It used to be that I would go out for starring and guest starring parts all the time. I’d even book a few. It was nice to star in a film or guest star on TV. My characters had arcs. They were essential to the stories and I even built up a pretty good resume and demo reel. Then all these out of work movie stars, who snubbed their noses at television 10 years ago, suddenly discovered its “lucricity.” It was a way to keep their newer “filled” faces in the public, while maintaining a steady paycheck in order to continue the lifestyle of their movie stardom hay days. Not to mention singers and rappers, whose only acting talents are their “name,” who now suddenly find themselves cast in roles that should have gone to real actors. (Side note; the public doesn’t care about names as much anymore. All they want is a well crafted story with talented craftsmen regardless of who they are.) Now all of us…no name actors (I hate saying “no name” that sounds so defeatist…I have a name…just not one everybody knows…well my family knows, but they don’t count. Unless they’re in the industry… and connected…and can give me a job…or open the door to a job…or at the very least…point me in one’s direction. Then I guess they’d count…but mine can’t…so they don’t. Count, that is.) are subjected to auditioning for co-starring parts.
A co-starring part is a role that has no real meaning except to move the story forward. The, “He went thata way,” types of parts. They’re nothing more than fillers for what’s really going on with or to the main characters. I know, “There’s no small parts, only small actors.” Yeah, well tell that crap to Denzel or Will, Brad, Tom or…Tom…not that I know them by their first names or am putting myself on their level…I could be on their level…if I had more parts or practice. And I’m not talking about classes or plays…in those lil theatres on that boulevard where men prance around in matted wigs wearing tight fitted clothing and barely able to walk in overstuffed worn down high heels.
I remember doing lots of plays…for no money…no gratitude and no audiences. Trying to trick my mind into thinking I was really working on my craft. And student films, they’re the worst. They take all day…for no pay…with the promise of food…which is a huge plus…but it’s vegan and it taste like chalk…and you’re promised a copy for your reel…that you never receive and have to hunt them down and threatened to beat their ass before they finally get you a copy.
I’m talking about a real role; that has a story line, and a budget. Where the characters are loved or hated by the audience…and if it’s a guest starring one, it has the possibility to recur…and with great acting skills and an overwhelming response from the public…becomes a series regular! Then you become the break out star and you’re credited with saving the entire production from possible extinction. But no, I’m stuck auditioning for one or two liners. What the hell can you do with those? How do you prepare? What kinds of characters can you create out of one or two lines?! How many different ways can you say them or intentions can you have? Sometimes I really believe they can be a detriment because you have no time to recover if you make a mistake. There’s so much pressure to be perfect. You’ve got to nail it and be “spot on” the first time out or you’ve shot yourself in the foot.
I remember I went in for a popular television series where I had one word, “Doctor!” What’s even more ridiculous is they had a pre audition where I had to read with just the casting director. Then I was called back for the producers! Now, I don’t want to say that I didn’t put in the work, because I did. I treated that audition like I was reading for the lead. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t get past the absurdity of it all. They could have cast an extra right on the set. Yet they held a huge casting session and saw lots of actors for one word! In my opinion that was just so the casting director could justify his role and responsibilities to the network. It made absolutely no sense.
I booked that part though. I sure did! I think it was because I set the scene up, said the word, “Doctor,” and then bowed at the end like I had just performed on Broadway. Made em laugh. They saw how preposterous that shit was. I got that money though and the subsequent residual checks. A residual check; that’s what I call them type of parts, because they’re not really parts at all to me. They’re just residual checks and a credit on your resume; ways to pay some bills and keep it moving.
Every blue moon I do get an audition for a one day guest starring part. Used to be anywhere from 5 to 8 days. Even with SAG minimum, it was some good money back in the day. Now they’ve narrowed that down to one or two days in order to save all the big money for the stars. So, I get this big audition; 16 pages of sides. Those are the pages from the script. I don’t know why they call them sides. Makes them sound like lunch or something. Anyway, when my agent said there were 16 pages, I was like, “Yes! Finally something I can sink my teeth into!” So, I downloaded the sides and…okay, usually sides have a continuous amount of dialogue and directions. This aids in continuity and preparation for the scene. However, parts of the dialogue and directions in these particular pages have been crossed out with a thick black marker. Now, the first thing that goes through my mind is, “WTF!” Why would they cross stuff out in big black marker?! Don’t they realize how much ink those X’s take up on my printer! Then if that’s not bad enough, entire scenes have been skipped. Somehow I’m supposed to spend my precious time making sense out of all this shit. But I do it, because I’m a professional…and talented…and I love the competition of it all. I’m perfect for this part and my mantra is, “He who makes sense out of all this crap…wins.” So, I put my cell phone on silence and turn off the TV. I devote all of my time to the motivation, subtext, and to preparing the character to being a person in a place.
