Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Me and the Vampire, we're like one degree of separation...

For whatever reason, I've only recently become aware of HBO hit series True Blood, set in the deepest of the Deep South, and following the adventures of Sookie, a telepathic waitress played by Anna Paquin (Remember the little girl who won an Oscar for Jane Campion's The Piano? Well, her.) and her rather dishy lover Bill Compton, who happens to be a vampire. (Yes really. With retractable fangs and everything.)

Bill is played by British actor Stephen Moyer. Stephen studied at LAMDA and one of his tutors there was Brian Astbury... who also happened to be one of my tutors at East15. And there's our one degree of separation!

I often fantasise about appearing on a US hit TV series. In the meantime, I get to go to auditions like the one I had yesterday, for a corporate video. (For those of you who are not in the Industry, a corporate video requires the same amount of filming as a commercial but because it is not broadcast, the actors only get paid the shooting fee, which is a lot less - at most 20% - than the usage rights for broadcast....)

But I'm a trouper. If your agent sends you to a casting, you go, whatever the part, whatever the gig. Because every casting is an opportunity to get on people's radar. So off I went to the casting studio, braving the cold and the rain and arrived to find a waiting room drowning in actors and mountains of bags and coats. It looked like those pictures of the Eurostar terminal last Christmas. It smelt of wet clothes and wet leather. And that indefinable film that always hangs in the air whenever actors gather in numbers: I call it the smell of desperation.

I wasn't desperate, just a bit miffed that the 3 other castings taking place there were for 2 feature films and a commercial for Microsoft. Why not me!!! The answer was staring me in the face. More precisely, I was doing the staring.

There was a posse of young girls wearing more make-up than Jordan (they always do!) chatting away excitedly about their recent and current film roles. It turned out that they were all ex-classmates and going up for the same title role in this big feature. (No corporate videos for them then...)

There was a rather bloated and ragged looking older woman who occasionally sniffed the contents of a small glass capsule (probably lavender essence or something to clear the sinuses). She kept blowing her nose and sighing. In between the sniffing and the blowing and the sighing, she was going over her script. (No corporate video for her either...)

There were 20-30something women with long hair and lanky men who were called in to audition in pairs for a big American brand. You could smell the money.

And then there was me and one other rather snooty girl who from the moment she strutted in looked down her nose at everybody. I know enough now to read it as nervousness and insecurity. As it turns out, she was called in right before me.

Even though I am not a teenager, or an old hag, or sport long hair, part of me was still silently screaming "Why not me?" "Pick me!"

Anyway, it was a nice audition. Nice people. We had a laugh. We had a chat. I hope I get it. It's always the way, no matter what the job is, once you've auditioned for it, you feel like the part is well... part of you, that it's yours, like a birth right.

Of course, the right approach it to take each audition as it comes, and then forget all about it. But I'm too sentimental, I get attached.

So bite me ... I hope I get it.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Should I forgive you now that you're old and shrivelled?

Hands up if as a child you were afraid to sleep in the dark, or worried about monsters crouching under the bed or hiding in the wardrobe. Night terrors and childhood fears tend to fade as we get older. Nowadays I only tend to check under the bed (and behind the door) if I'm falling asleep alone. It's progress...

Now raise your hand if you suffered at the hands of a sadistic teacher or disciplinarian parent or the school bully. Not so easy to grow out from under those shadows. Somehow these people continue to tower over us even as we reach our adult heights. Their voice, their gaze, their opinion still have the power to paralyse us, to terrify us, to make us want to run away and hide. To make us feel, well, small.

How do the victims of Pol Pot and Mengele and other ageing despots feel when they see their former tormentors frail and so very very old? Does their fear diminish? Does their terror abate? Do they feel compassion for those who showed none? Can they reconcile the idea of a monster at the height of his sadistic powers with a wheelchair bound grandpa who lovingly carves wooden toys for his unsuspecting grandchildren?

