Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Back in 10 minutes

Hello. Hello?

I know it's been a while.

I've been kindda busy.

All will be revealed soon on my sister blog "A girl's gotta eat!"

See you soon...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Now put your clothes back on

As you'll already know if you read the last entry (If you haven't, now's your chance: As the Actress Said to the Bishop...; "Now take your clothes off". No one will ever know that you missed it first time round. Except for me of course.) I was called in to re-audition in my bathing suit last Friday. Lucky me. My agent who is nothing if not thorough reissued the casting breakdown. After briefly toying with the idea of saying Non! I thought better of it (I could do with the money) and re-read the breakdown - just in case they'd decided to ditch the swimwear. This time it specified: "dress smart casual" but sadly, it still requested that I wear a bathing suit under my clothes.

The sort-of diet is going well thank you... but having to fit a 30's style bathing suit underneath anything that doesn't resemble a tent remains a limiting factor. So I plumped for a pair of custom made pinstripe blue Thai style trousers (you know the kind that are open on the side but wrap around the front and back - handy for flinging off burlesque style when I revealed my bathing suit underneath) and some rubber soled high heeled red patent leather shoes so I wouldn't trip.

As a rule, I try and conserve energy before an audition. It's amazing how much you need once the adrenaline gets pumping. But not on Friday. First I went to Zumba and did the rumba, the salsa, the cumbia and some chachacha for a whole hour before power walking into Soho in my heels. I figured lunch could wait. (I find it so much easier to suck in my tummy when I'm starving. Don't you?)

Given the casting director's time keeping record, I arrived on the dot for my appointment at one o'clock. There was a new girl on reception: efficient, unflappable and friendly (although it turned out she wasn't even working there, she was just temping for the morning.) "Hi, I'm Isabelle Gregson." "Hi, just fill out this form." (What? Again? I used my madwoman flowing handwriting... that will show them.)


Me to the unflappable temp, with a light tone: "How much of a wait is there?"
Unflappable temp: "They're pretty much on time but it's first come first seen basis, we're not going by call time." She gave a little shrug as if to say: "That's not how I would do it either but what can you do?"

There were 4 other actors waiting. Older on average than the group from Wednesday. I didn't have anything else to do (other than get some lunch) so I stayed put and settled in for a long wait.

Older brash blonde woman stepping into reception to other blonde looking rather washed out in a pale summer dress: "Oh hi! I haven't seen you in ages..."
Pale dress wishing she'd worn more make up and a red dress: "I know. It's been so long..."

And I (we all had) to endure yet another mind numbing conversation between two ageing and painfully middle class actresses (I have nothing against the middle classes, I mean I'm middle class but there's regular middle class and then there's painful middle class  - like those two.) This time it was weddings.

Brash Blonde: "I 'd like to know who she (Kate) worked with to make sure her face didn't set in a nervous grimace, you could tell she was so nervous."
Pale Dress: "I wonder how she managed not to cry. I bet she wore waterproof mascara just in case."
Oh do shut up already.
Brash Blonde's re her own upcoming nuptial (make a break for it you poor man whilst you still can): "I'm worried I'll cry and ruin my make-up on the day."
Pale Dress : "You have to treat it as a performance. You're an actress."
Brash Blonde: "But I cry watching pet food commercials!"
Die both of you. Die now.

Then Brash Blonde got called in and it all went blissfully quiet. One by one they all went in. Then the temp left. I was bored so I got to chatting with the owner of the casting studio, as you do. Poor woman. Poor woman? Poor me!  I bet she'd never had a captive audience before. That's how I found about the temp being a temp. And found out the name of the gloomy guts who'd been manning reception on Wednesday. I found out lots of things about the ins and out of the casting studio industry (not much money in it but lots of work) and its evolution over the last 20 years (email has gone and ruined the notion of lead times).

Then it was my turn to audition. After the usual 'look into the camera, name, agent, right profile, left profile, show us your hands, show us the other side, any commercials in the last year?' the casting director announced: "This is definitely about less is more. I just want you to take your shoes off and lie there on the couch and relax." So I did. "Wiggle your toes a bit." So I did. "Not so much." I obliged. "Have a look around as you relax." I did. "Have a stretch. Good. Now wiggle your toes again." It went on like this for a good 5 or 10 minutes. I've never worked so hard at doing nothing and relaxing on a couch.

Then it was thank you and goodbye. I don't think I'll get it. On account of my toe wiggle probably being too continental. But the best bit? After all that angst and trouble I went to, no one asked to see my bathing suit!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Now take your clothes off

Another week, another audition.

The call from my agent came in late on Tuesday evening. These late calls are never a good sign. It usually means the job is being rushed through and that somebody or possibly several individuals are not being given enough time to do things properly. None of this ever bodes well for the actors involved being as they are at the bottom of the proverbial food chain, one down from lowly plankton. (This goes for big stars like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie too except they get paid pots of money to compensate.) "Can you do 1:30 tomorrow? It's in Soho. I've sent you the details. Just bring a bathing suit..."

A bathing suit! I downloaded the casting breakdown: "multiple ages and looks, no overweight people please, must be comfortable auditioning in a bathing suit."
Several thoughts immediately came to mind, all of them negative: I already have a 2:30 appointment in the diary. I don't want to wear a bathing suit. I shouldn't have to disrobe unless I'm getting paid.Why a bathing suit? I don't like the idea of some appalling audition footage of me surfacing when I get my big break. I don't have time for a quick fake tan. I'm not sure I know where to find my bathing suit.

Now, my former drama school class mates and anyone who saw my one woman show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe will attest to my willingness and indeed enthusiasm to disrobe for art. Nudity on stage or in front of the camera, if it suits the role, does not phase me. Of course, I will starve myself for a few months before hand and exercise like a demon (who wouldn't?) but - seriously - I don't consider it a big deal.

What's the problem with auditioning in my bathing suit?
Honestly? I'm feeling a bit fat (not in absolute terms but certainly in that no-tan-just-coming-out-of-winter-skin kind of way) and I really don't want to have to undress in front of a bunch of strangers and have them film it.

Fair enough?

So I toyed with the idea of calling my agent to cancel.

But I have a rule: to try never to act based on Fear or Ego. Cancelling the casting felt pretty much like Fear and Ego were doing the talking. In the end - and I'm going to spare you the agonising and toing and froing - I settled for wearing my cute stripey 1930's bathing suit under my jeans. And I set off for Soho early (before I changed my mind). With luck, I would be seen quickly and then have plenty of time to get to the next appointment.

I must have known deep in my soul that there would be some sort of trouble ahead because on the way I stopped by WHSmith for the impulsive purchase of a book of crossword puzzles (I really had to look hard for it, it's all gone Sudoku in the puzzle section) and some sugar free gum.

I got to the casting studio at one on the dot. The lobby was heaving with people, some were sitting, most were standing. I pushed my way through to the pretty but bored brunette receptionist on duty. "Hi, I'm Isabelle Gregson." She crossed my name off the list: "Please fill out this form. Also, there's a bit of a wait so you may want to go and grab a coffee and come back later."

No one had warned me that Puff Adder would be making an appearance. (If you don't know Puff Adder, check the blog archive.) I think it must have been all the Fear that conjured it up.

Puff Adder: "How long a wait exactly."

Pretty receptionist now rather sullen, having taken an immediate dislike to Puff Adder: "Well, like half a hour maybe, or more. It depends."

It depends on what you sulking git?

Puff Adder: "I have another meeting to get to after so I'm not sure I'll be able to wait that long..."

And with that I sat down. Or rather Puff Adder stole the empty seat from the girl who'd just gone into the casting room. Let the rest of them stand. I pulled out the crossword and immediately struggled with it. You should have gone for Sudoku and now it's too late.

You know how sometimes, when you're somewhere really beautiful and you're in love and all relaxed you become hyper aware of everything around you: the colours, the sounds, the smells? Well, I was having one of those moments but in the nightmare version.

The tall Chinese model on my left was clicking her long fingernails and intermittently running them through her long hair so they made that almost but not quite blackboard sound. Then there were two actor friends chatting mindlessly.
Rihanna clone: "Yeah like I was in LA like and it was soooo cooool!"
Pretty boy: "Yeah? Like how? I'm off to Canada next week, I mean LA is quite far from Canada innit ? But I have my son with me so like you know I have responsibilities but like - LA? Definitely! So how was it?" Rihanna look-alike: "Oh my God, like, you know it was like really cool and stuff but like I had to learn like 4 scripts a day cos they're so much more professional over there."

Then the receptionist drone pulled out her sandwich and started to chew on it very loudly.

The crossword wasn't getting any easier, even with Puff Adder cheating and checking the answers at the back.

Pretty boy from before: "So like did you work a lot when you were out in LA like?"
Rihanna wannabe: "Like not really but I'm going back like in the Summer."

Und so veiter as they say in German.

After some 15 minutes the door to the casting room opened and everyone looked up in anticipation. Pick me! Pick me! The girl whose chair I was using came out and proceeded to crouch down to retrieve her various bags and coats from under me. Casting director: "The director's taking a break so we'll just be a while before we call the next person in." But of course.

And on and on in went and dragged. Every 15 minutes of so someone else would be called in. In between, the casting director would return a few calls or check email, or the director would take a loo break.

2 o'clock rolled around. There were only about 5 of us left. I couldn't tell if the witch on reception had decided to stick me to the back of the queue on account of Puff Adder.

2:10: still 5 of us left.

2:15: four of us left.

I'd calculated that I needed a good 15 minutes to get to my next appointment. I had now been waiting for an hour and a half - or only (only!) 45 minutes beyond my call time. I'd made it all the way to the audition, in my bathing suit. I had faced my Fear and Ego and won! So I got up, explained to the receptionist that I could no longer wait as I had another meeting and I left.

You don't end up 45 minutes late by accident. It's takes a lot of dedication. Some would even call it an art form. Puff Adder calls it just plain unprofessional. I couldn't possibly comment.

UPDATE! Guess what, yes, my agent just called... the bathing suit audition has been rescheduled for tomorrow so watch this space....

Friday, 29 April 2011

It's hot and crazy in the kitchen - the sequel

Well what do you know? As if to prove the point that you can never tell with auditions, my agent called to tell me I had landed a recall following last Friday's disastrous casting session. "The problem is... they won't pay you a recall fee." When have any of them ever paid me a recall fee? "That's fine." "Oh and they've pencilled you for the shoot..." Pencil shmencil...

I'm kindda cranky this week. He would go as far as to say 'she's a bit feral'. It's a hard one to diagnose: a sense of general blahness rather than anything specific. At first I blamed it on the general social malaise (are we or are we not still in a recession?), then I blamed it on the three day week effect (this is our second 4 day weekend in a row) which has meant cramming in 5 days' worth of 'stuff' into 3, then I thought it might be due to media overload I wish them well but enough already with the Royal Wedding. Then I remembered.

Firstly, I've just bleached my teeth. This makes me toothy for a day or two. As in on edge. I manage the sensitivity with 12 hour ibuprofen, but I may need to shift it up a gear and get some Ritalin to get a handle on the mood swings. Secondly, I'm on a bit of a diet so I'm not thinking straight.

Where was I going with this? Audition recall. Just to refresh your memory, last Friday's audition was tragic: I had a barney (that's a quaint British word for altercation) with the girls on reception, then I yelled at the casting assistant, and finally had an emotional melt down with the casting director. Me, I'm all for second chances even if they aren't paying me a recall fee so I figured I'd go and knock their proverbial socks off at the recall.

It was being held at the same location (but of course) as last Friday's audition. I decided to give myself plenty of time to get there so I could stay nice and chilled. So I cleaned the house, stopped by the post office, walked all the way over to the butchers, dropped in on the chemist, picked up some groceries and then dropped everything back at the flat before heading out, which left me just enough time to rush out again and catch a tube (subway) to the audition.

I got there with 10 minutes to spare. After struggling with the glass front door like an imbecile (they buzz you in but the door always sticks so you end up making faces at the reception people to indicate that you're pushing but it's not working and they make faces back mouthing the words 'just push' and then just as you're about to give up and go home the door magically flings open and you fall in, powered by your own exertion.) I stumbled into the foyer.

Me with an engaging smile to the new girl on reception: "I always struggle with that door for some reason! Please don't call security, I'm harmless. Hi, I'm Isabelle Gregson, I'm here for the recall."
New girl: "What's your name? Oh sorry, you said. Please sign the ledger."

I obliged.

New girl: "Just take a seat."
Me: Here we go again... "You mean up here?"
New girl: "Yes."
Me: "Not downstairs?"
New girl: "No. That's right. Just sit right here." She pointed at the couch.
Me, with a broad smile: "OK."

Even though it wasn't ok - obviously - I settled on the couch and immersed myself in the paper I'd brought with me.

"Oy. Oy!"

I looked up to find the new girl's side kick on reception waving at me, a bit indignant.  "Yes you! You can go downstairs now!"

Determined to avoid any repeat of Friday's performance, I swallowed my pride, dismissed various murderous thoughts, smiled some more and headed down the stairs.

There were five people in the waiting room. All adults. No twins. To my relief, the young casting assistant from Friday wasn't there. She'd been replaced by someone a bit less impressionable and better organised.

Unflappable casting assistant: "Please fill out this form."
Me: "Hi, I'm Isabelle Gregson... don't you need to check my name off on your list?"
Unflappable casting assistant: "No. Don't tell me how to do my job. I could break you with my thumb. Just fill out the form and bring it back."

I smiled, took a seat, put my paper down on the chair next to mine and filled out the form as instructed. She took my mug shot and gave me a sheet with my name written on it and the number 32. (It turns out they'd abandoned the first come first serve system and were instead sticking to appointment times.)

I sat back down, went to grab my paper and realised that the guy one seat over had taken it. He wasn't being rude. He'd assumed it wasn't anybody's. So I didn't say anything and waited my turn. But waiting is harder without a paper.

Number 29 was called. Some more people came in. Then it was number 30's turn (who happened to be the guy who'd stolen my paper). I grabbed my paper back.

"I'm really very sorry but I've only got like just a wee minute so if you can squeeze me in next that would be great!"

Me and everyone else looked up at the tall and rather skinny Scottish guy with an incredibly whiny voice who'd just come into the room.

Unflappable casting assistant: "Well, these people (pointing at the five of us) are in front of you."
Whiny Scottish guy: "It's just that I don't have much time..."
Unflappable casting assistant, with a slight edge creeping in:: "Well, if someone's happy to switch with you that would be fine but otherwise you're going to have to wait."

Nobody offered to switch places.

Whiny Scottish guy: "Oh I don't want to p*ss anybody off..." but of course not, you just want to jump the queue.

Just then the door open and the casting director came out calling for number 31.

Number 31 to whiny Scottish guy: "It's my turn but I could switch with you if you'd like."
Whiny Scottish guy: "Well as I said I don't want to p*ss anybody off..."
Casting director interrupting him, to her casting assistant: "Wouldn't that throw your numbers?"
Casting assistant picking up on the hint: "Well, yes. It would."
Casting director to whiny Scottish guy: "It's going to mess up her system. What time do you have to leave?"

This went on for another five minutes. At least. I remained ensconsed in my paper, suddenly consumed with interest by the article on wedding party dresses and the fact that the colour yellow is on trend for the summer.

"Number 32!"

I sauntered past the casting director into the casting room. Sadly Fred wasn't there. His replacement (I use the term loosely), a nervy little guy with corkscrew hair raced out of the room with an "I've got to pee!".

The carpet and small round table were covered in flour (presumably from the chef auditions). I stared at the mess. A disembodied voice reached me from the back of the room. (Without my glasses, I'm terribly short sighted.) "Hi, I'm Stanley, I'm the director." Oh my goodness the director thinks I'm ignoring him. "Hi Stanley. I'm so sorry: everything's a bit of a blurr without my glasses." I could just about make out another silhouette next to him which I assumed was the client. I tried to gauge whether the casting director remembered my outburst (casting directors remember everything) with some friendly small talk. "How did you go with your bread dough?" The director groaned. Casting director with a hearty laugh: "Oh it well really well! Although this one chef told me it was a pretty bad dough."

We grinned at each other for a while until Fred's replacement popped back in the room with an empty bladder and clean hands.

We did the whole audition over again, just like on Friday. No reaction from Stanley or his shadowy off-sider. Then he had me try it in a completely different way. They had a little chuckle over my performance -  I remember thinking "that sounds like a good chuckle" - then the shadow next to him leant over and whispered something. And then it was thank you and good bye.

Will I get it? Who knows? Does it matter? Not really. The money (about a 6th of the big money job) would pay for a few cases of chocolate but I couldn't eat them because I'm on diet. I could always put it towards next month's rent.

Friday, 22 April 2011

It’s hot and crazy in the kitchen

The casting breakdown for Thursday’s audition read: ‘male or female, a chef, someone people would be a bit scared of but with a warm side as well... Must have characterful face.’ So I thought: Monica (from Friends). (Although I’m far closer in type to Monica than I could ever hope to be of the boys' favourite Rachel, let me remind you that it was Monica who bedded Magnum PI and if I’d been in charge of the storyline, she would have married him.) Anyway, I figured if I could channel Monica in her restaurant kitchen haranguing her staff, I’d be in with a chance.

The message from my agent asked me to turn up at 12:25 at The Green Room, to meet a casting director I hadn’t come across before. And I thought 'cool' because meeting new casting directors is always a fantastic opportunity: if they like you, they’ll keep you in mind for future jobs. That’s why you should always be extra nice to them and always on your best behaviour. But more on that later.

It being summer and all, I walked into Soho for the audition. I know it’s only April but seriously: it’s been 25 degrees (that’s 80’s to save you the mental arithmetic) for – like – a WHOLE week and the heat shows no sign of abating. After that, who knows? We’re assuming it’ll go back to cold and rainy through August – so for now, it’s summer.

