And through the power of the internet, for the first time in over twenty years, I watched that commercial last night. Here it is:
This commercial was directed by none other than Detroit native Sam Raimi, at a pivotal time in his career. It was after Evil Dead II, but before he went to Hollywood and made Darkman, the best comic-book movie adaptation ever, except it wasn’t based on any existing comic-book. It launched the career of Liam Neeson and led the way to the neverending cascade of superhero movies, none of which beat Darkman in my opinion, including Raimi’s own Spider Man in 2002. Fast-forward to 2011 and Sam Raimi is now Hollywood royalty.
The other person in that commercial who went on to fame and legend was …
… Simon, the hero of the video game. Castlevania II, I am only just now learning, was an innovative videogame in the way it introduced role-playing and non-linear quests into the side-scrolling platform-type game, and heralded a stream of similar “metroidvania” games. Castlevania went on to become the single longest-running videogame title in history, and although Castlevania II was the weakest seller of the series, it is venerable enough now to be the subject of (semi-)serious study by scholarly videogame critics. If you are older than I am, you may be shocked to learn that there even exist scholars and serious students of videogames. But in fact Simon beat Sam in a way because the videogame industry is now larger and more profitable than the movie business.
As for me, well, that was it folks. That was as big as I got. I could have been the next Brad Pitt. Or maybe more of a John Turturro. Didn’t happen that way. Instead, as the residuals money trickled in, I wound up with an unsmall amount of discretionary funds for a 15-year-old. I could have saved it to pay for two or three months of university expenses. I could have squandered it on comic books and other habitual pursuits. Instead, my parents put me on an airplane to sunny Sri Lanka, then very much in the middle of its 30-year civil war. There I traveled on foot from Trincomalee to Kataragama and learned vital wearing-a-sarong and eating-rice-with-my-hands skills that serve me well to this day.