Travis Walck drips his Gene Wilder vibes all over the tables at the Brite Spot diner in Echo Park. He’s all floppy hair, sleepy eyes and skinny ass, working the night shift until 4 a.m. so he can audition during the day.
“That’s why I look like this. I walk around in a permanent zombielike state. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doing.”
Travis is from Albuquerque, and he’s doing what you came here to do.
When he lands a film role, he takes power naps standing up in the corner of the set until the A.D. wakes him up.
He tried the corporate gig and won’t go back. “I can’t do it,” he says. “It drives me nuts.” He’d rather work here at the Brite Spot, where the crowd is simpatico, he gets time off to act and he can slip French disco radio or Morrissey’s new album on the speakers.
Travis came here in 2000 after getting his degree in theater from the University of New Mexico. He says he just turned 30, but he looks wiser than that.
He used to go to class from 8 to 3, take a two-hour break, then work at Hertz until 1 a.m. Phylicia Rashad walked in once and said, “Keep doing what you love.” That was it for Travis.
At 16, he saw an ad for auditions: “It said, ‘Come study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.’” He got in.
“My parents shoved me on a plane and said, ‘Go.’ They got me an apartment and paid for everything. That was my first experience with New York. I was the only kid from New Mexico. I said, ‘That’s it, I’ve seen the world, I’ve got to get out of here.’ My friends were getting new cars for graduation. I got the trip of my life.”
He liked it.
“I was finally in an environment where people were taking the whole craft seriously.”
Two gay guys come by his station and he talks them through the cakes. You want to be part of the group, but you have to let go because he’s working. He knows how to split his attention between customers. You imagine his kindness spilling onto an audience from some stage.
Travis can’t stand Method shit.
“All that Method shit, it makes me sick. If you’re doing that, you can’t be with the person and make the real moment. It’s so shit. They talk about ‘character, character.’ There is no character. It’s just you. It’s ‘Invent nothing, deny nothing.’
“Anywhere you like, guys,” he says to some new arrivals.
He has two brothers and a sister. “When I go home sometimes, they say, ‘I just don’t know how you do it. How do you go out there? How can you live in L.A.? It’s so big, it’s so scary.’
“It’s not like living [in Albuquerque] is a bad thing. I just needed something more.”
Travis sometimes feels like a giant phony.
“I’m on the set and I think, ‘Who am I?’ I only allow myself to think that for a minute. Then someone yells, ‘Picture’s up.’ I just have to let go and let it happen.
“The director knows. It’s his film. He sees things that I don’t. You are the worst judge of yourself. You can’t see what you’re putting out.”
You nod in agreement. You wonder if he knows.
“I often get lightheaded when they say, ‘Cut,’ coming back down into myself. I often feel like I’m leaving my body.”
You want to apply for a job at the Brite Spot, just to be nearer to thee, my Travis.
“It’s a tangible, cellular thing that occurs,” he says, leaning over the condiments and gesticulating with his free hand. “When you get that feeling, you know that you’re doing something right.”
You ask what keeps him going.
“Sheer force of will. Michael Caine once said, ‘An actor does what he has to.’ When you’re getting beat up and rejected and you think, ‘Oh, my God, I’m never gonna cut it,’ you think about that. So you keep doing it.”