Hollywood, CA 2008
In the old days, craigslist ads for actors or “talent” can stretch for virtual miles. Naturally, to be selected from the thousands of actors submitting for any particular role could be misconstrued as a significant career accomplishment. Since the background actor’s looks prejudicially weigh the casting director’s choices, you thank God that you don’t live on beer and pizza like your friends back home in Chicago.
On the other bipolar extreme, days without any callbacks will push the amateur actor to audition for student films or sleazy productions that use the word “underwear” in every scene description. However, when a phone call comes from any production office, the career demons are temporarily exorcized.
Since moving out to Los Angeles on one short film’s artistic merit, I obsessively hit craigslist at least five times a day, looking for my big break. Somewhere there has to be concrete statistical evidence that my headshot and fictitious resume have touched every casting director’s garbage can in Hollywood. On the rare occasion I received a callback, I used this golden ticket to justify all the time I wasted surfing the net.
The ad read: Man with Tattoos needed for a feature film. My shifting eyes stopped and focused. Let’s see, I have a tattoo, and I am always out of work. So, I now have the time for a feature film, possibly getting “bumped up” to an excellent scene-stealing character role. This Oscar-nominated role allows me access to the elusive Screen Actors Guild club of gratuitous wealth and industry acclaim. I’ll work for years till TMZ displays pictures of my adult diapers sneaking up over my low-rise designer jeans.
“I’ll do it,” I blurted out before the naive Production Assistant was able to fill me in on the details of my exclusive scene with the star of the film.
“Whatever, just send me an email with all the details,” I said.
My ego swelled up. I soared off the living room couch, looking for anyone to tell. Damn. I am stopped dead in my tracks. The PA’s description of my scene becomes crystal clear: BEDROOM — EARLY MORNING: An unconscious tattooed naked man lies on a large breasted nude woman wrapped in passion-stained silk sheets.
“Hey honey, who was that?” my wife asked. “Nothing, just some extra work,” I answered.
“Good for you,” she trailed off as she went in for her evening bath. Yeah, I thought. Till my photo ends up on the front page of some celebrity gossip rag with the headlines of Background extra escorted from a multi-million dollar movie set for gawking at a film star’s magnificent breasts.
Productions found on Craig’s List can range from the first-rate $100 million studio picture to student films where the director is delivered to the set by their proud parents. At the lowest level, you’re just a pawn sent into the celebrity battle, and all you hope for by the end of the long workday is a bit of an artistic cuddle to soothe your delicate ego.
This B-film took me out to the desert on a small-dilapidated horse ranch that could replicate any methamphetamine homestead found in every trailer park. For one hundred and twenty-five dollars and to be on an actual film set, I’d drive anywhere in the state of California.
I found the obscure address and quickly parked. I noticed a young man with deep circles under his eyes and eight cigarettes in his mouth, frantically yelling that I had parked in the “shot.”
Introducing myself, he called out obnoxiously on his walkie-talkie, “the naked man is here.” The tired-looking production assistant dragged me out of the next scene set up and into the Producer’s trailer office, who handpicked me for my essential scene. They sequestered me in a trailer, a fungus-invested portable bathroom with a rough piece of plywood to sit on. I waited for my makeup call, pacing in circles in the tight space.
After each lap, I gorged myself on cellophane-wrapped snacks probably picked up at the truck stop down the highway. The knock on the door took me by surprise.
“Just a minute,” I yelled with a mouthful of pretzels and frenzied hiding of crinkling wrappers. I open the thin aluminum door, and an attractive PA leads me to the makeup trailer.
Cautiously, I enter a bright room walled with mirrors and weird smells I can only associate with my Grandmother. After the obligatory hellos, the makeup crew eyes me up and down.
“Well, take it off so we can see what we have to work with,” mutters the woman in charge.
“What?” I ask. “Everything,” snickers at her skinny assistant in revealing short-shorts. I slowly take off my shirt, wondering if all those snacks I consumed in the last few minutes will be noticeable on my soft abs.
“He’s a damn carpet!” someone yells. Looking into the depth of mirrors, I wonder if I am the bastard child of Chewbacca.
“Do you mind shaving?” asks another assistant. Unfortunately, I am addicted to weight lifting since witnessing my first Arnold centerfold in Muscle & Fitness. My lack of flexibility has hindered me from even washing anything behind my shoulders, let alone shaving.
Finally, someone mentions that this film’s story takes place in the seventies. Real men had hair back in those days. Damn right, I am a real man, not some pansy metrosexual boy with a silky-smooth waxed body. After applying a few fake tattoos obtained from a quarter gumball machine, they banish me back to my toilet trailer to wait for another eternity.
“Ready, Mr. Cales?” I hear through the tinfoil door. Who the hell is Mr. Cales? Am I that old, or did my deceased father join me in the trailer?
Grabbing a few extra snacks later, I get into the empty transportation van, driving off into the southern California sunset. My short day has become a long night, and it was hard to make out any set features or faces of distinction.
Lights and rigging lined the house’s dark hallways. The unseen sharp edges painfully ripped into every vulnerable spot on my body as I bounced off them. When we reach the door of the bedroom, the PA yells, “Naked man on set!”
Is there another word in the English language that gathers more attention than the simple mention of nakedness?
Hesitantly, I entered the tiny room stuffed with hundreds of production crew standing around eating donuts. All crew members wear sunglasses due to the bright lights. I wonder if I am walking on the surface of the sun. Other than the few young newbies on the crew trying to sneak a peek at the aging nude actress, all eyes were on me.
I start to disrobe when I hear, “Can you just get your clothes off and get in bed so we can get this over with?” the lead actress yells while sitting up in bed and exposing her once legendary breasts.
Finishing undressing to the quiet choruses of “Sasquatch” and “oh my God,” I quickly slip into a silk-sheeted bed. The once famous actress with makeup probably applied by the set plasterers extends her hand and gives me a greeting that does little to soothe my anxiety.
The young director pushes my body up against hers and drapes my tattooed arm over her frail back. “Sound up,” “Camera rolling,” and finally “action” are yelled. “Cut, that was great,” shouts the director.
What was great? I just laid there. Years of thespian training and thousands of dollars in headshots, and this is it? The crew ushers the star off the set. I’m left to dress in a room that empties faster than if I had farted.
The once lovely PA shows me a “get the hell back to the van” look. Walking to a van stuffed with wardrobe and props, they drop me off at my vehicle parked in the lot next to a sanitation truck. “Thanks,” she said, “your check will be in the mail.” She quickly slams my truck door and hurries off for the nightly wrap party.
Driving down the bumpy dirt road, I feel cheap and used. I have prostituted myself to a national audience for a hundred bucks. What will my nephews in rural Michigan think when they find their beloved Uncle is involved in a sordid Roger Corman film? What will I tell my wife, who thinks I was an extra in a modern film-noir western? On the way home, the highway is emptier than my stomach. Pulling over, I hit the only open drive-thru and hastily ordered everything on the menu.
Miles down the road, I am happy as a lark with all the carbohydrates and fat slugging through my constricted arteries. Picking up my ringing cell phone, I notice it’s my wife.
“Hey babe,” I answer, “How did it go?” she asks. Thinking for a second, I answer, “just your standard extra work, see you in an hour.”
Hanging up, I notice an old Snickers candy bar sticking out from between the seats. I rip into the ancient candy bar as shards of stale chocolate litter my thighs and cover the front seat. Turning up the static laced classic rock, I think to myself, excellent, my acting career is finally heading in the right direction.