I was excited, after the Mini-Cooper disaster, to fly to New York the next day to film a role in the next Todd Solondz film. He wrote and directed “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness,” and his stuff, if I’m going to dip my toes into the film waters, is the exact kind of off-beat, uniquely voiced work I have always wanted to be a part of. And after weeks of auditioning for badly written television series and having to “chat” about my work as opposed to doing it, it was a real relief.
Clearly, it was the perfect distraction from impending financial ruin, and I made my way to LAX with relative ease (meaning it took 45 minutes to travel a few miles). I easily found cheap parking, glided through security with my one carry-on bag, and sat in my cozy window seat on a Virgin American flight that was magically only half-full, giving me an entire row to myself. I didn’t even mind the fact that my seat wouldn’t recline, being that it was an exit row, because I was coming home, getting to film my first scene with none other than Christopher Walken, and best of all, I’d get to see my friends for a bit. As the mellifluous voice of the flight attendant reminded us to turn off all electronic devices, I checked my voicemail one last time, expecting a call from the film’s assistant director with my call time for my first day of shooting. No message there, I figured they were still filming for the day and would call later in the evening when they had worked out the schedule. I spent the flight memorizing my lines and even managed to drift off to sleep, which is a rare event with me and planes, unless heavily intoxicated or drugged, which is something I would never do. Ever. Except sometimes.
We landed a bit early at JFK - right at midnight - and I turned on my phone to check my messages. Still no word from the AD, and I guessed that they were on a night shoot and hadn’t determined their next day’s schedule just yet. I’ve shot things in the past where I didn’t get a call until 2 or 3 in the morning, so I wasn’t worried. What I was worried about was paying for a cab, so I determined to take the subway to my best friend Erika’s apartment in Williamsburg no matter the inconvenience.
I didn’t realize the inconvenience would consist of waiting 40 minutes for the E train, learning upon its arrival that it would run on the 7 line but that a shuttle bus would transfer us to the E, waiting in the rain without a jacket for 40 more minutes, trasferring to the G train, waiting an addtional half-hour, getting off at the wrong stop, taking out my phone to look up Erika’s address, realizing it had died, and wandering around in tears of frustration at 3 AM looking for something, anything that looked familiar. I suddenly missed getting in car accidents in Los Angeles.
Erika sleepily greeted me in my soaked clothes, calmed me down like only she can, and tucked me into bed. I plugged the phone into the socket right by my head in anticipation of a call at any moment so that I could plan the big day ahead. I silently went over my lines one last time, and closed my eyes.
It was daylight and Erika had already gone to work when the phone woke me up. I immediately snapped to attention at the realization that I may have slept through earlier calls, and it became a distinct possibility when I saw that it was my manager, most likely furious that he had just received a call from the producers wondering where in the hell I was and telling him they had to replace me with another actor.
“I’m so sorry….what time is it?”
“I just got a call from the producers”
“Oh God, I’m so sorry”
(Sidenote: in this film, I play an employee of a Toys R Us, Christopher Walken is my boss, and without going into unnecessary detail, toys play a significant role in the plot)
“It looks like they lost the Toys R us location in New Jersey and they just……forgot to call.”
“They’re really sorry…..they just forgot about you.”
The absurd reality then set in: I was one of a fifteen-person cast, many of whom were famous film actors, in a major motion picture, produced by actual professional producers who do this for their livelihoods, and they just….forgot….to tell the person playing the Toys R us employee that….there was NO TOYS R US. I wondered if they had failed to let Chris Walken in on this minor piece of information.
I had flown to New York, ridden the subway for four hours in the middle of the night, and spent hundred of dollars on a flight that I’d now have to spend even more money to change. It was also pouring and cold out, and I searched through Erika’s closet for her most androgynous coat, since my Manhattan apartment was being sublet, which from Williamsburg is like another country. I took her sad, broken umbrella, and trudged down the street in her lady-jacket, knowing myself well enough to get a coffee while I waited for my manger to call with the new shooting schedule.
Ten minutes later, after a soothing latte, my manger greets me on the phone with an ironic laugh.
“Well, it gets worse.”
I prepared myself for the inconvenience of having to stay in New York for an entire extra week.
“The production learned this on Monday, and again, they are incredibly apologetic for not letting you know, but they’d love for you to film…..in 2011.”
“Toys R Us has rescinded the offer to shoot in one of their locations during the holiday shopping season, so if you’re still willing, you’ll be filming in January.”
