If you ever wanted insight on how a 40 year old man looks at life, this is mine… to the day.
As a youth, all I wanted to do was change the world. As a naïve youth, I wanted to do it big. My first hero was Jesus, so I joined the seminary. That dude seemed so cool. He was charismatic, and at least to a kid without a jaded view of religion or politics, seemed like a person I wanted to be.
As I got older I began to stray from that ideology and focus more on self. In hindsight, it was a natural progression of the ego. I wanted to be “like Mike” in my teens. Although that was physically impossible, both in race and physical athleticism, it didn’t stop me from dreaming or trying to dunk the ball. And although laughable now, there was a time in my early college years, when a few of you were around for my prowess on the court. But like all things, that too passed its prime.
Then I went into acting. As a young college student fresh out of seminary, my hero once again changed to Arnold. I changed majors from Spanish and Theology to Drama. Embarked on an acting career. Wrote agents and stars and longed to go to L.A.. My car at the time, a 78 Plymouth Volare Super Coupe with racing stripes, spoilers, louvers, a two-tone paint job and mag-rims, was my pride and joy. I flew on it my two flags I was most proud of at the time: A University of Georgia sticker and a giant decal over the windshield that said “California Dreamin'”.
Eventually, I did make it to L.A. and the results were life-changing. I found a girl I loved and almost married, the path to my future career, and an event that changed my life forever.
I lived in Northridge during the 1994 earthquake. Without exaggeration, I can say I nearly died 7 times in 48 hours. Those handful of people who there with me know the truth in this statement. This event would change the way I look at mortality, instill a fear of the unknown I still carry, and at a ripe young age it would reinforce my knowledge of an old friend. “Death”.
Just a few years later, I drove right through the Oklahoma City tornadoes: Death, keeping me ever vigilant of his presence. “So we meet again”, I would think, as we were definitely not strangers. He took my mother just a month after I had turned 17, and I literally had to become a man overnight. But these are stories for my memoirs, that I will eventually get around to someday. That is, if my old friend, doesn’t get to me first.
In these years, I was haunted by a parallelism that I still don’t quite understand. Although in my early acting career I had been likened to Christian Slater and a young pre-fame Leo, I had an extraordinary physical resemblance to the actor River Phoenix. My whole life it was all I heard. “Oh my God, you look just like River”. So much so that even my own father once asked me if I was on the cover of the Enquirer. When River died, my girlfriend at the time made me come home from work because she was so distraught from projecting his likeness onto me.
I mean he was from Canada and Florida and I was shipped to Canada the day I was born and lived in Georgia, but that was about it. Switched at birth? Doubtful. But the real strange parts came twice. Once his dialogue in the film “Running on Empty” where his character, whose name changes constantly, is told he was actually born in Plattsburgh (which I was). The second, when a close friend of his saw me on the set of “Andersonville” shortly after his death. The friend came up to me pale and in tears saying, “You look just like him”. I said yeah I get that a lot, and he said what’s your name. Then, even more in shock, he went on to tell me River’s middle name was Jude. Something I had never known until that day.
But strangeness aside, these are mere coincidences. Of course, as a young actor wannabe, with people telling me I looked like one of the most prolific actors of that time, naturally I wanted to be him. In the end, however, I chalked it up to another cosmic warning, perhaps of how things could have ended for me, if I had followed the path most young actors do. Then my youthful looks too vanished, and the dreams of being the next heartthrob, although not of acting, vanished alongside them.
So I made the big jump into the entertainment business. Any working actor will tell you that it’s a full time job: full of commitment and rejection. Auditions, headshots, portfolios and acting classes will bleed you of any money you acquire waiting tables. In short, it is rare that it puts food on the table. So after a series of successful jobs in other careers paths, I again took a leap of faith and returned to my love, the film business.
In fact, it is no secret, film is my life. But this time I reasoned that someone in production had a better chance at becoming an actor, then someone in let’s say, construction. I was right. What I didn’t realize was that my eventual path from coffee maker, to telephone answerer, to PA, to secretary (skirt not included), to coordinator and eventually Producer, would consume me. And it too, more often times than not, would put me on the business, not the creative side, of filmmaking.
But I was close to the action, and doing what I loved. And the stories of my experiences of a decade and a half with A-list actors, directors and producers could already fill at least one tell-all book, but again I’ll do that when I retire. The main point is, the leap of faith paid off, but the wannabe in me again changed. I now shifted my efforts to becoming the greatest producer of all time. Although that is probably another 40 years away, I grow in my craft daily. With the advent of amazing technology like motion capture, motion control, CGI and the whole Digital era, I am a student, more than I am a master. But I love that about the industry. It always has and always will be a challenge. And only those with the most drive and thirst for knowledge will survive.
