by Michele Deradune
ALAN PARKER, Director, Screenwriter, Producer and Author, is filming THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE in the Austin area this October/November/December. His filmography is extensive and studded with many awards and nominations, including "Mississippi Burning," "The Commitments," "Evita" and "Angela's Ashes."
First I would like to give a big thank you to ALAN PARKER for holding the Open Casting Call here for his current project. A couple of local casting directors, JO EDNA BOLDIN and BETH SEPKO also participated in the open auditions. Yes, yes, I know that for many it was an anguishing experience. Some were scooted into lines in which they did not get to audition at all. Some drove hours to get there, some even staying overnight in motels to show up hours before call time and were the first few in line only to be given numbers in no way reflected that they arrived early and were made to wait as if they had arrived hours later. And for the people organizing and working the event it was no picnic either.
I was one of the lucky ones. In anticipation of a big turnout (and indeed it was!) I was hours early myself, arriving just a little after 8:00 a.m. Only a dozen people had arrived before me. When the doors opened about 10 o'clock, the order in which we had lined up was lost when we were directed to stand in two lines at a table to receive forms with numbers written up on the left hand corners. That number was to be the number in which we got our turn reading before Parker. The person in front of me got in the left hand line. I gravitated to the right. As we sat in the inner theater's seats to fill out our forms and continue through the process I discovered that the person who had been ahead of me in line had received a number darned close to 100. I was number 16. He had driven in all the way from Dallas the night before so that he could arrive fresh and early. I felt badly for him and thought to trade numbers with him, but just couldn't bring myself to be quite that generous. It was a hot Texas summer day and there were many experiences there as there were individuals. I know that many experienced such disappointments that day, and many never even made it in the doors. There were simply too many. For those who got turned away, it was a bitter experience.
But let's look at the bright side, too, guys. (My East Texas cousins used to call me a Yankee when I lived in Southern California because I said "guys." I was so hurt!! "I am not a Yankee," I would say, "I'm a Rebel!" My friends tell me I am gracious and diplomatic. But I'm blunt too, so I guess that's why I often have the feeling I might be offending somebody. First, we learned how important it is to come early to something like this. Second, it's actually a very good sign that there are so many people in Austin that are eager to participate in making movies. We live in a town where the motion picture business has just begun and many projects are blooming. As the number of these projects multiply the number of people needed both in speaking and extra roles will multiply. There are a heck of a lot of people in Austin that want to participate. This is a good thing! (Okay, okay. Now you know why even my best friends sometimes snidely refer to me as "Pollyanna.") But really. I mean it. We all have bad days, and yeah, things could have been organized in a more fair manner, but we all live and learn, not just the actors. So what if you didn't get a chance to audition for Parker. He's not the only Charlie Tuna in the sea. And hey, there will be other movies, and maybe even with him.
I imagine there are a lot of people who showed up at the Open Casting Call with little or no experience or training beyond high school plays or college theater courses and a snapshot. A lot of them are probably wondering what they can do to get more chances to be in film in a serious way. Well, that's not what this whole article is about, but I want to let you know, whoever you are that may be feeling this way that the most excellent way to get some good auditioning skills and learn the ropes is to take film acting classes with good acting coaches. Learn the subtle but important difference between theater and film acting. Learn what you need to do to get an agent. One thing you need to do to get a good agent is to get good training, so there is no better place to start! Not all acting classes or workshops are good. There are scams out there, so aspirants beware! Fortunately, however, there are some absolutely excellent acting teachers in Austin. Ask people you trust. Get a referral before you hand over your money. Take advantage of the wonderful opportunities! By the way, there is a huge demand for Hispanic, black and ethnic talent here in Austin. You guys have a real advantage, a competitive edge, in the actor market here. There simply aren't as many of you pursuing acting careers. Whatever your ethnicity, size, age or look, if you want to act, what are you waiting for?!!
All that said, I found it astounding that this opportunity existed at all. It is certainly not every day that a "cattle call" for a big production - I hear THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE will star KEVIN SPACEY, NICHOLAS CAGE, GEORGE CLOONEY and NICOLE KIDMAN - will actually audition people for speaking roles. Actors that had not been given audience by local casting directors and anyone with a desire to have a part, all were allowed to come read at this audition - with a little bit of luck. And if you were really early you didn't even need luck. As far as I can tell, all the early birds got to audition. The fact that ALAN PARKER is giving unproven talent a chance is an indication of his own confidence - and clout - as a director. He's good. He's damn good. He knows it, and everyone else with a stake in the project knows it. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read for him. I hope he liked it. He seems like an honest man. At then end of my audition he said, "That was good." Thank you, Alan. That made my day! Although I have to admit feeling envious of another friend, because you told her she was "very wonderful"! Maybe it was just like when the guy ends the date with the obligatory "I'll call you" on the comment I got, but man, that "very wonderful" sounds very promising - or, at the very least, very kind and gracious.
