Can you work tomorrow morning on the movie Iron Man?"
The e-mail from the casting director caught me off guard to say the least; not because I'm a journalist and not an actress and not because this had all started with a casual conversation with Avi Arad the movie's producer. It caught me off guard because I had just unplugged myself from a breast pump and if you have no idea what that's like then picture being hooked up to one of those electric pumps they hook onto cows to drain them of their milk so the world can have their Sugar Smacks. It's impossible to think of yourself in front of a movie camera when you don't feel worthy of the photo booth at Target. So of course I wrote back, "Yes!"
Six weeks to the day I gave birth to my second child, I found myself in downtown Los Angeles on the set of Marvel Films' movie Iron Man. I was to play a journalist in a scene that involved Robert Downey, Jr., in which he watches a television report being given by a reporter named Zorianna Kit. Before you credit the screenwriter with being adept at coming up with a great comic book name for a reporter I should tell you that Zorianna Kit is my real name.
I remember auditioning for the film and thinking nothing would come of it. I was five days away from going into labor and arrived - no, waddled - into the audition in the best business-looking outfit I could find at my local Motherhood Maternity. I knew for certain that it would go nowhere and the longer I sat in the Finn/Hiller casting offices surrounded by skinny looking model types, the more insecure and fat I felt. But once I entered the room everything changed because I found a kindred spirit in casting director Sarah Finn, who was also pregnant. We spent more time in that room discussing cravings, weight gains and baby gear than we did going over my lines. Well at least I met a cool mom-to-be today, I thought to myself, figuring this was a great story to bore my kids with someday: 'How mom almost came to be in a movie, but didn't.'
But now, 45 days and one baby later, I arrived at the Biltmore Hotel to be in a major motion picture. I was immediately ushered to my trailer in a parking lot nearby on Olive Street, carrying my most important piece of gear - my breast pump. Since I was feeding my baby every three hours I figured I'd be in for a long night of hurry up and wait.
A friendly girl from wardrobe, all tattooed and funky looking, arrived to see me for a fitting. We tried on several outfits and took Polaroids so that director Jon Favreau could choose the best one. They ranged from a conservative suit to a gorgeous Gucci dress, each in several different sizes. After the hair and make-up was applied, to my delight, I was informed that Jon chose the Gucci dress.
I took the dress from her and closed my trailer door so I could put it on. I tried getting it over my head but it wouldn't fit. Weird. It just did a couple of hours ago. I tried stepping into it but no go. I pushed and yanked to no avail. I poked my head outside the door and told them they had given me the right dress but the wrong size. This probably happens all the time, right? Nope, it was the right one, she said. I pathetically suggested that maybe there was a zipper on the side that we're not seeing. The wardrobe girl shook her head and stared at my now overflowing breasts and proclaimed: "You need to pump."
I cranked up the pump and fifteen minutes later my breasts were down to size. Now the Gucci dress hung slinkily from my body. I felt like a sexy star with her own entourage as I was whisked across the parking lot to the Biltmore Hotel. Inside, a faux red carpet awaited me - my own set! - doubling as Disney Hall where I was supposed to deliver my lines. Now, I'm used to either reading the news from a prompter, or telling my viewers the news unscripted and live on location. For the Iron Man scene, things felt a little backwards: I had to say a speech that was written for me, but that was supposed come off as improvised and on-the-fly since the script called for my setting to be a live event set at Disney Hall, i.e., no teleprompter. My head was still grasping it all, but I felt ready.
As I approached the set I noticed a large crowd of extras dressed in tuxes and gowns waiting for their cue to walk behind me. There was a man off to the side in charge of setting off flashbulbs, designed to mimic the glittering flashes of paparazzi lights. A dozen crew members stood awaiting my arrival and suddenly all the excitement drained out of me when I realized that all of these people were counting on me to nail my performance and not extend their long day of shooting. After writing about the film business at the Hollywood Reporter for five years I knew well enough how the expense of overtime could cost the studio millions of dollars. Instantly I felt tremendous pressure to do a great job so that the crew could go home to their families and the movie didn't go over budget.
I was put in position, the set was hushed and then I heard the words that turned my knees to jelly, "And....ACTION!" I opened my mouth but my brain went blank and I couldn't remember a single word. My face felt flushed. How embarrassing. Hey look everyone, they hired a professional journalist who doesn't know how to act like a journalist! I felt millions of dollars from the budget going down the drain and I was the one responsible. But... fate intervened. Right at the exact moment when I froze, one of the paparazzi flashbulbs exploded. People screamed. "Cut! Extras back in place!" People ran over to me. Various voices asked, "Are you alright?" "Are you hurt?" "Are you okay?" Okay? I was more than okay. I was relieved that this mishap had spared me complete humiliation. I wanted to hug the flashbulb guy and whisper in his ear that I appreciated his act of premature flashbulb-ination.
This incident turned out to be the exact icebreaker that I needed. From then on it was smooth sailing. I nailed the first take and then we did some extra ones for safety. It was during one of these extra takes that I became aware that my breasts were slowly inflating. I mean, even the sound guy was mesmerized at what was happening at the top of my dress. Luckily the wardrobe woman intervened and began to shove her hands down my top between takes, doing her best to get the twins back into the dress. The set got eerily quiet as the whole crew fixated on this happily unexpected scene from Girls Gone Wild.
Two takes later it was over. They had what they needed. Everyone clapped for me; I blushed and took a bow, keeping my left hand on my chest to keep my inflatables in place. I've visited many a movie set for magazine articles and TV segments, but even jaded ol' me had to pause to take in this brief moment of "stardom."
Driving home, I knew my husband and the kids would already be asleep and I'd have time to pump one more time before going to bed. I patted the breast pump on the passenger seat next to me as if it was a trusty co-star and said, "You did good tonight."