June 4, 2006, reposted.
Dear Mr. Tennant,
I’m writing from Hollywood, California, because your star’s rising so brightly I can see it from here, and it’s gorgeous, and it’s blinding, and I thought you should know what it looks like from 6000 miles. This is also a love letter.
From today I give you a year, maybe eighteen months till you’re a household name, top-billed, in the States as well as abroad. Here’s what’s gonna happen.
They’ll make you work out, you beautiful lanky stringbean, and you’ll get biceps and a chest and then they’ll make you do (more) shirtless scenes. Then you’re gonna cultivate an American accent. They’ll tell you to do it because more roles’ll open up for you. We’ll tell you to do it because we want to hear you sound like us, and you’ll do it because you got a bit of the cowboy in ya and a damned good ear. Take it for a test drive on Doctor Who this year, because in the age of BBC America you’ve got a bigger captive audience than Tom Baker ever had, and in a week you’ll end up on YouTube.
Next you get a breakthrough hit. Something with critical appeal on a low budget, this year’s Trainspotting. I bet the scripts are coming in already, and you’re with ICM, so you’ll pick the right one. Then it’s a question of do you want to do the mainstream summer American romantic comedy they send ya, or do you wait for the villain role in the smaller American thriller? And the girls join the gays, as they tend to, and next thing you’re beating out Brad Pitt in every poll there is. Glossy magazines that smell like perfume will call you things like “The Scottish Sensation” and the Desperate Housewives will start fantasizing about you. Quite possibly call you to offer you a six-episode arc.
I just met you this past year because I’m a geek and a fangirl and I watched Eccleston in Who, and, like everyone, thought I’d never get over him once he left. (If you’re playing the home game, you had me in three episodes. I marked the moment, it’s at the end of “School Reunion” when we get our very first giant Tennant grin, breaking around “my Sarah Jane!”)
Since then I’ve made a point of getting hold of screeners for Casanova, Blackpool, Secret Smile. I watched 2005’s Quatermass for you, and the internet provided old episodes of Taking over the Asylum where they noticed you first, all limbs and energy and that weird wisdom in your eyes. You like props and stage business. You like smiles that break from one corner of your mouth to the other, like a wave. You like to touch people. You like to pace, to sit down and get right back up again. You like to cross a room and then look back over your shoulder. You bite your upper lip and shoot a knowing look. Most white guys bite their lower lips, but you’ve redefined mouth business for a whole new generation, with that pop of your lower jaw and the way the tip of your tongue folds up against the roof of your mouth. I suspect some of that’s you, just as I suspect that even when you’re not performing your face tells a hell of a story.
So I did twelve years of Tennant in about two months, real time. I watched you grow up and blow up and explode on the screen as Casanova, as Carlisle, as the Doctor. This time you took the slower path, and I tripped through the pages of your book and fell for you as I watched you blow the roof off the place.
The reviews I’ve read describe your Doctor as quirky, electric, I’ve even heard “waspish,” but if you ask me (and boy how you didn’t) I think the key element you bring to the character’s what we saw in the very first five minutes we had him on screen — he’s a fellow who’s hop, hop, hopping for his life, in perpetual motion because if he ever stops, even for a second, he’ll be forced to come to terms with the weight of his 900 years and all his angst and guilt. And so you spin him across the screen with a sort of desperate mania, like the guy who hides his emotions behind humor or the guy who talks too fast because he doesn’t want to hear what you’re gonna say if he lets you interrupt. Actually, it’s kind of chilling. One gets the feeling that just beneath the surface, Tennant’s Doctor, for all his infinite adaptibility, is about one good guilt trip away from smiting the universe with his wrath for all of its injustices. Kind and passionate, yeah, but don’t ever mistake that for nice.
All this in sharp contrast to your Casanova, though on the surface they do share a sort of Peter Pannish irrepressibility, because you somehow managed to make Casanova — while entirely a rogue — the domestic sort. Here’s a man who, despite appearances, really does just want that perfect love affair, to run off with his heart’s desire and settle down for a life of domestic wedded bliss. And how you managed to do that while keeping him a self-centered cad is just another little indication of why I spent the last two months seeking out every credit of yours I could get my hands on. Casanova who wants nothing more than for his son to be proud of him, or nothing more than to play house with Henriette, and still manages to botch the whole thing up because he’s crippled by his own need for instant gratification and because he’s got that magpie-like attraction to the shiny and new and untried.