I was lucky enough to grow up in peace time, in the prosperous West. I didn't suffer from the consequences of genocide or civil war or the repression from a totalitarian regime. But in the receding shadows of my childhood stands an individual who filled me and several others with fear and terror as we were growing up. Their influence continued to reach us even after we had grown up and moved away.

Now, they are old, and increasingly frail and lonely, and loosing their faculties. Their harmless and innocuous appearance belies their past strength and terrifying vigour and the authority they exerted over us.

Should we forgive them? Should I forgive them? Have I forgiven them already? What about those quirks of character I occasionally exhibit? Those distant echoes from my childhood? Am I still under the memory of their spell?

Should I forgive them? What's the alternative to forgiveness? What instrument shall I choose? Revenge? Hatred? Oblivion?

I choose freedom. The freedom to look into the future rather than the past. Freedom from painful memories. Freedom to explore all those things life has in store. The good and the bad. The successes and the failures.

Because when you face forward, into the future, the world is your oyster. And it's a well known fact that oysters sometimes harbour pearls, but never monsters.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

21st century science catches up with prehistoric man

Size 0 is out.

Please out my latest blog entry on The Independent website on the imminent return to Homo Sapiens aesthetics: http://isabellegregson.livejournal.com/

We are not a-muse-d!

Can you be your own Muse or is that one egocentric step too far? At any rate, I'm feeling pretty inspired this morning.

I just had an email from the agent of an up-and-coming writer who is interested in discussing my new stage play - code name: The Lusty Lady. I can't really say much about it as it's at the protozoic stage right now (ie large group of single-celled, usually microscopic, eukaryotic organisms, such as amoebas, ciliates, flagellates, and sporozoans) but it's exciting!

Now all I need is an A-list star, a producer, a top Fringe location, a director et VOILA! As I said, it's all very exciting. So watch this space.

Now for something completely unrelated.

Some people match their names. I had a sports teacher called Melle Ballon (Miss Ball) and a chemistry teacher called Mme Chalumeau (Mrs. Blowpipe). Grace Coddington is one of those people. She's Fashion Director at US Vogue and I discovered her existence late Sunday night watching The September Issue - the documentary about Vogue and its editor in chief Anna Wintour. Grace is grace under pressure, grace in the face of rampant commercialism, grace in the face of the cult of celebrity. She comes alive when she spots something beautiful, and she does seem to find beauty in many places - a deserted French garden on a dreary windy winters day, even in the pudgy tummies of cameramen. With her long flaming red hair and her flat shoes that cannot disguise her ex-model height, she is the last link between art and fashion. She likes Couture. She likes the unexpected. She likes soft colours and lighting. She dresses the models herself. She works with fashion photographers who know that in a fashion magazine, the clothes are the stars. I think she's wonderful.

No wonder I'm feeling inspired.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Don't you know who the hell I am?

A successful acting career is a bit like alchemy. It involves luck, persistance, hard work, a thick skin, sometimes talent - but the precise formula is elusive and ever changing. It's also a bit like money. Once you have a fair amount of it, it's self-generating. The problem is starting out.

The rules used to be simple. Successful actors acted in film, high profile TV dramas or long running series, and to a lesser extent soaps, and once in a while dipped their toes in theatre through the National Theatre or the RSC or if they were really edgy, the Donmar Warehouse.

Actors who were starting out did commercials, student films, fringe theatre, and increasingly online entertainment. They worked for free (because they worked a non-acting job on the side to pay the bills). They were the cannon fodder of new writing.

Then the credit crunch happened. And also Brown's tinkering with tax relief on film production (he got rid of it). And the jobs disappeared. At first nothing much happened. People stayed put. A few actors moved to Hollywood. Some did very well. Dominic West in the Wire, Hugh Laurie in House, the list goes on...

The others stayed put some more. But the jobs didn't come back. So what do you think happened? Successful actors downgraded... they started doing adverts, they started appearing in Fringe Theatre... and the audiences followed.

What a bonanza for the fringe theatres! After years of dwindling or absent subsidies and hard slog... finally success! Sold out runs. Big PR stories. Lots of press. What a bonanza for new writers! Finally a chance to fight back against the West End juggernauts!

