The directions to my audition were simple: two freeways, one off-ramp, two left turns.
In practice, finding a parking spot and making my way into the actual waiting room were slightly less complicated than getting The Babelfish (kids, ask your parents), so I actually walked into the room for my 1415 audition at 1425, having arrived at the actual location close to 1400.*
Luckily, everyone else was having a similarly difficult time figuring out how to thwart the top of the room cleaning robot, so we were all more or less equally late, essentially time shifting the entire session, as if our future selves had planned the entire thing.
I sat in a long, featureless hallway on the same kind of office furniture I've been sitting on for 30 years, and ran my lines to make sure they were properly in my head. Another actor, older and better looking than me, came in while I was waiting and signed in.
Before too long, the door to the office opened, and another actor, also older and better looking than me, came out. I looked up at him and smiled. It took him a few seconds to figure out who this weirdo with the beard was, and why he was staring at him, but when he did, he opened his arms and walked toward me.
"Holy shit, dude," I said. "It is so good to see you!"
It was Michael Cudlitz, an absolutely sensational actor who I worked with in the early 90s on a movie that, while it didn't completely suck, wasn't some of my best work.
"How are you?" He asked.
"I'm good," I told him. Then, I wrapped up almost 20 years in about a minute while the casting director stood in the doorway, looking amused.
"Started a blog … got married … raised two kids … Ryan just graduated from college and moved out of state for his job … wrote a bunch of books … comics … columns … [Super Secret Project] … Leverage … Eureka … The Guild …
"So life is really good," I concluded, "and every day I'm afraid I'm going to wake up from this wonderful dream."
Realizing that I was wasting her time, and the time of the actor who was also waiting to go in after me, I give Michael my email address. "I'd love to catch up over a beer or a coffee or something, if you want to do that." He took my address down and said he'd get in touch.
I went into the room, apologized for making her wait, and got to work.
"Do you have any questions?" She asked.
"No," I said. "I think the scenes are quite clear, and I've made some choices. If they're not what you're looking for, just let me know and I'll adjust."
"That sounds great," she said. "Go ahead whenever you're ready."
I read the first scene. It felt okay, but when I was reading with another person and actually performing, instead of just running the lines on my own in my house, the scene came alive, and something wasn't quite right. She gave me some notes and direction and asked me to do it again. I did it again, and it it felt considerably better. "Great," she said.
I read the second scene. She gave me notes and direction, and asked me to do it again. I did it again, and she told me it was wonderful.
I was intensely grateful that she was invested in the process, and was giving me notes and direction. That just doesn't happen very often, and when someone is as rusty at auditioning as I am, it would be easy for a casting director to just write me off for making a character choice that wasn't what they were looking for. It bolstered my confidence and let me relax away some of the tension I didn't realize I had.
I started to read the third scene. A few lines in, I stopped myself. "I'm sorry, I went to Mars there for a second. Can I start over?"
"What you were doing was actually perfect for what's going on in the scene," she said, "but go ahead and start over."
I started again, and just felt a little more focused and connected to the material. I can't say anything about the scene (or the project), but there's a lot going on between the two characters, and finding the moments while I was sitting on a folding chair in an office wasn't the easiest thing in the world.**
"Really, really nice," she said.
"Thanks," I said. I began to pick up my phone and sunglasses (which I'd put on the floor when I came in) and before I realized the words were coming out of my mouth, I added, "I have to thank you for giving me notes and direction. I'm 40 this year, and I've been doing this since I was 7. Something's changed in the last five or ten years… it's just like hardly anybody cares if the actors are comfortable, or if we're doing our best work. I've had auditions where casting makes me feel like I'm imposing on their time simply by being there, and whatever performance I give doesn't matter.
"It really means a lot to me that you gave me an opportunity to adjust, and I felt like you wanted me to do my best work. So thank you."
She looked at the other casting associate in the room and back to me. "It's depressing how easy it is to make actors happy these days," she said, "We want to have fun in here, and we want you to do your best work. There are a lot of different choices an actor can make, and I know what the producers are looking for, so if you've made a different choice, I can point you in a different direction. So thank you, and you're welcome." She smiled at me.
I'm probably not going to get this job. I think I'm too young, and the other actors there were all handsome manly men. But I don't feel like the time was wasted, because I got to do my best work for someone who cared to see it. It's rare that I feel respected as an artist when I audition, and if every audition felt as good as this one, I'm positive that I — and other actors — would book many more jobs, simply because we've been given a chance to do our best, instead of feeling like a widget on an assembly line.
I walked out of the office, dropped my sides in the first recycling bin I found***, and made my way to my car, babelfish jammed securely into my ear. A bowl of petunias appeared in the sky above me, and I knew exactly where my towel was.
*24 hour time is used in this case for the purposes of confounding Americans while slyly winking at the rest of the world. How you doin'?
**Believe me when I tell you that auditioning is a skill, and the some of the best actors on the set have an incredibly difficult time finding that level of performance in a casting office.
*** I always do this, because it allows me to let go of the audition. I've done what I can do, and since the entire process is out of my hands, there's no good reason to hold onto the sides. If I get called back, I'll get a new set.