A good many dramatic scenes begin with screaming. – Jane Fonda
Yesterday I auditioned for a Brazilian Hyundai commercial.
Why, you might ask, would you do that, when you have no apparent talent for that type of thing?
Well, for two reasons really. The first is that I currently live in a little language bubble in Sao Paulo. Family members speak English with me. Friends speak English with me. Sophia’s teachers and doctor speak English with me. Even my maid has figured out to communicate with me non-verbally (we’ve invented a game called “laundry charades.”) My survival instincts haven’t kicked in when it comes to learning Portuguese. So I’m determined to put myself in situations that will force me to speak the language.
The second is that external, or internal, forces compel me to put myself in an awkward situation every time one presents itself. Always been that way. Ask any of my friends, and they’ll most likely be able to recall a story in which I’ve walked myself into an extremely embarrassing or gravely dangerous situation. It’s some kind of lesson I need to learn in this life, humiliation perhaps, maybe courage…
This is not the first time I’ve dabbled in the art of acting. Aside from being rejected time and time again from school plays and state-fair talent shows, continuously encouraged by my mother who believed I was bubbling over with talent, I worked on the show Gossip Girl last year, an American television show about teenagers in New York society.
I figured since I was in the middle of writing a couple screenplays and a television pilot, and I had the advantage of living in New York City, I should experience what it is like to be on a set. So I went and registered with Central Casting.
A couple days later they called for Gossip Girl. The scene was a cotillion. (In case one does not know, a cotillion is a coming-out party – to introduce young ladies into society, not to celebrate gay guys coming out of the closet, although that would be a fun party.) The casting agent informed me that the dress code was cocktail-wear in jewel tones. I would receive further instruction later in the evening.
I looked through my closet and pulled out what I thought would be appropriate for a New York society cotillion. I got a call asking me to email photos of my wardrobe to the producers. And to give me the disturbing news.
I would be playing the role of… a parent. A parent? A parent of a teenager? A teenager?! I was the parent of a toddler! I couldn’t play the parent of a teenager! It wasn’t logical. Then I did the math…
I emailed photos of my wardrobe selection but received no response. I called a secret number to find out the shooting time and to be reminded that I MUST bring my own wardrobe and MUST do my own hair and makeup.
The next day I carefully prepared my hair and makeup, and stuffed a large selection of outfits, shoes and jewelry into a carry-on bag. I wanted to take the bus, but my bag was far too heavy, so I was forced to take a cab to the location, cutting into my $100 gross salary for the day.
Upon arrival, I realized that it was absolutely obvious I was a newbie. No one else was carrying a bag full of wardrobe options. Each had one hanger. (I later learned from the experts that you bring one option, and if they don’t like it, let them find something for you.) I stumbled over myself, struggling to get my bag into the wardrobe room. I waited my turn in line and finally got to the set stylist. She examined my goods carefully, and then me. After a few minutes, she pulled an outfit off the rack behind her and handed it to me with a pair of my own strappy gold heels.
You might be able to catch me in this clip from Gossip Girls. I’m holding a champagne glass, and I’m the only one not wearing a brightly colored “jewel-tone” dress and I have flat hair.
I looked down at what was on the hanger. It was a two-piece number, shimmery with silver, bronze and gold threads outlining large palm leaves. It looked like the failed attempt of a Project Runway contestant to make cotillion-wear out of motel curtains.
“Wait. Am I going to be on Gossip Girl or the Golden Girls?”
The set stylist, taking her job seriously, was not amused by my humor, and tossed me a handful of gaudy costume jewelry.
Next I stood in line for hair and makeup. The hairstylists were giving other woman big curls and fancy up-dos. For me, I got my hair flat ironed straight. Next was make-up.
(Yes, at this point I was aware of the irony of the casting agent insisting that I show up with a wardrobe and already in hair and makeup. I vowed that if I ever did this again, I would roll out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth and show up in my pajamas.)
Here I am again, my back that is. I’m at the end pretending to laugh at something someone said. Don’t blink!
During the course of the two days, I met a lot of interesting people. I made friends with a woman who led me through the life of an aspiring actress. My cotillion “husband” was a former commercial real estate salesman turned activist/conspiracy theorist. There were the elderly men and woman who had had reasonably successful careers as New York stage actresses, actors and playwrights, but were there because if you provided a pay-stub from Warner Brothers, you got a discount on your cable services. Everyone was bitter. It was intriguing, but also a little bit sad.
I got my picture taken by the paparazzi when I went to visit the snack cart, which was down the street and around the corner from the building where they were shooting (someone got in trouble for wasting film that day).
The most troubling aspect was the number of people who approached me to tell me how good my outfit looked on me. At first I thought people were being sarcastic, but no, they actually thought the ensemble was flattering. Here, I had been dressing myself wrong my whole life!
Central Casting called me a number of times to go back on Gossip Girl, and a couple other shows, but it never really worked out with my schedule. Besides, I had gotten what I needed from the experience.
So, although I hadn’t auditioned for anything since I was eleven, I felt somewhat prepared for the experience of auditioning for the Hyundai commercial. In my email to the casting agent, I explained that my Portuguese was not good. But because I used Google Translate to write the email, she thought I was just being modest and said that my Portuguese was great and provided the location and time for the audition. They were casting American tourists in London, so I dressed in a cool, brightly colored t-shirt and jeans. Exactly what I would have worn had I been walking around London.
Upon arrival, I was surprised to find out that no one, not even the people auditioning, spoke any English. I thought I would find a room full of expats (I had been made aware of the opportunity through the expat society I belonged to) but they were mostly Brazilians who hoped that they looked enough like an American to get the part. My one advantage was that I definitely didn’t look Brazilian.
I filled out and signed an application of which I understood about 20%. Then I went to makeup and wardrobe, where I again discovered that the selection I had made from my personal inventory of outfits was not adequate.
Instead, they had me put on a shirt, which was mostly made of nylon, sleeveless, long enough to come down over my butt, and ended in elastic, which created a mushroom effect around my thighs. The pattern on this monstrosity was a black and white, large-print basket weave with great big, purple flowers. I erupted in helpless giggles over the idea that this was what an American tourist might be wearing in London. I had never seen anything like it. But similar to my Gossip Girl wardrobe experience, I received a cold look and realized I was once more questioning the talents of a wardrobe stylist. So I zipped it and went to go wait to see what would happen next.
After being in the wrong place for quite a while, I found my way outside the set and met an expat family who was auditioning together. Thank goodness, because though I had managed somewhat articulate conversations with the makeup artist and the producer’s assistant, when it was my turn to be screen tested, I had no idea what the producer was telling me to do, and the patriarch of the expat family translated for me. The direction involved me pretending to eat popcorn and trying and get the attention of a guard at Buckingham palace. Despite my inconvenient handicap, and my total lack of talent, the producer and cameraman were extremely nice and accommodating. Had I been in the same situation in New York, with the same disadvantages, I would have been booted out of the building. And quickly.
For obvious reasons, I don’t expect to get this gig. However, it’s always interesting to see how things work behind the scenes for a medium of which many of us spend a great deal of time. Aside from the attitude, things aren’t so different between the north and the south.