Monday, 23 September 2013
Learning Mandarin in 90 lessons: lesson # 65 - "When being boring becomes an occupational hazard..."
The brief on the second email read: "Business woman, mid 30s. She comes across as rather uptight and mean but that's only because she is a very busy business woman (unlike you, friendly actors, who are never busy). Underneath it, she's quite nice. Please wear full business attire (ie don't show up in your ripped jeans and with holes in your shoes.) to the audition. Scripts to follow (ie please learn your lines)."
The third email arrived the following day, with a script attached. (Note the use of the singular.) With my memorising skills in elite athlete shape thanks to the daily Mandarin lessons, I had my (four) lines memorised in no time.
Next morning, I took the business suit out of the wardrobe, still in the dry cleaner's protective plastic.This suit was a tried and tested stalwart: stretchy and forgiving, even on a fat day. But not today. As I zipped up the trousers, the seams tensed against my inner thighs and set off the voices:
French Isabelle: Oh la la la la! Je suis enorme!
British Isabelle: Maybe the fabric needs a bit of time to relax, you know, after the dry cleaning...
French Isabelle: Mais non! It's FAT I tell you. Ow could I let zis happen...
Spanish Isabelle: Stop it! Look, your bottom it looks like a sexy pomelo!
British Isabelle: Maybe its the Body Pump class, all those squats. You know you bulk up really easy...
French Isabelle: Oh let's just go, on va etre en retard.*
I stepped out of the tube station at lunchtime into passive aggressive rain: wet enough to turn fashion forward hair into an unruly matronly mop but not wet enough to warrant the use of an umbrella without coming across as the "Not the hair! Not the hair!" type.
I pulled out my black collapsible umbrella and strode purposefully towards the casting studio. The entrance overflowed with 20 year olds - definitely not in full or even limited business attire - filling out their casting forms. A very shouty piece of French rap blared from the shelf behind the greeter's desk. I felt old and overstuffed in my suit and glared at the greeter.
Me: Hi, I'm Isabelle Gregson.
Greeter: Gregson... Gregson? It's upstairs.
I made my way upstairs to the other waiting room where four older actors in identikit dark blue business attire sat studying their scripts. Suddenly I felt young again and ooh look, I was in my brown tweed flared pant suit from Fenwick of Bond Street paired with my red patent leather heels from Rucco Linea. For a moment, I even forgot the tightness of my trousers. "Hi!". The blond lady seated across from me looked suitably uptight and didn't respond.
I made a point of not studying my script, because I knew my four lines and, as everybody knows, over-studying the script is an audition killer. Anyway, I hadn't brought the script with me. (They always hand out copies in the waiting room. As in always except for today.)
Suddenly one of the children from downstairs made his way past us towards the sign marked "Toilet". The bathroom boasted a floor to ceiling version of saloon doors last seen swinging to an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. I knew from experience (I'd been here before) that the space between those swinging doors and the actual toilet door was so short that you couldn't help being propelled rather painfully against that second door as soon as the saloon doors swung behind you.
As we waited, the toilet doors went on to claim another 3 or 4 victims. We waited some more. And a bit more after that. The man seated to my right suddenly announced rather pompously that by his calculations, they were now running about half an hour late.
Suddenly the casting studio door opened and we all looked up expectantly. A middle aged man in a rumpled business suit came out, grabbed his coat, yelled "laser!" and left, chuckling. Finally the casting director came out.
Casting director: I'm terribly sorry to have kept you waiting. We're running a bit late. Just to recap: you're playing the BORING business person. But by the end of the script, you're quite engaged by the Tom character, he's young and cheeky and you'll let your personality shine through.
She turned to Mr. Pompous: Richard, follow me, your next.
Mr. Pompous (getting up to follow her): I think I may have learnt the wrong part...
Casting Director: Oh dear! Come with me.
The slightly chubby friendly looking man sitting across from me pointed at the toilet sign and asked me: "I'm sorry, I haven't been keeping track, is there anyone left in there?" I shook my head no. And with that, he got up, braved the swinging doors and collided with the girl who was coming out.
Mr Pompous reappeared a few minutes later script in hand and sat back down next to me.
Me (leaning over) It's a much shorter part, there aren't too many lines to learn.
Mr. Pompous: There are two scripts! They've given me 20 minutes to learn them...
Me: Did you say two scripts?
The Casting director reappeared: "Stephen?"
Mr. Chubby: Yes?
Casting director: Did you learn the right part?
Mr. Chubby: Yes, I think so...
Casting Director: Oh good man! Follow me!
Me: Excuse me, are we supposed to have one or two scripts?
Casting Director: Two.
Me: I only got script 3.
Casting Director (rolling her eyes): Agents! Wait here. No, not you Stephen, you come with me.
She returned with a script. Turns out Script 1 had a lot more lines...
Twenty minutes later, Mr. Chubby reappeared, collected his belongings and left. The casting director's child - I mean assistant - sauntered in behind him: "Hi everybody! Why don't you tell me your names so I can cross you off my list!"
'Everybody' - all four of us - dutifully gave their name and waited expectantly.
Casting director's assistant: Thank you!... So... which one of you is Isabelle?
Me: Tell me, are you - and this is a stab in the dark so correct me if I'm wrong - were you by any chance the one responsible for emailing us the scripts? I'm Isabelle.
Casting director's assistant: Really?
Me: Oh let me check. Am I? Ooh I don't know! Where's my brain?
I followed her into the casting studio. The casting director had disappeared.
Casting director's assistant: That's John on camera. Meet Mark, he's going to play Tom. Mark this is...
Me: Seriously? Isabelle.
Casting director's assistant: ... Isabelle who is playing the BORING businesswoman but by the end of it she'll be quite into you because you're a cheeky monkey type and the subtext... no that's another script.
Me: Did you just say subtext? Sorry, which script are we doing first?
Casting director's assistant (waving some papers at me from across the room): This one. And action!
Turns out it was Script 1. Turns the cheeky monkey didn't know his lines. Turns out he talked over me and left awkward pauses and stared at me expectantly whenever he thought it was my turn. Turns out he stood upstage which made it hard for me to talk to him and face the camera at the same time...
Casting director's assistant: Mark, you're starting to remember your lines!! That's GREAT! Let's go again. Isabelle please face the camera, I'm getting too much of your profile. And action!
I wanted to slap him. He made me feel uptight and mean and not even 'quite nice underneath.' He made my suit feel even tighter
We moved on to the second script. Twice. Turns out didn't know his lines for this one either. I wanted to bash him over the head with subtext.
On the positive side, I won't be seeing him again as neither of us will be getting a call to pack a bag, grab the passport and board that EasyJet flight to Berlin come Tuesday morning. And that's fine by me... I've got quite a busy week.
* We're going to be late