and so i get a desperate call from LA about an acting job, and the next day i’m sitting in a back room in the metreon, putting on a foam suit with a 65″ waist, strap-on boots five times the size of my feet, giant white gloves i have to hold on to by clenching the inside fabric in my fists, and a very large fiberglass head attached to a football helmet, out of which i have about 10% of my normal vision. my “neck skin” is tucked inside my foam suit. I AM SUPER MARIO.
that morning, i’d decided to explore my character. who is mario? what is he passionate about? what motivates him? WHAT MAKE HIM TICK? i am getting in touch with my inner brooklyn italian plumber (except that i’m on the inside and he’s on the outside–maybe mario getting in touch with the inner dattner…?). but so what does a middle-aged video game plumber say, do, think? in my car i’m trying him out, “i’m a mario! i love-a da princess! princepessa i’m-a comin! just gotta kill deese turtles and eat-a some magic mushrooms! i FIX-A YOU TOILET!” but i’m not allowed to speak, so i figure i’ll channel this character information directly into my body movements.
i run into adam sessler, who i used to work with at tech tv. turns out he’s hosting the event. he informs me mario should bounce, wave, and shrug his shoulders. good.
once i zip up the suit, i can’t reach my feet to put the shoes on. my “handler”, a p.r. guy from nintendo who is late and dressed in a brown leather jacket and probably gay, ties my shoes for me. i am getting paid handsomely, for this is a last-minute gig. i have never done anything remotely like this before. handler dude tells me i need to be very animated and wave a lot. presumably, because i seem to be quiet and he’s worried. but so we get out in the open and one of the “game girls”, a cute asian girl in a short white skirt, is guiding me, holding my “arm”, keeping me from tripping over small children. we line up to receive awards. back stage, someone says, “MARIO’S NOT REAL.” and i throw up my arms (i’m contractually obligated not to speak) and get a big pre-show laugh.
the super mario theme song starts playing. “dana-nana-nana… dana-nana-nana…” i walk out on stage with my game girl. i bounce, wave, and shrug to the music, and the crowd loves me hamming it up. about a hundred cameras (it’s only press people in the audience) are flashing their bulbs. no shit. turns out mario is one of five people and/or characters being honored in a “walk of game” ceremony. mario gets a star on the walk of game.
this suit is hot and heavy inside (does that make me live “action”? ha ha). we walk over to uncover the stars and take photos. people are jumping next to mario to take photos. we pose. just walking in this thing is a chore. we didn’t use the ice packs they recommend. today we’re serving BAKED ACTOR from the mario oven. my sweat. the sweat of previous marios. the heat from the lights. i’m way above my target heart rate. but the worst part, the velcro from the boots (which are constantly slipping off my feet) is rubbing against my shins, grating my skin, and the raw skin is mixing with the sweat to create a pain of moving i can only smile at because it’s taking my attention off the weight of the costume.
despite the impediments, i am actually having a blast. i–which is to say, mario–am famous for about an hour. it’s nothing to do with me, but i’m making it all happen. i’m dancing, doing all these great moves i think must be hilarious for people to see mario do. moves from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, rap videos, my circus show… it’s all fair game. cameras keep flashing, so i keep posing. i develop a whole repertoire: bounce, disco bounce, hands on head, pat tummy to the beat, raise roof, shake hands, left foot out, arms in circle a la mr. sandman backup singers, knee down fist up power stance, etc… what does nintendo think of my interpretation of mario? will public conception of disco mario seep back into the minds of the developers, creating a dialectic whereby the next mario game has just a little HUSTLE in his bounce?
sometimes i start giggling to myself about how many cameras there are and how it would be funny IF MARIO TRIPPED and fell onto sessler, or started humping the leg of sonic the hedgehog or the inventor of halo, or touched the tit of a game girl, or hitting on gavin newsom (our mayor). oh–so at the party afterward gavin takes a picture with mario, and he whispers to me, “you know you and i have spent a lot of time together… indirectly.” whoa. what is it about puppets that make people confess things?
handler dude sees i’m about to pass out after three hours in the MO (Mario Oven) and says i did a great job and he’ll pay me for an extra half hour. i take off the costume. the heat wafts up from inside the suit. you could unseal envelopes with the steam floating past my chin. i leave in plain (sweat-soaked) clothes, my face beet-red, walking past the hordes of people who moments before were yelling “my” name. i feel like a superhero or mrs. doubtfire. inside i have this exciting yet totally inconsequential secret, but what do i do? yell “I WAS THAT GUY you loved! i was mario!” no. i go home and i put some ointment on my shins. and keep my secret (for a little while).
mario on cnn:
mario and the mayor of san francisco: