Sunday, 13 March 2011
Of pussycats, parrots and counting beans
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.
Casting director: "OK, this table here is your kitchen counter. Here's a mug and a spoon. This (a plastic tube) is your phone. Ready? Action!" For the record, I love improvising, but I'm not so keen on improvised miming. Don't get me wrong! I love miming, but it requires practice. It's all about eye-lines and perspective and specificity. Miming in an audition is the equivalent of driving a brand new bright yellow Lamborghini at speed with a blind-fold on through the Mont Blanc tunnel, before your first driving lesson. (The fact that it's bright yellow is irrelevant other than I think it helps conjure up the image.)
Director: "OK. Let's try that again." (Translation: that was absolutely crap but I'll give you another chance. Now, pull yourself together and don't blow it.) "Now I want you to imagine that you have a cat. It's (he gestures vaguely about) somewhere around and maybe it'll come over whilst your making your tea."
Great. Now I had to mime the cat. What kind of cat was it? What colour? What kind of coat? Old, young? Was it friendly or aloof? "Action!" So I made it a short haired ginger cat that liked to lick the tea spoon. I pictured it padding into the kitchen, I picked it up and set it on my kitchen counter. I prepared my cup of tea with milk and sugar (that's not even how I drink tea, but it's the way the nurse drinks it). Then I kissed my imaginary cat on its head and scratched the flat bit above its nose. I realise now that I never even gave it a name. I would have called him (him?) Blue. Why? Because Australians have a habit of nicknaming redheads "Blue." (Well, you asked.)
Director: "Great! Much better. Thank you so much." (Translation: Thank god you can act! You did a good job but you don't look like a nurse, at least not the kind of nurse we have in mind here. Now if this were a film for a tea commercial I'd give you the part right now without even checking in with the clients. Ah well. It was lovely to meet you. Thank you for not wasting our time by being appallingly bad. Goodbye.)
Directors can fit so much meaning in just a few words. It's a real talent.
So that was my first cat. My second cat is not imaginary at all, it's just that we have struck up a friendship of sorts (I'm a fan, she's writes a blog) without actually meeting in the flesh. Her name is Smoke. She's beautiful and slightly intimidating and reminds me of Billie Holliday. We've been corresponding back and forth and so far have discussed the colour blue, the psychological damage that a badly chosen moniker can cause, and our favourite foods (chicken livers, sparrows and ice-cream - although not necessarily together.)
Now onto the parrot.
On Friday, I went to see Mr G., our new accountant, and although we had spoken several times on the telephone and emailed back and forth, we had never met. (Just for the record, Mr G. is not a parrot.) When he came to greet me in reception, he looked nothing like the image I had conjured up in my mind. (He was older and wore glasses but apart from that I had him completely wrong. Completely.). It was like expecting your great uncle by marriage and instead shaking hands with a giraffe. Not that he was particularly tall or giraffe like you understand. Just not what I was expecting at all. And to make matters worse, I don't think I was what he was expecting either. He acted a bit as if I was a talking Macaw mistakenly flown over from London Zoo and now perching on the back of a chair in his office expecting a masterclass on VAT returns. (Note: VAT is a tax on goods and services here in the UK, EU and Australia - amongst other places.) It was kind of awkward. For both of us. So to break the ice, I told him about how I'd passed my Financial Regulation exam.
Macaw or not, the VAT masterclass was masterful. I don't know how the giraffe would have managed VAT 101 but Mr G. was magnificent. He taught me all the basics. And how to file my VAT return online. I left his office and sauntered on home buoyed by the bliss of ignorance. It's amazing how dangerous a little knowledge can be.