Saturday, 17 August 2013

Learning Mandarin in 90 lessons - lesson #47: "I'm going all Kim and Aggie on that ..."

Auditions are like the proverbial buses: nothing for a while and then several come along at once. The phone rang; it was my agent. My face lit up like a Martha Stewart Christmas tree not just because my agent is super lovely but because I guessed they were calling to tell me that I'd landed the crazy lady part from the other day.

They weren't.

Which just goes to prove either that life is unfair, or that actors have an inordinate sense of optimism.

Me: Hi!
Lovely agent: Hi Isabelle, did you get my email?
Me: No! Did I get the part?
Lovely agent: I don't know (agents are pragmatic types and cut to the chase) I'm calling you about another audition.
Me: Oh, cool!
Lovely agent: Are you online?
Me: Hang on, I'm logged into my other hotmail at the moment. (I've been using it since 1996 so have earned the right to carry on calling it that. I'm not calling it Outlook. It's my one woman private protest against the Microsoft corps.)
Me: Sorry, I can't seem to log in right now. (Microsoft!!)
Lovely agent: It's for tomorrow afternoon. Thing is, let me read you the casting description...
Me: Ok. Why do they feel the need to check with me, is it another nude part? Do I need to cluck like a hen or bark like a dog? Do I have to kiss a girl...
Lovely agent: It says needs to look like she has a lot of money.
Me: ??
Lovely agent (reading): She needs to be dressed like she has cash in the bank.
Me: I'm an actor, I can pretend I'm loaded!
Lovely agent: (laugh) Just go looking French, that always impresses the English!

The next morning, I checked my email (Problem resolved. Thank you Microsoft.) and read the casting description for extra intel. "She needs to be quite striking with red hair if possible and glamorous looking - she needs to look like she’s got money!" Well darn it if I didn't wear my hair bright red for the past year and have only just grown it out back to its natural colour (in anticipation of dyeing it platinum blonde but that's another story). 

Luckily I still had my trusted red bob wig and emailed agent accordingly (with reference picture) to ask which incarnation should attend the audition. 

"No, stick with your normal chic!" 

I'm telling you, just lovely. 

I slapped on the face paint (I've been going au naturel since Shanghai so I felt like I'd awaken my inner drag queen) put on all of my jewelry (and I mean all of it), and took my most prized purse out of storage (it's a pastel pink Daisy bag from Tanner Kroller circa 2004 and cost so much money that I still wince when I think about it).

The casting studio was in the basement of a crumbling Clerkenwell warehouse. (A proper run down ruin of a thing that would make Shoreditch desperate hipsters tremble in their too tight and ill fitting trousers. Ha!) A trio of Balkan pirates lurked in the courtyard puffing on their cigarettes and glared at me. I spared a thought for the hipsters as I hurried inside. 

So imagine my surprise then when I found myself walking into a... salon.

Well, I looked like a salon! It had a black glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling, a huge gilded mirror, statement wall paper on one wall, designer upholstered vintage chairs and a cutie on the front desk with a bleached under cut, a tight black leather t-shirt and a strong European accent. And a lisp.

Me: Hi!
Cutie: Bonjour! What ith your nombre?
Me: I'm Isabelle.
Cutie: I'm tho thorry. We've jutht had a bit of an akthident here and I need to print out thome more formth.
Me: Is everything ok?
Cutie: It wath jutht a cup of coffee but it went all over the dethk!
Me: Sorry to hear that. I'll just sit over here. There's no rush.
Cutie: (grabbing paper towels and giving the desk an energetic rub down) I'm going all Kim and Aggie on thith one...

The young casting director popped her head around the corner. 

Casting director: Hi!
Me: Hi!
Casting director: We'll be with you in a minute. I spilt my coffee all over the desk just now, it went all over the forms...
Me: Ah.
Casting director: Jose, I'm so so sorry.
Jose the cutie: (with a big smile)  It'th OK. You didn't do it on purpoth.
Casting director: You know Jose, I don't know what you were on about. Your teeth look great, I should have put you up for that part last week. Why didn't you want to do it?
Jose the cutie: Well, latht Dethember I wath doing The X Factor and even on thothe big showth they don't pay you till three month after. Tho I thought I'm going to take a break from being a danther!

Yeah, me neither.

After a while, I was called into the audition room with a kind looking and smiling fellow auditionee named Jonathan.

Director: Hi! So the ethos of this film... Ethos. Did he really say ethos? Is about the moment when you discover the piece of furniture of your dreams.
Me and Jonathan: Ok.
Director: Good. We're going to start with you Isabelle.
Me: Shall I use my bag as a prop?
Director: No, just put it down over there. But it's a Tanner Krolle! I want you to imagine that this (pointing at the couch) is a bed and I want you to sit on the edge demurely at first, then lie back, and exhale.
Me: Ok.
Director: And I want to hear you go 'phhhhh'...

