WILL ROKOS: Copper Comes Out on BBC America

At the Eagles Nest in Laurel Canyon.

At the Eagles Nest in Laurel Canyon.

I was with him at the Oscars. He didn't want to go to the ceremony. He wanted to hang out in a bar and watch the proceedings on a TV. "That way, when I lose, I'll be in the right environment," he said. I tried to buy him a good tux; he got one for $25 second-hand off Sunset Boulevard. He lost the best screenplay Oscar to Gosford Park, which he'd predicted. He shrugged. I was livid: "Who the fuck is gonna know anything about that stupid movie in 10 years?" He just shrugged.

And he shrugged when we were teenagers drinking beer in the stairwell at the National Press Building at lunchtime, and I told him not to move to New York to be an actor because New York would just eat him up. He'd just had a play produced at the Source Theater, I pointed out. Will shrugged it off, of course: The Source is small-time B.S. And he struggled in New York until he had to quit acting. He'd come down to DC to be in the movies I was making with the Betapunks: with Sandra and me, he shot 36 scenes on a single Saturday. That was the highlight of his acting career, he would say, later, always.

Will was forced to work for the Census, walking the pavement and taking names for $10 an hour. This was before Monster's Ball. When I called him to be in a movie or a project, he would always say how grateful he was for the opportunity. Not to act, but to have fun. Once, he took the bus and called me from the corner of Thomas Circle. I was in the middle of some sound problem –- this might have been the moment my partner Eric and I learned a lot about movie directing when a scene was in tatters and the actors were watching us yak the possibilities around and I suddenly turned up the music really loud on the stereo; Eric asked why'd you do that with the stereo, and I said "So they can't hear us talking and realize we got no idea what we're doing" -– and I turned up late by more than 45 minutes on a freezing night. Firetrucks and police cars were gathered around the circle. I saw Will on the corner and pulled up. What happened?

"Man, a car came careening over the grass, hit the statue and flipped over and burst into fire and a guy got out in flames and ran around screaming and I thought, Jesus is that Sean, looks a little too fat," and I then apologized for being so late, and Will said, "Cool, man, at least you're alive."

He didn't win the Oscar for writing Monster's Ball. But Halle Berry did, for best actress, and it looked like Will's star was gonna shine forever. But that's not the way entertainment works for somebody like him. He stuck to his guns and kept pushing this TV show, Copper, and a variety of ill winds almost took him out during the process. I disappeared into my endless pit of hustles, and surfaced in New York to crash at his place and encourage both of us. He pushed that TV show, even as I exhorted him to create other things. And now the show is up, the New York Times is pushing it, and he's about to begin his second act. It's a good thing he doesn't listen to me, because I don't know what I'm talking about half the time I'm speaking. Still, still, he wants to know when I'm coming up, so we can talk about anything except Tinseltown. I'll be full of plans, and he will be full of patience. These are the roles we've played for a lifetime.


I took this picture of him when I lived at the Eagle's Nest on top of Laurel Canyon. Maybe five years ago. The future was dark in the movie business, but white-hot in the imagination business. He posed because I told him to, and assured me his mood was too blue to look good. I don't try to make anybody look good, says me, which made him laugh because there was a string of models dropping by to shoot. I just need you to be my test dummy for an actress who will be framed by the sky, as you are now. Test dummy, says he, yes, yes, he liked that.

I cobbled this together with a couple of images from the Copper show I found on the net this morning. I HATE doing that. It's like making a video with somebody else's published material. But I just want to get that "Copper" name in front of everyone's eyes. The show is good. It's 50 times more real than the B.S. Scorsese made with Daniel Day Lewis. But more than that, I don't care if you watch it, I just want to shout out about second chances. We all get them. Hang in there. Just don't stop doing the actual work. Every pressure has its corresponding yield. Doors open if you lean against them long enough. Just keep writing.