This article originally ran in the September 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.
Phone rings, caller ID says Brad Armstrong. “Hello?”
“Tod! Brad Armstrong. What are you doing next Thursday? I have a movie I’m shooting, I’d like you to play a part in it.”
“Are you sure? The last time I was in a movie for you it didn’t work out so well.” (Author’s note: I was dreadful. My performance didn’t make the final cut, and rightly so.)
“Heh. You’re perfect for this one. Quick non-sex role. Can you make it?”
The next day, the pages for the movie, titled DNA, drop into my email box. My character is a clone, reconstructed from a DNA sample taken after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, by request of his daughter. Confused and childlike. He has two lines. I think this is within my abilities. Okay, how do I do it? I remember Elsa Lanchester at a long-ago screening saying she wanted the Bride of Frankenstein to jerk her head around like a curious baby bird. No, this is a father figure. He would move slowly, carefully, trying to remember. I put off getting a haircut and don’t shave.
On the set, while waiting for my scene, I am jolted by Small Hands’ explosive performance as an angry customer of the cloning company. Turns out the clone he ordered didn’t live up to his expectations, and he is Not Happy. More like Outraged. Furious. Borderline violent. Impressive performance. The acting bar is being set high here.
Sex educator Ashley Manta is playing my daughter. When the Small Hands scene wraps, I am brought to the makeshift wardrobe room and given my costume: a shapeless beige top and matching drawstring pants. “Go barefoot, they all do,” Armstrong directs. “Asa was barefoot yesterday.” Jessica asks Ashley and me if we want to run lines. Sure. We crowd together, a tight circle oblivious to the activity around us. Jessica bears down on her lines, businesslike, not exactly hard but professional. Ashley is enthusiastic and happy. Seems us clones only have a 72-hour shelf life. I decide to act as if my character doesn’t comprehend this. I brighten up when Ashley invites me for ice cream and try to build that with my exit line, “Can I get the kind with the colored sprinkles on top?”
We run through it several times. It’s an emotional scene. Ashley has reconstituted her father, but she only gets him for 72 hours. She and Jessica both know this, but I don’t. And I may never know. And all I have to do is be happy about ice cream and ignore all this life-and-death business.
We go to the set and Armstrong blocks the scene. Jessica and I walk in through a door and meet Ashley, and Ashley jumps up and hugs me as Jessica explains the protocol to her. I follow the sound of the voices, and react quickly when I’m offered the ice cream. After some notes and a change of camera placement so Ashley and I can exit easily, we take our positions to start the scene.
Behind the door, Jessica and I chat, quietly, getting ready. “Action!” We walk out, Ashley jumps up, throws an arm around me. I try my best to look confused, only following the sound of the voices. I keep looking at Jessica, trying to not focus, when I hear my cue line: “Hey dad, want to go out for some ice cream?”
Full attention on Ashley: “You bet!”
On our exit, Brad has a sudden inspiration: “Tod, on your way out, repeat the line about the sprinkles. Like you don’t remember from a minute ago.”
Bombshell. This drops the floor out of the scene from happy family reunion to temporary/nothing’s changed/tragic. It’s an effective change that adds a lot of resonance to the scene.
Back to one. Once we’re hidden behind the door, Jessica says, “Excuse me a minute” and retreats to a corner of the stage, back turned. I see her stand straight and take deep breaths. The emotion of the scene is hitting her hard. She comes back, smiling, and says, “Let’s go.”
Safely out of camera range, Ashley and I share a look. It was tough, it was an emotional scene, but WE DID IT. We’re still holding hands. “Cut!” Jessica walks up, smiling, teary. “I’m so glad that’s over. That was tough.” Ashley and I reach for her and we fall into a three-way hug, drained, exhilarated, and triumphant.
Maybe I’ll make the final cut this time.
DNA is scheduled for a September 30 release from Wicked Pictures. Click here to see photos from the set. The trailer is up now on YouTube.
Pictured: Jessica Drake, Asa Akira and Small Hands in Brad Armstrong's DNA (Wicked Pictures)