As an actor toiling away in the ranks of the largely unknown for the last 17 years, my initial reaction to David Mamet's screed against the casting process was one of quiet enjoyment. When no less a figure than Mamet comes forward to give the collective denizens of the casting couch a good telling off, it doesn't get much better.
But once the glow of self-righteous anger has faded, you're left with regret and a vague sense that you got it wrong and shot yourself in the foot.
All job interviews, no matter what the profession, entail various forms of absurdity. A law school grad's first job interview may be with a humorless apparatchik in the firm's human resources department, i.e., a person who has never been a lawyer. In fact, most job seekers, young and old alike, will be inevitably quizzed by HR underlings who play all sorts of bizarre mind games on the supplicants to see if they're a "team player." The job seekers play along, and so do most actors. It's a hoop we all must jump through.
But demeaning? Even on my worst day, I never thought the producers, writers and casting people got up that morning with the goal of humiliating me and my colleagues. I think they've got better things to do.
Any actor would love it if they didn't have to audition. I have no choice but to try to get "in the room." And if I do (to mix a metaphor), I'm going to have to hit it out of the park.
As with live theater, there's an alchemy that can happen when an actor walks into an office full of evaluating strangers. It's an experience that does and doesn't have anything to do with acting. So what? As an acting teacher once told me: If you go in there thinking you've got something they want, you're dead. If you think they've got something you want, you're dead. But if you go in thinking that this is a collaboration, no matter how brief, then you've got a chance. That's all we want. An opportunity to take a pitch and get a single or even a double.
David MAMET'S article made me sob ... in the good way. I was born in a trunk, grew up in the theater and was mildly flung into a TV career. I know of what he writes, and my frustration in the last year at being so casually flung back out of the profession I so dearly love has driven me completely mental.
I sobbed because he opened up a vein. He saw into the beating heart of it all: Us and Them. An actor survives rejection and self-loathing every single day.
Thank you, David Mamet, for actually describing the absurd, fatuous process of being in the room to get to the place you really need to be: performing.
As a fan and one who teaches David Mamet's screenplays and plays in my writing classes, I am perplexed. He knows that less is more in good writing, yet his recent essays, like this one, are overwritten, reading more like a doctoral thesis by a budding social scientist at a middling college. It's almost as if, after all his success, he feels the need to remind us of his skill with language.
We already respect you, David; no need to browbeat us with a few thousand words to offer a kernel of insight.
David MAMET'S insightful article could not have appeared at a more compatible moment for me. As a battle-scarred veteran of 20-plus years in the trade, I am now a "woman of a certain age," somewhere between 45 and death.
I can honestly say that I have gotten only one role from the audition process. That was in "Tender Mercies," and during the filming I learned that: 1. the director told me I was his mental image of the character when he first read the script; 2. the lunch with Robert Duvall convinced him that I could handle the role; and 3. the head of EMI saw the audition tape and said "It's the girl with the eyes." In other words, the Fates smiled.
A casting agent recently faxed 16 pages for an audition for a two-episode arc, then notified everyone the night before the audition that only two scenes would be read. I walked into a waiting room and found a woman who had done big roles in big movies, two women who had been the stars of their own television shows and several other recognizable faces. No one in the audition room had any power to employ. The auditions were put on tape to be sent elsewhere. A video camera in a room with bad lighting (a women's nightmare).
"Why 16 pages?" I asked. (A mistake.)
"We wanted you to have a good preview of the story line."
"Well," I answered, "the character's name is Adm. Cain. She loves power, has post-traumatic stress syndrome and manifests it by doing odd things with her hands. I'd say you want Humphrey Bogart in drag. 'The Caine Mutiny'?" (Really big mistake.)