A long time ago, when I was about seventeen years old, in a place far, far away, I had a very unusual job. Five mornings a week I’d show up for make-up and shoot the breeze with Elena, the make-up girl, as she applied concealer, pancake, and finished up with a light touch of eyeliner and a hint of color here and there on my face. No, I wasn’t a cross-dressing performer in a burlesque show—for almost a year I was acting in a soap opera on a Brazilian TV show. I played a young American rock musician named Steve.
I got the gig for two reasons. First, because my long, uncut hair at that time almost reached my waist. Second, because when they asked if I knew how to ride a motorcycle I lied and told them yes. Remember, I was seventeen at the time and at seventeen you pretty much mistakenly believe that you can do anything. The show wasn’t scheduled to begin shooting for at least another three weeks, so my plan was to learn how to ride a motorcycle prior to that first day on location.
Steve, the character I had signed a contract to portray, was not a very taxing part to play. He usually rode in and out of scenes on a Yamaha RT-1 Enduro 360 and flashed the peace sign during entrances and exits. His only line generally was one word, “Peace” (because my command of Portuguese was perhaps about as weak as my acting abilities). Since I was a young American rock musician named Stevie, who often went around uttering hippie slogans like “Peace”, it wasn’t much of a stretch to play Steve. That is, except for one thing: The Motorcycle.
The three weeks in between accepting the role, signing a contract, and the initial day of shooting, flew by before I knew it. The television network was paying me quite handsomely, even before beginning my first day of work, and the cost of living in Brazil was way below what I had been accustomed to in the USA. Heck, I could even afford to lease a used, 1968 Volkswagen Beetle on my salary. So I did. Thus, before we began to lens our little production, I’d go out every night, drive in my Beetle to some nightclub where I’d party until closing time, then sleep most of the next day away, instead of investing any time into learning how the ride a motorcycle.
On the first day, I was scheduled at dawn for a pick-up shot on location at a Barra da Tijuca beach that was to be used for the beginning credit role during the show’s introduction to each segment. I arrived there hung-over and sleepy, just as the sun was rising on the eastern horizon above the Atlantic Ocean. On the pristine white sand three movie cameras on tripods had been positioned close to the shoreline in a semi-circle facing away from the crashing waves, and a black 1969 Yamaha RT-1 Enduro 360, resting on its kickstand, was parked in front of them.
After checking in with the assistant director to make my presence known she told me to go speak to the director regarding how the shot would be blocked for the scene. The director explained that when he shouted “Action” I was to ride the motorcycle directly toward the middle camera then veer off to my right and away before, God forbid, I ran into any of the cameras. He also told me I could never wear a motorcycle helmet because, in his own broken English words, “The camera will love you (sic) hair when it blowed (sic) you when ride (sic) the motocicleta.” In principle, this was a simple enough task, if only I had bothered to learn how to ride the Yamaha.
The bike’s key was already in its ignition so I turned to its START position, and while still in neutral, gave it some gas as the engine growled alive, before kicking up the kickstand with the heel of my foot. So far—so good—I guess. The director, a portable megaphone hiding his face, was standing behind one of the three cameramen holding a hand held high above his head that told me to wait for his cue. I gunned the throttle, making it roar like a lion, a couple of times for good measure.
“Action!” the director squawked through the megaphone as he dropped the upheld hand to his side. The direction I was facing and was told to drive toward had me looking directly into the already blinding morning sun. Even before attempting to shift the bike into gear, I was struggling to see clearly because of the bright blur of blazing light, courtesy of Earth’s closest star, that was messing with my bloodshot vision. Squeezing the clutch I tried to shift the motor into first…and nothing happens. After a few more failed attempts the director finally sent over a crew member to shift it in gear for me while I still held down the clutch, and then who scurried out of the frame of the shot so we could begin again.
Once again the director cued the shot. This time as I let out the clutch and gave the bike way too much gas, that Yamaha RT-1 Enduro 360 shot forward like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. I had never driven a motorcycle in my life, so trying to drive one on the sand with little to no vision was crazy. The cameras I drove toward were coming at me much too fast as I did my best to navigate, at high speed, in their direction. Frantically flailing his arms the director was signaling me to veer away from the spot where he, the crew, and several other actors there that day watched what was happening with expressions of mixed shock and horror.
Before I could crash into any of them I must’ve hit a bump on the beach, because the cycle popped a wheelie and reared up like a bucking bronco. Then I fell off the back of the bike and landed on my butt in the sand. Watching speechlessly from my seat on the beach the chopper continued directly in a beeline for the cameras, cast, and crew. Fortunately, everyone got out of the way in time before the driverless vehicle slammed into the expensive cameras. The sound of crunching metal and breaking glass filled the fragrant sea-scented air.
Did I get fired on that first day I was cast as Steve? No. Insurance covered the cost of the damage and the executive producer really wanted a genuine American actor in the series, so I got to portray that good ol’ longhaired, peace sign flipping “Peace” person Steve for eight more months. His support for me in that role went a long way. Even after several other crack-ups left a few more motorcycles, cameras, lighting, and props damaged in the sand. In fact, someone else in the cast told me I’d been given the nickname assassino de moto, which roughly translated in English is “the motorcycle killer”.
What finally did get me canned is that the aforementioned executive producer had a wife who had a taste for young guys. She was on set one day while I was filming and asked me for a ride back to town in my Volkswagen Beetle (which by then I had exercised an option in the lease contract to buy) when we wrapped for the day. Before dropping her off, we stopped at a secluded spot along the way and did the dirty deed, a-time-or-two, in the backseat of the small German automobile. Alright, I’ll admit it; I guess I had this thing for older women when I was younger.
I should have just let it be a one-and-done event but we got together to get it on together a few times each week. Hey, don’t look at me that way. I was only about seventeen, remember? When her husband found out about the affair he had me written out of the script by having me killed off (are you ready for this?) in a motorcycle accident. In my final episode, I was seen last driving off a cliff after one of the female characters in the series shared the happy news with me that she was pregnant with my baby.
It was never made clear to the show’s audience whether my death was an accident or if I had ended my own life. That created an interesting subplot in the storyline which enabled the series to extend, or at least so I’d heard, for many seasons. Well, they may have killed me off, and I did lose the only acting job I ever had, but in the end, they didn’t uncover two of my deepest and darkest secrets. One was I didn’t know a damn thing about acting. The other secret was that I knew even less about riding motorcycles. I was the great pretender. Yeah, I was some long hair, crazy teenager at that time, so hey, cut me some slack. Peace out, dudes!