Actor Len Cassamas is author of a short book of Christmas stories titled Looking for Christmas, which on audio includes a full cast, and Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. He has also written and performed in audio dramas and short films. He is at work on a short comic film in Atlanta, and recording a suspense thriller for release in January.
Tower Review) It was a surprise to see that you’re also an author, and that one of your titles is Looking for Christmas. Cassamas and Christmas go together, don’t they. Start with C and end with “mas.” And multi-cast on audio, with sound effects and music! How did that title come about?
Len Cassamas) That’s funny because my father used to say, when he was explaining to people how to pronounce the name, that it was “Cassamas, like Christmas.” The title came about because, when I was writing the plays, I wanted to connect them all in the manner of one of those anthology movies they used to make in the 1940s and ‘50s–such as “Tales of Manhattan”— where one device would be used to connect a series of otherwise unrelated stories. The device I chose was based on a holiday activity that I’ve indulged in–first with friends and now with my wife and son) for many years in which we drive through neighborhoods near and far seeking out outdoor Christmas display. Each display gets discussed, evaluated, and rated. We call it “Christmas light looking.” So, I came up with a storyline in which three characters from another project drive around their town looking at Christmas display. I was then able to segue into stories that took place in houses and other locations that came with their notice. Given the themes that emerged in the stories I was writing, naming it “Looking for Christmas” just happened naturally.
TR) Then there’s Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. What’s that about?
LC) “Michael Drayton, Detective Guy” is a noir mystery with a literary flavor. It features Michael Drayton, an offbeat, nonviolent, Rhode Island-based private detective, and the adventure he finds himself in after his wealthiest client is murdered on the same afternoon he is doing routine work for the man’s daughter and son-in-law. He has run-ins and interactions with mobsters and politicians and, of course, the police and has to balance a variety of interests and loyalties while trying to act with honor—at least according to his ideas about honor. And, on top of all that, he’s trying to quit smoking.
As with all of my work, humor may be involved. I have also adapted this for full production audio, but, since the script features over 60 speaking roles, haven’t had the time to organize such a massive project. Someday, though.
TR) How did you come to acting for film? Any commercials, games, or other media?
LC) I actually started, in the olden days of my youth, doing theater, but my heart was always in film and TV. I got burnt out doing theater and my father passed away, and I made a series of silly decisions, including deciding to retire from acting to concentrate on writing. Thirty years later, fortunately, I came to my senses just at a time when Atlanta and Georgia in general—where I happen to live—was becoming something of a mecca for film and television production. After getting myself back in shape by doing a series of videos I put up on YouTube as “The Car Monologues,” I contacted seven agents and got a response from one, who signed me. Within three months, I had been cast in a web series and in a SAG/AFTRA independent film. That was three years ago. Almost two years ago, I left my regular job to pursue acting full time. It helps to have a wife who makes a nice living. As a professional actor, I take whatever roles I can get and have appeared on a cable crime reenactment show, several web series, and a couple of short films.
TR) What did you read as a teen that may have influenced you to act and write?
LC) My favorite writers when I was a teen and in college were John Steinbeck, Hermann Hesse, and Raymond Chandler, along with several humorists, including Woody Allen, SJ Perelman, and Robert Benchley. I also devoured Fred Allen’s memoir concerning his years in radio, which was called “Treadmill to Oblivion.” Another one of my interests was the playwright and wit, George S. Kaufman, and there are roles in his plays that I still hope to have a shot at. I fell into performing as a sophomore in high school when my best friend convinced me to try out for that year’s production, which was the stage version of the book “M*A*S*H,” a book I read and enjoyed. During our first performance, I came out on stage and had some business before I needed to speak. During that time, despite a warning from the director not to do so, I snuck a peek at the audience. In that moment, all my nervousness disappeared, and I thought, “Ah! I’m home.” As a writer, I came to my vocation in the cafeteria of the junior high school I attended. I was in study hall there, and our English teacher had assigned us to write a short story. No one had ever asked us for fiction before, and, as I worked on the story, I had a quasi-religious experience and knew that I would be writing stories for the rest of my days.
TR) I can relate. Favorite writers or genres?
LC) I am most likely to read history and biography, although I have been playing catch-up with classics and serious lit. I just read “Jane Eyre” for the first time a few months ago, and enjoyed it immensely. I’m in the middle of “Ethan Frome” now.
TR) What’s next for you?
LC) My son Sam is actually directing a short film from a script of mine, starring me and a cast including Becky Boyd and Phil Proctor, called “Bill Johnson’s Adventure Through the Watching Glass” which should be ready to submit to festivals early in the new year.
TR) That’s interesting. Look forward to seeing it. How is recording a book is different or daunting, compared other kinds of acting?
LC) I do find it more daunting. It’s similar and related, but not quite the same thing. Part of the fun with acting is in interacting with the other actors. When you’re in a scene with someone that you work well with, you build on one another’s work, and unexpected things happen. You can go with the gestalt of the moment and ride the flow and energy of the scene. This doesn’t mean that you change the dialogue; rather, it means that the dialogue comes out in unplanned ways. Recording a book is a much more controlled experience as a type of storytelling I’ve not done before. That makes book narration a challenge. An interesting challenge, a not insurmountable challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.