Depart early to save on booking. Swallow Dramamine at takeoff. Bump into dead businessmen in Chicago while connecting. Their faces are crumpled but their suits are wrinkle-free. Land at LAX before noon and take a $46.50 cab to Bobby’s house off North Frederic. Bobby’s hair smells like how the cab felt as he shows you the couch, and he doesn’t know the wifi password because he’s stealing a signal from the neighbors. Know you’re a good type. You have talent.
Compile your pictures, headshots, résumés, appointment records, contact files, publicity material, union information, and any outstanding contracts into a neat binder. You had a small job lined up already, an indie. Something about a sad guy who is kind of messed up in the head and the girl he meets while he’s struggling to find who he really is. But we regret to inform you that the role you were invited to audition for has been filed by another actress, sic. It’s the worst news you’ve ever walked twenty minutes to read. The windows of the internet café are open and that doesn’t make it any less stuffy. You have an unread email. This guy from school, a thin wimp named Ralph who never spoke to you but definitely jerked off to your ghost, heard you’re in the city and maybe you’d like to do some screen tests for something he’s working on. He can’t pay you yet but he will if the project gets bought.
Think about what it means to be ready. The wrong information costs actresses valuable time, energy, emotional stress, and resources pursuing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Your B.A. itself isn’t worth much. And there’s nothing worse than a pretty young face with something behind it. No one’s making you do this, unless, of course, you count yourself as someone. And everyone’s someone in L.A.
The first step is finding representation. Too many people approach an acting career with no idea what is necessary. They approach becoming an actress as if it were an improvisation. It’s not something you can do easily or alone. Start by asking people you know: who would you recommend and who should be avoided? how do I contact them? would you be willing to refer me? When no one returns your emails, don’t panic. Most of them gave up before graduation, though some gave up after, and one or two from your class are too successful to ever speak to you again. Legitimate talent agencies do not charge a fee payable in advance for registering you, for résumés, for public relations services, for screen tests, for photographs, for acting lessons, or for anything else. These are schemes designed to separate you from your money. But the things they say about desperate times are right and true.
Give cold calling a shot. Never underestimate the power of a phone call. This could be the break you’ve been waiting for. Show up at the Burbank offices of some agencies. Feel nauseous when the receptionist tells you to take a number and have a seat. Leave a message.
Try on names like jackets. Radically self-critique. Cut your hair. Dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly. Watch and compare. Find the performer you’re most like. If you think you’re a housewife, ask yourself whether you are a healthy Ivory Soap type or a giant winged crow type. Remember that you’re someone else entirely. Do not overlook other endowments.
Soliciting is itself a full-time job, making other employment hard to hold down. Consider the waitress in the café. All her behavior seems to us a game. Apply yourself to chaining movements as if they are mechanisms.
You might hear from some agents within a few days or weeks. Make your submissions personal and memorable. Send a recording of yourself saying the agent’s name over the bleat and honk of the traffic. “Colleen Cler of the Colleen Cler Agency of Burbank, California.” Whisper it like the name of a lover. What you need isn’t money but legitimacy. Though some money would be nice as well. Tell Bobby you’d rather find somewhere else than pay rent and that you’d rather pay rent than fuck him. Tell yourself each Sunday that by next Sunday, you’re out. The house is inglorious and you still don’t know whose room is whose. The house is protean, endlessly reconstituting itself. Boundaries bleed and the real and the fictive were two things but where have the weeks been? Strangers come and go, leaving bits of themselves behind. Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup. Things have changed.
If you get minimal or no response after the second round of submissions, consider becoming someone else. Client rosters often change as defective objects are removed and discarded.
Tell Ralph you’ll give it a shot. It’s been a month since you got in and you can’t remember the buzz of the camera but the strokes of light makeup on your eyes and cheekbones feel natural. When you show up at the address he gave you, it’s a cheap bar with pinwheels on the walls and he’s got no script and no crew and mousse in his hair. There are so many things he wants to say but he doesn’t know how. The role he wants you for is Andrew’s girlfriend and when you ask who’s playing Andrew he mumbles something about authentic self-representation that you don’t understand but at the same time understand too well.
Respond to open calls in classifieds and on backstage.com and on Craigslist. Schedule an audition or a few. Attend workshops. Swirl through days. A great actress gives herself up and becomes somebody else. And everybody sometimes wants to get lost. If you do get lost, don’t panic. Burbank was named again in 2005 as One of the Nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People. In the daytime, North Hollywood Station’s triple arched entrance is a rainbow through dry sky, but at night, it’s a dark throat. Curves, arcs, and circular motifs contribute to an overall design that surrounds transit patrons in an environment that is at once constricting, fibrous, and wet. The guy on the steps says he’s Meryl Streep. He says, “Don’t be ridiculous, Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us,” and then he giggles and yells, “Ernest, my ass! I can see my ass!”
Find a copy of How to Get into Commercials: A Complete Guide for Breaking into and Succeeding in the Lucrative World of TV and Radio Commercials by One of the Nation’s Leading Casting Directors by J. Walter Thompson’s Vangie Hayes (with Gloria Hainline) on the red brick median and next week throw it in the ocean and feel guilty for littering. The book is twenty years old. Gloria Hainline could’ve been your mother.
Some might see advertising as a lower form of filmmaking or fundamentally dishonest or a so-called “bowel cancer destroying what little was good about the giant asshole that is Hollywood.” Young people are threatened by the evil use of advertising techniques that stimulate the natural inclination to avoid hard work by promising the immediate satisfaction of every desire. These directors who worked on commercials would disagree: Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, Sofia Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard, Martin Scorsese, Darren Aronofsky, and David Lynch. And getting into commercials and seeing yourself on the other side of the tube and collecting some of that luscious money is a real and obtainable goal.
At the audition, sign in. Early does not count. Late counts. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the character. You can memorize everything you read instantly. It’s just a talent you have. You don’t get paid for learning the lines, but you must do it anyway. Then, just relax. But not too much.
Every line needs an objective. If your objective seems too weak in itself, make it stronger. If your boyfriend in the script has body odor and you’re trying to get him to use the deodorant in your hand, imagine you never loved him and his sandpaper hips in your bed have repulsed you for months. Realize you never loved anyone and that’s okay. Find someone else in your spot on the couch at Bobby’s. Her name is Margot. Tell her hello. Step out onto the porch and swallow the sun.
Come back when someone calls for a screen test. Consider turning back. The door at the studio is grimy from years of Scotch tape. Scrape off a piece with a fingernail and fold it over itself. Is it still tape when the stickiness has rubbed off and it can’t do the one thing it was meant to do? The question no longer seems to matter.
If you’re a beginner, you may have apprehensions about trusting complete strangers with your language. Easily fixed. Simply detach the spoken word from a coherent system of meaning and you can’t go wrong. You will not be directed to do anything you can’t do. When it comes time to shoot, you will hear the A.D. shout, “Bells!” A bell will ring. The world will get quiet and the camera will swivel into place and it’ll be like the cameraman isn’t even breathing. Neither are you. It’s a smaller camera than you thought they used for TV but you can still see your reflection blinking up at you in the lens. Taste bile. The stage lights arch above you like a great flat sun. You will hear two wooden sticks being clacked together. This is called a “slate.” The A.D. will read the slate. Take one. You’re on.