the real reason why i never bothered to audition for film or tv before was because what you looked like seemed to matter way more than whether or not you could actually act. frankly, i didn't think that i was light-skinned enough or conventionally pretty enough to seriously pursue it. i didn't believe that most film actors were especially talented because most of them had never done any theater. film is not an actor's medium, contrary to popular belief. theater is. to my way of thinking, an actor that's never done any theater is like a surgeon that's never actually operated on anybody. and truth be told, when film actors did do theater, they almost always sucked at it.
and another thing. film people -- directors, editors, producers, the whole lot -- were freaking annoying. they walked around like they were breathing some rarified air that the rest of us knew nothing of, for the sake of a genre and the fame that somehow elevated all of them. i would go into these auditions and they would say, what have you been in and they would look at my resume like it was a blank piece of paper because i didn't have any film work on it. well. a lot of them just flat-out didn't know what they were doing. it was disturbing: all of these people, wallowing in gobs of money, running around hob-nobbing, and for what. wouldn't i always be too old, too young, too black, too patently unattractive, too strong, too...something to these people? why should i have to convince them of anything? wouldn't success make me beautiful (ie bankable) in their eyes? it certainly seemed to work that way for everyone else.
it didn't help that i had befriended one too many film majors when i was in college who would sit around and and argue endlessly about who was brilliant, who wasn't and why. hardly anyone was making any art -- and if they were, it was derivative and boring and encrusted with scholastic excess. i suppose it was way more interesting to trash everyone else's work than come up with something original. or at least cool.
by the time i decided to take acting seriously, i already knew rejection -- the hard way.
i was called a white girl in grade school like that was my name and roundly ostrasized because not only did i know how to read but i actually enjoyed it. thanks to intellectual pursuits that included reading dictionaries and encyclopedias for fun along with the clothes that my mother lovingly made for me turned me into a garden variety wierdo in the african american community and made me the object of ridicule amongst my peers for most of my youth. somewhere in there, when i was 8 or so, my mother accidentally dropped a straightening comb on my neck. i told myself that there was nothing wrong with my hair in its natural state when everything in my world told me otherwise. afterwards, i promised myself that when i grew up, my hair would be natural. i never fully understood why i had to straighten it to be considered pretty but that's a whole other conversation.
so i had already endured a lifetime of "no" by the time i hit puberty. what i endured in my early years in new york city was nothing in comparison. it was luncheon and an afternoon nap in a field of wildflowers and daffodils. it was a walk in the freakin' park.
circumstances of my youth may have convinced me that i was fugly, but no one ever disputed my intelligence or my talent -- expecially the people who ridiculed me in the first place. i put all of it behind me and i kept going and going and going...
just as i'd hit a wall with alt-theater/off-broadway, everything shifted gradually towards tv/film and commercials. the first step was bravo's the it factor. i did it because i had little or no camera experience and i had no money or time for on camera classes. i needed to learn how to be comfortable in front of a camera and i figured having a crew follow me around for six months or so would compel me to break some bad habits. it worked. i got my SAG card when i got RENT but i finally used it when i got a part in Marci X that didn't end up on the cutting room floor.
the next step was auditioning like crazy. but there were obstacles. to find them, i had to be objective about my physical self. i quickly learned that how things look in a camera's eye can be very different from my own. i had to see things differently. there were some concessions i wasn't willing to make -- like straightening my hair, for example -- but now that i got rid of those annoying tics that seemed to happen if i was on camera for too long, i had to work hard to lose the chunk that made me look heavier than i actually was and get my teeth fixed, an extremely expensive proposition. most importantly, i had to learn how to audition on camera well. this would take time, but i was up for the challenge.
i had a million auditions and callbacks before i got anything. but finally, something happened: in october, i got my first national commercial, for ocean spray. two weeks ago, i got another national commercial, for prego. and somewhere in there, i met filmmaker ed durante, and his feature length project "jake gets paid" happened.
how did i meet ed durante? now that's a long story...