army historic Waddington 2010-1-7-2

DOWN IN FLAMES

So we’re lined up, camera’s on. And the cameraman is asking us impromptu questions to see how quick we are on our feet, to check for spontaneity and to get to know the real us.

It’s me and two random guys, other actors called in together, our turn at a commercial audition here in Austin last week. The Casting Director had been auditioning actors all day. Each group gets an on-camera meet and greet, a quick in and out. From that actors will be culled out by the client to see who returns for round two, better known as callbacks.

First in line, I get the, “Who’s the most influential person in your life?” No hesitation, “My dad. He taught me how to box at age 6.” Then, “What was the best advice you ever got in your life?” Again, “My dad. Keep your chin up and never give up.” Get the boxing theme here? And finally “What do you have in your refrigerator?” God forbid, I, of all people, should get a kitchen question. “Uh, you’d have to ask my husband for that. He’s the cook. Maybe things to cut up and throw away.” A browning, shrinking cantaloupe flashed before my eyes. Guilty me, I was supposed to cut it up three weeks ago. The cameraman then shifts the camera’s aim, goes on with different questions for the next guy.

For actors to be themselves, to be relaxed in front of the camera is hard work. When questions are being thrown at you, it’s kind of a deer caught in headlights situation fraught with land mines. I’m telling you, actors need scripts otherwise you never know what’s going to fly out of their mouths, particularly new actors.

When things go south for another actor in front of the camera in an audition, you’re just thankful it wasn’t you. In fact, eternally grateful it wasn’t you that vaulted that turkey out into the room. Not that there’s a lack of sympathy for the other guy, but that it’s so easy to go down in flames. You do your best to cover, but if he goes down, he’s on his own.

The last guy in line gets “Tell us something spontaneous you did.” A great answer immediately popped into my head. I practically had to clamp my hand over mouth to keep quiet. I am compulsive about telling hilarious, quirky stories. Though it was something I’d rather no one knew, but believe you me, it was a lot of fun and involved sneaking into a hotel spa at midnight with friends many years ago. Thankfully it wasn’t my turn. I began to squirm, beads of sweat breaking out on my forehead.

Finally the last guy smiled and responded. He’d gone skydiving. But he pointedly said he’d only done it once, that’d he’d never do it again. Which was a great answer. Until he followed it with “But, I didn’t soil myself.”

There were other questions he was asked, but my ears shut off at his proud moment that he didn’t soil himself. And all I could think was Thank God I didn’t say that! Or, compulsively blurt out my checkered past of mischief in a hotel spa after midnight.

Ideally I always like to give perfect answers, something more entertaining or more clever when asked impromptu questions during auditions. I was okay that day but I felt I’d not given my finest repartee. The deal is you’re supposed to be yourself. But, as an actor you always feel you could’ve said something different or more. Now the last guy may get the callback. He may stand out because what he said was unusual, who knows. But, win or lose, I’m just relieved I didn’t vault that particular turkey out into the room. I was glad for once to have said less. Thank God for small favors! – By Martha Hannah