A friend of mine was recently a production assistant for an independent film. We’re talking independent like, the equipment was probably stolen and the actors were being paid in free Kirkland water bottles. This movie made The Blair Witch Project look like Titanic. I don’t know where the budget for this movie was coming from, but it was being made, and when my friend told me about it I had a notion that his uncle or whoever got him the job was just paying people to hold cameras and order him around to get food so that he could have something to put on his resume.
At the last minute of shooting a scene, an actress with one line bailed for some sort of “scheduling conflict” (she was “scheduled” to appear on set at her job waiting tables in the Olive Garden in Times Square). My friend called me to see if I was willing to fill in without auditioning. Also, he said, the role required that I wear stripper heels and fishnets and play some sort of lesbian from outer space.
“Will they feed me?” I asked hesitantly, knowing that if the answer was yes, there was no turning back.
“Of course.” he said. So I packed the old fishnets in a knapsack and set off for the West Village.
There was never any tutorial about what the plot line, synopsis, or even name of this movie was, but I gathered from the sharpie scrawl on all of the production binders that the working title was “Lesbian Space Aliens.” But really, I have no idea what it was. No one paid attention to me, they just handed me a purple leopard print tube dress and pink platforms and told me to suck it in.
For my role I was to play the part of Roz, a “trashy gameshow contestant.” I had one line, and several stage directions to smile and giggle. I – excuse me, my character – sat on a 60s loveseat next to another actress in a bald cap and blue space suit. She also had on a big Dracula-like collar made from blue felt. She wore absolutely no makeup and donned big, black leather boots that reminded me of the ones Elizabeth Berkley used to kill that rapist in Showgirls. I assumed that what was sitting next to me is what the crew envisioned a Lesbian Space Alien to look like, but I didn’t ask. It’s don’t ask don’t tell with this industry, right?
As I worked on channeling Tanya Cooley, the other actors filed in. One was a thin, weathered comedian that I swear had served me at The Capital Grille two weeks before. He was playing the “trashy gameshow host” and wore a tan suit and lavender tie with the tag from the thrift store still attached to it. We immediately hated each other. As competitors for “funny person in the room,” there would be no mercy. Ultimately, I found out that he was getting over an alcohol and heroin addiction, so I let him have the attention. But I won’t forget it.
Aside from my friend and a few camera operators, the entire staff of the movie was comprised of thin, oily haired women in polos and combat boots. The director had the exact same build and body type as my ten-year old cousin Dylan. Her wardrobe also matched his. Her hair was short, dark and untouched; her brow deeply entrenched in a furrow. Her assistant looked a lot like her, but had more of a dark, elfish Kate Gosselin quality to her.
They both seemed angry; angry at this movie, angry at the stand-up comedian who was currently rubbing my couch-mate’s head and making jokes about baldness in other areas of her body, and most obviously, angry at the camera-MEN.
Lesbians have always flocked to my roommate, Daria. They trust her with their secrets, entangle her as accomplice and confidant in their dramatic episodes, and brainwash her with screenings of ‘Now and Then’ and ‘A League of Their Own.’ Many have fallen in love with her and gotten their hearts broken by her vicious and steadfast straightness, but most just like her because she’s quite like a dude. I tend to think my amount of feminism is equal to Daria’s considering we both eat baked beans straight from the can, but I somehow possess another more undesirable quality that makes gay women look at me like I’m Ann Coulter in a nun costume. They HATE me. I’m generally either liked or ignored by immediate public, but Lesbians inexplicably hate my guts. I truly don’t know what it is; maybe they are jealous that my hair looks better when I don’t shower for a few days.
The hatred I’ve learned to live with whenever I’ve attended softball games or sorority reunions was thicker than 3-poly fiber flannel on the set of Lesbian Space Aliens. Suddenly, I was glad I hadn’t tried to win over the room with stories of botched one night stands and funny pick up lines. I was completely ignored whenever I would ask a question about my character’s motivation to adjust her cleavage and was told numerous times to “just do it better,” even when “it” meant simply existing. My one line made every un-make up’d, razor-hating, frowning face in the room cringe. I can’t imagine that it helped at all that I was spilling out of my dress, sitting there like a plate of bacon rudely thrown in the middle of a Seder.
Two hunky boy actors sauntered in, immersed in a discussion about acting. One was dark-haired, lean, and immediately revealed that he had spent his career at the state university majoring in theater. The other was bright eyed, blonde, a student at Tisch who “was taking time off to act,” and wasn’t fooling anyone by saying he was 22 (definitely 18). I was bored and unloved, so I immediately began to scrutinize.
“Yeah man, no matter how many acting classes you take or conservatories you study with, none of them give you the key to how to make it in the business, man.” said the douche to the other douche. “But it’s super important to work on your craft. Like, Marlon Brando, he never stopped working on his craft.”
“Yeah man, Brando was the greatest actor of all time. They say that when he would act on a stage it was impossible to look at anyone but him because he took such command of his characters.”
“Yeah. He used to go to parties and hide under tables and people would look underneath and say ‘Marley – they called him Marley – come out.’ And he wouldn’t because he said he could observe people better from down there. That’s how he got to be so good at acting.”
