Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yesterday Don’t Matter If It’s Gone: An Actor’s Legacy

Jake Weber
Although the challenges of Jake Weber’s acting career are nothing compared to the vicissitudes of his real life, the fact that CBS has just canceled Medium – now in its seventh season – probably means he’ll be looking for work in the near future.

Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and an English professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, describes his former student as “incredibly intelligent, very gifted and just a down-to-earth, personable, wonderful, calm guy. It’s so easy to communicate with Jake.”

On the television series, Weber’s role has been that of a calm guy named Joe DuBois whose spouse, portrayed by Patricia Arquette, communicates somewhat uneasily with the dearly departed. While raising three daughters in Arizona, he’s a technology wizard and she uses her clairvoyance to help the Phoenix prosecutor.

“My character is a man of science and his wife sees dead people,” Weber says. “But the crime and spooky stuff are a way to explore an American marriage.”

"Puss" Weber
Weber is the offspring of a British marriage that, unlike the DuBois relationship, unravelled with sorrowful consequences. During the careless 1960s, Tommy and Susan “Puss” Weber were a peripatetic, stoned glam couple hanging out with rock stars. They dragged their two young sons along on one too many misadventures.

This demimonde is detailed in a 2009 book, A Day in the Life, by Robert Greenfield. ”It’s like shaking hands with the past,” suggests Weber, 46, when asked if the biographical spotlight is unsettling for someone who has been rather private as an adult. “Besides, is anybody really interested in a middle-aged actor who had a gypsy childhood?”

Well, yes. The story may be intriguing for any Baby Boomer who survived experimentation with illegal substances or subsequent generations curious about the quaint counterculture of yesteryear.

Tommy Weber & Anita Pallenberg
Both from wealthy, aristocratic and very screwed-up families, Tommy and Puss lived by impulse. He was a race car driver, drug dealer and something of a con man. She had literary and spiritual aspirations. They were absurdly beautiful, passionate, charismatic people whose bubble burst long before either of them realized it in the haze of psychedelics and narcotics.

The most excruciating moment for readers of Greenfield’s book comes in 1971, when Puss, diagnosed as schizophrenic, commits suicide at age 27. She apparently had come to identify with the tragic figure that must have inspired the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and never stopped loving Tommy, despite his brief fling with Sally Field, and the sustained affair with Charlotte Rampling that led to their divorce.

When Puss killed herself in London, Tommy was ensconced with the boys at Keith Richard’s Villa Nellcôte on the French Riviera, while the Stones recorded 1972’s Exile on Main Street album in the cavernous basement there.

Jake & Mick Jagger
Most of the occupants of the 16-room mansion were promiscuous and, in an orgy of self-destruction, eventually started to shoot heroin. In a 2010 documentary about that period, Stones in Exile, the contemporary Jake Weber can be heard in voice-over remarking that initially things were good but “this was before the darkness.”

Jake, then eight, and his younger brother Charley engaged in relatively normal kids’ activities. They played with Marlon, Keith’s toddler son with partner Anita Pallenberg – who was also messing around with Tommy and had bedded Mick Jagger after her liaison with Brian Jones. But the Weber boys also were tasked with rolling joints for their elders. (Greenfield, by the way, spent two weeks at Nellcôte on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine and published a 2006 memoir, A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones.)

The Boys
At the Cote d’Azur villa, Jake and Charley were told their mother’s death stemmed from an accidental overdose, even though they certainly had seen her fate coming like an inevitable train wreck. Puss was hallucinating wildly when she took them on a grim spring 1970 odyssey through India, Turkey and Greece.

Compare that trip with the insane journey they later endured as Tommy led them on a circuitous route to France. To get through Irish Customs at an airport in Dublin, he had taped a half-kilo of cocaine around each of their torsos, hidden under clothing. At a Cannes festival screening of the new doc – which borrows footage from 20 hours worth of outtakes shot for Robert Frank’s rarely seen Cocksucker Blues (1972) – Jagger joked that “It didn’t do (Jake) any harm being a drug smuggler.” He thought to add a proviso: “It’s not a recommended vocation for an eight-year-old.”

Back in England, Jake attended Summerhill, a progressive co-ed boarding school 90 miles northeast of London. At 16, however, he was sent to live with his godfather in the relative tranquility of 1980s San Francisco. (Tommy continued to descend ever more deeply into chaos; he was 67 when his heart gave out in 2006.)

At Middlebury, a college with rigorous standards, Weber blossomed. “The campus was divided between Young Republicans and a much more hippie sensibility,” he recalls. “Needless to say, the latter is where I felt more at home.”

An English literature and political science major, he sang in the Dissipated Eight, an all-male a cappella chorus that belted out pop songs. “We traveled all over the country,” Weber notes. “We even sang at the White House a few times.”

The Reagan White House? “Yeah, I have a picture of myself with him,” he says, “but I blacked out his face when I was in a stupor at one point.”

Perhaps this languor can be attributed to romance. “I had a great four years at Middlebury,” Weber explains. “I fell in love – a couple of times.”

Although active in the theater program, he never imagined acting would become his path. “It wasn’t something I took too seriously.”

One of his professors begs to differ: “Jake was probably the most motivated actor I ever knew here,” Parini contends. “He had so much focus, a ferocious vision of going after what he wanted from life.”

Jake Weber, Patricia Arquetee and TV daughters
After graduating magna cum laude, Weber attended Julliard, a prestigious dance, drama and music school in New York City, and then worked at Russia’s legendary Moscow Art Theater. For 14 years, he took small roles on stage, in film and on TV before his 2005 debut as a leading man on Medium, which started out on NBC. Arquette earned an Emmy as Allison DuBois, a psychic trying to balance a job in the district attorney’s office with the demands of being a wife and mother. Moreover, she regularly experiences predictive nightmares about strangers doing terrible things. Ghosts talk to her. Just by shaking people’s hands, this woman often gets a flash of their awful secrets.

All three daughters – Ariel (Sofia Vassilieva), Bridgette (Maria Lark) and Marie (twins Madison and Miranda Carabello) – periodically show signs of similar otherworldly skills. The incredibly patient Joe has no connection with the supernatural, other than frequently losing sleep thanks to his wife’s nocturnal visitations.

After five years, NBC dropped the program when its popularity declined. CBS quickly adopted Medium but chose an 8 p.m. slot on Fridays that’s sort of – pardon the pun – a dead zone. Ratings went from 7.79 million last season to the current 7.1. Soon, reruns on Lifetime will have to suffice for those of us who enjoy a little metaphysical jolt with our satisfying domestic saga.

“The conceit is to make their lives as real and complex as possible,” surmises Weber, whose own complex existence now includes stability. He and significant other Liz Carey have a three-year-old son named Waylon.

Weber dreams of someday immersing himself in a multi-disciplinary approach to education. “I like academia,” he says. “I really enjoy teaching. I’d like to teach books.”

A fitting series finale for Medium, which has only two new episodes left to film, might witness the fictitious clan relocating from Arizona to eastern Vermont, right across the river from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College. That’s where the teenage Ariel DuBois is enrolled as of earlier this season and where Joe theoretically could be offered a faculty position. Without a doubt, Allison would quickly discover that New England has plenty of chatty homicide victims.

Susan Green is a film critic and arts journalist based in Burlington, Vermont. She is the co-author, with Randee Dawn, of Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article. There is so little written on this quite fascinating person....then again maybe it find him fascinating because so little is written about him. Good Job!