I strolled into the casting studio with 25 minutes to spare and was a little taken aback by the welcoming spread of the muffins and croissants on the counter. Usually, you’re lucky if you get a water cooler in the corner dispensing tepid water in those tiny blink-and-you’ll-crush’em paper cups. Thankfully, I have my priorities straight so I figured I’d check-in with the girl in the unflattering wrap dress and lank hair before I demolished the carb feast.

Me: “I’m Isabelle Gregson. I'm here for the casting.”
Jabba the Hutt with a dismissive smirk: “No you’re not. No castings here this morning. Call your agent.”
Me: “This IS the Green Room?”
Her: “Yes.”
Me: “I thought the food was too good to be true!”
Her: “Yes, well that’s definitely not for you!”
Me: “Well, obviously not, these are for the poor little orphans from some war torn country although I bet you’ve got room for a few under that dress. Stretchy fabric is so forgiving isn’t it?”

I didn’t actually say that but I thought it very loudly in my head. (I’m still more than a little pissed off because I did not get the big money job. I bet the other girl with the shoes got it.) And because I didn’t want my great acting training to seize up just because I’m going through a bit of a dry spell, I smiled at her sweetly.

I stepped back out into the sunshine and dialled my agent.
Me: “Hi, it’s Isabelle. You sent me to the wrong place!”
Agent: “Let me check. (long pause) Oh good Lord! I’m so sorry, it’s actually at 4:15. And it's not at the Green Room, it's in Beak St (which is also in Soho.)”
Me: “How much money?”
Well, all I can say is that even though it wasn’t anywhere near as much as the big money job, it was still worthwhile going home and then coming back out to Soho for the casting at 4:15.

So I did.

I arrived at 4:05, 10 minutes early, feeling rather hot and a bit fed up what with all the speed walking and the heat.

Me to one of the two girls on reception: “I’m Isabelle Gregson. I’m here for the casting.”
Chewing gum girl: “Take a seat. It’s a bit crowded downstairs. They’re auditioning twins! They’ll call you.”

I sat down.

Next to me, a stage mother was fretting over her two girls: “they’re all identical twins downstairs!” “I know Mum, and we’re not even twins!” Well good luck to you…

I checked the time: 4:17.

Me to the same girl as before: “My call was for 4:15, are they running late?”
Her: “I think yeah a bit. It’s kids and it’s twins so it’s taking twice as long.”

I went back to my seat.

I checked the time again: 4:40 and noted that Solitaire playing girl #2 on reception had directed 2 people downstairs in the last 5 minutes. Could it be...? I promised to listen out for the next one to see if they were up for the same audition. You see, until you sign in with the casting folks (as opposed to the girls on reception), you might as well not have arrived. And as it’s often first come first serve, if this girl was letting people through I could end up waiting an awfully long time.

4:45. Solitaire playing girl to short little guy with Italian accent who’d come in for the same audition as me: “… down the stairs.”

I hurtled across reception so unexpectedly that the little guy took a few steps back.

Me to Solitaire girl: “Are you kidding me? I got here over 30 minutes ago and your colleague (pointing finger accusingly at Chewing gum girl) told me to sit up here and wait and all this time you’ve been sending people downstairs? What is this? Luck of the draw?” (As I said before, I’m a little cranky on account of not getting the big money job.)

Chewing gum girl hastily called down to the studio and was told to start sending people directly.

I raced down the stairs (ahead of the little guy) through a warren of corridors which finally expelled me hairball style into the waiting room. I turned on the rather young and meek looking blonde woman who was manning the desk. “What kind of deal do you have going on upstairs?” I recounted the whole sorry affair and must have done a really good job of scaring her because she tried to bundle me in to see the casting director in front of the remaining set of twins.

5:00 My turn! The casting director is the maternal type and an old friend (well maybe not an old friend but she’s had me audition for various jobs over the past few years so I think she’s a fan).

Casting director to me: “What happened out there?”

Now, see, this is where I went wrong on account of being really tired, and cranky, and feeling quite frankly like I’d auditioned several times for this job already. So instead of saying “Don’t worry, it’s all sorted. There was a misunderstanding upstairs. Your girl down here dealt with it really well.” - which I'm sure you’ll agree would have been the thing to say -  I launched into the whole sorry saga. It all came out in an angry jumble which made me sound like a crazy woman and made her look at me with a mixture of apprehension and impatience.

That’s when I decided to stop talking.

Casting director: “(pause) Anyway, this is Fred.” Fred was a beautiful young Afro-Caribbean god who happened to be operating the camera. Well maybe he wasn’t a god but he was definitely too beautiful and too perfect to be called Fred. He smiled a gorgeous smile that lit up the windowless room and came over to shake my hand.

Fred: “Hiyadoing?”
Me: “Oh. I’m real’ good.” Liar.

Casting director: “Alright, shall we make a start?…I want you to imagine that it’s really cold and windy and you’re out in your beach hut (?) with your kids (!) and your husband (!!) and it’s been an awful day…”

I remember thinking “What ever happened to the scary chef? Am I even in the right audition?” but recovered and did as I was told. Badly. I wasn’t prepared to be a harassed mother, I was all set to be an intimidating chef and now I was too angry and tired to shift gears.

In between two takes the casting director lifted a book and peered inside a bowl on the table in front of her: “My bread dough is rising!” she giggled.

I'm sure you’ve had those hyperreal dreams that suddenly turn completely surreal and you’re just glad to realise you’re in a dream because when you wake up it’ll all be OK? Well this was like that except I was awake.

Casting director: “It’s for the chefs’ auditions later!” We had a good laugh over that even though I'd long lost my sense of humour.

Then we were done. I wished her and Fred a happy Easter, was rewarded with another dazzling smile from Fred - I bet he’s like that with all the mortals - and promptly walked into the closed door.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Pencil skirts and stilettos

 IG as BP by  Oscar Grillo
 I received the casting breakdown for another commercial. It read: "Business woman, slightly OTT, wears designer suits. Please wear a suit to the audition.” I thought “oh boy” because I didn’t really like the sound of her. This is not a good thing. I’m an actor not a critic: my job is to understand, not judge. (At least not from the outside. Self-loathing is totally acceptable.)

As I said, she sounded pretty horrid but as a jobbing actor you can’t afford to be picky (or lazy) even if you’re convinced you’re about to land another big job and so I called my agent to say I’d be there. I put on my face (the eyeshadow is getting quite a workout this week) and picked out a well fitted jacket to go with my grey pencil skirt and black suede round-toe stilettos. I checked the ensemble in the mirror. Although it owed more to Betty Boop than the OTT business woman I think Gok Wan would have been proud. (If you don’t know him, check him out, he’s like a 21st century fairy god mother but British Chinese and with really cool hair. He has a gift for styling and can make any woman feel good about her body. Honestly? He’s amazing. I’m going to ask for him as my Christmas present.)

So I packed up my outfit, threw on a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers and made my way to the audition. Thing is, I tend to approach London like Parkour: charging around town scattering tourists, crossing on the red, daring death defying hops on trains just as the doors are about to close, and racing up the very steep escalators two steps at a time... And no one does Le Parkour in a pencil skirt and stilettos. Not even me.

I was headed for the Soho casting studio of red marker pen fame. (I know, two days in a row...) This time it was packed to the rafters with people. All of them unpleasant size 0 women in suits and stilettos or stuck up boy-men in ill-fitting suits. All of them except the lovely Nina, an ex-drama school colleague, who greeted me with her usual warm smile. Nina is blessed with that elusive trifecta of looks, smarts and kindness of spirit. She’s blonde in that exotic Nordic way that some English women have, driven and an absolute sweetie. Let me put it this way, in my next life, I want to be her.

Me to the man at the front desk: “Hi, I’m Isabelle Gregson. I’ll need to get changed before I go in.”
Front desk man: “Fill out this form first and I’ll take your picture, that way you won’t lose your turn in the queue… they’re running a bit late.”

How nice is that?  I had a quick chat with Nina whilst I filled out my form.

Me: “I was here yesterday.”
Nina: “I know, I follow your blog!” (Hi there Nina!)

Then I walked over to Phil so he could process it, (for it was front desk Phil who - bless his little heart - didn’t remember me or the red marker incident) as he expertly juggled scripts, phone calls, registration forms, and mug shots. Turns out he'd suffered a perforated ear drum since we'd last met. (Greater Universe, if you’re listening, I don’t think this should happen to nice people like Phil.)

Anyway, leaving Phil aside, I went to get changed and came out a different person. Literally. Oh, it’s not the first time this has happened: I call it the wardrobe effect. I came out in character, as the OTT business woman. I could feel the tension in me, the perfectionist streak, the impatience. It’s not so much a question of talent, I was just tapping into that very real side of my psyche which I try so hard to keep in check. Because it is rather vile and no one likes try-hards.