By the time I walked into that casting director’s office I was ready. I’d connected every dot and I’d made every stupid unnecessary cross out make sense. I was fully prepared to kill that audition when the first thing out the casting director’s mouth was, “We’re only going to read the first two pages.” What…the fuck?! You mean to tell me I spent all night cramming my brain full of unnecessary shit for nothing. Not to mention the time I put into making this piece crap make sense and you’re going to tell me we’re only reading the first two pages?! Oh, hell no! We’re reading all these motherfucken pages! Fuck that! Sit your ass back, get all them pages out, and let’s go! (Pause) That’s what I wanted to say. That’s what went through my mind. That was the subtext of the expression on my face. However, all I said was, “Okay.” Okay? Okay?! No I didn’t just say, okay?! I couldn’t believe it, I just said, “Okay.” I wanted to smack my own self in the mouth.
Then she asked if I had any questions. Any questions?! Hell yeah I got questions. Like, why are you wasting our time? When did you know you weren’t going to use all these goddamn pages? Didn’t you think it would have been appropriate to call our agencies and let them know? Do you even feel bad about this? Do you know how much better I could have been if I only had two pages to study? Why are some you guys also talent managers?! Why are you teaching classes and workshops?! I shouldn’t have to pay to get in front of you. It’s your job to discover me without me having to pay for it! And don’t you think it’s a conflict of interest that you’re represented by talent agencies? In addition, what qualifies you to evaluate my greatness?! You’re just an out of work actor who couldn’t cut it! (Pause) Damn...I’m losing it. (Pause) So, instead I just smiled and said, “No…no questions.” (Pause) Why did I smile?
I didn’t get the part, probably because of all the nonverbal communication contradictions that ran through my body. On the other hand, instead of me just moving on, I go through the arduous task of trying to figure out why not. When in reality, who cares? Whether I was too tall, too short, too dark, too light, my nose was too broad, my lips were too big, I didn’t have enough hair, I was too skinny, too fat, I looked like the neighborhood bully that used to beat you up, I look like your dad or uncle that use to…, your ex-husband that use to…, I was too talented, not talented enough, too sexy, not sexy enough, and everything in between. The bottom line is, nobody bought what I was selling that day and my ego can’t handle it. Therefore I’m going to morph myself into what I believe the industry wants. You want a thug; I’m going to give you that. You want college educated; I’m going to be that. You want sexy; I’m that. You want nerdy; I can be that too. I’m going to walk into the room as the character. I’m going to walk into the room as myself, then transform into the character. The only problem is; I don’t know who I am or who to believe anymore.
Do I believe my parents who say I’m wonderful because they don’t want to disappoint me? Do I believe my acting teacher who says I’m talented because she wants that continuous check? Do I believe my friends who don’t want to hurt my feelings or my spouse who loves me just as I am? My sense of reality is becoming warped and I start sinking into a depression. Am I good enough? Am I a fraud? Am I kidding myself into thinking I have real talent? Am I enough? Do I have anything of artistic value to contribute anywhere?
I find myself crying hysterically alone, cursing myself for making the decision to become an artist. Wanting to stick my head in the oven, only to realize...that’s going to hurt! On the verge of a complete emotional breakdown, I become fully aware and present in the moment. I can taste the saltiness of my tears. That’s when I pick myself up and look at myself in the mirror. I'm a wreck, but somewhere deep in my mind this little voice says, "What does the contortion of my face look like? How does the feeling I’m having show up in my body? Is there anything I see that I can use in my art? Anything? Anything?" Then the voice says, "Use all of it." All of it? (Pause) Right, I can use all of it. I can put this experience in my bag of tricks and hopefully replicate it again when needed. That’s what an artist does, imitates life and makes it more interesting.
My cell phone rings. It’s my agent. I have an audition tomorrow, for another co-starring part, but with the possibility to recur. I read the description, it perfect for me. Time to brush myself off, get myself together, open my bag of tricks and start the insanity all over again. I got bills to pay, a show to book, and an intrinsic talent that’s just been rehearsed, but being wasted alone in this room.