The Accidental Actor

The man in the waiting area stands over me and asks, “Who are you?” His sandy hair is greying, and his square glasses are just a bit askew. He seems forward but not brash, direct but not unkind. I look up at him. I think he is referring to my son, who sits next to me.

“This is Elijah,” I answer.

They exchange greetings, and the man asks again, “Who are you?” He is looking right at me. His target is undeniable.

“Me? I’m his transportation,” I say, pointing at Elijah. The man keeps looking at me. His look is appraising. I begin to wonder what is going on. This is getting uncomfortable.

Finally, he says, “Sometimes the transportation ends up being so much more.”

I admire the cleverness of his line and wish I had thought of something like it. Throughout the conversation, I had wanted to stay a step ahead of him, but now that’s not working out. I feel a little out of control, like I’m walking in the dark. I decide that I need information. I ask, “What do you have in mind?”

“I want you to read for a part. Will you?”

My stomach flutters. I feel sweat blossom pretty much everywhere. And, cliché though it is, time slows. Ah, terror: haven’t felt you for a while; welcome back. I glance at Elijah. He is looking at me and smiling, instantly encouraging. To him, this is clearly a blast, but he is not reveling in my discomfort. His delight is genuine.

I have this thought: “I will not say no out of fear, not in front of my kid. Not when he willingly and bravely does this whenever he can.” Out loud, as casually as I can manage, I say, “Sure.”

The man ushers me up and out of my chair and toward a room. He produces a blank audition form seemingly out of nowhere and thrusts it into my hand. “Fill this out,” he says. “Let me give you some background about the character…” Just before we enter the room, he asks “Have you acted before?”

“Um, no, not really. I mean, a little.”

“When was the last time?”

Forgetting some work as an extra I did in a couple of plays a few years ago, I say, “I’m not sure. When I was 13, maybe?”

“Oh,” he says, frowning. He sounds somewhat grave, the first sign of uncertainty breaking through. He had been so confident. I had liked his confidence. He states the obvious: “Then it’s been a while.”

I don’t bother to take offense. “Yeah. A long time.” And then I walk into the room. Elijah follows.

Elijah and I are at these university film department auditions so that he can audition for a part in another movie, not the one that I find myself accidentally auditioning for. I hadn’t intended to do anything more than support my kid.

In the room, the man and I stop at a side table piled with scripts, where he tells a young guy who’s sitting there, “I’m thinking of him for Henry.” That guy looks at me for a long moment and then glances down at the pile. He hands me a script along with a character list. The front of the room has been cleared for the stage. A few people are behind a camera, including the person who turns out to be the director. I am horrified to see that the room is full of other people holding scripts. I had hoped that I could do this privately. It seems preferable to make a fool of oneself in private. My heartbeat feels prominent, fast, and less than regular.

Elijah and I take seats in the back of the room. I find the highlighted portions of the script and begin to study them. It reads easily. It’s clear and poignant. I can imagine these lines coming out of my mouth. I glance at the character list and plot synopsis. The film is a family drama, and Henry is the father, the male lead. He’s no-nonsense and in a painful situation. I look back at the script. Again and again I review the lines. Elijah looks over my shoulder. He’s seen more than a few scripts. “It’s good,” he says.

“I think so, too,” I reply. I turn to the beginning and begin to skim it. It’s excellent. Suddenly, I want to do this. I want to try to be this Henry guy. People are auditioning for various parts. I watch them. I start to think about how to go about this reading and it occurs to me that I’ve helped both of my kids prepare for parts in many productions. I ask myself, “What do I tell them to do?” And I answer, “Stay present, make eye contact, listen.” I read what the other actor in the scene will be saying and imagine how I would feel if I were in Henry’s shoes and someone were saying those things to me.

When it’s my turn, I go to the front of the room, sit down, and face the camera. I say my name and the part I’ll be reading. A young actor joins me. We read a scene, and I find myself having real feelings, as if I am actually Henry. I’m surprised at that. I have a strange sensation that I am simultaneously someone else and observing myself being that person. The director looks pleased. Another young actor does the scene with me. Then another, and another, and still another. I get a sweet thumbs up from Elijah between each reading. No one else that I had seen read for Henry had been up there so long.

Three days later, I get a call from the director: “I’d like you to be Henry,” she says, and she’s thrilled when I say yes. We shoot the film over five weekends. I love every minute of it.

One day, I took my kid to an audition and became an accidental actor. Now, after another short film and three plays, not to mention a couple of auditions that didn’t work out but taught me a lot, I can drop the word “accidental.” As the man said, “Sometimes the transportation ends up being so much more.”