“I quit,” I blurted out in my disbelief, and then before he could talk my off the ledge, “Nevermind, I don’t quit.” Rationale swooped in and convinced me it wasn’t a good idea to punish myself for someone else’s stupidity.
The outcome: two completely unnecessary days in New York, the first of which consisted of a lot of moping and watching Oprah and Gayle’s Big Yosemite Camping Adventure on Erika’s DVR (supposedly not enough black people visit our national parks), and the second of which was filled with friends, who I was very glad to see, whether I was employed, or just under that impression
This week has definitely lowered the 2010 awesomeness quotient down a few notches, but I am glad to report that 2011 will begin in anticipation of a gig opposite America’s creepiest actor, a post-holiday visit to our nation’s most beloved toy emporium, and a reminder that there is very little in this world that we can control.
I just received a great email from my eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Clagett: remember, life is too important to be taken seriously.
Those words came at the perfect time.
I never bought into bible stories. My parents can attest to that.
I was six years-old and flagrantly wrote off the oldest book in the universe as a farce - Cain was a lunatic, Noah exaggerated, and Job was a pussy. And I hold fast at the age of almost-30 - for if I have learned anything from this week, it is that I, Robert D. Steggert, am the real-life Job.
It all starts with a rental car. I’ll admit that being a New Yorker who only drives his parents’ vehicles in short spurts over holidays, and usually only for a few minutes to the grocery store, definitely puts one at a disadvantage when circumnavigating the jungle paths of Los Angeles. You’ve heard tale of the parking lot called the 405, but just as horrible is every other fucking street in the city. Rush hour consists of six hours in the “morning” followed for thirty minutes of barely flowing traffic, followed by another six hours in the “evening”. These circumstances literally cause deep yearning for the screeching, stalling, smelly trains of the New York City MTA. It was Tuesday, during the brief respite between 2:30 and 3, as I blissfully crawled up La Cienega Boulevard when tragedy struck.
Now if you’ll allow me to explain another essential detail… I was home in New York planning my trip out west and picking out the economy-sized car of my mediocre dreams on the Enterprise website, when the question of insurance came up. Do I buy it? What kind do I purchase? Should I protect the car/the car and myself/the car, myself, and all other cars/the car, myself, all other cars and their drivers? The more you cover, the more you pay. So, like any sensible person, I decided to pay as little as possible and only cover damage to my car. I was reinforced by my trusting father (who works in the insurance business - thanks Bob) when he reminded me that I am a safe and responsible driver who has never gotten in an accident, save the one time I tried to steal their car at the age of 14 in a fit of adolescent rage and scraped the entire side of their new Saab backing (poorly) out of the garage.
Following another meeting on another lot at another movie studio, where, surprisingly, nothing strange or off-putting had happened, I jumped into my semi-insured car with the confident stride of someone with a natural lay of the land. The GPS was tucked in the glove compartment, the radio was playing Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin in Love” for the thirty-fourth time of the day, and I palmed the steering wheel with one hand.
Twenty minutes and half a mile later, Usher’s powerful vocals had become a distant echo, and I was stopped at a red light admiring the Mini-Cooper in front of me. I had just told a friend that if I had to buy a car with all of my hypothetical money, I would blatantly copy my friends Gabe and Louise by buying a Mini-Cooper, moving to Portland, and getting pregnant. All of a sudden, my phone lit up with the shimmering possibility of an email from someone exciting, and I looked down to inspect it as I simultaneously noted that the light was green and the Mini-Cooper had sped ahead.
Except it hadn’t. And in my delusion, I threw my phone back on the passenger seat, stepped on the gas, and glanced back up just as I crashed into the entirely idle car in front of me.
Orpah told us not to text and drive.
I pondered the evil but convenient option of putting the car in reverse, making a hasty u-turn, and hurtling south on La Cienega in hopes that the driver of the Mini didn’t have time to memorize my license plate, but I reminded myself of the laws of Karma, and instead inched behind Angry-Mini-Man to the curb. I prayed he didn’t have whiplash as I envisioned sending him a monthly physical therapy check for the next twenty years.
Shockingly, a young, blonde, genial guy jumped quite casually out of his car and greeted me with an ironic smile, shook my hand, and said, “hey, no worries man - it’s LA. That’s why we have insurance, right?”
