How often does an actor get to work with a pig? An actual pig. Not very. At least not this actor. This was my first time. The most noticeable thing about pigs is that they are cute. Really cute. I have to admit I was surprised by that. I’d heard people call them cute before, but I always figured those were the kind of people who collected potholders in the shapes of cats. Kitchen towels with cows printed on them. Ceramic roosters as salt and pepper shakers.
My grandmother collected elephants. She thought they were cute. Looking around my house, I can’t deny there are enough rabbits to justify the word ‘collect.’ Rabbits, however, are undeniably cute. Not that animals have to be, in order to justify a collection, but rabbits happen to be easily adorable. Roosters and elephants require a bit more effort. Or at least conviction.
Pigs, as far as I knew, were filthy and unappealing. Not so. This pig I worked with was as cute and affectionate as a dog. She was pink, with large ears that stood straight up, and short pink fur that looked very soft. She was wearing a blue velvet jacket, and a white powdered wig.
Wait. That will need some explanation.
It was for a commercial. Set in the 1700s. The pig was playing a character. She was female, but the character was male, which is why she was in a jacket instead of a ball gown.
When I was booked on this commercial, I was told it would be set in the 1790s. With a bit of research, I learned that during this decade, men wore their hair cropped short and brushed forward. With a windswept look. No more long white powdered wigs. That was considered passe. They also wore side burns. Since I had a week’s scruff on my face, I left the sideburns on when I shaved that morning. Then styled my hair like the men in the paintings from that period, which I downloaded while doing my research.
The white powdered wigs and full Restoration costumes I saw in the dressing room were not what I was expecting. Guess the commercial was set earlier in the 1700s? There were three other guys, and three ladies. I went first, of the men. The wardrobe people gave me the best brocaded jacket. Golden yellow. Elaborate pattern on the waistcoat, along with an impressive row of antique gold buttons.
I’ve done a fair amount of classical theatre, and know how to wear period clothing. It’s not just about standing with good posture. There is a skill involved, which not all men have. Some guys look good in everyday street clothes, but put them in something from another era and they look out of place. The costumes either hang on them in an unflattering way, or make them look like gorillas in tuxedos.
There you have the three actors who were cast alongside me. Standing in a line for the director to approve. Three modern men ill at ease, and one passenger emerged from a time machine.
“You look like you’ve worn that before,” from the director.
“I was born in the wrong century.” Nobody argued with that, once I stepped onto the set. A spectacular mansion, decorated like the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.
No one looked at me twice, however, once the pig made her entrance. It’s true what they say about animals upstaging everyone. They do whatever they like, trained or untrained, and are invariably funny. This pig was no exception. She waited until the cameras were rolling, then deliberately shook the wig off her head. On every take. It was difficult not to laugh, even for the director, who was understandably frustrated.
What made the atmosphere tense was not the pig. People make allowances for animal actors, but not for their trainers, who are expected to be good at their jobs. This particular trainer had a burly, macho attitude, and seemed to think the director was a pansy who didn’t warrant acknowledgement. He ignored everything that was said to him, refusing to respond. Other than to display his anger at having to take orders from a pansy.
He kept giving the pig treats, while the cameras were rolling, even though the cameraman was asking him to use a different method of coaching her. They needed a shot where the pig was not eating. This cameraman could pass any test of manliness put in front of him, yet his requests also went unacknowledged. The brusque trainer kept giving the pig treats. Take after take. The pig chomped away, then shook off her wig.
Two days later, I was called in to play the cello. Not play. Pretend to play. The TV show was casting a string quartet, but they specified that the musicians would not be expected to actually perform. If it were not for that specification, I would not have put myself up for the job. Although I studied the cello for eight years, that was when I was a kid. I haven’t held a cello since I was a junior in high school.
“You’re not looking for a real life concert cellist to give a performance, right?”
“No, no, no. We’re not going to put sheet music in front of you. We just need people who look like they know how to play.”
“Good. That I can do.”
“Do you have your own cello?”
“No, the ad said the instruments would be provided.”
“They are not able to provide instruments. This may be a deal breaker.”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry.”
I hung up the phone and got online immediately. To find a cello. There was one for sale in Woodland Hills, for two hundred dollars. Which is a fantastic deal. It’s also more than the job pays. I wrote to the lady to ask if she would consider renting the cello for just one day. I offered to leave my laptop with her, for collateral. She said no.
The next day, the casting guy called again.
“Turns out they would like to see you, even if you don’t have a cello.”
“I did find one online. Are they searching for instruments? I could…”
“No, they have instruments for the shoot. Just not for the audition.”
Audition? I thought it was a costume fitting. For a background job.
“This may sound strange, but could you maybe mime a cello?”
“I’m a professional mime.”
“Really? How cool. So that works out great. Can you get here by two o’clock?”
A quick glance at Baby Ben tells me it is now twelve forty. “Sure.”
I hang up the phone and laugh. I almost lost an audition in front of the casting director for a hit TV show because I didn’t have a cello, even though production would be providing one for the shoot? In what world does that make sense?
Twelve forty-one. I drop what I’m doing. Shave, shower, dress in black, and rush out the door to arrive by two on the dot. An attractive assistant brings me a cello.
“I thought they weren’t…”
“Christopher?” It’s the casting director. “Come on in.”
I go on in. I sit in the chair. In front of the camera. I open the case and take out the first cello I’ve held since my junior year of high school. I wish I had a few minutes to see how much I remember.
“Is that your own cello?”
Good grief. “No, it isn’t.” Don’t bother explaining. It doesn’t matter.
“Go ahead and play something.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake. You’ve got to be kidding.
I touch the bow to the strings, dreading how bad it will sound. I’m surprised to hear a clean, clear note. The cello is in tune. My hand automatically found the right spot to check for that. My vibrato remembered itself. Even so, I have no idea how to summon a melody. How could I possibly avoid looking like some actor who lied about having a skill he does not have? The camera is rolling. No time to think. I decide to keep playing single notes, moving my hand into the various positions. That’s the best I can do. As for Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, they will have to find a real cellist.