It was cold and dark and the wind was whipping up, pushing the cold through my body like I was naked in the snow.
But I was neither naked, nor in the snow. I was dressed normally and in the Valley, walking from my car to the front gate of CBS Radford for an audition at the end of the day, long after the sun had begun its journey to char the other side of the world and come back to us, and I was listening to Los Angeles so intently, I walked right through the gate and past security.
Wow, that’s a loud and obnoxious alarm, I thought, not realizing until I was stopped by a guy with a gun that I was the one who had triggered it.
“Can I help you?” He said.
“Oh, yes,” I said, “I’m, uh, here for an audition.”
“Okay, just give me your ID, please.”
I fished my ID out of my pocket and handed it to him. A gust of wind tried to tear my audition scenes out of my hands but only succeeded in blowing a bunch of dust into my eyes. While I wiped it out, he handed my ID back to me. “Okay, Mister Wheaton. Do you know where you’re going?”
“No, I haven’t been here in almost ten years,” I said. Because, you know, he really needed to know and cared about that extra information.
“No problem,” he said, and then gave me directions to the building where the auditions were being held.
I thanked him and walked into the lot. It was empty, the windows of the offices mostly dark, and the stages all closed up and locked for the night. I walked about fifty feet down one street before I remembered working on a movie here when I was around 20, called December. It was a tough shoot — I had nothing in common with the other actors, who were all incredibly difficult for me to work with for reasons best left to history — and I’m not thrilled with my performance as a result. I suppose that’s why I haven’t thought about it in twenty-ish years.
I pushed those unpleasant memories away and instead looked around at all the buildings as I passed them. This studio was built in 1928, and it still retains some of the adobe charm of that era around the glass buildings and modern production trailers everywhere. It’s one of the very few studio lots in this town where it’s easy to not just see but feel what it was like to make movies at the beginning.
Being an actor isn’t the easiest thing in the world. For one thing, lots of people think it isn’t a real job, and it’s very difficult to get enough work to support yourself and your family without doing what lots of people would think of as a real job. I’m incredibly lucky to make my living the way I do, and as I looked around at buildings that were almost one hundred years old, I marveled at the tradition I’m part of, and was grateful for it.
I walked down a street called “Gilligan’s Island Ave.”, named for the classic series Charlie’s Angels.
Just kidding. Gilligan’s Island was filmed on this lot, and I remembered that during a particularly frustrating day during production so many years ago, I took a walk down this street (which was then called something different) to see what was left of the exterior sets. It wasn’t much; all I recall is some sand and a murky swamp, but if you squinted and used your imagination, you could see Skipper whacking Gilligan with his hat before Gilligan ran into that water as the credits rolled.
It looked like Gilligan’s Island Ave. was all that remained from the show, though. A huge, modern, television production facility was where I remembered it being. The local CBS evening news was being broadcast inside it. I hope nobody recognizes me and puts together that I make a lot of jokes about CBS and KCAL on Twitter, I thought, because I know what happens when local news anchors have a vicious cock fight, and I don’t think I can keep my head on a swivel like that. I saw the building I was looking for, thought wow, that escalated quickly, then giggled a little bit.
It was a three story glass building, completely dark except for the bright white light spilling out of the ground floor. Inside, I could see a half dozen actors in chairs, pacing the room with sides in their hands, or talking to the glass, which I imagined must look like a mirror from their side.
I walked in, found the sign-in sheet, and wrote my name on the first empty line beneath a mostly-full page of other actors’ names, each one of us hoping that this is The Time and this is The Role and this is The Show. I noticed that a name of a very good friend of mine was written just above me, and when I looked up, I saw her smiling at me from across the room.
We both stood up, crossed the room, and embraced. I adore this woman, and she’s such an incredibly talented actor, I couldn’t believe she was auditioning instead of just saying “yes” or “no” to offers.
“Who are you reading for?” She asked me. I told her and she said, quietly, “Oh my God! You’re totally him! You’re perfect for that role!”
