Turning Victor Webster into a Pretzel
In the interview excerpt below, Mike Jacobs who worked with Victor Webster - teaching him what it took to play a disabled athlete, talks about Victor's journey and his own. Sadly, Mike Jacobs passed away before seeing the film completed but his contribution to the movie and the lessons learned by all lucky enough to have crossed his path, will never be forgotten.
Q. Tell me about the Victor Webster?
A. Victor is a good man with a good heart and a good sense of humour which he will really need. When I'm teaching actors about what it means and feels like to be disabled, it can be very emotional for them and for me. I try to make it funny sometimes but its all very hard work. Victor is tough on the outside but inside he's a gentle giant of man. Just like me, except the movie star thing.
Q. What did you teach him first?
A. To laugh at himself and at me.
Q. How did you do that?
A. By reminding Victor that he was taller than me but, I wouldn't hold it against him. And even though he was better looking and had more hair, I didn't hold that against him either.
Q. Beyond those things, what impressed you about the young man you were about to make over into a disabled athlete?
A. The thing that impressed me most was that he was very serious and very thoughtful about what he was doing and very focused, just like another great actor I worked with years before.
Q. Who was that?
A. Early on with Victor, I had a flashback about dealing with Jon Voight when we were first starting out on the movie 'Coming Home'. Like Victor, Jon was so determined to get it right. He wanted to get into the head trip. He wanted to know about the psychology about the emotions. And that was relatively easy for me because for anyone that's been through it, its in our memory bank. You don't want to recollect it everyday but your are never that far away from it.
Q. Have you always been an optimist?
A. I'd say, I'm a realist. I woke up in a hospital after my accident and I knew everything changed. At first, I felt sorry for myself and I got mad at god and everybody else until I learned to listen to the people around me. They cared for and loved me whether I was in a chair or not. All of a sudden, it didn't matter how tall I was anymore, so I figured it was time to get on with this life.
Q. When did the question of god come up?
A. Victor and I went through all the embarrassments because it's a list you have in your head when you’re first hurt. The first few days, the first few weeks when you’re lying there and you’re saying why me? And you’re bargaining with god saying. “I’ll be good and go to church everyday if you heal me”.
Then you ask god, “why is my hair falling out and by the way, I can’t walk either”. So pretty soon you have this list in your head. All the things that you can’t do and you won’t be able to do. And after a few weeks, the list starts to shrink. And in my case, I had to give up ballet and beach volleyball - after I was comfortable and things got a lot better, because then you look around and say, ‘okay here I am , what can I do with it’.
Q, What are you going to take Victor now?
A. Believe it or not, the thing we’re working on most is stretching. I want him to be a pretzel- he’s got to be like a gymnast. If he’s going to make the right moves and look real- for someone who’s paralyzed, Victor will have to lose some muscle tone and muscle tension. You have to get in certain positions to make other things easier to do. The way I explained it to him,before I did the demonstration - I said, when you make a transfer and you go from your wheelchair to whatever else, in order to make any transfer - you have to get your head and your shoulders down and your butt up. There are certain muscle groups you have to strengthen. Muscles you haven’t used before. I don’t care if you’re the biggest bodybuilder in the world, you have to be able to go and put your chest down on your knees easily and stay there.
I did a demonstration on how to transfer, what looks real, a normal transfer from a wheelchair to a bench. Now, I have him transferring to a bed. Once he’s in bed and he’s over here and the object of his interest is over there, how is he going to get from here to there, without moving his legs?
Its an important thing to be able to do - so that’s what he’s working on right now and when we get together the next time, I’m going to see how well he did his homework.
Q. Do you think that by learning to play a disabled man, Victor will change the way he sees the world?
A. It's pretty clear to me, he knows a lot about disability already. Victor doesn't see the wheelchair or any line between his life and mine. That's why I like him. I think its also why he got the job to play such a demanding role in a important movie, just like Jon Voight did all those years ago when I was taller and had more hair.
To be continued...
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