Snow White was my first partner. The audition was for a commercial. The setting was a child’s birthday party. They were casting a princess and a mime to be performers at that party. Easy, right? Since performing at parties is what I do for a meager living, this should be a breeze, right? One look at Snow White told me I was fortunately matched.
She looked amazing. Sparkles on her golden slippers. Where on Earth did she find those? Sparkles in her makeup, but not enough to look like a little girl playing dress up in front of mommy’s mirror. Just enough to catch the light at certain angles and lend her complexion a fairy tale glow. Her wig looked like she’d pinched it from a costume shop at Disney. The costume was top of the line. First rate. Absolute perfection.
When you’ve been around the block enough times, you learn to tell the difference between a professional performer and an actor in a costume. At a glance. That’s probably true with most professions, but since I’m a performer, I’ll stick to what I know. This girl was no amateur.
When it comes to wearing costumes at auditions, I always have the urge to say “Trick or treat!” If I’m called in to read for a mime or a clown, then of course it makes sense. They want to know that I can do my own makeup, that I have all the gear, that I am the real thing. When it’s for any other type of character, I think it’s just plain silly.
There was a period when I had long hair and was often called in to play Jesus. I remember joking over the phone with one casting director. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I won’t show up in a white sheet.” She didn’t laugh. When I got to the audition, I found out why not. The other guys in the lobby were wearing Jesus robes. Seriously, a room full of Jesuses. It was hard to keep a straight face.
I wore a casual white shirt that merely suggested the Son of God, without looking like I was on my way to a fancy dress ball. I looked enough like him to compensate for any lack of imagination on the part of the deeply Christian casting director and the fanatically religious producers of what turned out to be a disgusting, insulting propaganda film. Which I am in.
The audition was notable for another reason. It was the only time I had ever been given the sides while I was already on camera. Sides are the lines from the script. Usually just a sheet or two of paper, an excerpt of your character’s dialogue. They are normally provided the day before the audition, or sometimes when you sign in at the audition itself. So, you have a few minutes to look them over before stepping in front of the camera.
At this hysterical audition, I had already given what they call a slate (basically speaking your name and sometimes showing both profiles) when a hand reached into the frame with a slip of paper. Which I took, and read stone cold. Without pretending to be a Biblical scholar, I can safely say the words sounded very much like something Jesus might have said. There was nothing objectionable in the dialogue. Nothing I found inconsistent with my morals or ideals. Why they felt the need to keep the material to themselves until the last possible second was a mystery.
It should also have been a red flag, but good luck finding an actor who will turn down the role of Jesus Christ. It’s like Hamlet. Everyone wants those names on their resume. I was thrilled when I got the offer. It was also one of my first movies, and I was excited about getting cast in anything. Truly.
About a year later, when they sent me the DVD, I learned what the project was. A hate-filled, very un-Christ-like, fake documentary about how the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were divine retribution for the evils of mankind. Joyous portents of the apocalypse. A more egregious and offensive argument would be difficult to imagine. I’m only in a couple of scenes, but I have to shudder to think that I may one day be compared to Kirk Cameron.
Back to the present, Snow White did not disappoint, my mime bit got a few laughs, and I was called back. That’s where my good fortune ran out. This time, I was paired up with exactly the sort of non-actor in a cheap party store costume I had dreaded. She was pretty. I can say that much about her. If I was a complete gentlemen, I would end the story there. She was pretty. Since I am more interested in getting a laugh than tossing my cloak over a puddle, I will continue.
This girl was one of those young, inexperienced, non-actors who think they should start speaking the moment they walk into the room and not stop until they leave. As if the audition itself is incidental. The written dialogue doesn’t matter as much as what they say while off camera. While stalling. While wasting everyone’s time. While sucking up all the life force in the room and monopolizing everyone’s attention. Pulling focus away from the lack of talent they inevitably possess.
She babbled on inanely about how she loved traipsing around town dressed as a princess. There was nothing clever or witty or even remotely funny about anything she said, and quite alot that could be considered damaging. Many young non-actors think they can talk themselves into a job, when the exact opposite is true. The general rule is never speak directly to the producers, or the client. Smile and be friendly, but let your work do the convincing. Let them see that you are a professional.
In the span of two or three minutes, this girl managed to volunteer that she was the mother of two. While auditioning for a fairy tale princess. Not what the client wanted to hear, I am certain. They called her in to play every little girl’s vision of the story book heroine they daydream of becoming. Not for a soccer mom. A little quick math would put this non-actress irrevocably in a different age category.
They did not ask if she had kids. They were simply puzzled by her statement that she had been to Disney three times that week. Why would she do that? Did she work there? When she revealed that her kids loved going, she did not even seem to realize that she had just cost herself the job, and proceeded to cost me mine.
While she chattered away, no one glanced twice at me. A mime, trapped in silence. You know that dream where you can’t run, or scream, and everything is slipping away from you in agonizing slow motion? Well, there I was. Watching my callback fall apart right in front of me. My whiteface preventing me from doing anything about the babbling princess. When the audition finally began, the camera stayed on the girl until the last two seconds, then it panned over to me. The director yelled “Cut!” and thanked us for coming.
Of course, a callback is never a guarantee of work. If they were interested in me, they would have asked to see more mime. The trick is to walk out the door, and file it away as experience. Move on to the next. Which is easier to do when you feel you’ve done your best. Not so easy when you feel, for whatever reason, things did not go so well.
I know which mime was cast. Talented guy. Good for him. As for the princess, I hope to learn they chose Snow White. I certainly would have.