We all showed up at Screen Gems Studio in Atlanta with anticipation. We were there for an in-person audition for a network television show. In-person auditions have become rare in the high technology world of today’s television acting. What was once an actor’s pride, to enter a room with producers, directors, and casting directors and “win the room” has now been relegated to putting your audition on tape and emailing it to either your agents or a pay subscriber service (which I refuse to do). Things change.
The opportunity is a USA network episodic in its second season. The character, Mike runs an old dive bar somewhere in North Philadelphia. Mike acts as a counselor to the young actor playing one of the leads, Neil, whose father and Mike were friends in Vietnam. In terms of a character, Mike was interesting, a character with layers and the possibility of recurring work. Mike was worth the time and effort.
Long past the excitement of “being on television,” this opportunity from a business perspective meant a boost in pension pay, earnings toward family healthcare, a payday and perhaps several more if Mike recurred. It was strictly business.
But then it turned into something else.
Walking into the audition waiting area, an impromptu reunion took place. The boys were there.
Gordon and I worked together a few years ago on the Television Movie Game of Your Life. We had fun and most of our scenes together. I like Gordon’s work. I like Gordon. He’s a great guy to spend 14 hours a day with for several weeks making television.
Charles was the odds on favorite for the job. He has the look. Television is about the look. The producer’s creed is “We can teach someone to act. We can’t teach a look.” Charles wears a white beard. He’s short in stature and talks with a comforting tone. I’ve known Charles since we both worked on In The Heat Of The Night in the 1990s.
Alonzo, I don’t know. We share the same agent. Seems like a nice guy. He laughed a lot at the stories flying around the room.
Tony I’ve never worked with. He had a nice run on a Tyler Perry show. He’s been searching for the next opportunity ever since.
We were all there to read for Mike. That’s the business. There were five of us for the one job. We all had a 20% chance.
The job would begin shooting one week later. We all knew whoever got the job would be getting “the phone call” within twenty-four hours. The others would not. I always say not getting the job is like the country western song, "If your phone don’t ring, you’ll know it’s me.”
The Director was an hour late. Veterans to the “hurry up and wait,” aspect of “the business” we took it in stride and took time to catch up. We were all there for the same job, but we’ve been in the business long enough to not let that fact get in the way of our friendships. We laughed and told stories. Gordon and I caught up on life. Charles told stories of his civil rights days. Alonzo laughed a lot. Tony told stories but fretted over the job. It showed in his eyes.
I enjoyed the experience. It had been a while. Over the last few years, since moving back from Los Angeles, business opportunities, production of a documentary film, and writing another book had taken me in different directions. I had managed to stay in the game with Game of Your Life, Drop Dead Diva, Reckless, Queen and Slim, Containment and commercials. But, being at Screen Gems that day, brought back memories of eight successful years of “the business” in Atlanta, and thirteen in Los Angeles.
The director arrived. The casting agent apologized for him. The director did not apologize for himself. I was third in line to go in to read for him. When I walked in, the director was eating. I thought “damn, he’s an hour late and he’s sitting in the audition eating a sandwich.”
The casting associate positioned himself behind the camera. He would read with me. We exchanged pleasantries and took off. I did what I’d prepared for but also went with the flow of the scene. I know Mike. I’ve known many Mikes over the years. He was not a hard guy to inhabit. It felt good. I had the room. But then the director gave me the kiss of death. He turned to the casting associate and said, “All of them are so good.” I knew I was dead in the water. He didn’t need to blow smoke up my dress and make me feel good if he was going to hire me. It was Charles’ job. We all knew it.
I thanked them and met Gordon and Charles in the parking lot. Tony split. Alonzo having gone first was long gone. The three of us laughed and talked for another hour. We all vowed to get together but we knew the next time would probably also be an audition. The skyline of Atlanta loomed in the background. It felt good to hang out with the guys, where I began my career. Soon, it was time for me to hit the road. Other business interests outside of “the business,” beckoned. I gave the guys a hug and drove out of Atlanta.
By the way my phone didn’t ring.