I came back to the waiting room and sat across from Nina (“Boy, you look different!”) in the only free spot left but only after having to ask this girl to move her stuff from the bench which she did reluctantly and with a bit of an attitude. Then Nina left and whilst I waited my turn I eavesdropped on the conversations around me.

A rather nasty woman is slutty high heels (you know the ones, they’re that little bit too high for day time), too much fake tan, and an 80’s style hair was talking to a rather plain but sweet looking girl with big cheeks who was sat in the corner: “You’re wearing a pant suit. The casting director specifically said that we should all wear a skirt...well at least you remembered the silk scarf."
Sweet girl, in a kind of bleat: “I just wore what my agent told me to wear.”
Slutty 80’s woman: “If you go in like that the casting director’ll probably throw you out!”

If there’s one thing I hate it’s selfish actors who try to sabotage others' confidence to give themselves an edge.

Me to the sweet girl: “Don’t worry, the script has loads of characters in it so we’re not all auditioning for the same part. My brief came straight from the casting director and it just said a suit and didn’t mention a scarf so I'm sure you’ll be fine.” She perked up a bit after that and I stopped channelling Joan of Arc.

Skinny boy in suit and headband (?!!!) with annoying whiny voice to the selfish cow who’d been hogging the entire bench: “Is this brand in the UK?”

Or at least that’s what I thought he’d said so I figured I’d put in my two cents worth and illuminate him, because he was obviously ignorant as well as stupid and annoying.

Me: “The company exists in this country but it’s a conglomerate, not a consumer brand. So you wouldn’t find their stores on the high street under that particular name.”
Skinny Headband Boy: “But are they in the UK?”

This went on for a while until Selfish Cow interrupted: “Actually, what he's asking is whether this campaign will be running in the UK.” Then she smirked. Then Skinny Headband Boy starting snickering (at me I figured). Then I felt myself go very red and like I wanted to get out of there. Then I realised that I was in character which was probably a great thing ahead of the audition and that made me feel better until I realised I was sort of giggling out loud. Then it was my turn to audition so I sashayed up the stairs (it was either that or lifting the skirt above my head).

Casting director, after the usual meet and greet: “So I want you to imagine that you are a business woman who travels a lot and who is always super punctual and on top of things. You are at the airport and things are being delayed and cancelled. I just want to see how you react.” I couldn’t believe my luck. She was describing me at my worst: what he calls my ‘psycho mode’. I could do that with my eyes closed. So I did my thing. Casting director: “Perfect, exactly what I was looking for!”

Then I packed OTT woman away, gave a friendly wave goodbye to the stilettos and skinny suits, and made for home, bounding along the roof tops like David Belle in that BBC advert.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Total Recall

So I got a recall! (See previous entry for the full story.) A RECALL! In the acting world, getting a recall (or call back) is exciting: it's concrete feedback that you did something right at the first audition and that the casting director/advertising agency/client liked you. It's a marvellous feeling. Even better than getting pencilled (which for those of you who've just joined or those who simply weren't paying attention.... you at the back... is a term that means you're on standby for the job but with no guarantees that you'll actually get it.)

But the excitement is short lived. Soon you have to face up to reality: a recall means a second audition, for the same part, but this time against some tougher competition (because all those other people who are being recalled are 'good' and were 'liked'.) Then there's the thought that you're one step closer to getting the gig which generates a fair bit of 'oh please don't let me mess this one up' nervous tension. When I get nervous, I go into preparation overdrive.

So I made sure to eat sensibly the night before. (Pasta and other carb heavy dinners give me a moon face the next morning which is not a good look on camera.) I made sure to get a good night sleep (by wearing a heavy duty industrial noise cancelling headset), and set the alarm so that I'd have plenty of time to get ready without having to rush. I also laid out the same outfit I'd worn at the first audition because why mess with the juju?

I have a tendency to exist in a parallel Universe which answers to an entirely different set of laws (which he refers to as 'bug logic' the origins of which I will explain some other time). For example, in my universe, a recall always takes place at the same location as the original audition, whereas in the real world, it doesn't. But I had the presence of mind to check before leaving the house and thus avoided a crisis. See, preparation is the mother of all success. The casting studio (for the regulars among you) was the one where I had my fit of pique with the red marker over the misspelling of my name the other week. It was uncharacteristically empty but I knew I was in the right place: I recognised the nice fellow and one of the two attractive but uptight brunettes from the first audition. The nice fellow was called in first which was a shame because he'd been regaling me with some more hilarious accounts of his long suffering agent. Also it left me alone with her.

Even though I didn't like her (What can I say? She irked me.) I thought I should make conversation to keep things chilled. Big mistake.

Me to the brunette: "I see you've got your lucky shoes on again." I'd commented on her rather nice beige suede open toe high heel sandals at our first meeting. 

Brunette: "Yes..."

And then she did something that really put me off, she repeated the exact same thing she'd said to me about those shoes the day before yesterday.  How could she not remember telling me this? I remembered her and her stupid conversation, and her silly shoes that she was "still breaking in"... so how about some reciprocity you selfish cow? (I know that I have a keen - some would say OTT - sense of observation and a prodigious memory for all things trivial but that is no excuse.) But wait, it gets better. Next,  I asked her a question and she didn't register it. She just carried on talking. Make of it what you will (I did) but it was just me and her in this big room and no one else, and she just kept going with her monologue. She was obviously on a one ticket round the world self-absorption trip with no room for anyone else's baggage.

It only made me more determined to get the commercial, if nothing else so that she wouldn't.
Then it was her turn to go in. Then she came out and it was my turn. She wished me "good luck" and I did the same, even though neither one of us meant it.

So how did it go? Honestly, I couldn't tell you. A bit like the first time: it went OK. Not brilliant, not crap. Hey, whatever it was got me to the recall. Fingers crossed it works its magic again...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

oooh la la gimme that French feeling...

The day didn’t have the most auspicious of starts. If I were to slow down my brain process it went something like this: Wham! Blackness. Shock. Heavy. I’m dead. Pain.Ow! Whazzat? Head. More pain.

Clasping both hands to the top of my head I instinctively moved away from the source of danger and lay flat on the living room floor. The sound of rushed footsteps and he hovered into view. "Are you ok?" He had his worried face on. The face of a man who knows that my talent for self-inflicted pain is impressive and limitless in its creativity and that given half a chance I will find dramatic and novel ways of braining myself. In terms of pure destructive power, Dr. StrangeLove has nothing on me.

I’d been retrieving some files from the lower part of the antique desk when the desk flap flew open unexpectedly and banged me pretty hard on the head. It sounded something "Pssshhhiiiiii Wack!" which - I grant you - has a certain dynamic ring to it. I wished, and not for the first time, that all my furniture came from IKEA so that I stood more of a chance in case of ambush 'part ammeublement'*. Just in case you’re getting the wrong idea, I love IKEA. As a matter of fact I’m writing this sitting on my tomato red IKEA couch. The desk on the other hand is patently not from IKEA on account that it is possessed by some sort of head banging spirit, is older even than IKEA’s founder, and comes from a land as warm as Sweden is cold. The wood contracts and distends across the seasons and the lock on the desk flap can stick. Our solution is to leave it precariously wedged shut even though it means that from time to time it’ll come flying open.

Like this morning, when it flew open and connected with my skull. Him: “What’s your name? When’s my birthday? Where were you born?” To distract him and give myself something to take my mind of the pain I requested a glass of water even though what I really wanted to do was burst into tears and call for my mother.

Now, apart from a persistent headache (not strong enough to warrant pain killers, but strong enough for me to try and milk it for all it’s worth), and a dull pain in my nose (my nose?), I’m feeling pretty well recovered, all things considered. So thanks for asking.

The thing is, I had some things to do and an audition. The casting brief was rather promising: woman (check), 40’s (ok, check), looks wealthy and expensively groomed (I can scrub up and put on my Sunday Best and look French – so: check). The script called for some comedic talent. As it happens, I make a great comedy villain, it’s like the bull’s eye of my casting type. Think Sue Sylvester from Glee crossed with Audrey Tautou. I did a little mental victory dance, this was going to be easy-peasy...

But as I kept scrolling down (I always do that with email, it’s amazing the amount of detail people leave in the tail…) I discovered that it was a pretty big job in terms of money. Not  big as in ‘I would never have to work again',  you understand. Not even ‘I could take the rest of the year off’ big. But big enough so that if I were to get it and go out and buy a case of chocolate bars, I would have a bit of change left over. Maybe small change for Johnny Depp, but good enough for me. As it dawned on me how much the job was potentially worth, I started feeling nervous about not landing it.

When I get nervous, I google. I checked out the production company who would be filming the commercial. They were a French outfit who in addition to ads, produce feature films for the French market. (As it happened, they’d produced the film I was watching last night, a hilarious French comedy. It was so funny in fact that he agreed to watch it with me even though he’d already seen it on the plane. And he never does that.) My casting performance could potentially land me an audition for a French feature film. This could be the start of something! I have one, ok two words for you: Marion Cotillard.