But what can you do? You go to an audition, you try to come prepared and do your professional best. And then it's over. We actors know that even if we audition well for a part it does not mean we will get the part. There are too many random factors involved. Maybe we look too young, too old, to thin, to sexy, too polished, too rough. Maybe our delivery was good but another actor put a spin on it that the director just loved. We can never know just why we don't get a part. However I think it's really kind of fun, that sense of anticipation both before and after an audition, especially when we feel we read well. Days go by and still we don't know if we will get a callback or ever hear back at all. It's kind of like being on a roller coaster ride, and just because the cars stopped and we got out doesn't mean our insides aren't still spinning and dancing with that ride. I'm still spinning. Still feeling the thrill. And so what if I don't get a speaking role - or even an extra role. (After all, I wrote on my extra form that my car is in poor condition. I meant it looked poorly, not that it is not reliable - and later realized that that might be held against me. Years ago I was kicked off the extras list when the head honcho found out I didn't have a car and would be arriving to the set by bus!)
What if I don't get a part in THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE? This could happen! This is a fact of life for every actor. Every single audition (unless maybe the director is our boyfriend or we're a movie god or goddess like Spacey or Kidman - hey, I'm writing the article, so I get to give my favorite actor top billing - Spacey is so awesome!) there is a chance that we will not get the part. That I will not get the part. Oh God. This is hard to talk about. Because you see, for those of us in love with acting, getting to audition is like getting a date with a wonderful guy (or gal). Getting the part is like having a love affair. But not getting the part, it's like losing in love. The tidal wave washes over us of rejection. Sometimes we feel despondent for some moments, or hours, even days. The more we want to be in the movie, the harder we fall when we don't get the part.
Like the time I auditioned for SUBURBIA, a Richard Linklater film. Oh man, I was so excited! I auditioned, and the casting director, Lizzie Martinez, seemed to like me. I had actually met her outside the building just before the audition and mistaken her for another actor. A sense of rapport and connection happened between us before I knew she was the one I was about to audition before. It was a wonderful experience. And it was so exciting to get the callback and get to do my thing once again, but this time also before Richard Linklater himself. What a great experience getting to meet him. I found him to be attractive, warm, friendly - and most impressive of all, humble. Oh, I was so excited. I waited for days to get the call that never came. I did not get the part! I mourned, I moaned, I wept. I watched myself in utter fascination. "Michele," I said to myself, "How in the world can you be so heartbroken over that tiny little role that you didn't even like?!" Yes, it is true. I didn't even like that part! Haha. It was playing some couch potato mom with about ten words total. It was anything but a glamorous role. But I didn't care: I wanted to be in a RICHARD LINKLATER film! I wanted to work with Linklater and I wanted to be in that movie, and I didn't get the part and I didn't get to be in that movie. WAAAH!
Okay, okay. Time to "play mom" to myself again. "Calm down, Michele. We get our hopes up and then they get dumped. That's life. Besides, what do you care? It was a lousy part. You didn't want that part anyway. Sour grapes! So what. Live with it. Get over it. There will be other roles. There will be other auditions. You will get another part and it will be even better." You know, kind of like when you get a broken heart and your friends tell you, "Forget that jerk. He's not the only fish in the sea! You deserve better." You don't believe a word of it, but still, it feels good to hear it, to say it, to repeat it, and then finally you get over it. I got over it. Sort of. Threw it into my personal sea of rejection and moved on to the next wave. Though I still want to be in a Richard Linklater movie.
And then do you know what happened? LIZZIE MARTINEZ, the casting director for SUBURBIA (and who has also been casting director for some of JOHN SAYLES' films) also became the casting director for the local independent film SNAKE TALES. There was a juicy role in it for a sexy plump woman just about my age, and she remembered me from when I auditioned for Suburbia. She called me up and invited me to audition for Snake Tales - and I DID get the part, and the movie was a real winner. Shoot, it's won a number of awards at festivals, including "Audience Award" at a film festival in Knoxville, Tennessee and was awarded "Best Independent Film Comedy" by the Chicago Institute of Art in June 2001. And they loved us at an international film festival in Bombay where SNAKE TALES was one of only four English-speaking films chosen for screening. (The other three were "Chicken Run," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and a Clint Eastwood film!) Hey, I'm a movie star in Bombay! One never really gets over a broken heart, but there are other fish in the sea. And like my friend DAVID BLACKWELL, whom I met on the set of SNAKE TALES and has a major Supporting role in THE ROOKIE (in something like 14 scenes as well as the trailer), a DENNIS QUAID film recently shot in Austin says, "You've just got to get yourself out there and be seen. You never know who will remember you."
See you in the motion pictures!