I smiled and agreed, while silently coming to terms with the terror-filled reality that my shitty insurance would only cover damage to my car. I looked down at his bumper in amazing dread, and lo and behold, there was nothing by a tiny scratch. I then turned to see the gnarled front bumper on my car, and I thanked the good lord for doling out the damage in such a wonderful way. This wasn’t going to be so horrible after all.
“I just bought this car last week, so I’m sure you’ll understand that I’ll want to get a new bumper.”
“Oh…but….there’s no damage…”
“Well, the paint is a bit chipped and I’d rather just have a new one,” he said with that same creepy genial tone. It was as confusing as a hug from a gym teacher. Rendered defenseless, I just agreed that a new bumper was probably the best plan.
My plan of slipping away unblamed and non-liable was clearly not going to work, so I calmly gave him my information. I did consider telling him my name was Jerry and that my phone number began with a 555. I also thought I could lecture him about the environmental damage he was doing as a single driver in a crowded city and that perhaps this was a sign that he should instead take public transit to work every day like I do at home. I instead apologized profusely and told him I would promptly contact Enterprise to discuss my insurance options, of which there were secretly none.
I got back in my car, thankful that at least I didn’t have to pay for the serious damage to my previously pristine Pontiac, and pondered how much a plastic Mini-Cooper bumper could possibly cost out-of-pocket. No more than a hundred or so…at the most.
Note: I am currently waiting for strangely-nice-guy’s estimate, and after a discussion with car-savvy friends and family, I realize that I may be in slightly more financial duress than I originally thought. But that’s alright - I can always sell insurance.
PART TWO coming soon…
I knew something was shady about the wash-and-fold laundry place near my house when I opened the immaculately packaged stack of clean clothes to discover that my favorite shirt - the one that I inevitably wear first after each finished load - was missing. I searched in every corner of my room in hopes that I had dropped it before ever making it to the laundromat, but a thorough sweep validated my suspicion: that shifty wash-and-fold employee who wouldn’t make eye contact not only stole my favorite shirt, but he’d be wearing it next time I went in, only to call me crazy and call the police when I jumped him, trying to tear it off his thieving back.
But I try to not get too wrapped up in things I can’t control, so I put my clothes in their respective drawers, got dressed in my second favorite shirt, a trusty blue v-neck, and prepared for my day of meetings, of which there would be three.
My first meeting is at network which, again, shall remain nameless. I have been surprised to learn that many more people than I first imagined are reading about these little adventures of mine, and have been warned that if I’m not careful, I could get in real trouble by making fun of these folks who, let’s face it, hold a smidge more power than I do when it comes to potential employment. And yet, in this case, you will be delighted to learn, karma has balanced the scales, and I, your faithful narrator, happen to be the one who doesn’t quite come out on top.
I ride the fancy elevator onto the fancy 16th floor of a network that I’m legitimately excited to be visiting. It is the only network whose shows I actually watch on a regular basis. I love the actors they cast, I love the writing, and it is the only network that I would, without a doubt, leave New York to do a show for. They produce shows like Schmurse Shmackie, The Shmunited Shmates of Schmara, and Shweeds. But I’m not naming names.
I walk up to the receptionist, a frosted-tipped man in his early forties named Paul, and tell him I’m here to meet with their president of casting. He sweetly invites me to sit down in the waiting area while he phones her office, and as I recline into the cushy chair, I ruminate over the sensation that my freshly washed jeans feel oddly loose. Have I, against all rationale, lost weight? Did the shifty man who wouldn’t look me in the eyes stretch out my pants when he tried them on? I casually lift the hem of my blue v-neck above the waistline, and in an instant panic, see that my pants button is completely gone. Not only did the laundromat employee try on my pants, but he kept the button as a good luck charm, which he is now wearing around his neck as a medallion. I try not to jump to conclusions, but it’s the only possible scenario.
I leap up and run into the elevator bank in order to inspect things privately, and to my dismay, I learn that, not only is the button truly missing, but the zipper is loose and easily undone, completely unwilling to stay up on its own accord. With time hurtling by, the casting director surely on her way down the hall, seconds away from greeting me, I must find a solution. Instantly.
Holding my waistline together with my left hand, attempting to look as if I’m casually tucking in my shirt, I run back to Paul’s reception desk and ask him if he has a paper clip. “I have to fasten my resume to my headshot,” I say, impressed with my improvisational skills.