Aside from the fact that I had no idea what the fuck these guys were talking about, they both looked like they were coming out of an Ibiza nightclub. They were wearing leather chokers adorned with masculine tribal pendants and sported collared shirts with subtle glitter. I was trying to think of what “trashy gameshow contestants” the costume designer was trying to imitate when she dressed us. Even the people on Singled Out seemed pretty normally dressed to me. The only place I’d seen these outfits before was while watching Jersey Shore. Inherently, the Jersey Shore is actually gay outer space.
You could smell the eagerness of the two boys from a mile away. When the dark-haired one was done discussing the Marlon Brando IMDB page that he had inevitably perused after a Netflix viewing of On the Waterfront, the boys opened their eyes wide and scanned each face in the room, searching for power and connections. They both scanned me not because of what I was wearing, but because they wanted to know what I could do for their careers. The dark haired one became squeamish in the room full of confident women who don’t have stage-induced eating disorders, and immediately busied himself with his two-sentence line in the script. The light-haired one saw potential networking opportunity in the stand-up comedian, who was currently talking to no one about the new jokes he’s been inspired to write since his recent breakup.
We sat there for hours while the director fought with her cameramen and typed on her blackberry. Every now and then someone would pull a bagel out of her back pocket and silently nibble at it, heedlessly looking at everyone as if to say “Don’t you dare ask me for a bite.”
I was still busy digesting the Jonah Hill-suited portion of bagels and schmear I’d consumed before slipping into the tube dress, so I wasn’t jealous that other people were snacking while I had to sit under hot lights. And anyway, I was worried that the oily haired Le’crew were plotting to get me fired from my one-day cameo, so I refrained from reaching over to the light technician and breaking off a hunk of her Cina-raisin like it was challah on Shabbat. Plus, like a squirrel or really busy stripper, I had hidden my emergency snack in my cleavage.
“Yeah man, I love going to the gym. I go every day, you feel better, and you’re just all around more confident. You know?” The two dreamers enthusiastically nodded in agreement. I knew I was witnessing the beginning of a beautiful friendship. “I mean, I know acting is tough, so you gotta stay in shape. But its really about passion, man, I just have to do this. I’m so passionate about it.”
Right when I thought they were going to make out and leave me as the only straight one in the room, the cameras started to roll. Take after take we were instructed to do the scene EXACTLY LIKE THE TAKE BEFORE IT. If we forgot a line, we were all fucked. That meant another hour sitting on the love seats and another hour listening to “blooper jokes” that “never made it into the act but are still pretty great” from the comedian.
“I just love being around you stand up comedians, it seems like you’re all kind of in on a joke. It’s so interesting.” said the blonde boy to the stand-up. “Can I hear more of your material? I just find it all so interesting.”
Finally, we were down to our last few takes. The dark haired boy had messed up his two-sentence line at least twenty thousand times and was about to give up on acting, but we were able to move on. All we needed now was a few more closeups and then we could take off our spanx and go home.
I was told that my part was finished, but that I had to stay seated for no other reason than to be tortured (the code for that is “just in case”). Annoyed, I produced the blueberry bagel half I’d been hiding in my boobs and started to chew. No one took notice; they were all too busy consoling the dark haired boy because he had failed Brando.
“Okay Sarah, now we need to get your reaction shots.” Surprised, I hurriedly put my treat behind me. This was it; I had spent the entire day in a windowless room with several angry gay women and two very vapid conversationalists. I wanted to go home, wash my face, and find something in my apartment that reminded me that I’m better than this. I smiled, giggled, I played with my pink plastic jewelry. I gave it all I had.
I used every bit of drama club I’d had left. Now I could go home. The crew reviewed my tape on a screen that I could not see. I imagined I looked awesome and professional. I hoped the other actors were jealous. I didn’t care if everyone in the room hated me, whether they were lesbian or recovering drug addict, I ruled.
“Oh Fuck.” said a lesbian. “She’s got bagel on her face.”
My friend the production assistant was not in the room. No one was on team Sarah here. I was the reason we’d have to sit there for another hour. “This is why we hire professional actors.” said a disembodied voice belonging to someone who was probably wearing flannel.
I’d spent the entire day texting my friends about how annoyed I was at the two male actors, how silly I looked in purple leopard print, and how mean all these oily-haired bra-burners were being to me. I had been a huge bitch to everyone all day because they weren’t nice to me, and now I was basically throwing myself a pity parade, tearing up the free bagels for confetti. In reality I wasn’t doing anyone any favors. My friend called me because he knew I liked being in front of cameras and he thought I’d have fun, not because he wanted me to judge everyone.
Perhaps the lesbians were mean to me because they saw it in my face that I was only there for the free food paycheck. These women were trying to create a project that would contribute to the artistic Lesbian community. This was their baby, and even if it was a Lesbian Alien baby, I had to be respectful, or at least have the decency to wipe my mouth.
At the end of the day, we were all richer and happier. Perhaps I made zero friendships and the actor boys made no connections that will be of use to them as they continue their hustle, but it was nice to come into contact with other souls like me who are just trying to get by and make this city work for them. I mean, we didn’t have to get along or speak, but it’s good to know that they are there, reminding me that I’m not better than anyone other human, alien, or lesbian on the planet.