Marion or not, I started feeling even more nervous about not landing the job.Why is it that the thought of not getting something ‘big’ feels worse than not getting something ‘average’? It's perverse.

“Hope and Fear are two sides of the same coin so take that fear and turn it into the hope side of things...” With his wise advice ringing in my ears (either that or the ringing was from the blow to the head) I headed out to the audition in the still glorious (if slightly cooler) London sunshine. The casting studio was empty when I arrived with my ‘face’ on, dressed in my Sunday best, with my Paul Smith sunnies tagging along as good juju. After a few seconds of ‘oh my god the place is empty! Have I got the wrong date? The wrong time? The wrong location?’ I gave my name to the nice receptionist who ticked it off her list and gave me some paperwork to fill out. Then she took my mug shot (I made sure to stare straight at the lens) and then invited me to join the others downstairs (which is were everybody was).

There were two attractive but rather pinched brunettes. The kind that you would clock as elegant and attractive but not the kind you’d want to hang out with. So I didn't really talk to them. There was one friendly blonde lady called Lucy who it turns out – are you ready for this – worked as a mid-wife and birthing partner in between acting jobs. She confessed she was rather sleep deprived on account that one of her clients was due any day now and she’d been worried about sleeping through the phone call if it came during the night. I thought she was really sweet. If I don’t get the job I hope she gets it. Honestly, this world needs more nice people like Lucy.

Then there was a guy who regaled us with anecdotes of previous auditions, including the time when he tripped down the stairs and tumbled down the last flight just as the casting director was coming out. He was nice too.

The audition itself was pretty straight forward. I went in on my own. I wouldn’t say that I nailed it but that’s the nature of auditions: when you think you’ve got it sewn up you don’t get it, and when you think you did so-so, you might just get it (or not). But between you and me, can you keep a secret? I really hope I get it.

PS So this was all yesterday... I have just received a message from my agent telling me that I have a recall (2nd round of auditions for shortlisted actors) for this job tomorrow! Woop Woop!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The little madam and the key to everlasting happiness

Before I launch into anything else, I want to acknowledge the absolutely wonderful weather that London is currently blessed with. You have to see it to believe it: it's warm, it's sunny, it's lasted for more than one day, and there's no rain in the forecast unless you live in Scotland where it's been raining solid for the past week. My Paul Smith sunglasses are getting a real workout.

Earlier this week my agent called with news of an audition for a leading chilled food brand. The casting break-down read: "woman, attractive but not too much, with experience."

Apart from killing with faint praise, I'm not sure what the descriptor 'attractive but not too much' is meant to convey. I'm going to assume it means neither elephant man nor drop dead gorgeous but somewhere in the middle - which probably applies to 95% of the population.

Drop dead gorgeous' on the other hand, or DDG applies to 1% (and I'm being generous) of the population under the age of 18. Let's say Brooke Shields in those 'nothing comes between me and my Calvin Kleins' ads back in the eighties. If you're too young to know what I'm talking about just google 'Brooke Shields Calvin Klein' under 'images' and you'll see what I mean. Or here's another example: I give you - and in a category all of her own - Naomi Campbell in her heyday.

The remaining 4% consists of very attractive women with good bone structure and regular features and who are blessed with good genes. However, before you start hating them, let me assure you that even they don't look DDG without good styling and make-up, great lighting and possibly (definitely) some touch-ups courtesy of  PhotoShop. If you don't believe me, check out French ELLE's April 2009 no-makeup covers  featuring eight famous beauties (including Eva Herzigova, Monica Bellucci, Sophie Marceau, and Charlotte Rampling). They look nice - sort of -  but not DDG.

Truth is, most women can look absolutely stunning with good styling, good make-up (and most importantly some effective coaching to up the self-esteem and self-confidence) as demonstrated in any good make-over programme or some of those hour long cosmetic infomercials on morning TV. It just takes time, dedication, discipline and money. That's all. So unless you're really bored or earning buckets of money because of it, it's probably not worth the investment (except for the self-esteem bit.). If you're not up to it, don't worry, have a burger, have cup cake or two, read a book, learn a new language, eat some chocolate, treat the family to some hot air ballooning and enjoy your life.

(Tip of the day : pick your best/favourite feature and next time you look in a mirror, focus on that one feature and nothing else. This is really hard to achieve but if you can master it you will have found one of the keys to everlasting happiness.)

Where on earth was I? Oh yes, the frozen food audition. The breakdown also read 'with experience'. The French in me thought it made it sound a bit like they were looking for a Madam to run a Nevada brothel. But what I think they actually meant was 'with acting experience'. Acting experience is code for 'we are looking for some really fine tuned performances here, from people who can take direction and turn on a dime and work fast - because time is money and we don't want to be paying over time for some prima donna who can't give the director what he wants. We don't want a re-shoot, so please, no time-wasters.'

Well, last time I checked I wasn't Naomi Campbell (unless she shrunk in the wash) and I have a Masters Degree in acting so I think I'm qualified: I emailed my agent back to say I'd be there.

Did I mention we're having the most glorious weather? Full of goodwill and buoyed by the sunshine, I walked into town to the casting studio in Soho. Along the way, I stepped briefly into Men are from Mars Women are from Venus: I was walking along, holding my tummy in like any self-respecting ballet dancer. Did it stick out through the thin fabric of my top? As I wandered past a young construction worker, he took a break from munching on his sub to cheerfully exclaim "And we have nipples!! Wey hey hey..."  Actually, he'd mistaken the lace on my bra for nipples which I took as a sign of youth and inexperience and wishful thinking. (But I thought better than to point that out to him. Might've put him off his lunch.)

I have to confess that I gave my tummy muscles a bit of breather after that, because - obviously -  no one was looking at them. For those of you who feel offended on my behalf please don't be. I spend a lot of time at the gym, I watch what I eat, and I wear sunscreen because I made the informed decision (I also went to an all women's college) I'd rather be whistled at than ignored. And if anyone were to overstep the mark, I reserve the right to hit them over the head with my umbrella or my purse, granny style.

When I got to the casting studio, I checked my hair (my new hair!!) in the mirror downstairs, and tucked in my tummy once again before negotiating one of those impossibly narrow and twisty staircases that are a feature of Soho townhouses.

I emerged on the first floor landing to be confronted by the mayhem that is a gaggle of actors waiting to be called into an audition. Do these people ever stop talking? (Apparently, my sunny disposition did not extend to feeling charitable about other jobbing actors.) There was a nice man at the front desk who was directing traffic - ballet master style - to the two casting rooms upstairs.

I smiled warmly. "Hi, I'm Isabelle Gregson, I'm here for the frozen food casting." (I don't believe in the 'keep them guessing' school of introductions. Tell them who you are, remind them what you are auditioning for, and save everybody some time. Plus it's good practice for later: does anyone remember Liz Taylor presenting an Oscar some years ago? She came up to the pulpit and said "Good evening. My name is Elizabeth Taylor." The crowd tittered but for the record, when my turn comes, that's exactly how I'm going to do it.)

Front desk man gave me the usual casting form to fill out and a copy of the script. He pointed to the casting list:"Is your name spelled right?" It read 'Isabel Gregson'. I went from sympatico to psycho in under a micro second. "No it certainly isn't!" I grabbed the first pen I saw which happened to be a red marker. "Oh and in red too, that'll show them." I ignored what I took for sarcasm but which in hind sight was probably a brave stab at humour in the face of Armageddon, and wrote my name down I-S-A-B-E-L-L-E in big letters as I muttered under my breath.

I stopped muttering when I discovered a casting director hovering at my elbow. I prayed that (a) she hadn't witnessed my little outburst and (b) she wasn't the one I was due to audition with. She wasn't: front desk man called out some names and two actors followed her up the stairs. I went to stand in the corner against the wall for the obligatory mug shot. As I waited for front desk man to print it out I tried to make amends. "What's your name?" "Phil." He stapled my photo to the casting form." Thanks Phil, you've been really helpful." And off I went to join the fray in the holding room where I managed to find a spare bit of bench. I glanced at the mug shot which was definitely not DDG. I had stared into the wrong bit of the camera (everything goes blurry when I take my glasses off), far above the lens which gave me a rather dreamy and ever so slightly demented appearance. Ah well, I'll know for next time: should've laughed off the mis-spelling of my name instead of freaking out at Phil with the red marker.

To pass the time, I glanced around the room. It was heaving with people but as always, no one else looked the slightest bit like me (not even the people waiting to go in for the other casting). I felt like it was my first day at school all over again, that I would never make any friends and that any way they all looked stupid. Then I stared out of the window to wait my turn. No one on the street below looked like me either.

"Isabelle Gregson? Studio 2."

Relieved, I propelled myself and my purse out of the waiting room onto the stairs with unfortunate timing as I ended up sandwiched between the casting director who had witnessed my outburst and the two people who's turn it was to audition with her. So we had a bit of 'oh-who-what-ah-sorry-you-want-to-get-through' dance on the second landing outside studio 1. We all emerged unscathed (thank goodness for the Brits!) and I continued my ascent. I knocked on the door of studio 2.

