Thursday, May 1, 2008

Starving Actor Funny Audition & Casting Stories

I guess I'm a little superstitious. I'll do something before a call back, and then if I get the job, I tend to make that a habit. Usually it's something to do with clothes, or the route driven. But on the way to this audition, I stopped by my favorite java joint, The Coffee Bean. I liked it better than Starbucks. I was just running over my lines for a callback on a big feature film. I was right outside Culver Studios leaning up against a telephone pole enjoying my pricey gourmet coffee. Perhaps I should have been more aware of my surroundings and the costume I was wearing.

Sometimes I like to leave from home in costume, as it helps me to feel more like the character I am playing for some reason. So here I was dressed as a homeless guy with all the trimmings, leaning up there all dirty and scraggly looking. Some big wig executive walked by, and I guess I was so convincing looking in my bum get up, that he dropped a handful of change into my near full coffee bean coffee cup! And just strolled on by. Hey!!! Needless to say I was a little stunned. What could I say? I had to laugh. Then I realized a $5 cup of coffee was just sacrificed for 65 cents. But later on, I managed to get the job. So now when I audition for a bum I get the coffee and try to panhandle a little bit beforehand. I figure it's good practice for my retirement.

I got to a callback on a commercial for a major brand of tennis shoes. And to my delight the director said, "You have the job, but you must be able to fit into this size eight pair of shoes. They are specially made by the ad agency." Well, I wear a size eleven shoe so naturally I said, "I can do it no problem." I crammed those things onto my over sized feet. Man I've got to tell you, it hurt like the dickens. But that's how badly some of us want this. It can be very hard to get work sometimes, it's not like a regular job. So they have me going for hours doing sit-ups and calisthenics as they photographed the bottom of my stupid feet while looking up at me. Ironically this worked real well because it was so painful it looked like I really was a workout pro. For me just going to 7-11 is a workout. To truly add insult to injury they called me at home that night. They had lost the shoes and wanted to know if I had taken them. What? Believe me I never wanted to see those stupid sneakers ever again.

My first year out in Hollywood my agent calls and asks if I could drive a semi tractor trailer. I shouldn't have done this, but I was so anxious for work back then that I said, "Yes!" I hung up the phone and dashed out to the nearest truck stop and bribed this truck driver to give me a crash course. (hopefully not literally) He showed me the trucker technique and terminology. I managed to bluff my way through the auditions, callbacks, and got the job. You asked for it bub. I was pretty nervous the day of the shoot, since I really had no clue how to drive the darn thing. Fortunately for me, the real acting came when they explained that this was a brand new truck and the dealership would prefer it if their own man could do the moving shots. "Aw gee, that's too bad. I was looking forward to destroying it. You only want me for the close ups?" Nuts.

After a few reasonably productive years in Los Angeles, I'd had lots of commercial auditions, but only a few readings for features. Then one day there it was in the trade paper. "MALE PRINCIPAL ROLE, MUST PLAY A TV." Well, now I'm from a very small town in the Midwest and only recently learned that TV means transvestite, not television! So, I looked in the mirror and asked, "So Dude, are you willing to do anything for Union scale?" Pause..."YES!"..."Do you want it THIS bad? "Yeah I think so"

Well, I bit off more than I could chew. I approached my girlfriend, curious about her reaction to the idea. Her enthusiasm for dressing and making me up was a bit of a surprise (after she stopped laughing her ass off). Then all of a sudden, I'm in her black, sheer evening gown, black pumps, socks in a bra, and all the trimmings. After a long drive to the audition trying not to be seen in heavy traffic on the 101, I got there but I needed to use the bathroom. But, wait a minute, which one? I didn't want any guys to see me like that, but I didn't have the nerve to use the ladies room. So I decided to wait it out! Smart move Sherlock.

During the audition I died like the straight dog that I am. I just couldn't relax and get into it in that get-up. My reading sucked, and when I was asked, I didn't know the difference between transsexual and transvestite. (I guess I don't get out much!) So I slinked out of there, and slumped out the door feeling pretty defeated. To make things even worse, my smart-alec girlfriend had the camera at the car door, and snapped a few photos of me. Aw come on man! And to this day she uses them (very effectively) to get her own way. I ended up marrying her. What choice did I have. And no, I'm not posting that picture here. Ever. Anywhere. Forget it!

