Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shadow of a Doubt

Last Monday, I had an audition for a guest star role on a TV show. It was actually the sort of role I like to audition for: a loner; a weirdo; a psychopath; the sort of part I can relate to. I’d been battling a nasty cold for a few days, so in preparation for my audition, I loaded up on Afrin and Dayquil, then hauled myself out to the remote studio where the auditions were being held. As I sat in the lobby, surrounded by Asian actresses waiting to audition for the other guest star role (the beautiful but brilliant “Dr. Kimura”) I tried to say alert and focused. The audition scene I was going to be reading was extremely short and the last thing I wanted was to blow it by getting jumpy and distracted.

Finally my name was called and I shuffled in. The room was small and jammed with people. I zeroed in on the young casting associate who I would be reading with, cleared my head and went for it. Five lines later, we were done. I thought it had gone pretty well. At least three of the five lines had sounded reasonably convincing to my slightly plugged up ears. There was a collective “thank you” and a nodding of the heads. I exited the room feeling okay about it.

But as I walked out to my car, the shadow descended. I realized I hadn’t gotten the job. Experience has taught me that when they’re interested in you, there’s usually a little chitchat following the audition. Or at the very least, there’s some discernable change in the mood of the room. I hadn’t detected any. On the rare occasions when I’ve found myself in the director’s chair, if an actor auditions for me and I like his or her work, I usually engage them in a little conversation afterwards for one simple reason: to see if they’re crazy. I can tell you from experience: you don’t want crazy if you can possibly avoid it.

As I drove home along Los Feliz Boulevard, I started wondering why the hell I was still pursuing acting jobs. As an off-beat character actor, I don’t get a ton of auditions anyway. When opportunities do pop up, it’s hard to keep things in perspective. Two years ago, I had literally been plucked from screenwriting obscurity by David E. Kelley who'd handed me a plum role that had resurrected my acting career – a career I had willingly abandoned 15 years earlier. The experience was life-changing and reminded me how much fun acting can be.

But since returning to the audition circuit, I’d also been reminded of how tough the rejections are; how personal it winds up feeling (even though in reality, there is nothing personal about it at all). In the writing world, when your script is rejected, you can redeem yourself by shoving it into the hands of a friend and saying “Here! Read this!” Auditioning, however, is a different beast. As much as you can assure your friends and agents that you were brilliant in the room, none of them were actually there to witness it. Slowly, but surely, your doubts start surfacing. “Maybe I wasn’t so brilliant? Maybe I overacted. Maybe I sucked.”

After about a half an hour, I was back in Hollywood and a few minutes later, finally home. Although I’d promised my manager I'd give him a call after the audition, I opted to conveniently forget that promise. The Afrin was wearing off and my sinuses were rapidly closing. What I really wanted was a stiff drink, but given the fragile state of my health, I decided to settle for a cup of green tea. I glanced at the clock; it was just over an hour since I had auditioned. It seemed like ten years. Suddenly, my cell rang. The caller I.D. read “Manager / Dave.” God bless the guy for following up, I thought. I sighed, reached for my artistic bootstraps and tried to pull them up before answering.

It might have been because my brain was still swimming in antihistamines, but I initially thought he said “Hi, it’s Dave. I’ve got Kip from APA on the line.” This threw me because I’m not signed with APA. And who the hell was Kip? “Congratulations!” said Kip, “It looks like you got it.” Despite the fact that I had no idea who I was talking to, I replied enthusiastically! “Great!” I said, as I wracked my brain, trying to remember if I had some long-forgotten project still floating around APA. My manager chimed in, “Nobody does ‘Psycho’ like you do!” Then it occurred to me that this wasn’t “Kip from APA.” This was “Chip,” one of my agents from “AKA.” Suddenly, I was incredulous. “I got it? Really?” “They’ve got a pin in you,” Chip replied cheerfully. “The network just needs to approve you, but it’s looking good.” Having had “a pin in me” in the past, I can attest that it’s not nearly as painful as it sounds. Usually, it means by the following morning the job is almost always yours. About an hour later, the pin came out and I was officially employed. Shooting starts tomorrow morning and it looks like it’s going to be fun.

The point to this story is that sometimes, even when you think you know, you don’t. Experience (which can be helpful and sometimes comforting) is no match for the utter unpredictability of the business. The chips really can fall in anyone’s favor. And this is both the most maddening and most delicious aspect of being an actor. Or a writer. Or a director. Or a producer. Or anybody in this business. Yes, you need some talent, some skill and definitely some determination, but once in awhile (when you least expect it), you just draw the winning number. And those are moments to be savored. So go out and spin the wheel, Hollywood! I got lucky this week. So could you.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at


Scott Ganyo said...

Fantastic, David! Half-dead and still rocking the audition!

Michelle said...

congrats! you deserve all the success and thanking for sharing this lesson with us.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to seeing you on the tube's been much too long. Maybe you should give Kelley a call, he's got a new show, but then can you sing and dance?

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Congrats on the great news!

Sarah L. Knapp said...

You have no idea how much I needed to hear this:-) Thank you!