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.


Accidental Londoner said...

I admire you hugely, Isabelle - I wouldn't have the guts to get through one of your auditions, let alone be able to tell the tale with such humour...plenty of material for your memoirs in there!

Kenya D. Williamson said...

I'm so glad you're kicking butt at your auditions, Isabelle! Great post. And now, I know what (whom) to get you for Christmas! I hope you get this one, too! :)

MuMuGB said...

Well done Isabelle! It looks like you are on fire! I gave you the Kreative award on my blog...

June O'Hara said...

Good for you! Personally, I think psycho-mode is way underrated.

Mair said...

I could never do what you do. I have terrible stage fright. You are really quite amazing and I'm glad we met through SheWrites.

When will you know if you got it?

Em-Musing said...

You sum up an audition perfectly. I can't say I miss all the emotions and egos.Let us know how you do.

Elizabeth Young said...

Oh Isabelle, what would we do without you?! You tell us what you were thinking (and in all fairness, what we probably would have thought to, but been a tad too afraid to repeat!) Your honestly is absolutely refreshing as well as very funny. I usually say 'keep writing.' In your case I have to add: 'and auditioning!'

Audry Fryer said...

Hey I officially became a follower even though I've been "following" for quite a few posts now. I love reading about your auditions and enjoy your perspective on the people around you!

monicastangledweb said...

Thank goodness you were there to help that sweet girl. Makes me realize just how competitive your business is. Or should I say, cut throat. In any case, you wowed them and that's exciting. Can't wait to hear what happens next!

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Can't wait for the next instalment! I would have turned back at the door at the sight of a single sneering Size 0... Fingers crossed for you.

Scrollwork said...

And I had just learned about parkour from a video someone posted on Facebook. How timely.

I so get you on how dressing the part puts you in character. It's why the first thing I plan when preparing for a dance showcase is the storyline and costume—the choreography is a distant third.

I used to wonder why actors always described their fellow actors as "generous." After being privy to your world, now I know.

Cathy K said...

Fabulous as always Isabelle. What a brave, high-heeled soul you are! I notice you have a thing for shoes...

isabelle gregson said...

Thank you all for visiting and for your kind words. Still waiting to hear which is slowly turning into "well that's probably not going to happen is it!!?!" Please don't feel bad. I don't.
@Cathy: I do have a thing for high heels in particular, mostly because of my 5'4" frame!

Anonymous said...

I love your posts! Your days are so different than mine.

I hope you get the call back!