This story is one of hers. And it gives you an idea why I married her. I've played a variety of homeless guys over the years. I get all the glamour roles. But in this one particular feature film the make up gang really did a fine number on me. They greased up my hair with hot oil, made up my teeth to look as if I hadn't brushed them in years, then put a nice thick layer of dirt and grime on my skin and the tattered clothes I was wearing. I got them to snap a photo of me to show my new persona to her when I got home.

It happened that she was going back to her home town for the 20th high school reunion. Now, the school she went to was quite a bit on the snobbish side. She was the poor kid in class. And, she pretty much knew in advance how the conversations would go. Starting with "Oh, you're married. What does YOUR husband do?" She was quite correct and when she responded that I was an actor, they wanted to know what I looked like. So, then she pulls out that picture of me as a bum. The silence was intense as her socially correct former classmates racked their brains for an appropriate response. Most gratifying of all was the fact that those few she had made friends with in high school caught on to the joke.

On a typical day of concocting hair-brained schemes to try and get work, I heard on my favorite FM radio morning show they were having a Valentines Day mass wedding ceremony for 45 couples. They explained they needed a wedding day band for the event. In school I played percussion in the school marching band, orchestra, and later worked with the Philharmonic Symphony for a few years. (Then I went to Florida for a vacation and stubbed my toe on "Miami Vice") (But that's another story) Anyway, I felt uniquely qualified for the job.

But at that time I had no musical equipment, heck, I sold it all to get out to LA. But when I heard the musicians to be used would be paid $300 each to play at this mass wedding, I started scrambling around the house looking for some kind of instrument that I could audition with. People were auditioning over the phone with the strangest instruments and being hired! Some guy with a bunch of power drills, another with arm farts, and other oddities that didn't belong in a band. So, I thought about it a little and lined up a row of 12 water glasses to the diatonic scale, each corresponding to musical notes. Then I called into the show and auditioned by playing "Here Comes the Bride" on my glass xylophone. That was easy enough, having played timpani and the chimes in the past. Then the DJ says, "Come on man, Impress us" Somehow I managed to clang out "Stairway To Heaven" on my water glasses. It was really funny, and hey hired me on the spot. Cool. I knew all those music lessons would pay off some day.

I'm pretty proud of my track record of having never missed, or been late for an audition. You have to, or you're toast. Last year I came pretty close. I was driving on the 101 freeway from the valley to Westside Casting. All of a sudden Blam! A blow out in 4 lanes with everybody hauling 70 mph in the fast lane in heavy traffic. Probably the only time it wasn't a stop and go 20 mile an hour experience. Good 'ol LA traffic. I gripped the wheel and held it steady, but nobody would let me pull in front of them to get over to the shoulder! This was pretty freaky, semi's blowing by me, the car lumbering like a boat. Finally, a kind motorist saw my predicament and slowed so I could get over. (In LA? Oh come now!).

After my heart stopped pounding, I regained my composure and sized up the situation. Okay, a flat I can handle that and still make the audition. (I always leave an hour early, just in case.) I had recently gotten a new used car, and to my amazement there was locking hub caps. Whoever heard of such a thing! And of course no key in the glove compartment. I had no choice but to try and pry that thing off there with the tire iron, but it was just hanging there not letting me get to the rim. So I just drove on the shoulder to the next exit, with that stupid thing flopping around smacking the ground as I hobbled along. I got to a ramp finally, and started limping down the road looking for a gas station or anything I thought could help out. There was none in sight. It seemed like I was driving forever, and here's this hub cap smacking against the pavement with each revolution of the tire. Finally it just gave out and went wildly spinning out ahead of me. Looked like a dumb episode of Cops. Thank you.

At last, I can change the tire and get on my way. But, in the process I ended up all covered with grime and grease. Of course I've got no rags or anything. I had planned it pretty well, allowing plenty of extra time for traffic. I had just enough time left to beat it to the audition. I got there looking pretty messed up, figuring I was toast. But to my amazement the part was for a janitor! I just looked a little heavy on the make up, right? What an adventure. I got a callback, and the job. It was for Big Red gum, and ran 4 years.