And then Carlisle’s a third sort entirely, probably the laziest character I’ve seen you play. And of course it’s not really laziness he’s got, but what you present as sort of a combination of complete worldly entitlement and a sort of boredom with everything around him. Your Carlisle slouches through his life completely convinced he’ll get whatever he’s got his eye on without much effort on his part. When other folks talk, he lets his mind wander. He lopes around with that air of bored confidence, but then, in a really phenomenal performance, you litter all that confidence with nervous behavior, the eye poking, the oral fixation. Like even Carlisle doesn’t know how insecure he really is. And it works for him, both the insecurity and the overconfidence; he gets his man, he gets the girl, he’s a corrupt antihero and we all root for him anyway.
In other words, you’ve impressed the socks off me. And that doesn’t mean anything, I mean, my opinion, as I’m not famous, or noteworthy, or an asshole, but I’m brighter than most and I’ve got discerning taste and I’m not even an Anglophile; I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Jewish New Yorker cum-Angeleno, and I think you are the greatest thing to come along since belly lox on a bagel. And not just because you’re a beautiful man, which you are, from the loud arch of your eyebrow to your toothy grin that can stop a girl’s heart, ka-thud, just like that. And not just because you’re a legitimate talent, a genuine actor’s actor, an alive, electric performer with a freakish ability to shift from beaming to broken or from charming to creepy with a curl of your lip. Because one bit of stage business isn’t enough for you, and they may call you spastic and jumpy but every single one of those movements is controlled, elegant. You slide into your roles like you were born in them, which, I suppose, in the Doctor’s case, you were. You make good decisions. You see the whole picture. And I’ve grown absolutely addicted to watching you do it, and falling just a little bit in love with you besides.
Not even just because you’re a Socialist, or you did 7:84 or can probably match me at West Wing trivia, or because you still believe in agitprop, though those are points in your favor. And I didn’t fall for you just because you’re six feet and can’t weigh more than a buck fifty but you move like a dancer and your head’s always square on your shoulders and you can’t teach that kind of confidence, that kind of posture, that’s just born, and either you got it or you don’t, and you’ve got it in spades.
But mostly I’m impressed from 6000 miles away, and I felt the need to write to you, because you’re taking this in stride, all of it, hop hop hopping for your life and making good choices and living in the present and building a career not by cutthroat ambition but by sheer talent, each role coming out of the next because we want you, and not the other way around. And you say now that you don’t have a five year plan, and I believe you, because I’ve read articles from ’04 where you mentioned trying to get your agent to put you up for a walk-on role on Who. But a year from now you’re going to belong to the world, The Next Big Scot, because the scripts are only going to come in faster after Christmas, after Recovery, after whatever’s next, and I’m gonna miss you.
Scotland’s known you forever, but we just got hold of you over here across the pond, and we’re proprietary! I love that this year you’re property of the geeks, the fanboys and fangirls and the Pink Paper gays, all of us who always jump on board just a little bit quicker than the rest of the world, all of us who know how to see magic in the mundane and who saw it in your amazing face. We’re a clever bunch, geeks and artists, and we usually find the cool stuff first.
We’re on the brink, you know? Doesn’t it feel like apocalypse weather? This big world and my country’s diabolical administration and the conflict that arises when a planet gets too small for its population? Good time for agitprop and a great time for geeks — we made the microphones and the internet and the podiums and now we’ve got ’em in our hot little hands. So what do we SAY? What do we DO? How do we use what we got to change the world for the better? Is it any wonder I fantasize about this year’s love in the form of a Socialist Scot with a talent that even The Man can’t keep down?
But that’s also why this is a love letter, because I’m aching for our lost year, because next time you’re in LA you’ll be bigger than Brad Pitt and rich as Croesus, and I’m never gonna get the chance to work with you, to use your energy and vast, sprawling talent to tell my stories. And we’ll never get that drink.
And it woulda been a good drink, David, it woulda been awesome.
Maybe I’m wrong, and you’ll stay staunchly where you are, the pride of Scotland and the Pink Paper heartthrob for five more series of Who, and then maybe after that you’ll team up with Russell Davies and write your own pilot, and star in that, and spend some more decades with the RSC and follow the path of other actorly British sorts, and you’ll crossover to the states when you’re seventy and playing Dumbledore in Harry Potter 21.
But either way, I hope you feel the potential, the excitement, the fire of your shooting star. Because from over here, it is absolutely incredible to watch, and I can’t look away.
The best of luck to you in everything you do. Come to LA and I’ll show you a good time.