Monday, 22 November 2010

Drama Queens and Shooting Stars

Bear with me, I am transcribing this blog entry from the back of a flimsy paper napkin from Ray's Jazz Cafe (or Cafe at Foyles as it's now called) in Soho. The napkins may be flimsy (recycled actually) but the place is nothing but. It's great, try it sometimes.

So which is it going to be? The question being: would you rather be a duty bound and iconic royal or lead a short and dramatic but glitteringly captivating life?  For my part, I'm more Queen Elizabeth II than Queen of Hearts. As much as I'd like to be the one who arrives late for everything, for whom planes are held up, I'm more likely to be the one reorganising the tea bags , killing time in the British Airways lounge - or reheating left overs in my Tupperware. A Queen Elizabeth type of person shows up on time for appointments, early for flights, sticks to the rules, is reliable, dependable, genuine, caring and compassionate of others, and not a source of embarrassment for her immediate family. Drama Queens on the other hand don't know the meaning of time, run late as matter of course, and although extraordinarily caring and compassionate with  orphans and total strangers, are odly dismissive of and sometimes harmful to their close ones.

And yet, who doesn't want to be a shooting star? Who doesn't want their moment of glory (even if it was playing the 3rd sheep from the left in the school nativity play, 20 years ago). Everyone wants to shine like Marilyn and sing like Billie Holliday. Don't they? Or is it just me?

Like most things in life, it's a trade-off: an easy conscience and respect and approval of the chattering classes OR scandals and rock-bottoms and loads of designer freebies. I mean, broadly speaking. The exception to the rule, and there is always an exception is Kate Moss. She is iconic, notorious (she's the cover for Roxy Music's latest album Olympia) and will probably still model flimsy underwear age 120. I make no bones about it, I'd like to be Kate Moss. There is one drawback: you never or rarely hear her speak.... I would struggle with that.

Last night was the cast and crew screening of the first 2 parts of Any Human Heart which premiered on Channel 4 last night in the UK. I'm in part 4 which will air December 12th at 9pm. Now you know. Now you don't have an excuse not to watch it. So when you do, give me my Diana moments by fawning over my FaceBook page and telling me how great I was and how fantastic I looked (especially if you haven't actually watched it). Otherwise, Queen of Hearts or not, I'll make a big drama about it...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Bear and the Hungarian Princess

I wish I was a bear. Let me elaborate and broaden this statement. I'd like to be any type of hybernating animal. Why? Consider this: in the Spring and Summer, you frolick around in the lush grass of the meadows, stuffing yourself silly with berries and other wild fruit and honey (if you're a bear that is - and I'm quite partial to honey, especially since it's excluded from the Dukan Diet, hence my preference for bears). You get as fat as you can. Then, when the days start to shorten and the leaves start to fall from the trees, after a last meal of gorgeous hazelnuts you bury yourself deep underground in an accommodating and comfy den and then sleep for months. Then, when you wake up, it's Spring and - here's the best part - you're skinny!

Look me in the eye and tell me that you don't want to come back as a bear next time around... (of course, make sure to specify what kind of bear... you  don't want to come back as a panda and be stuck in a zoo eating bamboo leaves and being encouraged to copulate with your panda mate that you don't fancy one bit.)

Now on to the Hungarian princess bit. Kate Middleton and Prince William are engaged to be married and of course everyone is very very happy for them... but the BBC seems very keen on pointing out every five minutes that she is a "commoner". How progressive! Hey, at least she's English, she's not a benefit fraud, she's not a divorcee, and she's even from the Home Counties. What more do they want? Actually she's from good middle class stock and apparently a 15th cousin of Prince Williams so there's a bit of aristo in her. And unlike journos her grammar is near perfect...

Speaking of perfect grammar. What passes for my British accent overseas disturbs the English. I don't have an accent: no regional twang, no social class twang (genuine or affected), so they can tell I'm not from here. I'm tired of having to justify my accent to everyone from Taxi drivers to call centre workers...  Did you ever watch "My Fair Lady" ? When Professor Higgins takes Eliza Doolittle's to a very posh reception as a final test? One of the guests is heard commenting: "Her accent is too perfect... she must be a Hungarian Princess!". More of that please, and less "Where are you from?".

Moving on, I had a casting today for a well known chain of eyewear. It was right behind Oxford Circus and I'd never been to that particular studio. I arrived early, rang the interphone and duly climbed the stairs, all five floors, to the casting studio. I whiled away the time chatting with a fellow actor as we waited our turn. Me: "Boy, it's a long way up! I'm pretty fit I think but I was starting to struggle there towards the end. You wouldn't want to come up those stairs if you had a dodgy ticker!." Him: "I don't know, I took the lift..." I hadn't realised there was a lift... Anyway, his name was Toby and he was about 6 foot 2 and we auditioned together standing side by side which must have looked quite hysterical. He was really lovely and warm and I wish him all the best.