"Come in!" I recognised that voice, it was the lovely K. who'd auditioned me the week before for a big fast food brand. We'd got along famously well - even though I didn't get the gig. But more on that later.

K: "Forget the script. I want you to not act at all, just look normal."

Believe it or not, that is an incredibly difficult thing to do unless you've gone to drama school or have years of experience under your belt. The minute you tell someone to act normal, they start - well - acting anything but normal. Being 'experienced' I did nothing of the sort and obliged by just standing there.

K: "Let's do it again, just a smidgen more."

I duly gave her a smidgen more.

K: "That's great. Now look left, and look right. Perfect! That's exactly what I was looking for. That's all I need."

I thanked her. As I said, I think she is rather lovely and very friendly and smart.

K: "By the way, did you ever get a recall for that fast food commercial?"
K:"Oh what a shame! You were on the short list you know. But I think the client made some changes to the brief..."

Now, actors live in a binary world: you either have the gig or you don't. No one ever tells you that you were short listed. If I don't get it, I just assume they thought I was crap. Being told that I had been a contender, albeit fleetingly, made me feel really good. For about a second.

K: "Bye! Don't worry, we'll definitely get you something. You have a great look!"

Now that made me feel really good for the rest of the day.

Epilogue: BTW ('by the way', not 'bacon tuna and watercress'), it's been three days now and I don't think I got the frozen food gig. The recall was scheduled for the next day and the call never came. Maybe I made the short list again, maybe I was the first one to be discarded. Maybe I was the top choice for the Advertising Agency, the director and the casting director but the client wanted a safer option (or the DDG option). And what if I'd got the job? The funny thing is, getting the job/not getting the job, none of that matters. Getting the lead role in an blockbuster film? It's good but it doesn't really matter. Honest. In the scheme of things, as an actor the most important thing is the next audition. And the one after that. Get your head around that one and you will find the second key to everlasting happiness.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

George Clooney's pet

As I discarded the vegetable peels (I was making wild rabbit stew) I observed - and not for the first time - that a pet Vietnamese Pot Bellied pig would come in handy as a friendly eco-alternative to the bin. (I don't have the luxury of a compost heap as I live in a flat.) Why? (Why do I want a pig not why do I live in a flat.) I don't know why! George Clooney - who's rather made a success of his acting career - had one apparently. Who's to tell that the two aren't connected? I should try and find out.

In the meantime, I've finally gone and done it: I had my hair cut. I'd been working pretty hard (contrary to popular belief, in between jobs, actors don't tend to wait around sulking by the phone, they keep busy learning new skills - like coming to grips with a fiendish piece of new web design software) and decided to go for a brisk short walk in the sunshine. My destination? The local Tesco's, a few blocks away. Uncharacteristically for a visit to the supermarket, I took the time to apply some mascara and lip gloss and even rubbed a bit more styling putty into my hair for good measure - noting en passant that I should really get around to getting a hair cut. I even brushed my teeth. I stepped out in my dark denim flares (the kind that only look good paired up with high heels), my little flat healed biker boots, an orange t-shirt from Holland (the country not the brand) my purple suede hold-all and to tie it all together (or just because) my pink knock-about dufflecoat... And then almost as an afterthought, I grabbed my beautiful new Paul Smith sunnies. (I got them last August, and even blogged about it in the entry  I've Been Touched by Midas. They still qualify as "new" because London's only had something like 5 days of sunshine since then.)

So far so good. I was half way down the block when I stepped into one of those parallel universe moments where I suddenly turn into my impulsive alter ego. I love being impulsive. Normally, I'm such a sucker for routine but being impulsive makes me feel like Angelina Jolie in one of her action films: thin and sexy and hard and then she gets Brad Pitt for real and forever. (I'm not lusting after Mr. Pitt, I'm just trying to illustrate my point.) Where was I? Impulsive: on the way to the supermarket, out of the blue, I called the hair salon. It's Isabelle, would Luigi be able to fit me in before the end of the week? Tomorrow or today? Today would be great. How about 4pm?  (So far that was just planning. Nothing Angelina about that. Wait for it! Here comes the impulsive bit...) How about now? Now? Yes. Now as in how soon? Now as in the 20 minutes it'll take me to jump on the tube and get to you. OK then. See you in 20 minutes.

How's that for impulsive?

As I vaulted into the tube station, and I switched back (I have no control over these switches, I wish I did) to my more familiar neurotic and cautious mode, it occurred to me that although I wouldn't be arrested by the Tesco style police I wasn't necessarily dressed appropriately for a visit to Luigi at Taylor Made. I don't know about you, but when I go to my hairdresser's I like to look my best. Same with my dentist. I toyed with the idea of buying a cheap (cheap!) pair of heels and/or a new top in the station's shopping arcade. I don't know whose ideal I was trying to live up to but I came to my senses and hopped onto a train instead.

So feeling rather short-legged and under-dressed - especially once I took off my uber-stylish Paul Smith sunnies - I sat down for my pre-shampoo consultation with Luigi. As I've mentioned before, it usually goes something like this: Me: "Hi. It's been a while, I should've come to see you sooner." Luigi: "It's not that bad!" (That's true, only because Luigi -  in addition to being a real sweetheart -  is also a hair god: a hair cut with Luigi never really grows out, it's your hair that gives up.) Luigi: "So what do you want to do?" Then I say the three magic words: "Up to you." I surrender in this way because a haircut by Luigi is a beautiful thing. Because that's what I imagine Angelina would do. And because hair grows back.

I wrestled into the salon robe and lowered myself into the shampoo chair (you know what I mean) and gave myself up to the ministrations of the new shampoo boy. All I remember is saying "Hi, I'm Isabelle." He said "I'm from Japan. My name is..." and then he applied his hands to my head and - did he aim for a pressure point? - I melted like soft butter. Literally, my entire body went "flump" into the shampoo chair, my neck turned to jelly and my spirit floated up and away, light as a feather. For the next 5 - 10? - minutes I levitated, without a care in the world, with the kind of serenity that still eludes me in my yoga practice. If Luigi is a hair god, this guy is the god of head massage. All I can say is if he can do hair as well as he washes it, he's going to be a star.

Hair washed, I glided back over to the consultation chair, placed my purse at my feet, and grabbed two fashion mags. For the record, I am a CFB. A closet fashion binger. I LOVE FASSSHHHHHION! There I've said it! I am not a slave to it (remember I was wearing flat shoes with my jeans that only work with heels) but plonk me somewhere with the latest copy of Vogue and I will keep myself happily occupied for as long as it takes me to read it from cover to cover (including the credits, the small print, and the classified ads at the back). So there I was, embedded in Elle, oblivious to all around me, Luigi expertly wielding his scissors around my head.

Half way through the cut, the young receptionist materialised at Luigi's elbow: "Hi... this girl here is new in town and she's just wandered in and wants to know if she could come in and just watch you cut hair for a while." What can I say, this is London. Luigi, bless his heart, said OK: "Hi, I'm Luigi. Just sit yourself here where I can see you." She sat there for a while (I couldn't really see without my glasses and besides I was deep in the accessories section) and then she took off. Suddenly, I had "that" feeling and looked down at my feet: "Where's my purse?" I did a quick scan around the chair. My purse had vanished. Me again, but a whole lot louder: "Where is my purse? It's purple. It was at my feet when I sat down." I stood up (from the adrenaline pumping. I even made a mental note of it for acting purposes.) Luigi had stopped cutting and turned an unhealthy shade of white. The entire salon stood still. Before the panic had a chance to set in, one of Luigi's assistants darted to the end of the row and held up a purse (mine). "Is this it? I put it there to tidy up 'cos I didn't realise it was yours."

Oh dear God. Call off the police. Luigi and I had just lost a collective decade of our lives to the overzealous tidy-up brigade. Still, I was grateful to have my purse back.

I sat back down clutching it and immediately checked the contents: mobile phone (cell): check, cash: check, credit card: check. As I said to Luigi: "I figure I should double check cos if my wallet is missing I'm going to be washing hair for the next three months."  We had a little chuckle over that - not so much because it was funny but rather because we both felt so relieved the worse hadn't come to pass. (To the girl who likes to watch people cut hair: I am really sorry I assumed you were the one who had taken my purse.We're all of us very sorry.) Luigi resumed the cutting and I realised that in all the excitement, I'd lost my appetite for the fashion binge. (I may try and replicate the circumstances and see if it works just as well on chocolate cravings and will keep you posted on the results of the experiment - we could be on to a winner.)

Then a tall girl with apricot hair sat down next to me and one of the salon's stylists started weaving long blonde extensions into it. It turns out he was one of four finalist in the Hair Extension Stylist of the Year competition and was prepping up his hair model for the last round. He was wonderfully catty and petulant as only the truly passionate and talented can be. Some competitors were openly using hair pieces and hair clips: "In a hair extension competition? Can you believe it?" I wished him well. He was planning to dye the whole thing apricot and then dip the ends in pink. I hope he wins.