Sometimes you just never know when you will get a break. It never seems to happen the way I think it will. I've had directors literally scream at me at a callback, and figure there's no way I got this one. And then I get hired. Huh? Perhaps some of them just want to see how well I deal with pressure. The opposite is true as well. Sometimes I feel like man I nailed it, and then nothing. Go figure. Like I mentioned, I started doing stand up comedy mainly to sharpen my comic timing, and deal with the unexpected. I got to the point where I was pretty respectable. I liked to write a new routine each week. It's pretty risky, sometimes I'd tear it up. Other times I'd bomb. I just felt like doing the same routine over and over was boring.

So, this one night there was this big comedian contest with a big prize. A guest star role on a sit-com. Man that's a sweet prize. I did my best, but I just wasn't on that night. I was a little out gunned also. I knew I hadn't done well, and I was feeling pretty awful as I left the club. A popular TV show was auditioning comedians outside the club for something. Some guy who had seen me in the comedy club saw me, and followed me to my car and asked me to audition. I really didn't feel like it, I felt like $hit.. But I was flattered I was even asked to do so. So I shook it off and did my thing. The policy of this particular show was to tape you, and if the producers liked it and used it, you get scale. (If you were union) If not, you got to be on TV, get a salad shooter & some press on nails. Of course people will do just about anything to get on TV for free now! I'll be doggoned, because they had me on during three seasons of episodes. It was America's Funniest people.

I worked on the Gong Show a few times also. These kinds of shows were advertised in the trade papers like Dramalouge, and Backstage that you could audition for without an agent once a week. You just write up your own sketch, or routine, and audition. You could do 2 different bits. It was a great way to supplement our income. I would run into a lot of character actors over and over at these, and it was kind of funny. We would have these crazy normal conversations waiting to audition, "Wha'd you come up with this week Charlie?" "I'm Jaque Cou-strap this week." LoL He played the piano and sang a parody song with a jock strap over his face. The unknown comic was my favorite. He even sat in the audition room with that bag over his head.

Obviously, this was not your normal kind of job. When you were hired for the Gong Show, you would hang in this huge lunchroom size waiting room with all these bizarre people. They would shoot 5 episodes on a Friday, so the room was packed with 100's these crazy people! All rehearsing their routines, it was mass madness on a grand scale. Like on Idol or something. If you drew the last episode you sat there for hours. I felt bad for some of these people, because some of them really thought this was going to be their big break and that they would get "discovered" only to be Gonged big time. Some of them were really devastated when it happened. Most of us "regulars" just wanted to get on the show, do something funny, and get gonged. Then crack a funny joke with the host. My best line was when he said to me, "Well, the panel gonged you." (Weird AL got me that time) I quipped back, "That's okay, I've seen better panels on the interior of my Chevy van."

Again, we got scale if you were union. If not, another salad shooter. I loved working on that show. Weird AL hooked me up later with Jeff Foxworthy to be the redneck in his show. How cool was that?

You just never know whose life may intersect with yours on a given day in this business...
So there I was, a full body make up Grey Zombie. My entire body painted with make up, (except for the parts with the loin cloth over them) and then airbrushed with more make up over that. Complete with dark blue bruises, veins sticking out, a bloody arm, all my hair glued straight up in the air, colored grey white. And to top it off facial appliances that kept my face in practically one expression...Ha!

I was at the Hollywood Center Studios where I took a bathroom break after like 7 hours on the set of Exorcist 3. I'm standing there at the studio urinal, and who walks in but (the late great) George Burns. Apparently he had one of his offices there at the time, and was working late that night. So here I am taking a leak with George Burns...after the longest moment he sized me up and true to his straight man persona said to me in the straightest of voices, " come here often?" I had to have a snappy comeback! This is George Burns! I just instinctively said, "Yes...but you're not grey enough" and he busted up laughing. We had a good laugh together. That was a moment I'll always cherish. I really admired him, I practically grew up listening to him on Burns and Allen. I'm still a big fan of Old Time Radio shows like Jack Benny. A dream come do a standup joke with George Burns...I just never figured it would happen in the crapper. (and no, there was No toe tapping involved!)

Hey, have you got an Unusual or Funny Casting Story to tell? Please share you casting adventures with me (us) in the comments.

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