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.

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