Rella Jr., Richard. “Brave, Beautiful New Worlds.” Backstage 3-9 Jun. 2010: Vol. 51, No. 22

I’ve only fantasized about being cast in a scene opposite Tom Cruise. I’ve imagined the excitement I would feel as my manager reported the good news to me. I’ve envisioned the sleepless nights I would have in anticipation of working with the biggest star of our generation. I’ve dreamed about the countless hours of preparation I would put in to ensure that I would give an Oscar worthy performance. Then that day would arrive, in my mind, of course, and I would just want to focus on taking in every second of working with “Maverick.”

One thing that never entered this fantasy was the prospect that I might have to act with Tom Cruise’s photo double. Imagine stepping on set to find an actor who resembles Mr. Cruise in height, weight, and coloring, wearing Mr. Cruise’s clothes, and speaking his lines. How disappointed I would be at this turn of events! All of the preparation and anticipation would culminate in a sea of disappointment and confusion.

One morning, as I sit in a miniature chair at my daughter’s activity table eating Cheerios, my cell phone rings with a familiar number. My favorite casting director is asking if I can make it to 29th Street Stages in one hour for work. Traveling from Staten Island to Long Island City in the midst of rush hour traffic would be far from easy, but, as always, I agree. The drive past the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Manhattan Bridge is a nightmare for any morning commuter and, as I slug my way along the BQE, I restlessly wonder what my day is going to entail. I know that I will be photo doubling for Mr. Cruise in his new movie “Knight and Day,” but nothing else.

When I arrive at the stages, I am immediately beset by three production assistants. One places a script in my hand, another ushers me to the wardrobe department, and the third takes my bag and asks if I would like something to eat or drink. Before I can even open my lips to reply, I hear through that same P.A.’s walkie talkie that I am needed now on set. As I make a rapid decent down two flights of stairs in a hospital gown, I glance at my script attempting to get a grasp of the scene. Fortunately, I have a second team rehearsal to see the camera line up, memorize my lines, and make some choices. From that rehearsal I could tell that the camera would be looking over my prone body and onto the principal actress. That actress would be the Academy Award nominee Viola Davis.

Ms. Davis was wonderful, gracefully crafting the scene from moment to moment. If she was disappointed that Mr. Cruise was not acting opposite her, she certainly did not show it. Instead she joked with me between takes, asking if I was making scale plus ten. We wrapped by noon because Ms. Davis had to go and act opposite of another Fordham alumni, Denzel Washington, in the Broadway play “Fences,” and I made it home in time to clean up my daughter’s Cheerios.