All my creative energy is currently spoken for, so let's into The Vault and pull out an old post about that time I auditioned for On The Road.
When I wrote this, I was waiting to find out if I'd been cast in I, Robot. I'd had a sensational audition that got great feedback from the casting director, only to find out that the director (who I recall was annoyed at my mentioning the audition on my blog) "didn't respond" to my tapes. It was pretty heartbreaking, and without more specific information, I wondered for weeks if I sabotaged my chances to work on the film by excitedly blogging about the experience, or if I really did just suck out loud and fooled the casting director and myself, but not the director. I'll never know, and I haven't even thought about it until about an hour or so ago, but just reading those posts has stirred up a lot of turmoil that I wish I'd left alone and locked away in a room on the other side of the house.
Anyway, this is a story that says as much about kindness and professionalism as it does about staying focused and doing your best. It contains, I hope, an important lesson that isn't just for actors…
This project has been around for almost ten years. The first time around, sometime in 1992 or so, I auditioned to play Neil Cassidy. I read a scene straight out of Dharma Bums.
I was manic about preparing for the audition: I was already familiar with most of the Beat Generation, and was a huge fan of Burroughs, but I'd never read Kerouac. I wanted to have a good sense of his style, so I could bring his character to life faithfully, so I furiously read "On the Road," and skimmed through "Dharma Bums." I was already a jazz geek, but I took the opportunity to fill several gaps in my collection, so I could listen to Charlie Parker and Chet Baker while I learned my scenes. I worked with an acting coach – at great expense – to develop body language and dialect. I bought clothes from a thrift shop, and went through lots of different hairstyles until I got the correct look.
A little over a week later the audition came. I drove myself to this old church on Highland where they have auditions from time to time, listening to Bird the whole way. I walked into a large empty courtyard, filled with fountains, birds, and a beautiful garden. Only the sign-in sheet betrayed the presence of Hollywood. I sat down, focused and ready to go get this job.
While I was waiting, Emilio Estevez arrived.
Wow, I thought, I'm at the same audition as Emilio Estevez, and I'm about to meet the man who is responsible for The Godfather and Apocalypse Now!
I totally forgot why I was there, and became a drooling fan boy.
Emilio Estevez said hello to me, one professional to another, and I said, "Hey."
There was a pause, and I heard myself say, "I want to tell you how much I like your work. Repo Man is one of my favorite movies of all time, and Breakfast Club is a classic."
He went one better:"Wil, Stand By Me is a classic, and I love your work too. It's really nice to meet you."
I hadn't told him my name, yet.
The casting assistant came out, and looked at the two of us. Emilio was on the "A" list. I was on my way to the "C" list, having been off TNG for a few years, and still waiting to properly follow-up Stand By Me. She said, "Emilio, would you like to come in now?"
He looked at her, and said, "Wil was here before me. It's his turn."
She told him that it wasn't a problem. They were ready for him.
"Well, if you're ready for me, you're ready for Wil, and he was here first." He crossed his legs, and looked at his script.
I was stunned. He didn't need to stand up for me, and it really didn't matter to me who went first, but I thanked him and went in.
The room was large and very dark. Like the rest of the church, it was mission-style, with high, open-beamed ceilings and terra cotta tiles on the floor. Coppola was sitting behind his massive beard, a flimsy card table between us.
I approached him, and extended my hand. He didn't take it, so I sat down.
"You don't mind if I film you, do you?" he asked rhetorically, showing a palm-sized video camera, already in his hand.
"No, of course not."
He asked me to slate my name, and begin the scene. I did, and proceeded to give the worst audition of my life.
I'd forgotten why I was there, and was a drooling fan boy. I didn't want to read this scene, I just wanted to talk about Apocalypse Now, and Rumblefish. I wanted to ask him about Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, and James Caan.
All these thoughts flooded my head while I stumbled through the scene. My Inner Voice, that internal critic/director/coach that all actors have, was screaming at me that I was doing horribly. I didn't listen, instead hearing Robert Duvall shout, "Charlie don't surf!" It screamed louder, telling me to stop and start over, but I was too busy watching John Cazale get on that boat, knowing that he was going to get whacked.
Before I knew it, I was done, and Coppola was thanking me for coming in. We both knew that I'd blown it. We both knew that I'd wasted everyone's time. I knew that I'd wasted a lot of time and money on my preparation. I'd had my one chance in front of Francis Ford Coppola – one of my favorite filmmakers in the history of cinema – and I had completely blown it. I walked out, head hung low.
I passed Emilio Estevez, who asked me how it went. I shrugged, and told him to break a leg.
I drove home in silence, hating myself, Chet Baker wondering how deep is the ocean?