Emotional Wheelhouse

The casting is either for gum or tampons; I can’t remember which.  They both have the word “free” in their name, implying some sort of liberty from various maladies.  I’m hoping it’s for gum.  When I arrive, my fear is confirmed: Tampons it is.

The room is light and airy, housed on the tenth floor across from a building sporting mind-numblingly large words painted in black letters on a white brick wall.  HARRY’S REALTY it screams at me menacingly.  Font size 1.7 billion is meant to be viewed from the street, not at eye level, and its size and intensity makes me inexplicably queasy.

There are other blondes in the room: blonder blondes with the meaty arms of actresses that haven’t made it yet.  Once an actress sees herself on television enough, she inevitably begins to wither away, stripping herself to skin and bone.  Before that, they look like normal girls – farm-fed, warm-blooded American chicks fresh off the bus from Ohio.  After they’ve “made it,” it’s another story entirely.  It might be fair to say one can judge the success of an actress by how anorexic she is.  I’m only half kidding.

I sign in and grab a card to fill with my required information: my agent’s contact info in case the client actually wants to book me, my first and last name to keep track of my face, all of which is followed by boxes for my age and measurements.  The first two are the only things on the little rectangle that are straightforward and true.  The latter is a comical filling in of the same lies I’ve been using for the last five years, the same deflated numbers that everyone uses.  They should just fill out everyone’s card with 32’’ 24’’ 35’’ and call it a day.  I fill out the requisite bullshit using a black and white Bic pen with a fork attached to it to prevent theft.

When I first started modeling I dreaded commercial castings, not realizing that this was where the money was made, especially in Los Angeles.  I was nineteen and wanted to be “editorial” even though I had no idea what the hell that really meant.  To me, “editorial” was associated with traveling the world, living in hotels, being a supermodel.  Paris, New York, Milan.  You later find out that “editorial” is codeword for “broke.”  It took me awhile before I was comfortable pretending to hop around in an imaginary ocean with some Labrador named Pooh Bear while keeping the look of embarrassed horror off of my face.  Still, using my face to sell feminine hygenine products is something I have a hard time with.

The casting director comes out to check the list for another blonde to drag into the room with her.  She is a warm and soft woman with a thick New York accent that reminds me that this city can actually raise people with souls.  She calls the name of a girl in the corner, remembering her with a fondness that seems genuine.  There’s something about the whole scenario that reminds me of going to the OBGYN, greeted by a kind nurse who’s well aware this is going to be the worst thing I do all day, which is, ironically enough, appropriate.

Across from me I listen to the petite girl manning the front desk make phone calls to agents for an upcoming casting for paint.  She reads from a list that has been written to memory.  “They need to wear painter’s pants or white jeans, but they must be CLEAN.  No actual paint on their clothing.  We want them to look like painters but not be painters.  A three-button polo shirt.  We also want to make sure they’re comfortable on a ladder, bending to pick things up, etc.”  I nearly laugh at the last bit but would like to be called in here again to audition for more embarrassing products down the road.  I hear her hang up the phone and within half a minute she is going at it again, repeating the same drivel to the next person, peppering her spiel with new words to save her from her own boredom.

Today, I have come in jeans and a tank top as requested, though I am not a tank top type of girl.  My outfits err on the side of bury-me-in-fabric-and-dress-me-like-a-dude.  The tank I am wearing today is a friend’s that I have not yet returned.  Its somber olive green color in combination with my gray jeans and black boots and studded punk belt would probably be more suitable for enlisting military recruits at a bar, but it’s about all I could manage before I left the house today.  My oversized men’s jacket is an added bonus; its unattractive bulkiness reminiscent of my dad gutting fish at June Lake on foggy mornings.

My eyes are burning from a night spent crying on the floor of my living room.  I touch the puffiness above my cheekbones and know that this is not a good look for me.  The client won’t care about my reasons for looking rough and raw; these people are not expected to be forgiving in nature.  Later, they’ll be in a screening room flipping through footage of girls like the pages of a vacuous, boring glossy mag.  When they arrive at me, someone will say in between bites of his club sandwich, “Man.  She’s got tiny little eyes.  And they’re so…pink.  Her face must look that miserable all the time.  Miserable Face.  Next!”  There is no creativity in casting.  If they tell you to show up like a nurse, don’t show up like you’re a girl who thinks this casting is fucking stupid and people can think for themselves.  Dress like a fucking nurse.  You better show up wearing a white button up dress with your tits poking out enough (though not too provocatively) and some orthopedic shoes.  Too often I have played the “Fuck You” card, throwing dress code suggestions out the window completely or marring their vision beyond recognition with my own stylistic interpretation.  Case in point: today.  Needless to say, I don’t book commercials too often.

It’s my turn up to bat and the casting director greets me with equal kindness.  I am taller by her than a foot, looming behind her like some kind of skinny-limbed monster as we walk into the room.  The clients sit at a large table in front of lists and production sheets, watching the results of a camera taking pictures of me on a bigger screen.

The casting director stands on her tippy toes behind her Canon, giving me my inspiration for each shot.  Half-way through I feel as though I have successfully relived my life as a baby, being coochie coochie cooed by a total and complete stranger.  God love this woman, she’s just doing her job.

So, you’ve got an idea…

Yeah…

Cute!

And it’s a great idea…

And you’re SURPRISED!

Ah-DOR-able.

