Actors can be an easy bunch to spot around Los Angeles. Often, they can be seen exiting a Kinko’s with a box of 500 headshots. The male can usually be seen hopping into his Jeep with his Von Dutch hat and designer T-shirt. Like many species, the male actor is the more flamboyant of the sexes.
Some of you will remember that I recently lost my job, which has forced me to start thinking outside of the box. The other day, I responded to a Craigslist ad for a stand-in on a movie set. I’m roughly the same build as one of the listed actors, and attracted by the allure of a $250 day rate, I made the drive into Hollywood on Saturday morning.
I can’t stand Hollywood. It’s filthy; nothing like the shiny image the world seems to have of it. Every inch seems to have a layer of black soot. It’s nearly impossible to drive two blocks under five minutes, and parking costs the price of a matinee movie ticket.
Stepping past a homeless man, I entered the office building and filed into the elevator with four other men. These didn’t look like the actors from my earlier description. These were tired-looking men with weathered faces, the type you’d find in a John Steinbeck novel. Some possessed the same build as me: tall and lanky. My competition.
Once the elevator door opened, we all shuffled into Suite 420; the office of the agency that had posted the advertisement. We were instructed to sign in and then grab a flier.
“You will be reading from the paper,” said a potbellied man, who appeared to be the one in charge.
Alarm bells went off in my head. Nobody said anything about reading. I had thought my job would be as the invisible man, standing on a tape marked “X” while grips adjusted the lighting. What this situation suddenly appeared to be was a large cull for all kinds of talent.
I grew up wanting to be an actor. All the way up until my senior year of high school, it’s what I wanted to do. But I think what I really wanted was the accolades and the glory, and not the anxiety and hard work that goes into it. Now that I was in this office with a dozen sweaty, nervous actors, I remembered why I stopped acting.
Luckily, I was the third person called in. In and out. I walked into the room and shook the girl’s hand. Her name was Dynasty. She explained the services they offered, most of which I didn’t follow on account of my nerves.
“I’m not an actor,” I forewarned. “I’m just looking for work and responded to this on a lark.”
She explained that it wasn’t a problem, and told me to read the monologue. I think I did okay, but it was probably a bit too fast. Dynasty asked me to send some photos in, along with my sizing measurements, and to call at 9:10 on Monday morning.
The entire experience was rather painless, but it reminded me how much I admire what actors do. They put their bodies and spirits on the line every day for their craft. Some of the stereotypes are true. There was one younger guy with gelled hair and a six-day goatee, obviously to give him a more rugged look. He exhaled loudly on the couch, possibly working on his breathing exercises. Everyone in the room appeared to have a story. How far did they come to make this dream real? How much failure had they experienced? I might not be an actor, but I can certainly understand what they endure.
9:10, Monday morning. I dial the number and wait on hold. A fast-talking New Yorker picks up and tells me I was flagged, that I read well, and that they want me to work as a speaking extra. He says I need to get headshots, and then we can start to work.
Anyway, I’m not really an actor.