A commercial casting, today. All I know about it from my agent is the location, time, product and “dress like a nice dad.” I dress in the brand colours. I learnt that long ago, the client likes actors to be on brand. I don’t shave my beard though. And I don’t know the casting director’s name.
They get me into the room on time, which is rare. There’s a boy in there already. He is meant to be my son. He’s already cast, and he looks just like I did when I was his age. This is why I’ve got the meeting. A trick of genetics. But I didn’t know this going in so I’ve still got a beard. “Do you have any clean shaven headshots?” asks the casting director immediately. “Yes, I’ll get one sent to you. I just kept my beard on the basis that it’s quicker to shave than it is to grow.” “They might decide that you look more like him clean shaven,” says the Casting Director with a beautiful featherlight shiver of detail. Contained in that innocuous comment is the rebuke “You idiot. You’re supposed to look like this child. How can you possibly think a beard will help you.” I refrain from saying I had no idea I had to look like anyone, and thought that “nice dad” might be slightly fluffy. Sure a dad has kids that look nothing like him. But for this story, perhaps, resemblance is paramount. I just suck it up.
There’s a cultural thing where actors are expected to be morons and are treated as such by default. Like we are all idiot narcissists desperate to be looked at and adored and that can be the only reason we do this. Certainly at the level of this casting I am used to being treated like I’m remedial. This particular casting director was pleasant enough to the idiot, but at the end of the meeting I go to shake her hand and get, baldly, as her body spasms backwards: “I won’t shake your hand.” One of my friends in Los Angeles once got “Oh I’m a waver, not a shaker.” in similar circumstances. Not only do we get treated like morons, people also don’t want to touch us. After all, who knows where we’ve been. She clocks my shock. “I’ve got a cold,” she tries. “I wouldn’t want to give it to you.” I don’t believe her but I let it slide. “Oh ugh I wouldn’t want to catch that from you,” I say, playing the game because I want the job, adding more layers to this conversation-onion.
It’s shit that I want the job. I don’t even know what it pays or when it shoots but I’ve already been told it’s essentially walk-on rates. But I’m very happy to be associated with this particular brand. The meeting involved sitting in a chair pretending to watch TV. We only did one take and she wouldn’t touch me. I left the meeting feeling slightly soiled. In the Japanese caste system, actors come below “rogues and vagabonds”. That’s where I felt I had been put. I’ll still be writing her an email thanking her if I get the job. Because jobs like that give us more liberty to make beautiful things and do more theatre.
I learnt long ago that there is no correlation between your experience in the audition room and your chances of getting the job. Years ago I met Luc Besson for a movie, and the third round was him in person in a little room in Notting Hill. Halfway through the meet I said something innocuous and his face went dark. He looked at me with rage and stormed out of the room. I heard a heated discussion with the casting director. He then came back in and curtly dismissed me. I phoned my agent; “I don’t know what I said but he went weird on me.” Three months later I was flown to Bangkok and filmed with David Thewlis and Michelle Yeoh. I thought I’d fucked it up. But the thing that had enraged him helped secure me the job. I had mentioned Aung San Suu Chi, who I was reading about at the time. The film was about her, and it was under NDA. I wasn’t supposed to know, I didn’t know, but he thought I’d found out, and he’s got a temper on him.
I went out to Thailand. I didn’t tell anyone about the job because of the NDA. I just went to Bangkok. They were filming The Lady, about Burma, in Thailand, anti the Burmese junta. Information lockdown in case the Thai government decided to shut the set down in solidarity with the junta. The flashback sequence I was in was cut entirely from the final edit for budgetary reasons. It was Michael Aris meeting Aung for the first time, and David and Michelle both worked with dots stuck all over their faces, to map CGI younger versions of their faces on in post-production. Of course it was the first thing to go – expensive and time consuming. It went, and with it all of my work. I watched the film in growing horror and realisation. All I got was a credit. At least I got that. I’ll never see the footage as it will never have been graded but a credit is a footprint.
Now seven years or so later I’m fretting about whether or not someone refusing to touch me in a commercial casting will have any effect on whether I get to sell a little bit more of my integrity for lovely shiny pots of cash. Ugh. This is such a strange existence I’ve fought for for so long…
Some hours later my agent calls to tell me it’s a heavy pencil for tomorrow or Friday. Which means I’ve a good chance of getting it. Perhaps she was lovely and didn’t want me to catch her cold. What does that say about the inside of my head? What does that say about my expectations?
I took no photos. Here’s one of pickle. After all it was International Cat Day.