Then with one last flourish of the hair wax, Luigi was finished. I thanked him. Grabbed my purse. Paid up. And put my sunnies back on. Then me in and my new hair strode out into the dazzling Spring sunshine -and how else can I describe it: it felt as good as if I'd just put on a sexy pair of heels.

Now George Clooney, if you're reading this, about those pet pigs...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

I love a good shoe fetish!

Yesterday afternoon, we went to see a show. I was able to enjoy it properly because neither I nor anyone else I knew was in it. When you're an actor, doing a show is easy, but going to see someone else's show? You have no idea. It's like trying to navigate the Titanic through the eye of a needle, whilst riding a unicycle.

Consider this: if you think a show was really bad (or worse: average) you have to lie. You have to. There's no two ways about it. Because if it's someone important (read: someone who can get you an audition or an acting job or someone who can blacklist you) your instinct for self-preservation will make you lie through gritted teeth. And if it's someone you care about, you have to lie by omission because they know that you know it was crap. If you're lucky and there was one small detail you enjoyed then you can tell them how much you loved that one bit and say nothing about the rest. (Unless of course the one bit you enjoyed was someone else's performance.)

On the other hand,  if it was good (or the PR was excellent which amounts to the same thing) and the show has that je ne said quoi buzz and everyone and his dog thinks its fantabulous and it's getting a transfer to Broadway where everyone who matters will see it (or more importantly hear about it) then it's time to turn green because next thing you know, your mate will have moved to LA, been offered a lead part in a successful TV series, become "richer than God" (as someone else once put it), deleted their FB page and stopped returning your phone calls and emails. This has happened to me. I won't tell you his name other than it begins with a T. (T my darling, all these years I let you call me Isy even though I hated it, so if you're reading this, stop ignoring me and give us a job! Or introduce me to someone who can.)

So what did we go and see? It was a musical, called Shoes, by Richard Thomas (who did Jerry Springer, The Opera) and Stephen Mears. It was billed as a wonderfully fluffy confection of songs and musical sketches all to do with shoes. We went along with some friends who are straight out of a Jackie Collins novel in that they and their lives (down to their children and pet chinchilla) are picture perfect. He is an attractive and successful serial entrepreneur and she is his beautiful and uber-elegant blonde wife. Not only are they perfect, they are also lovely people.

I took us to the wrong theatre. I kid you not. Now, before you judge me, let me explain and give you some background. The show was at the Peacock Theatre which is an annex of Sadler's Wells (another theatre). Confusingly, the show first opened at Sadler's Wells before transferring to the Peacock. Are you still with me?  Also I was feeling a bit rushed (what with my yoga class with George not ending till 12:30 and having to meet our friends by 2 o'clock for the 2:30 matinee performance). Don't know why but rushing always seems to addle my brain: I can go from super brainy Hermione Grainger to Wizard of Oz scarecrow in a split second - only it doesn't show until it's too late.

Anyway, after yoga, we had a quick bite to eat, I tried to style my hair (still waiting to get a haircut) and then we walked up to Islington (about 25 minutes) to the theatre. We got there with plenty of time to spare (it was 1:45). He went to relieve himself  (and I think maybe get away from my slightly passive aggressive vibe which had to do with the fact that we had got caught in the drizzle on the way because he didn't have the umbrella even though I'd suggested we should take it. The feline in me cannot abide getting wet when I have clothes on. And just in case you think I could have taken it myself as any self-respecting independent female would, let me just tell you that it's a huge golf umbrella and that whenever I try to carry it it tends to drag on the ground.)

As I stood around waiting for him to re-emerge, and for our friends to arrive (as I said, we were early),  I noticed that the programme sellers were selling programmes for an entirely different show. I can't remember now what it was but it certainly wasn't Shoes, the Musical. After a few seconds in my alternative universe (the theatre must have a second studio) it came to me in a flash:  I was standing in Sadler's Wells and the Peacock Theatre was not at Sadler's Wells... it was - I checked the posters... in Holborn. About 45 minutes on foot, or a 10 minute cab ride. I felt the panic rise from my ankles upwards.

Just then he came back up the stairs. Me: "We're at the wrong theatre!" He gave me that pained look which he saves for those times when I do something so incredibly stupid that it makes him want to cry and shout "Why? Why? WHY?"

Still me: "But it's ok, we just need to go to (pause as I darted over to double check the poster)... Portugal Street."

He looked relieved. "I know where that is." (So did I, after all, we'd both been to see shows there before).

Me: "We've got plenty of time." Him: "Let's get a cab."

He launched out of the theatre, and still shaken by my monumental lapse in anything resembling intelligence and common sense, he stepped onto the bicycle path to hail a cab that was just pulling away. The first cyclist swerved to avoid him. "T...." ( I know it's confusing, his name also begins with a T) I shouted out his name in a panic as the crowd on the pavement looked on with horror at the impending mangle of body parts. But he was too busy running after the taxi to hear me. There is definitely something terrifying about shouting a warning to the person you love only for them not to register it. I shouted his name out two more times, rather shrilly. The second cyclist also managed to swerve to avoid him. I jumped onto the road, grabbed him by the arm (the love of my life not the cyclist) and threw him back onto the curb. I then crossed the road and climbed into the waiting cab (who'd done a u-turn and was patiently waiting for us to finish our dance with death).

I looked out the cab window and saw that he had come to his senses: he looked both ways before crossing the road to join me.

Me: "You almost got run over twice back there. What were you thinking?"
Him: "What do you mean?."
Me: "What do I mean? Why do you think I was hollering your name out like some sort of demented screaming banshee?"
Him: "I didn't hear anything."

Oh, honestly.

Me: "How am I supposed to ever save you from danger if you don't register me yelling out your name in sheer terror?"
Him: "I just didn't hear you..."

Words failed me.

We got to the right theatre with 5 minutes to spare before we were due to meet our friends (and 35 minutes before the start of the show). Howzat for planning?

What about the show? The show was great! Fluffy and silly as advertised, and also rather subversive and full of rude language. We were a bit appalled by the presence of half a dozen little girls in the front row. Not least because they were gorging themselves with sweets. Luckily great unsuitable parts of the show went way over their heads both literally and figuratively speaking. Especially the song about the Mary Janes.

He liked the leggy and rather sexy girl of Afro-Caribbean descent who I have to admit was the prettiest but I preferred the taut and hard blonde girl who'd previously played Roxie Hart in Chicago. She wasn't classically pretty , but she had at-ti-tude, she was a better dancer and she had the kind of muscular definition that make you think that maybe food is over-rated.

It was great fun (especially the nuns' song) - and some of the performers were truly outstanding so I hope that they'll remain in the cast when the show transfers to Broadway as it's bound to do. If it ever comes to your neck of the woods and you want to indulge in a bit of fluffy nonsense, do go and check it out.

Friday, 25 March 2011

This is so 21st century...

When I was a little girl a long long time ago...  Hey! You, at the back! I heard that.

Let me start again, when I was a little girl... Whenever a famous person would die, I would experience a delayed sense of loss. Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Grace Kelly: I didn't know who they were! I only got to know them after the fact through the retrospective programmes on television (and yes in the early days it was in black and white and we only had three channels).

When I got a little older I started compiling a mental list of all the famous people I was going to meet one day. (Please note that I said "looked forward" and not "wished" or "hoped" or "fantasised about".) Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Joseph Cotten, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Paul Newman, Peter Ustinov, David Niven, Alfred Hitchcock, Sydney Pollack, Orson Welles... I really thought that the day would come when we would meet. (Obviously not all together at once. Cos that would be, like, so weird.) Whenever someone on my list would die, I would feel an immediate sense of loss, not least because I knew then that our paths would never cross. And yet it had all seemed so real!

Every year, my list gets a little shorter. Please Mr. Eastwood, if you're reading this (hey, if he and I are going to meet up at some point, then him reading my blog is not that much of a stretch.) Anyway, Clint (may I call you Clint?), I really want to act in your next film, whatever it is. I don't care what I play, I'll play a horse. For free.

What does any of this have to do with the price of fish? Not much, other than my list keeps getting shorter (only this week with the passing of Elizabeth Taylor) and that makes me acutely aware of the passage of time, or rather of the growing hinge between our two centuries. Like the proverbial fence, it doesn't do any good to perch on it for too long. A decade is long enough.
It's now 2011 and it sure is starting to feel like - well - like it's not the 20th century anymore. Doesn't it feel like someone's come along more or less overnight and rearranged the neighborhood? At first glance it's the same, but the trees have grown, the road's been resurfaced, couple of the old buildings torn down... To my five year old niece, it all looks perfectly fine and normal, and because I'm determined to stay young in mind (and body), I'm going to say that I'm pretty cool with it too (even though, sometimes, I miss things.)

