We start filming Monday. When I think about the mall pet store where I was born, my tiny jet black eyes fill with tears. I will never forget the day my mother — who was also born in a mall pet store, as was her mother before her — looked at me and said, “Cashew, I heard Netflix is going to start creating original, subscriber-only programming.” I said, “Mother, what an incredibly complex idea to get across with high-pitched squeaks,” and she said, “My beloved Cashew! All creatures intuitively understand the concept of high quality on-demand programming.” I promised one day I’d make her proud. Now that day has come.
I arrived in Baltimore terribly jet-lagged. All I wanted to do was have a few licks of salt and go to bed, but first I had to contend with the enormous exercise wheel someone had “thoughtfully” installed in my hotel room. I called the front desk. I explained that guinea pigs were not actually supposed to run on wheels because it was bad for their backs, and requested a small grassed-in play area. The clerk said, “First of all, we don’t have any ‘small grassed-in play areas.’ Second, I’m not an expert on guinea pigs, but if you can dial a telephone I’m guessing you can figure out a StairMaster.”
Kevin Spacey was up in the rooftop gym when I got there in the morning. Man oh man, does he have incredible focus! I wanted to tell him I’m a big fan, but it just didn’t seem like the right time. Like a jerk, I ended up scuttling into the corner and peeing on a towel. Big mistake. It was Kevin Spacey’s towel! He wiped his face with it, and then he shouted, “This towel smells like guinea pig piss,” and then, of course, he looked right at me. I called my agent, expecting him to rip me a new one but all he said was, “Kevin’s agent is a friend. I’ll reach out.” One thing I have learned in this business: Find an agent who understands that sometimes you pee on towels.
The actor Jimmi Simpson plays computer hacker Gavin Orsay, and I have most of my scenes with him. He wanted to know what I do to get into character, and I said, “I just think about how much the person playing opposite me really needs the sweet, uncomplicated love of a guinea pig, and I try to become the embodiment of that love.” He looked at me for a long time. I was a little scared, because I had totally made that up, and I thought he might call me on it. But then he shook his head slowly and said, “Isn’t it so amazing, when you just take the time to shut up and listen, what you learn from your fellow actors?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Totally.”
He asked me who my influences were, and I couldn’t think of anyone. And that’s when, like an idiot, I blurted out “Marcel, the monkey on ‘Friends!’” Pretty sure it’s going to be all business between me and Jimmi from now on.
Robin Wright finally smiled at me. I said, “I’m a big admirer of yours.” And she said, “Thank you, Cashew,” and then I said, “I’ve chewed pencils before but you know, I’ve always wanted to chew on a pencil skirt.” She knelt down, and for a second I thought she was going to let me do it. But she said: “You know how sometimes people say to you ‘Hey, we’re just using you as a guinea pig?’ What you said to me is like that, but stupider.”
The director wanted to meet with me. He closed the door. He said, “Cashew, the next script calls for you being stepped on. Hard. For a few minutes. Now we can get a double for this….” I interrupted him. “Hold on,” I said. “Is it important to the story?” He explained to me that the guy who steps on me wants Gavin to know that he is ruthless, that he will basically kill his pet guinea pig and not bat an eyelash. I said, “Can’t he just say, ‘I will kill your pet guinea pig and not bat an eyelash?’” The director looked kind of uncomfortable. “Go ahead,” I said. “Just say what you’re going to say.” He sighed and told me that it was plausible story-wise to verbally threaten people, especially children, but that “to get people to give a fuck about a guinea pig you pretty much have to squash the thing within an inch of its life and it has to squeak, a lot.”
Kevin Spacey came up to me in the commissary. He said, “I was in the hotel gym the other night and a guinea pig pissed on my towel. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?” “Would you excuse me for a second?” I said, and ducked around the corner to text my agent: “Abort, abort. Spacey doesn’t know it was me!”
When I got back, Spacey was cracking up. “Oh, Cashew. I wasn’t born yesterday. Hey. Matt from CAA told me to say hi.” Then Kevin Spacey — an Academy Award winner — hugged me. He said, “You know, it was my idea to make Cashew a guinea pig. They were going to make him a cat. Then I had a conversation with the creator. I said, ‘Beau, you know, there haven’t been many guinea pigs in television but we might as well make Cashew our guinea pig.”
Kevin Spacey looked at me expectantly. I forced myself to laugh, but I knew something now: I was alone here.
But then I got back to my room and there was a bouquet of willow branches waiting for me, with a note from the director: “Thanks a million, Cashew. You are the moral center of this film.” I dialed Jimmi Simpson’s number and said, in my best imitation of his voice, “You know Jimmi, when you do good work, that’s when it’s all worth it.”
“Cashew? Cashew? Is this you?” he said. I hung up and ran squeaking around the hotel room. I knew I had arrived.