There is a popular conceit among seasoned actors that awards are overrated. It’s the fear of being ignored. The belief that the most deserving actors don’t get recognized. Or, in my case, the fact that my only individual lifetime win was a case of canned peas during Food Industry Night at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto during a Blue Jays game in 1981.
Prior to winning my 1998 Emmy, I had been nominated for three other individual acting awards but had never won. My lone Emmy nomination followed the first electrifying season of “NYPD Blue,” when the show received a staggering 26 nominations.
In the three years that followed, I managed to hide my disappointment at being passed over. Convinced the work should speak for itself, I stubbornly refused to campaign (which also provided a fabulous excuse if I did not secure a second nomination).
Finding solitude on the links
But if I did? If I were going to hide my disappointment, I would have to hide my excitement. (Is there a therapist in the house?) I did not write “Emmy noms” on the July 23, 1998, box on my calendar. I wrote “golf.” So when the “NYPD Blue” publicist surprised me with good news that morning, I coolly announced that press could find me on the golf links of the Malibu Country Club.
Needless to say, there were no inquiries for my person at Malibu.
But I knew something was up when I was giddy after my third triple bogey. Could I be succumbing to — dare I say it — Emmy Fever?
Thus began my six-week frenzy of parties, gifts, talkshows, designer negotiations and … the speech.
I rehearsed in the car, in the shower, in bed at 3 a.m. But the night before the event, I found myself with a stopwatch in one hand, a VCR clicker in the other, fast-forwarding through the prior year’s Emmy acceptance speeches in a mad attempt to whittle mine to a minute. This was nothing like the Canned Peas Speech: “Uh, can you ship these to my home?”
The limo procession, the red carpet, the flashing cameras and the screaming fans became one surrealistic blur. I was both voyeur and voyee — entranced by the event’s sheer indulgence and very much aware of being on display. There I was in the darkened theater, surrounded by cast mates, in a Hugo Boss penguin suit and a slicked-back hairstyle I’d never sported in my life — devising yet another strategy to hide my disappointment.
Then my name was called and everything snapped into focus.
Some liken the moment to being shot out of a cannon. For me, it was like sitting atop a rocket at the moment of ignition, a slow-motion liftoff and rapid acceleration.
I approached the stage. My professional life flashed before me: the years performing summer stock in the sticks, the naysayers claiming I couldn’t make it as an actor, my brain barking, “Millions of people are watching. Don’t screw up.”
The presenter handed me a statue. I stared at the sea of faces. “Someone outside asked me what my favorite moment in television history was,” I said. “I think it just changed.”
Laughter. Applause. Thank God.
The rest of the speech was a blur. A model passed me to another escort backstage.
“I need to take the Emmy,” she said.
“It’s not yours. It’s a prop. Yours is over here and you have to sign for it,” she said rapid-fire, guiding me to a spread of statuettes. “You have 15 minutes to do the press rounds because you need to be back in your seat for the director and writer awards. By the way, we know each other. I live across the street from you.”
Huh? She grabbed my arm and shuttled me through throngs of photographers and two sleepy pressrooms. A woman jumped out from a doorway, “Hey, Gordon! How do you feel about being a ‘Jeopardy’ Daily Double?”
Well, uh. … She plopped me in front a camera and told me to say, “I’m Gordon Clapp. I won the 1998 Emmy for best supporting actor for the role of Det. Greg Medavoy in this series.” I was paid Screen Actors Guild scale and a “Jeopardy” mug. So my first job as an Emmy Award-winning actor was as a “Jeopardy” clue.
The Emmy was my passport that night and I party-hopped until 3 a.m.
The next day came a shower of cards, gifts and phone calls. I simply rode the wave and no longer hid my joy. The cliche about the nomination being the real honor is true. But the thrill of winning is undeniable. And as for my attitude epiphany, there’s no disappointment for me anymore. I have my Emmy.
For once, once is enough.