So what now? Well it’s no secret that the creative side of me is demanding to be let out. Since my earliest memories I was an entertainer. An actor, a singer, a poet, a comedian, a performer and a writer. My life is riddled with performances, that those of you who really know me, have seen. Unfortunately, as someone that is fairly good at their job, I have pigeon-holed myself into being seen as the logistical guru on films, instead of the creative one. Kind of like the girl in every romantic teen movie that is actually in love with the hero. Whereas, the whole time she tries to help him get the girl, is actually the right one for him the whole time. Is it weird that I relate to a teenage girl? See comedian…. I told you.
Has that stopped me from following my dreams? Hell no! I have written 6 scripts and countless other works and will segue into writing and directing very soon. You see my heroes in life are Roald Dahl, Edgar Allan Poe and Tim Burton, not Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg, although I respect them too.
So here I am a 40 year old wannabe. Always wanting to be someone or something else. Does that make me a bad person? I think not. I follow the examples of those who came before me. I was lucky enough to learn from the greatest mentors on earth, and as a result try to do my fair share of mentoring as well. Everything I am wasn’t shaped by idols on a silver screen. In fact, they were shaped by close family and friends. The first people that I wanted to be.
Now as a husband and father of two, I, too, see my lot in life as a teacher. I had a revelation about my kids (my “back-to-back” championships) that it is my responsibility to pass on to them everything I have learned in life. I was taught things by ancestors and by life’s lessons. Now at 40, I can see that. We each pass on this knowledge, to help better humanity. Yes, some of us will fail along the way. There will still be serial killers and suicides and all the darker sides of humanity. But the reality is that these are the exceptions, and as long as we all do our part and strive for the best, the world will be a better place.
I also firmly believe this life is a test, a stage if you will. A primer to something bigger. A phase of knowledge to be put to use somewhere else down the line, wherever or whatever that may be. I also feel our ancestors each went through this journey before us. They taught us both throughout history and in our DNA. And now they have moved forward on the timeline to once again lay the track for us, as we proceed forward.
So in summation, what is it like to be a 40-year-old man in this day and age? Did I accomplish everything I set out to in the beginning? Well on one hand you could say I didn’t accomplish any of my wannabe goals, but on the other you could say I accomplished much, much more. I don’t have a zillion dollars and a million fans. A house in the Hollywood Hills, or even a wikipedia page. But do I have a legacy?… a resounding yes. And if I died today (super doubtful as only a very select, very cool people like maybe Shakespeare actually died on their birthday) I could say I lived a very full and happy life. I have been so lucky to follow my dreams, be happy in family and career and have had more experiences than two lifetimes might allow.
But in fact, the hardest struggle in life is to quell the pride and defeat the ego. I honestly want to get back to that naïve kid who wanted to change the world for all the right reasons. The less cynical and jaded one that wanted good for others, not just himself, and honestly try and make the world a better place. So should I just throw in the towel and start going “over the hill”? Absolutely not. It took 40 years just to set the foundation and gain the knowledge to tackle the next 40 head on. Will I ever have an Oscar someday? Who knows. But I will never stop striving for one.
But more importantly than a superficial gold statue named after someone’s Uncle, will I have a legacy? …The all important mark left on humanity. The answer is yes. In a small miniscule drop-of-water in the ocean kind of way, I will have lived a full life and left an impression, if not on the world as a whole, certainly on my friends and family. And that is not in want of anything. It is not a wannabe at all. It, in fact, just is, and that is all I ever wanted it to be.
This essay was contributed by Jude S. Walko.
Jude’s experience is vast and encompasses over 50 films ranging anywhere in budget from well under a million dollars to studio pictures over a hundred million. He has worked with scores of A-list celebrities, Oscar winning directors and top industry producers and technical crew. He is very well connected in the film and music industries, and it’s his passion for film that keeps him very competitive in the Entertainment Industry. Jude has worked on feature films all over the world including all corners of the U.S., Brazil, India, Jordan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom. In Thailand, where his family is based, he ran one of the country’s most successful production companies and personally supervised 6 films over the course of 15 months. He has acted in over 30 films, and is well versed on both sides of the camera, making him the ideal person to direct talent and supervise production. He has vast experience as a Line Producer, 1st Assistant Director, and 2nd Unit Director which will segue very soon into his writing and directing career. He is currently attached to over ten feature films and is the writer of 6 scripts. His next two slated projects are “The Unhallowed Horseman” and “Devil’s Corps” both of which he wrote and will direct. Jude spends his time between Los Angeles and Bangkok with his wife and two children. You can see more about Jude’s movie career at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0908351/ .