So what's the 21st century about then, so far? Here's my top ten list:

1. Shuttle Atlantis will never launch again
2. East is the new West
3. Life is digital
4. Some contemporary terms are already obsolete: LP, CD, VHS, U-matic, Top of the Pops, Magnum PI
5. GM food is the new organic
6. Rockstars are old
7. French people speak English (sometimes - horror of horrors - amongst themselves!)
8. It's hard and getting harder to tell the baddies from the good guys
9. Hedgehogs ans sparrows are on the endangered species list
10. Have you noticed how no one really wears watches anymore?

And, getting slightly ahead of myself, here's my top 10 of what the 22nd century may bring:

1. Cancer iradicated
2. Reversal of the ageing process
3. No more pollution
4. Food for everyone
5. Water for everyone
6. Permanent world peace
7. Concrete/asphalt replaced with water and greenery
8. goodbye metric! 8 (or vertical infinity) is the new 10...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Battle of the Princesses

Don't worry, it's not a real fight, it's not even the title of some new reality show on MTV (although I can just about picture it, can't you?). It's about the qualities that go into making some women into 'icons'. Are some types more successful than others?

Remember that game "rock-paper-scissors"? Well it's not really relevant here other than to demonstrate that success is relative. So forget the rock-paper-scissor analogy which could be misleading and let's instead take a look at two extreme types that I'm going to call Diamonds and Butterfly Wings.

Diamonds owe their success to a lifelong determination, absolute focus, discipline and dedication to their objective. These ladies get what they want. It may not always be pretty or romantic, but they get there, and they commit such effort to the enterprise that at the end of the day - whether or not you agree with it - you've just gotta take your hat off to them. By Golly they've earned it. Madonna is a Diamond.

Butterfly Wings on the other hand owe their success to their sheer beauty and fragility (and I have to admit, in some cases,  to a certain talent for emotional manipulation). They often seem to become successful in spite of themselves. If the Diamonds are the high priestesses, then the Butterfly Wings are the sacrificial offering (on the altar of Fame - if we want to be thorough and complete the metaphor). Marilyn was the archetypal Butterfly Wing.

What about Princesses? Well what about them? What is a princess anyway? I keep seeing these signs on the back of cars "princess on board" and it makes me wonder... whatever happened to tradition: Rolls Royces and horse drawn ceremonial carriages?

By definition (my definition) a princess is someone who gets to be as special and beautiful as bride on her wedding day, every single day of her life. Look it up, you'll see it's part of the job description. Just below "must be able to walk with a shiny crown on her head" and "must be able to perform the royal wave whilst sitting in a golden carriage". Have a look I tell you! Or just take my word for it. 

Catherine Middleton, or 'Kate' as everyone who's never met her insists on calling her, a soon to be princess,  is a Diamond. Very pretty, very personable (from a distance, as I said I've never met her nor do I know anyone who's ever met her. If we're talking degrees of separation, I'm closer to Madonna). I think Kate would have done very well at anything she set her mind to so she'll make a fantastic princess. She seems nice. Someone you'd want to know. Doesn't she give you the feeling that she will make her soon to be husband a very happy and contended man? That they will be married for - like - ever. And have a zillion children like Victoria and Albert? (Queen Victoria, not Posh who's with someone called David, not Albert. I'm not about to start any false rumours.) Where was I? Kate will make the perfect wife and consort, because she knows what she wants. She is stable, she is strong, and she has a lot to give. She will probably endure and live to a hundred and beyond. She's like the 21st century's answer to the Queen Mother. A true Diamond I tell you. Like one of those big jewels on the Monarch's crown. Precious, shiny, and indestructible.

Although she photographs beautifully and will give British women a sense of style the rest of the world can aspire to, she does not steal my heart.

You see, I like Butterfly Wings. I know. I KNOW. What's wrong with Diamonds? Nothing. The thing is, I liked Princess Diana. She too was beautiful and photogenic. She too became a style icon. But like Marilyn, there was such a fragility to her, her light shone so bright you just knew it wasn't heading for a happy ending. She was riddled with flaws but it seemed to make use love her all the more for it. She lived without a safety net which made the stakes that much higher. (And as any actor worth their salt will tell you, the higher the stakes the more rivetting the performance.) We watched her soar high up into the sky, far beyond anyone else's reach. And then we watch her plummet to the ground, like a shooting star.

I'm not saying that one type is better than another. And as I said, I like Kate. But I loved Diana. In the battle of the Princesses, I know which side I'm on.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Come a bit closer, my Puff Adder wants to say hello...

I’m not good when I’m hungry. Or hormonal. Or both. The Puff-Adder, as a good friend of mine christened it, is my small, green and deadly Familiar, with a lightning strike (and telescopic fangs). According to this same friend – who is still very much alive and kicking no doubt saved by his well honed survival instincts and some life saving tips from his ex-Special Forces mates – Puff Adder is quite easy to spot. Apparently, it’s all in the gaze: my eyes narrow, my nostrils flare, and KAPOW! Too late, you’re dead. So if you’re clever (or know me well), you track it and make sure to retreat in time to safety. I just think of it as letting off steam. But apparently, the strike is lethal. Very few have recovered, and of those who have I’m told none ever made a full recovery.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The fine art of spanking...

Hypothetically speaking (of course), would you rather be spanked or do the spanking? I figure that - either way - it's going to hurt. And I don't know about you but the palm of my hand carries a lot less padding than what the French call mon derriere (to be precise, the French spell it with a descending accent from left to right on the second "e" but blogspot won't let me do accents).

What's brought this on I hear you ask? It's a bit of a lurid topic for a Tuesday late afternoon... Well let me ask you this: is there an appropriate time for this kind of conversation? Dinner with the in-laws on a Saturday night perhaps? Over lunch with the stranger next to you on a packed long haul flight? Or maybe over organic white tea with Lady Gaga on a break from her tour? (The last one probably but that's unlikely to happen, no matter how many FB contests I enter on her fan page. Mama Monster, if you're reading this I just want you to know that I think you're the best, even better than Madonna in her heyday, and that you're making me feel like I'm 15 again but in a good way.)

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Of pussycats, parrots and counting beans

Lately, I've taken to interacting with imaginary cats. Sorry Smoke, let me rephrase that: with cats that aren't there. (Don't be put off by the image of the parrot. I'll come back to that.)

It started a few weeks back at an audition where I had to mime a cat. (As in miming my interaction with an imaginary cat as opposed to pretending to be a cat which is - in some ways - easier but has no place in a commercial's casting.) The casting breakdown called for a woman in her forties to play a  nurse arriving home at 3am after a long shift. Other than the fact that I have no nursing experience (I don't believe being a fan of Nurse Jackie counts for anything?), have never worked a 12 hour shift and am usually in bed by 11 o'clock at the latest, I figured I had as a good a chance as any of getting the part. The script required the character to make a cup of tea (at 3 in the morning?) and make a telephone call and - here's the acting bit - go from looking forlorn and exhausted to happy and satisfied. No scripted dialogue. Personally, I think it would have made a fantastic commercial for the tea manufacturer (it was for something else) but when you're an actor no one listens. Anyway, there I was, ready and willing.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Eight Point Nine

After a night of disturbed dreams in which I kept losing track of time and arriving late at the exam centre (I had those same dreams last week) I indulged myself and my study guide (the book, not a person) with a nice soak in the bath (chapter 1 - it's a long one) and then shifted to the red couch (chapters 2 and 3). I only paused this morning's last minute revisions for my Financial Regulation exam (chapters 4, 5 and 6)  to have some breakfast. We turned on the television for the morning news. And there it was, that terrible apocalyptic footage from Japan. Him: "I think maybe we shouldn't watch this. If you think it's going to distract you..." Me: "No no, it's fine, leave it on."

It wasn't really. Fine I mean. What a terrible thing to have happen, those poor people, and me eating my Dukan galette like everything was perfectly normal. Because in my life here in London things were normal - other than my sudden awareness that something had gone terribly wrong on the other side of the world, in a country I have never visited. Such large scale appalling destruction. And no one to blame. No hate figure. No tyrant, no terrorist mastermind. No one to claim the horror as their own. It is what it is: humanity caught in the giant machinery of our planet's inner workings. Like Chaplin's character in Modern Times except not funny. Not funny at all. A tragedy of Biblical proportions in the second decade of the 21st century.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Small is Beautiful and the Playboy Audition

Catapult is the word that comes to mind to describe this morning's start to the day. With it being Spring and all, we've been using the rising sun as our natural alarm clock because it's so much nicer waking up on your own terms at 7am. But this morning it failed to wake us up. I was having a delicious cat like ooh-look-
-it's-morning-I'm-looking-forward-to-breakfast stir when I glanced down at the clock.

This morning I had an audition scheduled for 10:15 at Spotlight in Soho (that's the London's West End where many of the theatres and production companies are based and therefore a popular neighbourhood for castings) and I usually allow a good 45 minutes to get myself there cool calm and collected. The clock read: 8:44.

I vaulted out of bed, into the shower, applied make-up, had a quick breakfast, tried to speed air-dry my hair and threw myself out of the house with my Financial Regulation study guide in one hand and my dance shoes for Zumba in the other.  It goes without saying that I got to the audition a wee bit early.