I'm all for it of course, in theory. But where does this leave the rest of us who are just starting out? Out in the cold I'm afraid. And in February, it's a darn chilly place!

The bad news is that the numbers of aspiring actors will drop over the next few years. The waves of starry eyed new comers will swell every year but those who've been in the business for a few years will probably start looking at alternatives (casting, producing, writing, directing) or drop out of the business altogether and start a family and get a mortgage (or not).

The good news it that as there are too many actors, so a bit of market dynamic will separate the wheat from the chaff and leave the industry leaner and stronger for it. And when things pick up again, there'll be more jobs for those hardy few who've stuck it out.

In the meantime, next time you book your tickets to see Keira Knightley at the NT or Nicole Kidman taking her kit off - spare a thought for the actors who might have played the part better, albeit to a far smaller audience, who are condemned to another shift at the telemarketing job - or worse - a summer at Butlins.

There's only one thing that's more unappealing than an out of work and desperate actor. And that's a whingeing actor. So what's the moral? There isn't one really. Afterall the Industry is called Show Business, not Show Art or Show Charity. It's about luck, persistence, hard work, a thick skin... if you're not up for it, don't do it. Get a degree, get a proper job, raise a family... and be happy.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Let's get naked

Consider this for a moment. If you were preparing to appear naked on stage or screen, how much of an expectation would there be that you would appear toned, tanned, lithe and dancer like? How much of that expectation would come from others (director, producers, co-stars, casting director, your agent)? And how much would come from you?

Is it a question of common sense, professionalism or ego? What about artistic choices? What if you chose to make your stripper/naked housewife/prostitute a fattie? What would it say about the character (or your personal character for that matter)? Would it make her more interesting, more appealing, more endearing or just plain wrong and repelling?

These are the questions I ask myself, as I ponder the development of my latest theatre project, working title: The Lusty Lady, based on my experiences as a peep show dancer in San Francisco.

I'm not new to the uh... nudity clause. It became my signature stunt at Drama School (and won me the "best skin" award at graduation). It's very empowering, not the actual nakedness but rather the awe it inspires in most people who wouldn't dream of disrobing in front of others, not even in the relative anonymity of the single sex changing room. It makes you feel powerful and vulnerable at the same time - quite handy for an actor.

I'm also not new to the skinny vs fatty debate. When I performed "There's Something in the Fridge that Wants to Kill Me!" at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe, I lost a fair bit of weight through a combination of factors: cutting out chocolate and dairy for my voice, day long one-on-one rehearsals for 5 weeks, the general running around that producing and marketing a show at Edinburgh entails, and performing the show twice a day (I did a full run in my flat every morning as part of the warm up). I was looking pretty good up there. How did that work out for me? Actually, it cost me the trust and involvement of some audience members who thought I looked too slender to play the characters convincingly. They didn't believe my story and would have liked me a lot better if I'd been podgy. Oh the irony! Let's call it the Madonna syndrome.

Damned if your thin, damned if you're fat.

Now, The Lusty Lady project, as yet unwritten but surely one that's going to call for some flashing of the flesh. Am I too old? Am I too fat? Or the wrong body type? Will people like me better if I'm fit or if I'm pleasingly normal? Or downright chubby?

Is there such a thing as being a plus size actress? Do you get your own acting category? The sweet sweet chocolate covered irony in all of this is that for the last few years, it's the rounder actresses who've made out like bandits on the award circuit.

Remember Dreamgirls? Poor Beyonce was made to shave her signature curves with some godawful stringent diet but it's Jennifer Hudson playing the Fattie who got the Oscar. And what about Gabourey Sidibe nominated for an Oscar for her lead role in Precious? So much for Hollywood producers and their obsession with size 0 actresses. Somebody's coming round...

But to get back to the point, if you're going to strip to your birthday suit, which suit should that be? Skinny or Rubenesque? Renee Zellweger famously piled on the pounds to play Bridget Jones but she kept her clothes on (mostly, remember those big white panties?)