“Well, how ‘bout a stapler” he suggests, trying to be helpful, but I instinctually don’t think that stapling my pants together is the right move, so I tell him that I actually prefer paper clips to staples because they don’t tear the page if you want to separate it, and, as he seems to understand, he fishes out a paperclip from his desk drawer.
I thank him and run back into the elevator bank, praying that a dreaded ding, indicating the imminent opening of elevator doors, will not interrupt my arts and crafts time. I unfold the paperclip into a straight line and feed it through the button hole and the hole that used to be my beloved button, and then attempt to twist the two ends of metal together as if it were a twist-tie on a package of bread.
But in my zeal, I twist too aggressively, and the deformed paperclip breaks in half, leaving me with two pieces that are too short to manipulate. Saying shit and fuck under my breath, I throw the useless segments of metal into the waste bin and run back to Paul, not caring at this point what the hell he thinks I’m doing with his office supples.
“Sorry to bother you again, but do you have a rubber band?”
Thankfully, he chooses not to inquire about my second request, nor does he suggest I take a trip to Office Max, and hands over a thin rubber band. I was hoping for the thick kind that holds lobster claws together, but I guess the office manager at Schmotime only goes for the thin, stringy kind that bundles paper and such.
I scamper into the outer lobby for the third time and, with a ginger touch, feed the rubber band through the two holes and delicately knot it. The straining wasteband provides a slightly unnerving resistance, but it seems to behave, and I tip toe back into the seating area, careful not to breathe too deeply at the risk of stretching my jerry-rigged project to the point of breakage. I decide to remain standing in the case that a bending motion may also risk exposure, so I pretend to be utterly fascinated by the posters on the wall depicting the network’s various shows.
As if by divine intervention, not too soon and thankfully not too late, the casting director’s assistant greets me and guides me down the hall where the president of casting is seated in her corner office with a warm smile.
Now if I may diverge, I must admit that I have never been good with elephants in the room. Once, I went on a week-long retreat where our leader had severe Tourette’s Syndrome and never once let anyone off the hook by explaining that he may make loud gutteral sounds every thirty seconds. Instead of just clearing the air so that we could all move on in mutual understanding, we would all pretend that absolutely nothing was happening when he would experience his bi-minute vocal fits, as if an atomic bomb had just exploded during a tea party and the person seated next to me asked if I could pass the cucumber sandwiches.
Therefore, in my nervousness that the rubber band will snap at any moment, and due to my belief that we should simply name the elephant as opposed to ignoring him, I shake this lovely woman’s hand and instantly blurt out,
“You wouldn’t believe it, my pants just broke, and your nice receptionist gave me a rubber band to hold them together,” after which I insanely lift up my shirt to display my hasty solution for a button.
She smiles curtly, and politely changes the subject; “I see that….And are you enjoying LA?”
She has just completely steamrolled over my idiotic greeting, and I realize that I may have made an error in judgement. I sit down across from her, debating whether or not I should tell the charming story of the wash-and-fold laundry debacle.
I quickly decide it’s best that I pretend I didn’t just half-strip in front of this woman, exposing my rubber band bejeweled waist, and with shortness of breath and very flush cheeks, tell her how much I love watching Schmurse Schmakie. Schmedie Schmalco is one of my favorite actresses, I explain.
And as she expresses her equal enthusiasm for the show and its superb cast of actors, I wonder if any of them got a job after bearing their crotch to the president of casting upon the first five seconds of meeting them.
I suspect the answer is no.
I am comforted, though, by a possible future in porn.
Nothing fascinates me more than the anthropological safaris I go on in audition waiting rooms. They are inevitably filled with the most rare and exotic creatures. And in less than a week’s time, I have learned that it was never more so than in Los Angeles.
I drive an hour in traffic down to Manhattan Beach, a neighborhood south of Hollywood next to the airport. It’s the first time I observe for myself the living horror that is the 405 freeway, and I vow to never complain again about an A train running local. For the first time since arriving, circumstances begin to drag me down, and my mind tumbles into darker territory. As I inch forward, wishing my car had a jet pack, I question whether or not it’s worth ripping myself away from my home where I’m comfortable, where I have friends, and where I already have a career. Years later, my exit finally approaches like a desert oasis, and I feed onto a surface street, only to inch even slower, since the traffic lights are playing the cruel joke of only staying green for 3 to 4 seconds at a time. I am hangry. This is the state one falls prey to when the body’s hunger results in irritability and anger. I think about the particular role I’m auditioning for and contemplate turning around and going home. Someone, high on medical marijuana, thought I might be an appropriate choice to play Todd, a businessman in his mid-30’s, who says…
“Dreams? That’s a word one of these kids would use. I have college tuitions to save for.”