I refrained from cracking an off colour joke about the actress, the director and the casting couch and instead did as I was told.

Director: And cut! That was great... Oh dear... but you didn't say 'perfect'. Oh, he meant 'perfect' not 'phhhhh'! I'm so glad I skipped the casting couch joke.
Me: Oh, right! Sorry.

So I did it again and made sure to say 'perfect'.

Director: Good. Now Jonathan, you stand here. Isabelle you sit on the chair over here and pretend you are sitting at a dining room table. It's the dining room table of your dreams and you love it. And Jonathan here is your husband and I want you to get more and more excited about the table and catch his eye and say "I love it!!!"
Me and Jonathan: Ok.
Director: Roll the tape. Action!

So we did the scene a few times. And a few times more for good measure.  I started to feel slightly demented after the 10th "I love it!!!!!" "I love it!!!" but also indulged in a nice bit of miming as I checked the edges of the imaginary glass table of my dreams.

I thought Jonathan did great. I was sure he'd get the part.

Stepping back out into the waiting room, I found Jose the Cutie helping a very buff very beautiful model who was struggling with the zipper on his bag. He looked like Seal.

Seal: do you have some safety pins? I've got to ride home on my bike and this bag won't close.
Jose the Cutie (disappearing behind a door) I don't have thafety pinth but we have a thtappler. We'll go all retro punk!
Seal: (zipping up the bag) Got it!!!
Jose the Cutie (coming back in with the stappler): Here!
Seal: Thanks but I fixed it.
Jose the Cutie: Oh!
Seal: Thanks anyway.

And with that, Seal took himself out of our lives and back into the glossy pages of whatever high end fashion magazine he'd temporarily stepped out of. Jose the Cutie looked heart broken.

If Jonathan's up against Seal for the part, he doesn't stand a chance.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Learning Mandarin in 90 lessons - Lesson 45: A man wearing a kilt walks into a room...

I finished work quite late last night which is why it wasn't till past 9pm that I discovered that (a) my wonderful agent had got me an audition, (b) the audition was for the following afternoon, (c) there were 2 pages of monologue to memorise. For once, and I hope I'm not jinxing it, I think I may have a decent chance of landing the part. The casting blurb read: "European looking, not too English: TICK; shouldn't look down market: TICK; should look like she's had some bad experiences but still look attractive: TICKish." 

Further, the shoot is scheduled for the (UK) August Bank Holiday weekend: TICK!!!!; and the script calls for some harrowing emotional depth which is right smack bang in the middle of my range (those who dislike me might even say that it constitutes my whole range but there are very few of those people around, and most of them live - like - in my head.)

So this morning after I sprang out of bed extra early, I turned on the iPad, downloaded the script and set to learning my lines as I prepared breakfast. (I'm a girl, it's called multi-tasking.) Luckily, one of the (many) side benefits of studying Mandarin with La Methode de Pimsleur is that my memory is sharp sharp sharp and it took me less than half an hour to memorise the text.  

Then I spent some time making the script specific to me. (It's a Method thing... it's about creating make believe for myself so that I don't have to 'act'. 'Acting' terrifies me because I still don't know how to do it - and instead I can just 'be'. Or 'do'.) 

Later, over my lunch break (Mandarin lesson #45 which means I am half way to learning 'basic Chinese'!!) I headed off to the audition. On the way there, I ran into my good friend and sexiest Samba dancer alive Miss G. I took to be a good omen. (TICK!!)

I walked at a leisurely pace through the throng of tourists and played 'spot the men in kilts'. There were everywhere: walking down the street, in car parks, standing outside pubs, entering betting shops. My guess is it was either some sort of experiential promotion for Scotland Tourism, or they'd beaten a hasty retreat down South to avoid all the Southerners swarming their beloved Edinburgh with poncy plays.

Either way, I soon reached the door of the casting studio and was buzzed in by a young and friendly male voice. I climbed the stairs (see what I mean about the stairs) to the first floor and walked into a singularly sparsely decorated space. Table: one. Chair: one. Bin: two. Phone charger plugged in wall: one. Small 2 person sofas: four. One very blue carpet.

I filled out my form, had my mug shot taken and sat down waiting for my turn. 

God I hate actresses. 

Oh come on, you know what I mean, not my friends who are actresses, ACTRESSES.

Let me explain. I have nothing against jobbing actresses, nothing even against the schoolgirls/talent school types who show up in full Cheryl Cole make up, with skirts up to here and cleavage down to there. What I dislike is the middle aged, embittered actress full of self-hatred because she's lost her figure, (or worse: angry because she's starving herself to keep that figure), or her looks, or sex appeal. 


