Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - Day 4: Spending the day as a totally ordinary person

I'm the kind of person who gets to the airport at least 4 hours before scheduled departure so leaving myself 5 minutes to walk from Piccadilly Tube station to the Soho casting studio was really cutting it fine.

Then I had a senior moment. Where was Beak Street? I stood on Brewer Street, staring at the street sign across the street willing it to read Beak Street. But it wouldn't, it read Brewer Street.

I know Beak Street. My old hair dresser (before he got famous and moved to LA) was based in Beak Street. Beak Street used to be my home away from home. But there I stood on Brewer Street, outside Scoop, unable for the life of me to conjure up Beak Street in my mental map. Soho's not a good place for asking directions because these days most shops are manned by people who live out in the burbs and who have no intimate knowledge of the area.  Then I saw it, no not Beak Street but a locksmith's with two old types behind the counter who looked like they'd been in there since the days when Soho was all strippers, hookers and porn cinemas.

Me: "Hello. Excuse me may I ask (which incidentally I now know how to say in Mandarin) where is Beak Street?" (and as of today I can also say that in Mandarin)
Guy #1 behind the counter: Beak Street you say? Dunno. Pete, d'you know where Beak Street is?
Guy #2 behind the counter (a.k.a Pete): Beak Street? Isn't that off Rupert Street?

Me: Where the h*^% is Rupert Street? Do you have an A to Z or a map?
Guy #1: I don't have an A to Z...
Me: Really? No me neither, I  used to, back in the day when the dinosaurs roamed the earth but now I have an app on my smart phone. But it's on the blink for some reason so that's why I'm asking a human being for direction.
Guy #1: ... but I have a map!

He brandished a reassuringly huge good old fashioned 20th century foldy-uppy map of greater London. Before I had a chance to grab it, he turned to the street index.

Guy #1: Beak, B, B....
Me: Take your time why don't you, I have all the time in the world, it's not like I'm lost in the middle of Soho with an audition starting in 1.5 minutes
Guy #1: ... aha! G 5.

With much rustling, he turns the map over, unfolds it, refolds it.

Guy #1: G!
Me: I got it thank you, I'll take it from here.
Guy #1 (coming closer to a sudden an painful death that he could ever imagine): Can you see ok it's kindda small?
Me: Hey, I know I'm going up for the ugly part but does it say ANYWHERE that's it's Old and Ugly? Yep I can see just fine.

And there it was! One block up from Brewer, on the other side of Golden Square, where it has and always will be.

I thanked the locksmiths and rushed up the block and back down Beak St (because by then I'd walked all the way down to the wrong end), rang the buzzer, climbed the rickety stairs two at a time and bounded into the casting rooms.

Me: "Hello, I'm Isabelle Gregson."
Lady behind the counter (handing me 3 pages of forms): "Hi Isabelle, please fill these out BUT (handing me two scripts) please read the scripts first. I've given you the French and the English versions (why? the casting brief said ugly native French speaker, it didn't say Brit with a Jane Birkin accent), and you'll need to memorise the lines in French.

I thanked her and took my seat in the waiting area, next to a sweet looking little wisp of a thing (so much for ugly) and across from another girl, and set to memorising my lines.

The door opened and the casting director emerged from the audition room.

Casting Director to the girl sitting across from me (not the wisp of the thing, the other one): Hi! You'll be going in a couple of minutes.
Girl to casting director: Hi! You don't remember me, but we've met before...

Well, clearly, seeing as you've just insulted both the casting director's memory and ability to do her job, you're not getting the part. Can you spell Own Goal?

A while later, and it was a while because I managed to fill out all 3 recto verso pages of forms, the casting director came out with Miss Own Goal, and sent her on her way.

Wisp of a thing to Casting Director: Excuse me, may I ask (yup, can still say that in Mandarin) what might the shooting dates for this be?
Casting Director: I don't know! Ask your agent! I'm just the casting director.

Wow! Thank you Miss Own Goal #2.

Casting Director: Isabelle? Make yourself known!
Me: Hi, I'm Isabelle Gregson.
Casting Director: Leave your purse out there, no one's going to steal it!
Me (torn between separation anxiety and audition nerves): Uh, OK...

The audition room was small, dark and pretty muggy. I was introduced to the director, to a girl who was going to be reading with me (the token Frog, presumably there to judge auditionee's accents and fluency as none of the others spoke a word of French), the camera man, and two other bods who kept their own counsel throughout.

Director: Hi, so today I want you to imagine you are an ordinary person...
Me (slightly overegging it on account of nerves): Because any other day, I am a most ex-tra-or-di-na-ry human being!
Director: Uh, right so you are an ordinary mum coming home. Now, I don't want any acting, I just want you to be yourself!

I fell in love with him then and there. Here's a man I thought, here's a man who really knows how to relate to actors.

Me: Sure.

What I really wanted to say was: "Sorry, I need time to prepare, what's my motivation exactly?" You know, just to mess with him.

And off we went, we ran the lines three or four times. I did my best to pretend I was interacting with the camera even though the girl who was reading with me was sitting quite a ways away from it. You try that at home, try directing your answers away from the voice asking the questions...

Director: Thank you... Maude.
Me: Thank you (did he just call me Maude?)
Casting Director: It's Isabelle!
Director: I mean Isabelle.
Me: Bye (Harold!)

And just like that I was spat back out into the relative airiness of the waiting room and reunited with my purse.

And what about Mandarin lesson number 4? Still going strong although lots of new words were thrown at me today and I felt a little insecure as I couldn't remember them all. So I ran the lesson twice. (You're allowed to.) But some of the words and expressions I learnt in the first two lessons are now firmly established and I can rattle them off without actually thinking about it or translating every word. It's a great feeling.

Better feeling than the audition because, let's face it, I'm not getting the part.

I'm not ordinary enough.

And I'm not Maude.

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