I’ve always thought the Oscars were a little pretentious. Overpaid people getting dolled up to celebrate themselves and take selfies.
But the other night as I watched them, I wept with gratitude.
See, I’ve shot a bunch of commercials lately, which means I’ve attended an absurd amount of casting sessions. I know that may sound exciting in a Hollywood kind of way, but please keep reading.
Casting sessions go something like this — my partner Kim and I sit with our director in a small, badly lit room and watch person after person come in and re-enact the commercial we wrote. Last Sunday I watched 164 people eat french fries. It took seven hours. In Kim’s words, “It’s like a bad animated gif.”
You really have to stretch your imagination to it’s furthest when casting. You’ll be watching a guy sitting in a metal folding chair (“driver’s seat”) surrounded by three other people in metal folding chairs (“passengers”) while eating a piece of bread (“Delicious, Flame-grilled Whopper”). He bites into that bread like it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted. You watch from ten feet away and say things like, “but does he communicate enough food enjoyment?”
It’s like watching kids play house, only the kids are adults. And they’re playing with a sense of desperation that makes it clear their next paycheck relies on you believing their performance. Being the most terrible actress in the world, I am both in awe of these peoples’ courage and mortified on their behalf. I just can’t help but imagine what their day to day life is like. What drove this 50 year old man to suddenly take up acting?? Does he have a family? Or a 401k? It stresses me out. I don’t know if you’ve ever been embarrassed for ten hours straight, but I’ll tell you, it’s an exhausting experience.
While all casting sessions are exhausting, the exhaustion comes in many different forms. Like last month when we shot a commercial involving a bunch of supermodels. As luck would have it, the first round of models came in to audition right as we were starting our lunch. Kim had ordered a pizza and I had ordered a salad, so naturally my first bite was a piece of her pizza.
Everything turned to slow motion as five tall, beautiful, leggy babes stomped into the room, wearing outfits we civilians can never wear. Some wore short, tight dresses, others wore rompers and jumpsuits. One wore jean “shorts” that covered less than half of her perfect butt.
As they took their place in front of camera, our director turned to us with an evil smile and said, “How’s that pizza, girls?”
While they were much hotter and fitter than Kim or I will ever be, hotness is sadly not an indicator of acting ability. In fact, the two seem to be inversely proportional. So for 14 hours I watched beautiful women make fools of themselves. Ugh.
All of this has contributed to my gratitude for talented actors, but it wasn’t until last week’s Non-Union casting session that I realized maybe we should start worshipping Cate Blanchett.
“Non-Union” is really just another way of saying “bad actors.” It’s what happens when your client has a small budget, and basically means you’re auditioning people who one day got sick of their day jobs and decided on a whim to try playing adult house for a living.
We started with the women. Their task was simple: walk across the room and do a little spin.
The first candidate was overwhelmed by her spin and tripped on her heels. Another spun too energetically, and somehow ended up with her face nudged into the corner. She sheepishly turned back towards us and we tried to pretend it didn’t happen.
One acted as though she was wandering through a forest, gazing up through the trees for a bird or prince charming.
Some walked like they were in a funeral procession. Others were named “Fancy.”
The problem with casting is that it forces you to become a terrible person. You have to comment on people’s physical performance, and by the end of a day you no longer see them as humans. For the first few candidates my notes are always very thorough and constructive like, “She’s really pretty, not quite there on acting but I’m sure we could work with her to get a great performance.” By the end it’s simply, “Never” or “Kill me.”
I hoped things would get better when we got to the men, as they were not required to do any spinning. But my hopes were dashed when I looked down and saw this name on my call sheet: “It’s Paco Time.”
I wish I was kidding. Between Ben Johnson and Gary Jones was a man named, “It’s Paco Time.”
He walked into the room and we asked, as we do with everyone, for him to state his name. He answered with a completely straight face, “It’s Paco Time.”
After he gave predictably terrible audition and walked out of the room, our producer broke the silence: “If I go to hell, this is what it will be like.”
It sounds over-dramatic, I know. But you can’t understand it until you’ve experienced it. I know I shouldn’t judge these people–I have never had to spin around in heels in front of strangers in hopes of a paycheck. I tried it once just to, you know, walk a mile in their shoes, or something. I feel like I did pretty ok? Maybe I should quit my day job.
Over the last few weeks, I have viewed more hours worth of terrible acting than all the Oscar movies ever made. And I have nearly lost my mind.
So to The Academy, I say THANK YOU for obsessing over your Oscar nominees. Actors who know how to walk in heels! Who are hot AND talented! Who change their names to semi-normal things like Reese Witherspoon!
They are truly one in a million in this crazy la la land. And we should pay them more money.