about the author

James Burr has had many short stories published in novellas, journals, and Independent Press magazines, including Suspect Thoughts, Darkness Rising, Bizarro Central, Raw Edge, and Ideomancer. His first collection of short stories, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People, was published in 2007. A full publishing history and list of reviews can be found at james-burr.co.uk.

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The Man in the Street 

James Burr

While every actor hopes to have a wide and varied career, playing the Dane one year then working with Scorsese the next, bouncing from Chekhov to Brecht to Gogol to Beckett, in reality most actors, if they work at all, end up finding a role and then ploughing a deep, deep furrow in that niche according to their manner or their look. So you end up with actors who always play thugs or Mafiosi or generals or doctors, you know the ones; you see them on TV or on straight-to-DVD films and you know their faces but you never know their names. But they live that role, they inhabit it. Hell, they are it. And yes, there is a fine living to be made doing that. Okay, you never become a star as such with all the fame and money and random sex that that entails. And while those BAFTAs and Oscars will always be a dream and no one will ever write articles in the broadsheets about your “mesmerising once in-a-lifetime performance” as Baz in Doctors, you know you are always at the very top of the list in every casting director’s mind when it comes to casting that particular role, and hey—being the absolute best at what you do is success, isn’t it?

Of course, it’s typical that after spending years studying Stanislavsky, Meisner, and Strasberg at Drama School then grinding away on the stage and small screen, in experimental theatre and am-dram productions, in local musicals and Arts Council-funded projects, that it turned out that my expertise, my niche, lay in being “man in the street.” Now I know some people would disparagingly refer to such roles as “background actors” or, God forbid, “extras” (but really, then they are just demonstrating their profound ignorance). But every person in the know—every actor, casting director, producer and director—knows that if you want your production to shine with the very best possible man in the street lurking around the back of the stage, then you call me. And yes, it’s annoying that being the best at such a...selective type of role is unlikely to ever lead to a luxury villa in the Hollywood Hills or a one-man show in the West End, but I make a pretty good living sitting at cafe tables reading the paper or waiting at the bus stop with my hands in my pockets and I have a reputation amongst those that matter as being the man. The man in the street.

So I’ve ducked for cover during a bank raid for Tarantino and walked out of a bookies for Ken Loach. I’ve drunk pints in the Rover’s, the Wool Pack and the Queen Vic and run away from Daleks, Stormtroopers, and Klingons. And I’ve seen the backs of all their heads—Cruise, Pitt, J Law, and Streep—providing depth to the background canvas upon which they projected their own (sometimes somewhat stunted) performances.

But it is undeniably a strange existence—nowadays, such is my cachet as the definitive man in the street that I am welcomed to a fresh film set or production with champagne and flowers and am rushed to my personal dressing room or trailer so I don’t have to mix with the other hoi polloi who make up the production. Similarly, much like Shatner is, and forever will be Captain Kirk in the eyes of the public, or Connery is even now still approached by people shouting, “Hey look! It’s James Bond!” my own work started to bleed out into real life. I was simply window shopping, looking for a new Blu-Ray player if I remember correctly, when I was suddenly surrounded by dozens of TV crews all barking questions at me, seeking my opinions on scores of different issues. I answered as best as I could as I fought my way past the barking journos, as other hacks feverishly scribbled my responses in their notepads or thrust mini voice recorders in my face. Then when I got home I saw my image on scores of different news programmes, stammering answers as flashbulbs went off, a thousand websites proclaiming my opinions to the online world.

Then after that, it became more frequent, small crowds of journos approaching me as I was shopping and asking me for my opinion on Brexit or grabbing me on the way to the pub and asking me for my views on immigration. Then I would see myself on TV, on multiple channels talking about multiple stories, breathless news-bunnies intoning that “The man in the street may feel upset at new Government restrictions but...”

Now I have started to see more accidents, more robberies, more terrorist attacks, followed by what seems like the inevitable barrage of cameras and microphones and over-coiffed reporters emerging from the shadows, from around corners, seemingly gathering from the tarmac itself. Indeed, such is, dare I say my genius at my role, I can barely set foot on the pavement without some idiot from Sky shoving a camera in my face and saying, “We asked the man in the street” this or “How will this sit with the man in the street?” that. And while it sits counter to my nature as an artiste of the mise-en-scene, I have found my new status to be somewhat entertaining. Already political pressure from the media acting upon the views of “the man in the street” have lead to a ban on mobile roaming charges and the binning of a new tax rate.

Still, I am not one to preen or crow about my success and newly elevated position.

Instead I shall just step back, into the shadows.

But you will know I am here, even if you don’t notice me.

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