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.

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