Code Name: Likeable

Lately I’ve had to try to come to grips with something about myself that while I’ve always known to be at least somewhat true, I never really care to put much stock in.

I’m likeable.

No, seriously. I’m a likeable guy. People like me. And no, this isn’t one of those lovelorn, “oh my God, it’s possible for someone to be interested in me!” kind of things. I’m talking in a more general sense. There is apparently something inherently disarming about the way I present myself that makes people willing to ignore my often harsh sense of humor and self-absorbed ways. If anything, said sense of humor is actually a blessing, as it keeps me from slipping into the much more unappealing territory called “loveable”. I don’t want to be loveable. I don’t mind being likeable.

So why the big revelation? Well, for openers, it’s not really a revelation. As I said, I’ve long known I’ve had such a quality, I’ve just generally not cared. But lately it’s been brought to my attention a lot. For instance, it is one of the direct side effects of playing a role that is, at it’s core, not likeable. The most frequent comment (I refuse to call it a compliment) I’ve received in regards to my performance in Wait Until Dark is that while they were surprised I could play someone so slimy, they also felt I did a nice job “making Mike likeable”. This is actually a bit of a problem for me, as I didn’t set out to make him likeable. In fact, I distinctly set out to make him *not* likeable, in part because I know that I myself, am likeable. I’m tired of playing myself all the time. I don’t like it. So my goal with Mike was to make him a bad guy with a conscience, rather than a nice guy who happened to be caught up in bad things. When I tell people this, they have usually responded with, “oh, you definitely did that”, only to follow it up with, “but you made him likeable”. Perhaps I should just start freelancing and choke out Suzy before Roat gets his chance.

My role as Mike aside, I’ve also recently benefited from this apparent likeability. When I blogged the other day (don’t worry, it doesn’t stain) about how I had nailed a particular audition, I was speaking mostly of how I felt I really slam dunked the two supporting roles in the show I was auditioning for. One of the characters was a bit of a pig, while the other was a cynical mischief. I was happy with what I had done with both of them and figured if I was to be offered a role, it would be for one of these two. The main character I had dismissed, as I don’t really look like I’m 39-going-on-40. But even as I thought this, I was struck by the fact that everybody else that was auditioning, while talented in their own rights (and looking much more age appropriate), had a real difficult time being likeable. They all came across as nice enough guys, certainly no one you’d route against or want to wish bad things on, but not a single one of them seemed capable of drawing you in. Seeing as how the show is a romantic comedy that centers around this one character, likeability is a big issue. So while I wasn’t anticipating being offered the lead role, I can’t say as though I was incredibly surprised when I was. After all, I’m likeable.

Which has got me to thinking. Why? What specifically is it about me that makes me this way? I mean, I admit that I make a fairly concerted effort to *not* be a raging dickhead most of the them (I emphasize “most”), but that doesn’t quite seem like enough. It’s not like I smile a whole bunch. I don’t go out of my way to meet people, or make total strangers comfortable. I’m extremely narcissistic (this column being a perfect example), often sarcastic, and generally moody. Yet in most of my everyday life (and always when I’m on stage), I’m considered likeable.

I once had this quality also likened to being somewhat of an “everyman”, another term I’m not really comfortable with. To me, that’s always sounded kind of like a polite way of saying, “unremarkable”. What is an everyman? Someone not so handsome as to be intimidating, but pleasant enough to look at? Somebody who seems capable of doing anything, even if they can’t? I mean, I’m not much of an athlete, but when I tell people I’m one of the stars of my softball team, they don’t really question it. I’m on a low rung of the corporate ladder where I work, but when people find out I have been trying to position myself for something better, than usually go, “that makes sense”. I can’t think of anyone I’ve met who would be intimidated by me, and yet at the same time, I don’t recall too many who felt they could walk all over me (even if they probably could have). It seems that I am constantly walking the middle of the road; poised for greatness, on the verge of failure, trapped in mediocrity. All of which apparently makes me likeable.

At times in my past I’ve struggled with this perception. As an actor, it is generally a blessing (forgiving those rare occasions where it pops up as a hindrance). I’m quite sure I’ve got more roles based on the likeability factor than anything else. In my romantic life (which is kind of an oxymoron), it has often been a bit of a problem. I tend to make friends first, and as most of us can attest, that can sometimes ruin any hope of romantic involvement. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “I like you, but…”. That’s a heavy but, right there. It basically says, “you’re a nice guy, you’re fun to have around, and I like having you as a part of my life, but you just don’t *do it* for me.” In those situations, likeable is a curse. It falls in line with words like, “nice” or “cute”. They’re intended as compliments, but they end up like daggers through the heart. People don’t date nice and cute. They certainly don’t sleep with them. Most people want something a little more dynamic. Which is not to say every woman is looking for James Bond, but at least within the scope of their interests, they’re looking for something with a little more zip than likeable.

So what’s my point with all this? Well, I don’t really have one. I’m a likeable guy. I’m okay with this analysis. Given the choice, I think I’d prefer to be likeable over being “desirable” or “admirable”, and certainly more than “detestable”. Admirable is a nice enough quality, but it comes with a lot of built-in pressure. I don’t care much for pressure. And desirable is nice, but at the end of the day, all I ever really need to be is desired by one person, which is much easier to find. So I guess likeable is a safe little halfway house where I’m free to be myself. I can care for the things I want, I can ignore the things I don’t want, and all I really have to do in between is not shit on people.

If I do that, I think I’ll have no problem remaining likeable.

I like that.

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