So here's to happy couples, long royal marriages, Hungarian Princesses and hungry bears!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

You're middle aged and I want you to cry your eyes out.

I love my agent! Their (my agent is actually 2 people) belief in me is unswerving. They believe I can play anything: any age, any nationality, any social group. Of course, most actors believe that and the theory is that yes, with training and dedication and a lot of research a good actor should be able to play a wide variety of roles.

That's what drama school is for. In the real world, unless your name is Johnny Depp, it doesn't work like that. Why? Two words: casting directors. Tell me, why should a casting director go through the trouble (and risk) of casting a 25 year old fresh faced ingenue to play an embittered post menopausal harridan when they can cast the genuine article? Why would they cast a Londoner to play an Irish country wench? (This second rethorical question is not being asked at random... more on that later.)

But my agent believes that Johnny Depp aside, there is an exception to this golden rule of casting... it's called "The Interesting Choice". It's not a technical term, I've never actually heard anyone else use it. Actually, I just made it up.

Let me explain: you are a film director (please indulge me, sit on the director's chair, for goodness sake, it's even got your name printed on the back) and you are about to shoot a hilarious script that involves an older (45-50) plain looking secretary, who erupts in floods of tears at her long time boss' leaving do (I told you it was a hilarious script). One more thing, this is world cinema so you are shooting in French, with a French cast. As the casting director, you are going to look for French middle aged looking women who can put on a good cry. But that's rather obvious isn't it? I mean, anyone can do that. What if, you bring in someone a bit different, not likely to get the part because they are neither middle aged, nor plain, but someone who would make "an interesting choice". That way, everyone can feel good about hiring the real life middle aged plain secretary without feeling that they lack imagination because they did afterall consider "the interesting choice".

I am that "Interesting Choice". Very often. A bit too young for the role, a bit too different looking, dare we say a bit foreign? (As my agent always tells me: don't worry, the English HATE all foreigners.) So I was not surprised to receive an invitation to a casting session on Monday morning for a French ad campaign asking me to come in as a middle aged plain secretary who can give a good cry. (I'm very good at crying. I can cry - convincingly - on demand.)

I arrived - after a brief panic when I couldn't figure out how to get their front door open and had the entire reception desk staff miming "push" "bigger push" at me through the glass (apparently it had to do with the timing of the release button) to find a room full of middle aged but  relatively attractive and slender women (well, they all had to be Native French speakers...) and a few younger looking ones. I didn't stand out quite as much as I have in some other casting sessions, so I thought I might be in with a chance (especially when I heard one of the so called Native French speakers speaking in French in her best David Niven accent. Shame on her! The English may hate all foreigners but that pales in comparison with what us foreigners feel about Brits impersonating our nationality.)

I was in a foul mood: Brits passing themselves as native French speakers! Snooty French actresses being, well, French! One woman had even brought in her badly behaved toddler! (He wasn't badly behaved poor little mite, it's just that his mother had absolutely no authority over him whatsoever.) The heating was on too strong and I had my back to the heater! The waiting room was in a basement! I was being asked to play an ugly spinster with an unrequited crush on her boss! You get the picture, but I resisted the urge to run out and instead did my Alba Emoting breathing exercises (you can recreate any emotion through a particular set of breathing patterns and physical postures - hence my ability to cry on demand.) I did some neutral breathing, some happy belly laughs, and a bit of "erotic love" for good measure.

Everyone was auditioned in pairs (one younger one older). To be fair, the script did also include the part of a slightly younger woman who is seen consoling the older one. The last pair went in and I found myself alone in the waiting area. 20 minutes went by. "Excuse me?" The casting assistant, a pretty blonde who'd had the time of her life at a Halloween Party the night before (I heard her chatting to her mate about it on her mobile phone), looked up from her papers. "I'm afraid I have to leave at noon at the latest..." (It was 11:40, my casting call was for 11:20.) "Oh..." She knocked on the door to the casting room and asked if they could see me now on my own as I had to leave and they said yes!

And then the magic happened: I crossed that threshhold and felt happy and easy going. I had a nice chat to the casting director, and then we got on with it: I got to play the crying secretary twice, once without tears, once with, all the while improvising in French with the casting director improvising back in English... Then I left and went to Byron's in Covent Garden for a super double burger with fries (it was my celebration meal). For dessert, I headed over to Maison Bertaux at the bottom of Greek Street and had an almond croissant as big as my head.

And then I did what you should do after every audition: forget all about it. That way, if you don't get the job it doesn't matter, and if you do, it's a nice surprise. It's not as hard as it sounds, especially with a mouth full of almond croissant.