I looked around self consciously and quietly agreed with her. “Yeah, I feel like I really know this guy, and feel like I’m kind of perfect for this part … which is why I also feel like I’m not going to get cast.” I laughed a little bit. “Who are you reading for?” She told me, and we repeated the previous exchange, pretty much only changing the pronouns.
“Okay, I have to focus,” she said. I took her advice and also focused.
After a few minutes, the casting associate came out into the lobby and walked over to me. “Wil,” she said, “I have to tell you something.”
There’s been a mistake and you’re just giving me the job? Wait, no. There’s been a mistake and I need to leave? Is the Frogurt cursed? It’s cursed, isn’t it. GodDAMN cursed Frogurt is always cursed!
I looked at her expectantly. “Okay?”
“We worked together,” she began.
Fuck. I have no recollection and now I’m the asshole.
“…when you were nine years-old, on A Long Way Home.”
Yes! I’m not the asshole!
“Holy shit!” I said, “that was one of my first real dramatic acting jobs!”
We reminisced about it a little bit, and then she took the next actor into the room to read. I looked back down at my audition scenes and went over them again. I reminded myself who this guy was, why he wanted what he wanted, and how he felt about it. Then I did my best to let go of all of that so he wasn’t an idea in my head but a person in my body.
I understood why so many actors are nuts.
My friend was called in. The woman who went in before her sat down next to me to change her shoes (this happens all the time: you wear heels in the room, but change into normal shoes after) and she said to me, “it’s a great room. They’re super friendly in there.”
It’s unfortunate, but that isn’t as common as you’d expect, and I was grateful to know that I was about to walk into a room where I could expect to feel like I was playing for the home team.
“That’s good to know,” I said, “thank you!”
“Break a leg,” she said, as she slipped her flats onto her feet, and put her heels in a soft red bag. What a weird life we live, where this is completely normal.
I stood up when she left, and, alone in the lobby, ran the scenes with my reflection in the window, not caring that I probably looked crazy to anyone who was on the other side.
My friend came out, we planned to get together for dinner soon, and then it was my turn to go in and do my thing.
That other actor was right: it was a warm, friendly, and welcoming room. It was the kind of room where the people inside it want actors to be able to do their best work, so that’s what I did. I let go of all the preparation, and just let this guy take over me. I did something similar when I auditioned for Criminal Minds, and that worked out pretty well, if I recall correctly.
I was reading with an actual human actor who gave me a lot to work with, and I did my best to work with it. I had fun, and I felt relaxed and fulfilled when I was done.
“Thanks for seeing me, guys,” I said on my way out of the room. Then, to the casting associate, “Oh, and I hope it isn’t 31 years before we see each other again.”
One of the producers (who will remain nameless, but you’d be all “WOW” if you knew) then said to me, “You made a great choice in that last scene. I could tell that you were struggling to keep your affection for her in check, but letting it bleed through just a little bit.”
I was floored. That was exactly what happened, and it was exactly the choice I’d made (or, rather, what the character told me he needed to do in the scene), and I couldn’t believe that he’d actually seen me do it. It’s so rare for someone in the room to praise an actor like that, and it’s even more rare when it’s holy crap this guy. I was so proud, and I thanked him for telling me that.
I walked out of the room, tossed my sides in the recycling bin (it’s how I physically and emotionally let go of an audition) and began the long walk back to my car. The wind was gusting like crazy, and I had to lean into and away from it as it swirled around the buildings and sound stages. I pulled my cellphone out and told Twitter, “Statistics say I probably won’t book the audition I just left, but godDAMN do I feel good about the choices I made and the reading I gave.”
And that’s all I can hope for. There is so much out of my hands and beyond my control when I have an audition for something, all I can do is my best and then forget about it.
…but I’d be the biggest liar in the ‘verse if I said that I wasn’t thinking about this role, and how much I’d love to be this guy for as long as they’d let me.