Rich Mayfield: Wandering through Hollywood on a search for my 15 minutes
I’ve always believed the best way to travel is off the tourist bus and into the life of the street. Such an attitude has often led me to adventures rarely described in travel brochures. Whether it was sharing monkey stew with the locals in Tanzania or getting lost in the dark alleys of a medina in Morocco, I’ve always felt that the only way to understand a culture is to immerse oneself in it. In keeping with this adventurous philosophy and while spending a few warm winter months in Los Angeles, I decided to head for Hollywood to work in the movies, only to find out that it wasn’t Hollywood I should be heading for but beautiful downtown Burbank where one begins the celebrity quest by registering at Central Casting for work as an “extra”. Such work, I was told, might include anything from being cast as a passenger in an out of control bus driven by Keanu Reeves through the streets of L.A. to hawking inch-square pieces of Sara Lee’s cake at the local Safeway. I practiced the frantic facial expressions I would have to employ from behind bus-driving Keanu as I waited in line with a few hundred others to sign-up, have my picture taken and pay my $25 entrance fee. I was on my way.
This may come as much as a shock to you as it did to me, but there isn’t a great deal of call for slightly worn-out 60 year-old retired Lutheran pastors in show business. Nevertheless, and knowing that dealing with rejection was a necessary bump on the path to stardom, I religiously followed my instructions from the good people at Central Casting and prepared for my first break.I’m still preparing. The preparations include calling a phone number each night that lists various studios’ needs for extras for the following day. For some reason that I am still trying to discern, my needs have yet to meet their needs. Nearly every day, there is a great demand by casting directors from such shows as “C.S.I. or “Lost,” or any of the other bevy of productions that I’ve never seen, for “young males of any ethnicity who are hot and sexy.” Once, there was a call that didn’t include “young” in the description but retained the “hot and sexy” so reluctantly but realistically, I decided not to apply.According to my nightly phone call, there is considerable interest in hiring African-American males who look, in the words of the movie’s casting director, “like Hollywood’s idea of bad-ass gang-bangers.” I spent a whole afternoon practicing my best bad-ass look in the mirror, but suspected I probably wouldn’t get past some other arbitrary barrier so I gave up my dream of stardom for that day.
Earlier this week, there was a tantalizing call for a “male with hair,” and since I am one and still have some, I listened carefully for further instructions. It seems a famous actor whose name is the same as Jack Nicholson’s is starring in a movie that involves having his head shaved. Since Jack is a big star and shaving one’s head is not an everyday occurrence for big stars, the producers were looking for someone’s head they could practice shaving on. I am as committed to show business as the next guy, but I couldn’t imagine getting too many more “gigs” this winter sporting a bald head covered in little band-aids. So I kept my hair, passed on the call and waited another day for my ascendancy into celebritydom.Three more days filled with appeals for hot and sexy guys. I called one of the casting directors and got her message machine which reminded me that she was only taking calls from hot and sexy guys, and if I wasn’t both hot and sexy, I’d better hang up right now as I was preventing real hot and sexy guys from being cast in the movie. I quickly hung up. I worried that I might have prevented the next Pacino or DeNiro from their chance at the big time by my inconsideration, but then I realized I might have stopped the next Justin Timberlake from getting through and my guilt disappeared.
Judging from what I’m hearing each night, the biggest need right now it is for “Middle-Eastern guys who look like terrorists”. I actually thought I might have a chance with this one because you didn’t have to be young, hot or sexy to get the job, but then I found out you did need to have a bushy beard and proficiency in a language that sounds like Arabic. I just hope the folks at the CIA aren’t watching these films. My commitment to experience Hollywood from the inside remains undaunted. I’m just waiting for a script that involves homely nursing-home residents from North Dakota who want to take over the world. Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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