I finally reach the studio, look at my baby face in the rearview mirror, tousle my messy hair, and walk towards the casting office with my best businessman swagger.
I enter the shockingly crowded waiting room, and my blood pressure rises at the even further inconvenience of putting my name on the list and noting that over thirty people are waiting to be seen before me. I keep the pen in my hand, on the verge of crossing my name off the list and running from the building as if I had never even arrived, but a young actress in five-inch heels and hooker makeup asks me what time my appointment is. I answer her, look around the room for the first time, and suddenly realize that I have stumbled upon a priceless opportunity: the freak show that is: “TEENAGE GIRLS AND THEIR STAGE MOTHERS.”
My resentment instantly vanishes as I take my seat and prepare to watch the proceedings, short only of a bag of popcorn.
The room is teeming with girls age 14 to 16, all primping, practicing their line (yes, singular), rolling their eyes at their pushy mothers, who, unlike the New York “I’m from Long Island, I have a loud, nasal voice, and I’ll cut you” stereotype, are trying desperately to look as young as their daughters - platform heels, flat-ironed hair, and all. I consider the two minutes it took me to towel dry my hair and throw on a t-shirt, and marvel at the elaborate science projects atop some of these girls’ heads. One freckled redhead dons a bump-it (www.bumpits.com) so large, that she looks like another species. The girl directly to my left appears to have woken up at 3 AM to straighten her bleached blonde hair one strand at a time. She is wearing a cotton dress so tight and short that I suspect it’s only a shirt that she stretched out. I peer down at her resume to see that her name is Hallden. I wonder if her parents named her after the two places where they had sex on the night she was conceived. I then look up at Hallden’s mother, in skinny jeans, pumps, and too much lip gloss, and all becomes clear. Her mother named her something rare and memorable, in hopes that one day, her little baby would be a star.
I decide to test this theory by writing down the name of each girl as she is called into the audition room. An abridged list follows:
I wonder, hearing Riley’s name called out, if I need to change my name to Juniper Steggert if I really want to be a star.
Even more entertaining is hearing each girl, after she disappears into the audition room, bellow the one line she is here to audition for:
“Get away from me, you son-of-a-bitch!”
The air is punctuated with this exclamation every two minutes, and after hearing a particularly shrill interpretation, the girl sitting across from me turns to her botoxed, expressionless mother and snarls, “I do it better.”
Hallden is called next. ”Get em good,” her icily beautiful mother says a bit too aggressively, with an air of expectation, and she leans forward in her chair, straining to hear what’s being said after the door closes.
Muffled greetings, a period of anticipatory silence…
“Is that your daughter?” the girl who “does it better” asks.
The mother brusquely nods, warding off conversation so she can concentrate fully, and then for the 15th time since I’ve been here…”Get away from me you son-of-a-bitch!” (whimper whimper fake cry fake cry)
“Dammit Hallden,” the mother whispers under her breath.
Hallden emerges, feeling pretty good about how she did, relieved that it’s over. She clacks across the floor, retrieves her purse, smiles at her mom and asks “how did it sound?”
“It didn’t sound very convincing, so let’s hope it looked good.”
They exit in a spat - one that seems perpetual in their interactions, and I wonder if Hallden’s feet are hurting in those six-inch stilettos.
I turn my attention to the room at large, taking in the miniskirts, hair sculptures, glittery lotions, push-up bras, and painted faces, and I count myself very lucky to be a grown man (even if I don’t appear it), stage-mother free, auditioning for Todd the businessman, who speaks more than one line and doesn’t need to wear a bump-it.
I notice one girl in the far corner of the room. She sits patiently with her hands in her lap. She has wavy, auburn hair, a cute upturned nose, and sweet eyes. She’s wearing a simple white t-shirt and a plaid skirt down to her knees. Her shoes are flat. I silently send a prayer into the universe that she gets the role.
And I hope her name is closer to Katie than it is to Chrysanthemum.
In many ways, actors are whores, but do we really have to wear fishnets to book the job?
I have now been here three days, and two topics have come up at a startling rate by a wide variety of people - men, women, young and old:
I have learned the following fun facts.
