My beautiful actor friend or; rethinking this whole acting business (a short reflection on a bad audition)

It’s a business you go into because your an egocentric. It’s a very embarrassing profession.

Katharine Hepburn

My friend is an actor. She is beautiful in that unorthodox way. She wears a big hat and no bra and smokes cigarettes with the grace of Bette Davis. She gets calls from her agent whom she calls “darling”. She never apologises. She never orders lunch but eats most of mine. She is always on her way to something, usually an audition. She knows she is good. She doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t let you think she cares what you think. And you believe she doesn’t. She can wear red lipstick. She can get outrageously drunk. She can be the centre of the attention. She is The Actor.

I’m not like that.

I wish I was.

I think it would help me, you know, as an actor or at the very least it would help me feel like one.

I hate meeting new people because I know that question is coming; “What do you do?” My actor friend answers that question beautifully. By the end of the conversation they’ll have her autograph and will have posed for a selfie with her to pop up on their Instagram account (she, of course, has her own, fabulous Instagram account you’d be very fortunate to appear upon – all grainy and 1970’s chic) so they can show their friends who they knew before she was famous. Because she is going to be famous. I answer the dreaded question with a mumble (oh, yeah, I’m trying to be an actor … and a writer) and this apologetic upward inflection which makes me sound desperate and unsure. These are not the attributes one associates with an actor … or a writer. OK. Maybe a writer but definitely not an actor. Basically, I am the wrong cliché. I wouldn’t mind being like the incredible cliché which is my actor friend, that I could handle … No, instead I fall into the kinda-artistic-loser cliché played by Woody Allen – I want to be Annie Hall not Alvy Singer goddammit!

My beautiful actor friend smiles apologetically when I try to tell her about my sporadic auditions. She says she understands but it seems more like sympathy than empathy. She eats most of the salad I ordered (she couldn’t possibly eat lunch) between taking long drags on her cigarette as we talk about the auditions we’ve lucked out on. At this point, I am still happy just to get an audition. I know she thinks that is naïve. Her auditions are for the major producers of major production houses for major prime-time dramas. My auditions are for television commercials. Sometimes I even get lines to prepare.

I know Mum would say, “you’re an actor – just play that part, the part of your actor friend”. Oh Mum, you just don’t get it. My time at drama school was all about finding my “authentic self” and losing the ego and learning important skills like how to somersault. (I am not ashamed to admit I couldn’t do this before drama school and since drama school I have used it once – not for an audition or a part. Nope. I just kinda did it because I could. And I was drunk. Yay for drama school!) I left my training before the end of the degree and missed out on all the narcissistic, vanity building, self-confidence stuff which seems to make up a lot of the final year (and they need that, they really do for the go-sees and the showcases and the meet and greets and all that).

Instead of finishing my actor training I started writing.

I think I can see where all this went wrong.

But it hit me, you know, how stupid this acting thing is as I was packing an imaginary bag for an imaginary camping trip with my imaginary children for a very real audition for a very real television commercial. The camping bag was floating in mid-air because that’s what the casting director wanted 1. for eye-lines and 2. to make the audition as awkward as possible. It was lucky we were using an imaginary bag. As I packed this bag full of all the things you need for the perfect camping trip (I chucked in all sorts of goodies – fishing rods and mountain bikes and croquet set and boxes and boxes of wine … I was summoning my inner Mary Poppins) the casting director took a phone-call. Right there. Not an imaginary call – a real, live phone-call on his real, live iPhone. Strangely this is not considered a good sign. In that moment I thought – what would my actor friend do right now? How would she handle this situation which has, unbelievably, grown even more awkward. I considered doing a somersault. Nope. She would not do that. I know what she would do – she would keep on going. So I did. I packed that bag beautifully. I didn’t wait for him to get off the phone. I packed and packed and smiled at my kids and ad-libbed something about sleeping-bags and finally he called “Cut” … Well, no he didn’t actually call “cut”. He was still on the phone. Calling “cut” in the middle of the phone-call would just be rude. No, instead of breaking phone etiquette he did this weird, silent little hand movement in front of the camera. It reminded me of Joey from Full House: “Cut, It. Out” – I nearly said that but remembered my actor friend and refrained.

While I waited for him to finish his phone-call so I could resume packing (the kids were getting really restless too – they just wanted to go camping, is it that difficult?) I thought about this acting thing. It dawned on me, I could never be like my actor friend because I know what she would have done. She would have stormed out of there and called her agent and told the darling that she would never be humiliated like that again and if they couldn’t send her to real auditions then she would seek representation elsewhere, and she would get it too.

The casting director resumed the audition (minus phone-call) and changed up the scene (goodbye imaginary floating suitcase; hello imaginary steering-wheel) and I continued. I didn’t storm out. I didn’t call my agent. I didn’t get the part.

I don’t really know if my actor friend would have stormed out. We are all so conditioned to take this thing so seriously, to see everything as some sort of ‘opportunity’ (you just don’t know what this will lead to / who will see this / what this director will do next) and to understand that there are many, many actors out there (all of whom are willing to stab your eyes out with a chop-stick if it means getting a line on a crappy television commercial) that we are too scared of making the wrong impression so put up with the awkward and the humiliating and the downright rude.

And you know what?

Being beautiful in that unorthodox way and wearing a big hat and no bra and smoking cigarettes and calling your agent  “darling” and never apologising and not eating lunch and always being on your way somewhere and knowing you’re good and making them believe you don’t care what they think and wearing red lipstick and getting outrageously drunk and being the centre of the attention … maybe all that actually does help deal with the crazy of being The Actor.

Or  if that fails, maybe just doing somersaults. For no reason.

Or giving it all up to write.

Maybe it all helps.

Maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

Because, in the end, it is only acting – it is only make-believe.