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.


Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

In my past life, I used to be on the marketing side of the fence so I it's really fascinating to see what goes on before the agency sends the shortlist. Good luck with your future auditions! :)

Kenya D. Williamson said...

The casting director keeps bringing you in because you're right for these jobs. I expect good news soon! I've auditioned and seen middle-aged white guys play the role I'd read for. (That's out of our control, which you know.) But, at least the CD didn't say, "And we have nipples!!" ;D

MuMuGB said...

Your life seems to be very exciting...good luck for your auditions! I am not cut out to be an actress. I am not sure that I would stay as positive as must be difficult not to hear anything or to be rejected!

Anonymous said...

This was charming! Your humor is delightful, I feel as though spent the afternoon auditioning with you.

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Terrific stuff, Isabelle, with great descriptions of Soho.

I've always been in awe of actors who can keep going to auditions and keeping their confidence high despite knowing that there's only one job each time, and whether you are the one to get it depends on so much more than just talent - it's what you look like, how tall you are, etc.

Elizabeth Young said...

One MUST have to be committed to one's craft to continually work out, remain a size 0, and go through casting 'maybe's.' This also tells me you have character+, determination, skill, moxie, goals and drive! Stay true to your passion Isabelle and you will be greatly rewarded! The world needs more women with your skill and passion...

Anonymous said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your post and writing style. Auditioning is another world to me, so thank you for letting me in to see a bit of it. I'm sure I'd cave with all the pressure and rejection, but you seem to take it in stride, which I respect greatly.
Glad to have discovered you through She Writes. I look forward to reading more!

Cathy K said...

This is absolutely hilarious, as always dear Isabelle. Love the mistaken nipple dilemma. What would we do without this chaps and their appreciation of even the laciest nipples?

Accidental Londoner said...

Another wonderful tale! I'm sure you'll tell me it's not quite as glamorous as it seems but a life of auditioning and acting sounds very exciting to us office incumbents.

Claire Vorster said...

Hi Isabelle, I'm going to take your beauty treatment advice and '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.' Works for me.

You have a great way of looking at things. I think that's one of the keys to happiness.

Claire x

Scrollwork said...

"Woman, attractive but not too much." I guess there's shampoo and make-up model attractive, then chilled food attractive, then...what's after that? How often do those of us not in the business honestly rank our looks? Yes, I look at just my lips, mostly, when I look in the mirror, and it keeps me content with myself. But when I see a picture of me it's always a shock because I'm forced to look at the imperfection of everything else!

Isabelle, I love your stream-of-consciousness writing style.