I should disclaim here and now, that I have not experienced either of these southern Californian phenomena to date. And since my mom is probably the only person reading this, I will state that I believe the recreational use of drugs is reprehensible.
It doesn’t count if you don’t pay for it yourself, right?
I attend my first party - it’s in the upstairs bar of a nice enough restaurant on Sunset Boulevard - the kind of place that serves kobe beef sliders and tuna tartar. My friend Will, a New York transplant as well, who has been in LA for almost ten years, tells me this is an “industry” party, which in my language means a gathering of show-tune enthusiasts who debate over whether or not Catherine Zeta Jones accepted her Tony award on barbiturates. He gives me only one piece of advice. ”Everyone here is here to gain something. Don’t forget that.” Is this information a warning or perhaps encouragement, based on the assumption I may find this an opportunity to meet people from whom I can gain something? Will knows me well enough to know that the idea of selling my wares to perfect strangers in meaningless conversation about the entertainment industry is as interesting to me as spending an afternoon at the DMV, so I go with warning, and gird my loins. A sample encounter follows: (B: Bobby, D: Douchebag) B: Hi. I’m Bobby. I just got here from New York yesterday. D: Nice to meet you Bobby from New York. What do you do? B: I’m a theater actor from New York, just coming here to check things out. D: (unimpressed) That’s nice. Have you ever been on Broadway? B: Yes. D: (dead serious) Are you a chorus boy or have you actually played characters? B: (an attempt a a joke) I’ve had lines, yeah. D: And now you want to be famous? B: No, just exploring another option, I don’t know what I think yet. D: Well, you’re probably better for TV than film, just so you know. B: Oh really, why is that? D: Theater actors tend to overact. It shows up more on film. B: (silent disbelief) D: They make big faces. At least in my observation. I have three or four interactions after this, none as offensive, thankfully. I do meet one very real, surprisingly personable man named Ray, who is a mid-level executive at Fox. He is the first person who is willing to have a real conversation with me, and I decide to level with this new ally amongst the toolbags. “People here seem a bit ruthless.” Ray responds: “When I came here, I had to make a choice between integrity and ambition. I don’t know one person at the top of the heap, in any aspect of the industry, who did not get there without sacrificing a piece of their humanity.” I suspect that I may prefer overacting to overcompensating.
I attend my first party - it’s in the upstairs bar of a nice enough restaurant on Sunset Boulevard - the kind of place that serves kobe beef sliders and tuna tartar. My friend Will, a New York transplant as well, who has been in LA for almost ten years, tells me this is an “industry” party, which in my language means a gathering of show-tune enthusiasts who debate over whether or not Catherine Zeta Jones accepted her Tony award on barbiturates.
He gives me only one piece of advice. ”Everyone here is here to gain something. Don’t forget that.”
Is this information a warning or perhaps encouragement, based on the assumption I may find this an opportunity to meet people from whom I can gain something? Will knows me well enough to know that the idea of selling my wares to perfect strangers in meaningless conversation about the entertainment industry is as interesting to me as spending an afternoon at the DMV, so I go with warning, and gird my loins.
A sample encounter follows:
(B: Bobby, D: Douchebag)
B: Hi. I’m Bobby. I just got here from New York yesterday.
D: Nice to meet you Bobby from New York. What do you do?
B: I’m a theater actor from New York, just coming here to check things out.
D: (unimpressed) That’s nice. Have you ever been on Broadway?
D: (dead serious) Are you a chorus boy or have you actually played characters?
B: (an attempt a a joke) I’ve had lines, yeah.
D: And now you want to be famous?
B: No, just exploring another option, I don’t know what I think yet.
D: Well, you’re probably better for TV than film, just so you know.
B: Oh really, why is that?
D: Theater actors tend to overact. It shows up more on film.
B: (silent disbelief)
D: They make big faces. At least in my observation.
I have three or four interactions after this, none as offensive, thankfully. I do meet one very real, surprisingly personable man named Ray, who is a mid-level executive at Fox. He is the first person who is willing to have a real conversation with me, and I decide to level with this new ally amongst the toolbags.
“People here seem a bit ruthless.”
Ray responds: “When I came here, I had to make a choice between integrity and ambition. I don’t know one person at the top of the heap, in any aspect of the industry, who did not get there without sacrificing a piece of their humanity.”
I suspect that I may prefer overacting to overcompensating.
