Jackson Pollock said it's necessary for an artist to come face-to-face with himself. The great painter found the experience uncomfortable, yet inspiring. I agree to a certain extent. When I recently encountered my own countenance, I too was quite uncomfortable, yet it made for a hilarious story.
I have a friend who works in the entertainment business. He recommended me for a small, news anchor role in a popular TV series. I've known news people who've done things like this before -- my old colleague Lester Holt has famously appeared in several films, including The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford. I, on the other hand, have no experience with acting. But one of the beautiful things about being "in between jobs" is you have plenty of time to try new things.
I chuckled when I received the "Directors' Notes" in an email the night before the audition. The very first instruction read: "Delivery of dialogue should NOT be in the typical cheesy news anchor fashion."
Ok, now I'm not naïve. I've seen Anchorman with Ron Burgundy. I can take the jokes. I actually think I'm more offended by the adjective "typical" than the informal adjective "cheesy." Is this how these entertainment folks have been talking about us news folks all this time?
Nevertheless, not wanting to develop a Christian Bale type of reputation this early in my acting career, I decided to let this slight pass.
I'd received no instructions regarding attire, so I dressed for the audition as if I was going to work: blue pinstripe suit, plaid dress shirt and a red tie (the color is a hint about which show it is). It's a standard anchor uniform. Frankly, I didn't even think twice about it. The phrase "straight out of central casting" didn't even occur to me...at the time.
When I arrived at the casting studio (downtown, of course), I thought I'd stepped into an MTV reality show. It seemed everyone, male and female, was about 20 years younger than me and really, really beautiful. It was a flurry of headshots, skateboards and iPhones and I wondered if I was in the right place. It turns out there was another casting call underway for a commercial for shampoo or energy drinks or something.
I ambled my creaky bones past the kids to Studio 2, where my audition was. There I found one woman, about 10 years my senior, sitting on a bench. I suddenly felt better about my age. Unsure at this point about what to do, I asked the woman for guidance. She looked at me as if I was a moron and said, "Sign the list and wait your turn."
I did as I was told.
Now, maybe I was eager to let her know this was my first time or perhaps I was just looking to release some nervous energy, but I then made the mistake of trying to engage this unfriendly stranger in small talk.
"So, I guess you're an actor," I astutely observed.
Again, she flashed the moron look.
"What's that like?" I unwisely continued.
"If you'll excuse me," she said tersely, "I have to familiarize myself with the material."
"Oh, so that's what it's like," I finished sarcastically.
Now this is when it got weird.
Just then, a guy, presumably an actor (I was catching on), appeared from around the corner looking exactly like me. Then another. Then another. Dark suits, bright ties, glasses, the hair...the uniform! I felt like a cartoon character. In fact, one of them looked more like me than me. As we stood there looking at each other, it occurred to me that I was probably the only one freaking out at the sight of numerous doppelgangers. They do this all the time.
I was trying to pull my head together when a young woman called my name. It was my turn.
Inside Studio 2 were nothing more than a small table and chair, a small camera and some large cue cards with dialogue written in the worst handwriting I've ever seen.
"When I say action, state your name and read through the dialogue," she said very quickly and businesslike. "We'll do it twice. Now, action!"
Catching her completely off-guard, I informed her that I had made some changes to the copy.
She froze. Incredulous. "What?"
"Well it's poorly written and quite redundant." I said. "I just tightened it up."
Copyediting, as I'm sure you know, is a standard part of the news business. Apparently, however, it's not so much part of the acting business.
"You know," she explained less than calmly, "there are writers who get paid to do that and they're pretty sensitive about people changing their stuff. Why don't you just read the lines?"
Again, I thought it was too soon in my young acting career to throw a Russell Crowe type tantrum, so I complied.
I read through the material trying my damnedest not to be "cheesy," but wondering if it would be possible after so many years of being a "typical" news anchor. Perhaps the "cheese factor" would be too great to overcome. Either way, it was over quickly.
I thanked the young lady, walked out of the room and wished all the other me's good luck.
I left with a hell of a story, but with no idea if I have what it takes to play myself on TV.
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