Look up at the bubble…

I have forgotten that the copy sheet outside featured the top portion of a blonde’s face accompanied by a thought bubble, both flanked by a box of…uh-hem… “product.”  Confused, I look around the room for a real bubble, thinking that she had perhaps nicknamed the light-box above her.  I remember the sheet and I laugh, mumbling about how I’m an idiot or something vaguely self-deprecating.

Give me a smile.  BIG SMILE!

Now…no teeth.

Just a smirk…

Riiiggghhtttttt…So cute!

Now raise your eyebrow suspiciously…

Until you’re stuck in a casting studio with a camera, a TV featuring your giant makeup-less face, and a table full of people staring at you, you have no idea how difficult it is to raise your eyebrow on cue, or make any other facial expression for that matter.  This is why actors should be paid offensive amounts of money.  Frankly, this shit is hard.

She’s standing in front of me, waiting in her patient and friendly way.  I try to raise my eyebrow and laugh when I realize it’s not cooperating with my brain’s control center.  I laugh again and cover my face, hoping that my shortcomings as a face maker are made up for with my charm.

“Sorry,” I say.  “I don’t know why I’m struggling today.”

Oh yeah, I remember: I spent the previous twelve hours crying in my empty apartment.  Before this moment, being watched by people who could potentially pay my rent for the next few months, the idea of smiling, laughing, or thought-bubble-looking were the furthest things from my emotional wheelhouse.  Had she asked me for tears, total and complete desperation, agony, or the look of “Fear of Dying Alone” I would have been their most promising subject all day.

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Have Beer Wench, Will Bridal.

I enter the lobby and stare at the back of a mountain of black.  Black scarf, black coat, two small black legs poking into black boots.  Bleached blonde hair tufts out wildly from the top.  A model.  She turns.  “Jenny!” I hear.  A model I know.  It’s Talia.  Talia looks like what Cameron Diaz probably looked like back in the days before she booked The Mask and went from doing the bullshit we do to being one of the highest earning charming and talentless actresses of our generation.  Inspiration for my future self in some capacity.

The casting studio is stark white and glossy.  White floors, white walls.  It’s like that sterilized chamber in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  There are girls wearing black lining the walls of the studio, staggered like the inside of a sweathouse in Chinatown.  Some sit on the couch, some stand at the back.  We all watch as a photographer takes shots of our competitors individually.  A long table is set up across from where the photographer is sitting with a sign in sheet and two women with dark hair.  Professional judgers.

I sign in.

Name: JENNY BAHN

Agency: NYM2

Height: 5’10 ½

I take a seat in the kitchen, putting my giant coat next to the sink.  Talia sits next to me and we keep talking and we eventually move into the topic of agents ruining our lives.  I ask her to hand me her book that she just had reorganized by another model who was horrified by what her agency did to her portfolio.  These are the stupid things that make or break your bank account: what order your pictures go in, if you have too many beauty shots, if you don’t have enough beauty shots, if your stomach protrudes in one out of twenty pictures, if your sex kitten body shot is inappropriately paired with a picture of you looking like a ten year old posing for Delia’s online catalogue, if you look too old.  We rely on our agents to do this well.  They rarely do.

Talia complains about a test her agency arranged that came out horribly.  A thousand dollars.  A fucking grand for pictures.  She hates them.  She hands me her book and I take out her card.  Whoa.  Not good.  Not good at all.  Pink eye shadow.  Pink lips.  A total and utter tragedy.

It’s like “Glamour Shots by Deb.”

I laugh because it does have an extremely close vibe to those hazy images taken at the local shopping mall.  I then catch the Napoleon Dynamite reference.  I laugh again.

See?!  I look like fucking Barbie.  Like old Barbie.  Look at my armpits.  I can’t believe how much they retouched this.  Ugh.

She’s right.  She does look like Barbie and she does look like she’s got alien pits.  I can’t believe she’s spent a thousand dollars on pictures that make her want to put a gun to her head.  But this is how it goes.  Often.  More often than anyone wants to admit.  Sure, the other girls are shooting with Steven Meisel and even a shitty Steven Meisel pictures is a Steven Meisel picture.  Ten out of one thousand girls get to look like shit by the hands of an artist.  The rest of us are left to be butchered by overpriced amateurs.  Bloody hell.

The girls trying on over-beaded, stiff and wrinkled satin bridal ball gowns are what I can only best describe as “zaftig.”  Zaftig is quite possibly one of the most precise ways in which to describe a certain type of chubby girl.  It’s like onomatopoeia for chunk factor.  It implies a short of St. Pauli’s girl softness in the face and goes double for the arms.  They are big girls, bigger than me by about twenty pounds.  Even still, the casting directors have to clamp the extra fabric to keep them decent.  These samples must be size eights.  Gi-normous.

In the corner are the “runway” girls.  These are the ones who would literally drown in these white lace catastrophes – chocking on lace made in China and swallowing fake plastic pearls sewn on in India.  Tall, sallow, brunette, generic Russian types.  I am confused as to where I fit in.  I hand them my book and I think that they like me, but I look neither like a heroine addict nor a frequent midnight doughnut run binge eater.  The photographer takes pictures.  The casting directors flip through my book.  I say thank you.  I put on my coat and scarf and grab my canvas bag that’s quickly going from light beige to a soiled gray and leave with Talia.  We walk through the white hallway and back into the elevator and back outside and that is all.  That is all it ever is.  Thirty-five minutes of maybe.

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