I wake up at 7:55. Much easier to do so when you are on east coast time and slightly nervous about having to drive through the winding roads of a foreign city. I eat a bowl of frosted mini-wheats, purchased from a Trader Joes that seemed like a heaven on earth due to it being empty and fully stocked, two things that in New York would imply that a plague had swept through the city. I eat in silence, just as the sun climbs high enough to play through the leaves of the trees outside the window. I don’t need coffee like I usually would.
One last time, I mutter through the burdensome bundle of pages I had been studying for hours the night before - 24 pages of dialogue for my first audition - a spot on the new series The Whole Truth. The role is for a man in his mid-thirties who is on trial for murder, after leading the police to the body of a victim, of which he says he had psychic visions. I’m too young for the part, but I wanted to take on the challenge of learning so much material so quickly. I had also spent hours the evening before taping myself with my webcam - comparing different energies and tempos and studying how they read on screen. It was amazing how much was lost, how much less connected it seemed, when I constantly had to look down at my script pages. I figured I’d have to memorize everything, for every audition on camera. But I felt empowered by this new experiment.
I drive relatively easily to the Warner Brothers lot. The traffic is steady but moving, and after a few wrong turns, I find the parking deck across the street from the gate, where my bag is searched and guest pass is checked for the second time. I have thirty minutes to spare, so I wander around the lot, which is a strange mix of dreary office buildings and artificial outdoor sets recreating a New York street right next to the town square of a small midwestern town. All of the storefronts are just that - fronts with nothing inside. I then weave my way back to the large portable that masquerades as a casting office, and enter a dingy, florescent-lit hallway where I sign in and sit to wait the inevitable ten minutes that it seems casting offices are always running behind.
Through the open door of his office, the casting director is on the phone with someone important, saying quite casually and with no concern for my ears, clearly, that they were very excited to have found the guy to play the psychic last night. I feel a mix of relief, knowing that I had no chance anyway and only need to worry about making a good impression, and annoyance, after having spent hours memorizing the material. I remind myself that this entire trip is about learning and building, not necessarily about landing a job playing a psychic on a mediocre television show.
Eventually, he comes out, strikes my name from the list, and leads me silently to the casting room, where I notice there is no reader. This experience is my least favorite kind of auditioning - where the casting director reads the scenes with me, barely taking in anything I do because he or she is too busy reading the other person’s lines. I know it’s a shocker, but casting directors don’t tend to be great actors, and so there is often little to nothing to react to.
He then proceeds with the notorious audition amendment: “They told you what scenes to prepare, didn’t they?” as I unload my dozens of pages from my backpack.
“No…I prepared all eleven scenes.”
“Oh. No. We just give you that to learn the story. You only need to the do the first and the last scene.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I paid special attention to those,” I half-joke, though he doesn’t seem to hear a response.
He begins the scene in a monotonous drone, and I spend the first half of the scene in amazement that he has not once looked at my face. I speak the lines while simultaneously ruing the hours of detailed experimentation I did taping each of the eleven scenes on my computer. I then realize there isn’t even a camera in the room, and because he hasn’t even looked at me once, this entire experience is only existing in my mind. If this audition falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? I think not.
We are halfway through the first scene when his cellphone begins ringing in his pocket. Not concerned that it is distracting him from my brilliant performance, since there was no attention placed on it in the first place, I keep plowing ahead, only to be silenced in utter awe when he fishes the phone out of his pocket, and then stops in mid-sentence to answer it. He seems annoyed - not at having to interrupt the scene, apparently, but at having to take this particular call at all.
He wanders out of the room, and I laugh to the imaginary people in the room, finding this all too absurd to keep to myself. After a minute of muffled conversation through the wall, he paces back in, mutters what might have been an apology, though it could have easily been an invitation to dinner for all I knew, and picks up in the scene directly where he stopped. He must have been paying enough attention to know where he left off.
I make the choice to continue on, knowing that it would ultimately be more awkward to leave the room in frustration, though it occurs to me that, as he is again buried in the pages of the script, I could finish the audition in a fetal position on the floor and he would have no idea. Out of personal dignity, I decide to remain seated, and finish the scene without flourish.
He looks up for the first time since we began.
“Really great job, by the way.”
“Fuck you,” I say. But only in my head.
Instead, I smile courteously and walk out into the beautiful California day, thinking - at least humiliation is easier when it’s sunny.