Casting assistant: Come in!

She made her entrance with a stroller and two (rather sweet) children in tow, proceeded to interrogate (antagonise!) the lovely casting assistant about the job, then abruptly left the room (and her kids) to take a call about a house she was in the process of buying. She wore a skirt up to there, revealing some pretty good and tanned pins, and some black patent leather pumps that made her feet bulge out.


A friendly looking lady walked in and I picked up my purse to make room for her next to me. I thought a bit of conversation would help wash off the bad karma from Madam Real Estate.

Me: "Nice trousers."

Miss Green Trousers: Thanks. (in a stage whisper) They're from a charity shop. I wear them all the time.

Me (realising too late the error of my ways and desperately trying to close the door I had unwittingly opened): That's nice.

Miss Green Trousers: Do they have a copy of the script? To the casting assistant: Do you have a copy of the script? I only got mine on email at 9 o'clock last night. Go ahead, you antagonise him too, that's just what we need.

Me: It's not that long, it's mostly description.

Miss Green Trousers: Oh I know! It's not a problem.

I started to dislike her green trousers.

Sound of footsteps and then a door (not the front door) opened and Mr. M the casting director walked into the room. 

Mr. M: Hello!

All of us: Hello!

Mr. M: You don't need to be word perfect, just ad lib if you don't remember the words, we just want to see a natural performance straight down the lens.

Miss Green Trousers: You mean straight down the lens. 

Me: !!!

Mr. M: ? Yes, you direct your performance towards the camera, as if you were being interviewed. 

Miss Green Trousers: So, down the lens...

Mr. M turning to the lady seated on the other side of me: Helen! Hi! We'll start with you.

Helen and Mr. M disappeared behind the door.

Madam Real Estate came back in, phone call finished, and sat down. She gave the perfectly behaved children some sweets ('To keep them quiet!') and handed the little boy a device which he proceeded to switch on allowing us all to share in the inane voice over of whatever children's programme he was watching. 

Madam Real Estate to casting assistant: Where are the toilets?

Maybe I'd been too hasty despatching the green trousers.. but before I had a chance to re-engage the casting assistant said: "Isabelle, it'll be your turn next."

Me: Oh good! Thanks. 

Sound of footsteps again, the not-the-front-door door opened and out popped Helen. She gathered her things and on her way out threw a collective "Good luck ladies!" over her shoulder, which given that there was only one female part smacked of passive aggression and hypocrisy.

I let it slide. 

Now it was my turn. What a dilemma! Did I go in right away or wait for a sign? What if they were waiting for me behind that door? 

Suddenly Mr M. bounded out, grabbed the casting list from his assistant and gazed wildly around the room.

Mr. M: Now, who is Isabelle?

Me (getting up with enthusiasm): It's me!

Mr. M: Hmmm, ha. Who do we have next?

Casting Assistant: Isabelle.

Mr M: Hmmm, ha. Hmmm.

This isn't one little bit awkward. I'm an actor, I can use this in my performance. This is a gift!!!

Mr. M: (Finally. To me.) It's up the stairs.

I went through the door and discovered the narrowest and steepest little stairwell in London. I smiled to myself at the thought of Madam Real Estate in her patent leather stilettos. Karma!

At the top of the stairs, I was greeted by a mob of about 10 people. Seriously, I had a bigger audience than some of the shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Me to them: Hi! I'm Isabelle.

Them as a chorus: Hi Isabelle!

Mr M. suddenly appearing behind me: take a seat.

I took the proffered seat. 

Mr. M: state your name and go straight into the monologue. And remember, straight down the lens.

And we were off.

Mr. M: and cut. 

One from the mob: that was good. Now I'd like you to do it again, talking straight down the lens Isabelle!!! please and in the bit where you talk about your daughter, make it feel like it's hard for you to say.

Me: ok! Sorry about the lens thing!

Mob: Not a problem!!

And we were off again. Now the beauty of preparation is that if you trust that it's there and you leave it alone, it'll rise to the surface all by itself. That's the theory. In practice it's quite hard because you have to let yourself be, you have to leave yourself alone and trust that the work you've done will find its way into the performance so that you're not acting you are reacting...

I got to the bit about the daughter and a wave of sadness and fear rose in me and I surfed all the way down its spine and the room went so quite and no one moved till the end. 

One from the mob: and cut! That was great. Thank you so much.

Mr. M: thanks, very good. 

I got up, thanked them all, wished them a good afternoon and negotiated my way back down the stairs and back into the waiting room. 

Me (to casting assistant): That's me done. Thank you. See you later. 

And I walked back out into the sunshine and throng of tourists. Back into the real world, albeit one full of men wearing kilts.