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Meet a guy who's keeping mime alive in Hollywood




Don McLeod, interacting with a guest at Orange Coast Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants Celebration.
Don McLeod, interacting with a guest at Orange Coast Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants Celebration.
Ron Levy Photography

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I find Don McLeod upstairs, getting ready for the party. He's in what’s, ostensibly, a water recycling closet, dusted in white, as if a bag of flour fell on him, and struggling to pull on his toga. 

Don McLeod, at Orange Coast Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants Celebration.
Don McLeod, at Orange Coast Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants Celebration.
Ron Levy Photography

In 10 minutes, Don’s going to be standing on a pedestal downstairs, doing the job he was hired for: pretending to be a statue. But right now, he’s rushing to get dressed in what looks like a boiler room. 

MCLEOD: Sometimes I have a professional dressing room with mirrors and sinks and a shower and then there's this... the problem is the makeup is somewhat toxic and I've got to get all the way back home and get some of it off.

Don’s effects are spread out on the floor around him: wig, sandals, kabuki make-up, liquid white make-up and powder to set it all in.

And then we head downstairs, where Orange Coast Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants Celebration is just getting started. It’s a huge space, with kitchenettes where chefs are serving food, a DJ and Don, in the middle of it all.

Don McLeod, performing at Orange Coast Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants Celebration.
Don McLeod, performing at Orange Coast Magazine’s 2017 Best Restaurants Celebration.
Ron Levy Photography

Watching Don, it’s apparent that the way he moves – and doesn’t move – is the result of years of practice.    

MCLEOD: Stillness is part of our training in mime, so when I studied with Marcel Marceau and other people, they would have us learn to be completely still, and isolate one part of the body. 

Here's Don as a bronze man, showing off some of those isolations: 

MCLEOD: People will do strange things to try to break you up. I've had bald guys pull a toupé  off and go "BLARGH," and women pop their tops off and flash me. I've had people moon me. I've seen it all.

Someone put a cigarette out on my foot and they said, "Oh my god! I thought you were a statue." And I go, "Great. You always put your cigarette out on a work of art?"

There was a time though, when Don’s audience was anyone with a television set.

  
That’s Don, stomping on a suitcase wearing an animatronic gorilla suit.

For over 30 years, he was Hollywood's go-to gorilla, doing a series of American Tourister commercials in the 1980's, as well as films like "Man with Two Brains" and "Trading Places."  

But the suit, clocking in at 50 pounds, eventually gave Don a neck injury. So nowadays, Don’s main source of income is his living statue company, which has four core members. 

MCLEOD: I try to find people who have interesting, sculpted faces. Obviously they have to be in relatively good shape - and they preferably have a background in mime, dance, acting, theater training, improv.

Don usually trains his performers in the backyard of his home. And there's a lot to learn in Living Statue 101. 

MCLEOD: The first rule to remember is that we have a slight bend to the legs. If the legs are straight, you'll pass out, because it cuts the blood flow to the heart.

And then the hands can be above the head but not for any length of time. 

We have a bit of tension in the body and a soft focus.

Don also teaches his performers to separate their bodies into discrete parts: head, neck, chest, waist, pelvis. These isolations were developed by Étienne Decroux, a French actor and a teacher of Marcel Marceau. And the movements vary depending on what kind of statue you are - Greek statues are graceful, while the American bronzes are rigid and clunky.    

Don McLeod performing mime.
Don McLeod performing mime.
Walter Hodges

Don says he feel removed from the Hollywood scene nowadays, even though he lives in Los Angeles and started out as an actor and suit performer. Don still has the gorilla suit, but one of his living statue performers wears it now, for the occasional movie gig. Besides doing living statue, Don writes his memoir and adds to his book collection. 

MCLEOD: Having enough money to buy any of the books that I want - that was my dream, was to have enough money to buy any book, and I achieved that.

Music in the piece was used with permission from Happy Puppy Records



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