Of course, I could choose to play a character who doesn't disrobe. All Tease and no Strip as it were. But that's not the point. There will be other instances when I am asked to disrobe or consider disrobing. I didn't mind at all in Wire in the Blood even though the wide angle lense and lighting were rather unflattering... but it suited the character.

So I think the answer is that as an actor, I will seek to shape my body to the needs of the character rather than subsume all my energy in the pursuit off a tiny bottom. (Mind you, as a Latina, I am never going to achieve a tiny bottom, I'll settle for pert.)

These are my principles. There are limits of course and I did draw the line once when my very first agent asked whether I would consider doing an ad for a well known sports brand in which I would be required to do yoga naked.

D'you know what? I said no.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

It's not the G spot, c'est le G point!

Nul point to King's College London. The G spot doesn't exist? Quelle horreur!
Where on earth were they looking for it? On the back of a Wheatabix cereal packet?
What next, the clitoris is useless, an evolutionary relic like the appendix?
Who sponsored their study? FHM or the Daily Star?
Thank goodness the results have now been refuted by French specialists who say that 56% of women enjoy their G spot and are very happy with it merci very much. What a relief. Ou la la!
It's not as though this is an orienteering exercise (although if that's your thing, here's the link: www.britishorienteering.org.uk) it's about giving the mind and the senses a focal point. Like Chakras. We don't all walk around with a third eye smack in the middle of our foreheads (although I know some people claim to have three nipples) even though people have been happily chanting Om for thousands of years. Are you still with me?
Maybe it's a cultural thing. The British are more literal and favour the collective, the French more... poetique and favour l'individu. Every woman is entitled to develop her G spot but some may choose not to or may never quite put their metaphorical finger on it. This doesn't mean that the millions of women who have found their G spot are deluded or otherwise hysterical.
It's a private thing. One of the last icons of sexuality that hasn't been splashed in full technicolour across the pages of internet sites and scandal mags by some money grabbing big titted so-called reality star... It's cloaked in mystery, subtlety and mystique... And nowadays, where so much is made of the obvious, of the graphic, of the provocative, maybe that's reason enough in some quarters to relegate the G spot to the world of Feminist myth and legend.
Thank goodness for the French! Ladies, it's official, Le G point is real. It's a French tradition. Like Gherlain, BN biscuits and Bonne Maman Jam. Made available free of charge to all Francophiles although it may require some persistance and much practice to find yours. (But who's complaining?)
As to the British they can keep their Vice Anglais, Jammy Dodgers, Trafalgar, Waterloo, the Nelson column, driving on the left, tweed and Mr Brown...
Vive la difference!!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Smoking hot!

Apparently, there will be less than 10% of the UK population still smoking by 2020 if the government has its way. What will people do instead I wonder? Drink more? Eat more? Gamble more?

Will everyone who quits smoking become better adjusted and a better person? What about us non-smokers? Does this mean we are already a better class of citizens?

Will those glamourous black and white films full of hard men and beautiful women tapping their cigarettes on their silver cases, lifting a strand of tobacco leaf from their tongue, or seductively starring into the eyes of the one lighting their cigarette become hackeneyed and unappealing?

Lucky Luke lost his cigarette way back when in the 80's I think. (For the non-Francophiles amongst you, he's a cowboy comic book hero.) It was replaced with a rather limp bit of straw. So much for precedents.

Smoking is about transgression. Rebellion. Cool. Being Bad. Tattoos and Sex. Piercings. Wearing either chipped nail varnish or very long red talons. About dyeing your hair blond, and then maybe letting the roots show. Nudity. Notoriety!

All those things we secretely dream of (well, I do) from the safety of the Middle and Social Acceptance.

So what's in store for the 11% who will be persuaded to quit one way or another over the next 10 years? A longer life? A healthier life? A happier life?

Maybe just a bit more money in their wallets. Just don't go and spend it all on sweets.