When I left L.A. and moved to Virginia, I used breakup terms to explain my exit from the film industry.
Figure out what I really want.
Get my head together.
It’s a break, not a breakup. (Just FYI: it’s always a breakup.)
My agent seemed to take it just about as poorly as my ex-boyfriends did.
I wasn’t brave enough to make a totally clean break and leap head-first into the unknown Real World. If a script looked really fantastic… if the producers were really interested in me…you know…maybe….
I shoved a tiny wedge in the door and left it open, just a crack. It felt safer that way. Slamming that door shut tight would have left me all alone in the dark.
My agent slithered through that crack. A film was casting and the producers had requested to see me for a role. The project sounded interesting but if I agreed to this, was it just a matter of time before it seemed like a good idea to fly back to L.A. to audition for a guest spot on Everybody Loves Raymond? I really felt like I needed to get out of the film world, but I waffled, scared to leave behind the only moneymaking ability I had. My agent felt her 10% commission slipping away again.
“But, it’s Martin Scorsese!” She squealed.
Well, okay. This was a big deal. He was a big deal. (And still is a big deal.)
I agreed to audition and promptly started freaking out about the idea of going back to work. There was no offer yet, but it suddenly seemed that life needed to change. I needed to lose 4 pounds, get some color on my legs and not dye my hair “Mahogany 51” from a six-dollar bottle from the Rite-Aid. There were so many things to be done and they all sounded horrible.
But sometimes it’s hard to tell if a pounding heart indicates excitement or terror.
When an actor cannot get to the city where the audition sessions are being held, they can do an audition tape where they record themselves reading the lines at home and send it to the producers. They inevitably look like the most horrid home movies.
My boyfriend, Jeremy, was cautiously supportive of this audition. If he had been too supportive he would have been accused of thinking that me leaving L.A. was a mistake. Not supportive enough, and I would have said that he never truly loved or respected me. The poor guy was pretty much relegated to smiling and nodding.
My audition tape set up involved a bed-sheet duct taped to hang over a closet door, providing a neutral background. It always looked exactly like a duct-taped sheet. A complicated system of IKEA floor lamps and vertical blind manipulation created a lighting situation that made me look about 57 years old.
My dogs, having just moved across the country and into my boyfriend’s flimsy, bare, grad-student apartment, were feeling a little needy and would bark and whine whenever they felt excluded. So, for the sake of the sound, one dog remained seated on my lap with the other curled up at my feet. We framed the shot close enough that the animals were cut out.
Finally we began. I had a lengthy speech before Jeremy had his first line. He said it and it was loud.
And it was British.
For some reason, he was using his from-the-diaphragm theater-training voice, although the microphone was mere inches from his face. He also had some sort of odd, Cockney accent. This character is not British. Jeremy is not British. There is absolutely no reason for this behavior. Ah! He is trying to make me laugh so I am more comfortable. He is probably not even filming.
“Stop, stop, stop.” I laughed and waved my hands in front of my face. Jeremy turned the camera off. Damn, he was filming.
“You were doing great. What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Yeah, I was fine, but what were you doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“Were you trying to be funny?”
“Did I say it funny?”
I explained to Jeremy that the mic is right near him and maybe he should be quieter so that our sound levels match. I assumed he knew the accent needed to go.
We started again, and again he was loud and even more heavily accented. I tried to get through the scene with the ridiculousness of the emotionally unsettled dog on my lap and the loud British man reading with me. It wasn’t good. I wasn’t good.
It was all just uncomfortable. I felt like a grown-up woman trying fit into the jeans she wore in middle-school. I was half-heartedly trying to recreate a moment whose time had past.
When we finished, we watched the video back to see exactly how much of a train wreck the thing was.
“Wow,” Jeremy says “I was really loud. And do I have some sort of accent? Oh, you did great, though.”
I did not get the job. I tried to imagine Mr. Scorsese watching this thing, squinting in confusion at the drooping sheet background, the dog ears that occasionally popped in to view and my loud friend from the British Isles. I could blame it on any of those things, but whatever the reason, there was no offer.
And that’s how it goes. You usually don’t know the reason you don’t get a job. When it was released, we went to see The Aviator in theaters. Gwen Stefani played the role I read for.
It was at that moment, in the darkened theater, that I realized I didn’t want to be Gwen Stefani. I wasn’t longing to be up there, taking direction from even the great Martin Scorsese. I wanted to be right where I was. Living in a flimsy grad-student apartment, with a couple of neurotic dogs and a boyfriend who inexplicably broke into foreign accents. That was where I was truly happy. I didn’t want the complication of trying to impress Hollywood with duct taped sheets and IKEA floor lamps. I wanted to have pasty legs and hair the color of Mahogany 51.
I had no clue what was next in my life, what might happen after those credits rolled, but I knew I was done with acting. I had done it already. It was that simple.
So, that was the last project I auditioned for.
That audition had been the breakup sex. It was the one more time that you go back and give the relationship that last chance…only to find it was as awkward and unfulfilling as you remembered. But we all need that one last fling, that experience that lets you finally walk away with a few good stories, but absolutely no remorse.
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