That’s what I am called in to play lately. Russians and Eastern Europeans. Back in New York, I was often mistaken for some other nationality. Other than American. Mediterranean, Jordanian, something. When I first came to Los Angeles, it was clear that they only wanted the real thing. French from France. Italian from Italy. Must speak Farsi. I was caucasian. Just caucasian. Nothing else.
Things have changed. Now I go out for European or Slavic or something. Today it was for Borat. The call came in last night at six. The script was funny. Two lines in Russian (or faux Russian) which they did not provide. In the script. They only provided the translation. In English. The joke was that the Borat guy would speak in Russian (or faux Russian) and the translator would say the funny line, in English.
Naturally, I felt I was better suited for the translator, since I do not speak Russian, and there are sure to be guys at the call who do. Also, the two funny lines would work with a deadpan, and I have a pretty good deadpan.
So I am up until four in the morning, preparing a list of Russian words which sound funny when spoken next to each other. I choose sounds which suggest the English translation, but also sounds which work with the comic gestures the Borat guy is supposed to make. I watch a bunch of videos of the real Borat on youtube. I study him. I practice the faux Russian. I also go over the translator’s lines, hoping they will let me read for that role, too. I go to bed feeling happy about this audition.
In the morning, I put on a purple and green paisley rayon shirt with a pair of light green linen pants. Gold chain. Hair like Borat. I look like one of those Israeli guys who sell electronics. When I get to the audition, the monitor comes into the lobby and says they have decided not to go with Borat. So, do something else.
Perfect. I race into the men’s room to put my hair back to normal, but I have not brought a change of clothes. Make a strong choice they always say, and I did. Now what? As my agent said, go big or go home. I’m already there, and I’m not going home.
So I return to the lobby and try to rework the faux Russian so it does not sound like Borat. I listen to the other guys. Some of them ask the monitor if they can also read for the translator. They are told no. Some of the ones who were called in to read for the English speaking translator are actual Russians. They speak Russian and are wondering why they have been called in for the part which does not require them to speak Russian. They are matched up with guys who aren’t and can’t, but who were called in for the suddenly Non-Borat faux Russian speaking role.
Another monitor comes into the lobby and tells us we are to tell a brief improvised story before we begin. Presumably, this is to weed out the non Russian speaking actors who have stayed up until four in the morning studying Borat and preparing a list of faux Russian sounding words. Why then, have they not specified in advance that all actors reading for Non-Borat must speak Russian? Why then, have they called in actual Russians to read for the English speaking translator? Why then, do they not let us switch roles now? Switching characters at the last minute is easier than re-working what we have already prepared. Especially if the switch would allow the Russians to speak Russian and the non Russians to speak English.
Here I am dressed for Borat but am not reading for Borat. I am not allowed to read for the English speaking character, but must quickly put together an improvised story in faux Russian. I consult my list of Russian sounding words. I laugh at the whole thing, and do the best I can.
What is that line from Out of Africa? The Gods are happy. They play with us.